Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe condition that may develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events, such as sexual assault, serious injury or the threat of death. The diagnosis may be given when a group of symptoms such as disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyperarousal (high levels of anxiety) continue for more than a month after the traumatic event.
Most people who experience a traumatizing event will not develop PTSD. However, because women are more likely to experience more high impact trauma, they are more likely to develop PTSD than men. Children are less likely to experience PTSD after trauma than adults, especially if they are under 10 years of age. Roughly 10 percent of women and 5 percent of men are diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetimes, and many others will experience some adverse effects from trauma at some point in their lives. According to the National institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 1 in 30 adults in the U.S. suffer from PTSD in a given year and that risk is much higher in veterans of war.
Emerging as one of the most effective treatments for PTSD, cognitive processing therapy (CPT) helps patients to gain a more complete understanding of the traumatic events in their lives as well as teaching ways to modify the meanings related to these events. CPT is based on the idea that the way people think about things directly affects how they feel and behave.
To process trauma, an individual must identify the emotions related to the trauma so that these strong – usually negative – feelings can be let go, however people who suffer from PTSD often become “stuck” in negative thought patterns which lead to fear and anxiety. Through CPT, PTSD patients learn to adjust their negative thoughts by changing the meaning of the trauma associated with their PTSD.
CPT is an evidence-based treatment endorsed by the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, meaning it has been proven to successfully reduce the symptoms of PTSD in multiple research studies. Perhaps most impressively, CPT does not require years of treatment. Most patients can complete a full course of CPT in as little as three months of weekly sessions.