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August 16, 2023

The Alphabet Soup of Cognitive Therapies for Trauma

Explore the Nuances of CBT, TF-CBT, and CPT: Understanding their unique approaches and target demographics in PTSD treatment.

Sofia Noori, MD, MPH
The Alphabet Soup of Cognitive Therapies for Trauma

Navigating the landscape of trauma-focused therapies can be tricky and overwhelming. The predominant cognitive therapies for trauma are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

While interconnected, these therapies have unique nuances—especially when it comes to each one’s target age group and approach to treating PTSD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): The Foundation

CBT is a broad therapeutic method, focused on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. By dissecting and reshaping negative thought patterns, it seeks to effect change in emotions and actions. It is important to note that skilled therapists can adapt a general course of CBT to a trauma survivor, though it may be difficult for survivors to judge whether a therapist has enough skill or experience to do so. Though CBT can address trauma issues, its trauma-focused subset, TF-CBT, offers a more tailored approach for PTSD.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT): For Children Up to 18 Years Old

While TF-CBT can mean the application of CBT principles to address trauma, it also refers to a specialized form of CBT crafted for children between the ages of 3 to 18 years old who have experienced trauma. The core components of TF-CBT include education about trauma, parental involvement in the therapeutic process, relaxation and anxiety management, and reframing of trauma-related thoughts.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): For Adolescents & Adults

CPT, while rooted in the ethos of CBT, is specifically designed to treat PTSD for individuals ages 12 and up. The therapy is centered around  "stuck points”, or painful trauma-related beliefs that one may hold about themselves or the world around them. By challenging and revising these distorted views, CPT can alleviate PTSD's grip and allow for integration of healthier beliefs into one’s daily interactions. CPT is generally a 10-12 session schedule of therapy, and focuses on building practical skills that help survivors reframe painful trauma-related thoughts. 

Navigating the Therapeutic Maze

Choosing between general CBT, TF-CBT and CPT requires a clear understanding of the individual's age, the nature of their trauma, and the specific challenges they face. General CBT can be adapted to trauma survivors by a skilled therapist, though the quality of the adaptation varies. TF-CBT, with its emphasis on parental collaboration, is ideal for younger trauma survivors. In contrast, CPT, with its focus on changing painful traumatic beliefs, is more appropriate for adolescents and adults looking to make lasting changes in how they see themselves after a trauma. All of these therapies, if effective, can lead to permanent reductions in PTSD symptoms. 

While each of these cognitive trauma therapies is distinct in its technique and target age population, they converge on one shared purpose: to help survivors establish a life where traumatic memories recede in order to make way for long-term healing.

If you, or a loved one, is suffering from PTSD and looking for trauma-specific therapy, book a free Intro Call here.