What is Improving Access to Psychological Therapies?

Introduction

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is a National Health Service (England) initiative to provide more psychotherapy to the general population.

It was developed and introduced by the Labour Party as a result of economic evaluations by Professor Lord Richard Layard, based on new therapy guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as promoted by clinical psychologist David M. Clark.

Brief History

Richard Layard, a labour economist at the London School of Economics, had become influential in New Labour party politics and was appointed to the House of Lords in 2000. He had a particular interest in the happiness of populations and mental health; his father, John Layard, was an anthropologist who had survived suicidal depression and retrained as a Jungian psychologist after undergoing psychoanalysis by Carl Jung. In 2003 Richard Layard met the clinical psychologist David M. Clark, a leading figure in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy who was running the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma (with Anke Ehlers and Paul Salkovskis) at the Institute of Psychiatry and Maudsley Hospital. Clark professed to high rates of improvement from CBT but low availability of the therapy despite NICE guidelines now recommending it for several mental disorders.

Layard, with Clark’s help, set about campaigning for a new national service for NICE-recommended treatments, particularly CBT. One key argument was that it would be cost-effective and indeed eventually pay for itself by increasing productivity and reducing state benefits such as Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit (which had seen rising claims since their introduction by John Major’s Conservative Party in 1992 and 1995 respectively). The plan was accepted in principle by the newly re-elected Labour government in 2005 and gradually put into practice directed by Clark. Layard names several others as having helped gain the initial political traction for the initiative – MP Ed Miliband, psychiatrist Louis Appleby (then National Director for Mental Health), David Halpern (psychologist), psychiatrist David Nutt, MP Alan Milburn (married to a psychiatrist) and eventually the Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

In 2006 the Mental Health Policy Group at the LSE published ‘The Depression Report’, commonly referred to as the Layard Report, advocating for the expansion of psychotherapy on the NHS. This facilitated the development of IAPT initiatives, including two demonstration sites (pilot studies) and then training schemes for new types of psychological practitioner. The programme was officially announced in 2007 on World Mental Health Day. Some mental health professionals cast doubt on the claims early on. In the official publication of the British Psychological Society in 2009, experienced clinical psychologists John Marzillier and Professor John Hall strongly criticised IAPT’s promoters for glossing over both the data gaps acknowledged in the NICE reports and the complexity of the multiple issues typically affecting people with mental health problems and their ability to sustain employment; they were met with much agreement as well as angry criticism. One researcher cited the UK initiative as the most impressive plan to disseminate stepped-care cognitive behaviour therapy. But the plan appears not to have worked, Davis (2020) in the Journal of Evidence Based Mental Health, noted that 73% of IAPT clients receive low intensity therapy first (guided self help, computer assisted CBT or group psychoeducation) but only 4 % are transferred to high intensity therapy and the first transition appointment is the least well attended.

Aims

The aim of the project is to increase the provision of evidence-based treatments for common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression by primary care organisations. This includes workforce planning to adequately train the mental health professionals required. This would be based on a ‘stepped care’ or triage model where ‘low intensity’ interventions or self-help would be provided to most people in the first instance and ‘high intensity’ interventions for more serious or complex conditions. Outcomes would be assessed by standardised questionnaires, where sufficiently high initial scores (a ‘case’) and sufficiently low scores immediately after treatment (below ‘caseness’), would be classed as ‘moving to recovery’. The NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) therapy guidelines presume reliable diagnosis. IAPT therapists do not make formal diagnoses. This calls into question IAPT’s claimed fidelity to the NICE guidelines, particularly as it does not monitor therapists treatment adherence.

Evaluation

Initial demonstration sites reported outcomes in line with predictions in terms of the number of people treated (especially with ‘low intensity’ interventions such as ‘guided self-help’) and the percentages classified as recovered and as in more employment (a small minority) to ten months later. It was noted that the literature indicates a substantial proportion of patients would recover anyway with the passage of time or with a placebo – in fact the majority of those whose condition had lasted for less than six months, but only a small minority of those whose condition had been longer-lasting.

There has been some debate over whether IAPT’s roll-out may result initially in low quality therapy being offered by poorly trained practitioners.

Beacon UK benchmarked IAPT performance across England for 2011-2012 and reported that 533,550 people accessed (were referred to) IAPT services – 8.7% of people suffering from anxiety and depression disorders – with around 60% entering treatment sessions. Most local IAPT services did not reach the target of a 50% ‘recovery’ rate.

In 2012-2013, 761,848 people were referred to IAPT services. 49% went into treatment (the rest either assessed as unsuitable for IAPT or declined), although around half of those dropped out before completing at least two sessions. Of the remainder, 127,060 people had pre-treatment and post-treatment mental health questionnaires submitted indicating ‘recovery’ – a headline rate of 43%. A report by the University of Chester indicated that sessions were costing three times more to fund than the original Department of Health estimates.

For 2014-2015 there were nearly 1.3 million referrals to IAPT, of which 815,665 entered treatment. Of those, 37% completed sufficient sessions, with 180,300 showing a ‘reliable recovery’ (on anxiety and depression questionnaires completed before and immediately after treatment) – which was just over one in five of those who entered treatment, just under half of those who completed enough sessions. Opinion on IAPT remained divided. The number of trained IAPT therapists did not appear to have met the government’s target of 6000, resulting in high caseloads. Some complained of seeing more ‘revolving door’ patients and excess complexity of cases, while the NHS has acknowledged problems with waiting times and recovery rates. However Norman Lamb, who championed IAPT within the coalition government 2010-2015, disagreed with picking faults with such an extensive and world-leading advance in evidence-based treatment. Others lauded the success in rising numbers of referrals, but warned of the failure to improve recovery rates. It was noted that both antidepressant prescribing and psychiatric disability claims have continued to rise.

In 2017 fewer than half of the Clinical Commissioning Groups met the target (15.8%) for the number of people who should be accessing talking therapies. There has been no publicly funded independent audit of IAPT . A study of 90 IAPT cases assessed with a ‘gold standard’ diagnostic interview revealed that only the tip of the iceberg recovered, in the sense of losing their diagnostic status. The results were identical whether or not the person was treated before or after personal injury litigation.

In July 2021 55,703 appointments out of the total 434,000 which went ahead involved one or more practitioners who did not have an accredited IAPT qualification. There are about 2000 psychological wellbeing practitioners in the service, with another 1,200 trainees. They are supported by high intensity therapists and counsellors of which there are about 4,000 with 700 trainees.

Updates

In December 2010, Paul Burstow, Minister for Care Services, announced an extension to the IAPT project to include Children and Young Peoples services. The government pledged £118m annually from 2015 to 2019 to increase access to psychological therapies services to children and young people.

When the programme officially started in 2008 it was only for working age adults, but in 2010 it was opened to all ages.

In 2015 Clark and fellow clinical psychologist Peter Fonagy, writing in response to wide-ranging criticism from child and adolescent psychiatrist Sami Timimi, stated that IAPT now has increasing support for the non-CBT modalities recommended by NICE for depression: counselling, couples therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and brief psychodynamic therapy; and for Children and Young People (CYP-IAPT) more systemic family therapy, interpersonal therapy and parenting therapy is on the way. Timimi described the changes as still “light” on relational/collaborative therapy compared to the ‘technical model’ derived from ’eminence-based’ NICE guidelines via inadequate diagnostic categories.

A Payment by Results system is being developed for IAPT, whereby each local Clinical Commissioning Group can reward each local provider according to various targets met for the service and for each client – particularly for how much change in scores on the self-report questionnaires. The March 2021 issue of the British Journal of Clinical Psychology has highlighted the considerable controversy over IAPT’s claims of success, Scott( 2021) and Kellett et al., (2021) have responded with their own commentary ‘The costs and benefits of practice-based evidence: Correcting some misunderstandings about the 10-year meta-analysis of IAPT studies’.

An Overview of the Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

Introduction

The emphasis of the treatment of bipolar disorder is on effective management of the long-term course of the illness, which can involve treatment of emergent symptoms.

Treatment methods include pharmacological and psychological techniques.

Principles

The primary treatment for bipolar disorder consists of medications called mood stabilisers, which are used to prevent or control episodes of mania or depression. Medications from several classes have mood stabilising activity. Many individuals may require a combination of medication to achieve full remission of symptoms. As it is impossible to predict which medication will work best for a particular individual, it may take some trial and error to find the best medication or combination for a specific patient. Psychotherapy also has a role in the treatment of bipolar disorder. The goal of treatment is not to cure the disorder but rather to control the symptoms and the course of the disorder. Generally speaking, maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder continues long after symptom control has been achieved.

Following diagnostic evaluation, the treating clinician must determine the optimal treatment setting in order to ensure the patient’s safety. Assessment of suicide risk is key, as the rate of suicide completion among those with bipolar disorder may be as high as 10-15%. Hospitalisation should be considered in patients whose judgement is significantly impaired by their illness, and those who have not responded to outpatient treatment; this may need to be done on an involuntary basis. Treatment setting should regularly be re-evaluated to ensure that it is optimal for the patient’s needs.

Mood Stabilisers

Lithium Salts

Lithium salts have been used for centuries as a first-line treatment for bipolar disorder. In ancient times, doctors would send their mentally ill patients to drink from “alkali springs” as a treatment. Although they were not aware of it, they were actually prescribing lithium, which was present in high concentration within the waters. The therapeutic effect of lithium salts appears to be entirely due to the lithium ion, Li+.

Its exact mechanism of action is uncertain, although there are several possibilities such as inhibition of inositol monophosphatase, modulation of G proteins or regulation of gene expression for growth factors and neuronal plasticity. There is strong evidence for its effectiveness in acute treatment and prevention of recurrence of mania. It can also be effective in bipolar depression, although the evidence is not as strong. It is also effective in reducing the risk of suicide in patients with mood disorders.

Potential side effects from lithium include gastrointestinal upset, tremor, sedation, excessive thirst, frequent urination, cognitive problems, impaired motor coordination, hair loss, and acne. Excessive levels of lithium can be harmful to the kidneys, and increase the risk of side effects in general. As a result, kidney function and blood levels of lithium are monitored in patients being treated with lithium. Therapeutic plasma levels of lithium range from 0.5 to 1.5 mEq/L, with levels of 0.8 or higher being desirable in acute mania.

Lithium levels should be above 0.6 mEq/L to reduce both manic and depressive episodes in patients. A recent review concludes that the standard lithium serum level should be 0.60-0.80 mmol/L with optional reduction to 0.40-0.60 mmol/L in case of good response but poor tolerance or an increase to 0.80-1.00 mmol/L in case of insufficient response and good tolerance.

Monitoring is generally more frequent when lithium is being initiated, and the frequency can be decreased once a patient is stabilised on a given dose. Thyroid hormones should also be monitored periodically, as lithium can increase the risk of hypothyroidism.

Anticonvulsants

A number of anti-convulsant drugs are used as mood stabilisers, and the suspected mechanism is related to the theory that mania can “kindle” further mania, similar to the kindling model of seizures. Valproic acid, or valproate, was one of the first anti-convulsants tested for use in bipolar disorder. It has proven to be effective for treating acute mania. The mania prevention and antidepressant effects of valproic acid have not been well demonstrated. Valproic acid is less effective than lithium at preventing and treating depressive episodes.

Carbamazepine was the first anti-convulsant shown to be effective for treating bipolar mania. It has not been extensively studied in bipolar depression. It is generally considered a second-line agent due to its side effect profile. Lamotrigine is considered a first-line agent for the treatment of bipolar depression. It is effective in preventing the recurrence of both mania and depression, but it has not proved useful in treating acute mania.

Zonisamide (trade name Zonegran), another anti-convulsant, also may show promise in treating bipolar depression. Various other anti-convulsants have been tested in bipolar disorder, but there is little evidence of their effectiveness. Other anti-convulsants effective in some cases and being studied closer include phenytoin, levetiracetam, pregabalin and valnoctamide.

Each anti-convulsant agent has a unique side-effect profile. Valproic acid can frequently cause sedation or gastrointestinal upset, which can be minimised by giving the related drug divalproex, which is available in an enteric-coated tablet. These side effects tend to disappear over time. According to studies conducted in Finland in patients with epilepsy, valproate may increase testosterone levels in teenage girls and produce polycystic ovary syndrome in women who began taking the medication before age 20. Increased testosterone can lead to polycystic ovary syndrome with irregular or absent menses, obesity, and abnormal growth of hair. Therefore, young female patients taking valproate should be monitored carefully by a physician. Excessive levels of valproate can lead to impaired liver function, and liver enzymes and serum valproate level, with a target of 50–125 µg/L, should be monitored periodically.

Side effects of carbamazepine include blurred vision, double vision, ataxia, weight gain, nausea, and fatigue, as well as some rare but serious side effects such as blood dyscrasias, pancreatitis, exfoliative dermatitis, and hepatic failure. Monitoring of liver enzymes, platelets, and blood cell counts are recommended.

Lamotrigine generally has minimal side effects, but the dose must be increased slowly to avoid rashes, including exfoliative dermatitis.

Atypical Antipsychotic Drugs

Antipsychotics work best in the manic phase of bipolar disorder. Second-generation or atypical antipsychotics (including aripiprazole, olanzapine, quetiapine, paliperidone, risperidone, and ziprasidone) have emerged as effective mood stabilisers. The evidence for this is fairly recent, as in 2003 the American Psychiatric Press noted that atypical anti-psychotics should be used as adjuncts to other anti-manic drugs because their mood stabilising properties had not been well established. The mechanism is not well known, but may be related to effects on glutamate activity. Several studies have shown atypical antipsychotics to be effective both as single-agent and adjunctive treatments. Antidepressant effectiveness varies, which may be related to different serotonergic and dopaminergic receptor binding profiles. Quetiapine and the combination of olanzapine and fluoxetine have both demonstrated effectiveness in bipolar depression.

In light of recent evidence, olanzapine (Zyprexa) has been US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved as an effective monotherapy for the maintenance of bipolar disorder. A head-to-head randomised control trial (RCT) in 2005 has also shown olanzapine monotherapy to be just as effective and safe as lithium in prophylaxis.

The atypical antipsychotics differ somewhat in side effect profiles, but most have some risk of sedation, weight gain, and extrapyramidal symptoms (including tremor, stiffness, and restlessness). They may also increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, so metabolic monitoring should be performed regularly, including checks of serum cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose, weight, blood pressure, and waist circumference. Taking antipsychotics for long periods or at high doses can also cause tardive dyskinesia – a sometimes incurable neurological disorder resulting in involuntary, repetitive body movements. The risk of tardive dyskinesia appears to be lower in second-generation antipsychotics than in first-generation antipsychotics but as with first-generation drugs, increases with time spent on medications and in older patients.

New Treatments

A variety of other agents have been tried in bipolar disorder, including benzodiazepines, calcium channel blockers, L-methylfolate, and thyroid hormone. Modafinil (Provigil) and Pramipexole (Mirapex) have been suggested for treating cognitive dysfunction associated with bipolar depression, but evidence supporting their use is quite limited. In addition riluzole, a glutamatergic drug used in ALS has been studied as an adjunct or monotherapy treatment in bipolar depression, with mixed and inconsistent results. The selective oestrogen receptor modulator medication tamoxifen has shown rapid and robust efficacy treating acute mania in bipolar patients. This action is likely due not to tamoxifen’s oestrogen-modulating properties, but due to its secondary action as an inhibitor of protein Kinase C.

Cognitive Effects of Mood Stabilisers

Bipolar patients taking antipsychotics have lower scores on tests of memory and full-scale IQ than patients taking other mood stabilisers. Use of both typical and atypical antipsychotics is associated with risk of cognitive impairment, but the risk is higher for antipsychotics with more sedating effects.

Among bipolar patients taking anticonvulsants, those on lamotrigine have a better cognitive profile than those on carbamazepine, valproate, topiramate, and zonisamide.

Although decreased verbal memory and slowed psychomotor speed are common side effects of lithium use these side effects usually disappear after discontinuation of lithium. Lithium may be protective of cognitive function in the long term since it promotes neurogenesis in the hippocampus and increases grey matter volume in the prefrontal cortex.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants should only be used with caution in bipolar disorder, as they may not be effective and may even induce mania. They should not be used alone, but may be considered as an adjunct to lithium.

A recent large-scale study found that severe depression in patients with bipolar disorder responds no better to a combination of antidepressant medications and mood stabilisers than it does to mood stabilisers alone and that antidepressant use does not hasten the emergence of manic symptoms in patients with bipolar disorder.

The concurrent use of an antidepressant and a mood stabiliser, instead of mood stabiliser monotherapy, may lower the risk of further bipolar depressive episodes in patients whose most recent depressive episode has been resolved. However, some studies have also found that antidepressants pose a risk of inducing hypomania or mania, sometimes in individuals with no prior history of mania. Saint John’s Wort, although a naturally occurring compound, is thought to function in a fashion similar to man-made antidepressants, and so unsurprisingly, there are reports that suggest that it can also induce mania. For these reasons, some psychiatrists are hesitant to prescribe antidepressants for the treatment of bipolar disorder unless mood stabilisers have failed to have an effect, however, others feel that antidepressants still have an important role to play in treatment of bipolar disorder.

Side effects vary greatly among different classes of antidepressants.

Antidepressants are helpful in preventing suicides in people suffering from bipolar disorder when they go in for the depressive phase.

NMDA-Receptor Antagonists

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, proof-of-concept study, researchers administered an N-methyl-d-aspartate-receptor antagonist (ketamine) to 18 patients already on treatment with lithium (10 patients) or valproate (8 patients) for bipolar depression. From 40 minutes following intravenous injection of ketamine hydrochloride (0.5 mg/kg), the researchers observed significant improvements in depressive symptoms, as measured by standard tools, that were maintained for up to 3 days, an effect not observed in subjects who received the placebo. Five subjects dropped out of the ketamine study; of these, four were taking valproate and one was being treated with lithium. One patient showed signs of hypomania following ketamine administration and two experienced low mood. This study demonstrates a rapid-onset antidepressant effect of ketamine in a small group of patients with bipolar depression. The authors acknowledged the study’s limitations, including the dissociative disturbances in patients receiving ketamine that could have compromised the study blinding, and they emphasised the need for further research.

A more recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study by the same group found that ketamine treatment resulted in a similarly rapid alleviation of suicidal ideation in 15 patients with bipolar depression.

Ketamine is used as a dissociative anaesthetic, and is a Class C substance in the United Kingdom; as such, it should only be used under the direction of a health professional.

Dopamine Agonists

In a single controlled study of twenty one patients, the dopamine D3 receptor agonist pramipexole was found to be highly effective in the treatment of bipolar depression. Treatment was initiated at 0.125 mg t.i.d. and increased at a rate of 0.125 mg t.i.d. to a limit of 4.5 mg qd until the patients’ condition satisfactorily responded to the medication or they could not abide the side effects. The final average dosage was 1.7 mg ± .90 mg qd. The incidence of hypomania in the treatment group was no greater than in the control group.

Psychotherapy

Certain types of psychotherapy, used in combination with medication, may provide some benefit in the treatment of bipolar disorders. Psychoeducation has been shown to be effective in improving patients’ compliance with their lithium treatment. Evidence of the efficacy of family therapy is not adequate to support unrestricted recommendation of its use. There is “fair support” for the utility of cognitive therapy. Evidence for the efficacy of other psychotherapies is absent or weak, often not being performed under randomised and controlled conditions. Well-designed studies have found interpersonal and social rhythm therapy to be effective.

Although medication and psychotherapy cannot cure the illness, therapy can often be valuable in helping to address the effects of disruptive manic or depressive episodes that have hurt a patient’s career, relationships or self-esteem. Therapy is available not only from psychiatrists but from social workers, psychologists and other licensed counsellors.

Jungian Therapy

Jungian authors have likened the mania and depression of bipolar disorder to the Jungian archetypes ‘puer’ and ‘senex’. The puer archetype is defined by the behaviours of spontaneity, impulsiveness, enthusiasm or mania and is symbolised by characters such as Peter Pan or the Greek god Hermes. The senex archetype is defined by behaviours of order, systematic thought, caution, and depression and is symbolised by characters such as the Roman god Saturn or the Greek god Kronos. Jungians conceptualise the puer and senex as a coexistent bipolarity appearing in human behaviour and imagination, but in neurotic manifestations appears as extreme oscillations and as unipolar manifestations. In the case of the split puer-senex bipolarity the therapeutic task is to bring the puer and senex back into correlation by working with the patient’s mental imagery.”

Lifestyle Changes

Sufficient Sleep

If sleeping is disturbed, the symptoms can occur. Sleep disruption may actually exacerbate the mental illness state. Those who do not get enough sleep at night, sleep late and wake up late, or go to sleep with some disturbance (e.g. music or charging devices) have a greater chance of having the symptoms and, in addition, depression. It is highly advised to not sleep too late and to get enough high quality sleep.

Self-Management and Self-Awareness

Understanding the symptoms, when they occur and ways to control them using appropriate medications and psychotherapy has given many people diagnosed with bipolar disorder a chance at a better life. Prodrome symptom detection has been shown to be used effectively to anticipate onset of manic episodes and requires high degree of understanding of one’s illness. Because the offset of the symptoms is often gradual, recognising even subtle mood changes and activity levels is important in avoiding a relapse. Maintaining a mood chart is a specific method used by patients and doctors to identify mood, environmental and activity triggers.

Stress Reduction

Forms of stress may include having too much to do, too much complexity and conflicting demands among others. There are also stresses that come from the absence of elements such as human contact, a sense of achievement, constructive creative outlets, and occasions or circumstances that will naturally elicit positive emotions. Stress reduction will involve reducing things that cause anxiety and increasing those that generate happiness. It is not enough to just reduce the anxiety.

Co-Morbid Substance Use Disorder

Co-occurring substance misuse disorders, which are extremely common in bipolar patients can cause a significant worsening of bipolar symptomatology and can cause the emergence of affective symptoms. The treatment options and recommendations for substance use disorders is wide but may include certain pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatment options.

Other Treatments

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids may also be used as a treatment for bipolar disorder, particularly as a supplement to medication. An initial clinical trial by Stoll et al. (1999) produced positive results. However, since 1999 attempts to confirm this finding of beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids in several larger double-blind clinical trials have produced inconclusive results. It was hypothesized that the therapeutic ingredient in omega-3 fatty acid preparations is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and that supplements should be high in this compound to be beneficial. A 2008 Cochrane systematic review found limited evidence to support the use of Omega-3 fatty acids to improve depression but not mania as an adjunct treatment for bipolar disorder.

Omega-3 fatty acids may be found in fish, fish oils, algae, and to a lesser degree in other foods such as flaxseed, flaxseed oil and walnuts. Although the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids remain debated, they are readily available at drugstores and supermarkets, relatively inexpensive, and have few known side effects (All of these oils, however, have the capacity to exacerbate GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) – food sources may be a good alternative in such cases).

Exercise

Exercise has also been shown to have antidepressant effects.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may have some effectiveness in mixed mania states, and good effectiveness in bipolar depression, particularly in the presence of psychosis. It may also be useful in the treatment of severe mania that is non-responsive to medications.

The most frequent side effects of ECT include memory impairment, headaches, and muscle aches. In some instances, ECT can produce significant and long-lasting cognitive impairment, including anterograde amnesia, and retrograde amnesia.

Ketogenic Diet

Because many of the medications that are effective in treating epilepsy are also effective as mood stabilizers, it has been suggested that the ketogenic diet – used for treating paediatric epilepsy – could have mood stabilising effects. Ketogenic diets are diets that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates, and force the body to use fat for energy instead of sugars from carbohydrates. This causes a metabolic response similar to that seen in the body during fasting. This idea has not been tested by clinical research, and until recently, was entirely hypothetical. Recently, however, two case studies have been described where ketogenic diets were used to treat bipolar II. In each case, the patients found that the ketogenic diet was more effective for treating their disorder than medication and were able to discontinue the use of medication. The key to efficacy appears to be ketosis (a metabolic state characterised by elevated levels of ketone bodies in the blood or urine), which can be achieved either with a classic high-fat ketogenic diet, or with a low-carbohydrate diet similar to the induction phase of the Atkins Diet. The mechanism of action is not well understood. It is unclear whether the benefits of the diet produce a lasting improvement in symptoms (as is sometimes the case in treatment for epilepsy) or whether the diet would need to be continued indefinitely to maintain symptom remission.

The Role of Cannabinoids

Acute cannabis intoxication transiently produces perceptual distortions, psychotic symptoms and reduction in cognitive abilities in healthy persons and in severe mental disorder, and may impair the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

Cannabis use is common in bipolar disorder, and is a risk factor for a more severe course of the disease by increasing frequency and duration of episodes. It is also reported to reduce age at onset.

Alternative Medicine

Several studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may have beneficial effects on depressive symptoms, but not manic symptoms. However, only a few small studies of variable quality have been published and there is not enough evidence to draw any firm conclusions.

What is True Self and False Self?

Introduction

True self (also known as real self, authentic self, original self and vulnerable self) and false self (also known as fake self, idealised self, superficial self and pseudo self) are psychological concepts, originally introduced into psychoanalysis in 1960 by Donald Winnicott.

Winnicott used true self to describe a sense of self based on spontaneous authentic experience and a feeling of being alive, having a real self. The false self, by contrast, Winnicott saw as a defensive façade, which in extreme cases could leave its holders lacking spontaneity and feeling dead and empty, behind a mere appearance of being real.

The concepts are often used in connection with narcissism.

Characteristics

Winnicott saw the true self as rooted from early infancy in the experience of being alive, including blood pumping and lungs breathing – what Winnicott called simply being. Out of this, the baby creates the experience of a sense of reality, a sense that life is worth living. The baby’s spontaneous, nonverbal gestures derive from that instinctual sense, and if responded to by the parents, become the basis for the continuing development of the true self.

However, when what Winnicott was careful to describe as good enough parenting – i.e., not necessarily perfect – was not in place, the infant’s spontaneity was in danger of being encroached on by the need for compliance with the parents’ wishes/expectations. The result for Winnicott could be the creation of what he called the false self, where “Other people’s expectations can become of overriding importance, overlaying or contradicting the original sense of self, the one connected to the very roots of one’s being”. The danger he saw was that “through this false self, the infant builds up a false set of relationships, and by means of introjections even attains a show of being real”, while, in fact, merely concealing a barren emptiness behind an independent-seeming façade.

The danger was particularly acute where the baby had to provide attunement for the mother/parents, rather than vice versa, building up a sort of dissociated recognition of the object on an impersonal, not personal and spontaneous basis. But while such a pathological false self stifled the spontaneous gestures of the true self in favour of a lifeless imitation, Winnicott nevertheless considered it of vital importance in preventing something worse: the annihilating experience of the exploitation of the hidden true self itself.

Precursors

There was much in psychoanalytic theory on which Winnicott could draw for his concept of the false self. Helene Deutsch had described the “as if” personalities, with their pseudo relationships substituting for real ones. Winnicott’s analyst, Joan Riviere, had explored the concept of the narcissist’s masquerade – superficial assent concealing a subtle hidden struggle for control. Freud’s own late theory of the ego as the product of identifications came close to viewing it only as a false self; while Winnicott’s true/false distinction has also been compared to Michael Balint’s “basic fault” and to Ronald Fairbairn’s notion of the “compromised ego”.

Erich Fromm, in his book The Fear of Freedom distinguished between original self and pseudo self – the inauthenticality of the latter being a way to escape the loneliness of freedom; while much earlier the existentialist like Kierkegaard had claimed that “to will to be that self which one truly is, is indeed the opposite of despair” – the despair of choosing “to be another than himself”.

Karen Horney, in her 1950 book, Neurosis and Human Growth, based her idea of “true self” and “false self” through the view of self-improvement, interpreting it as real self and ideal self, with the real self being what one currently is and the ideal self being what one could become.

Later Developments

The second half of the twentieth century has seen Winnicott’s ideas extended and applied in a variety of contexts, both in psychoanalysis and beyond.

Kohut

Heinz Kohut extended Winnicott’s work in his investigation of narcissism, seeing narcissists as evolving a defensive armour around their damaged inner selves. He considered it less pathological to identify with the damaged remnants of the self, than to achieve coherence through identification with an external personality at the cost of one’s own autonomous creativity.

Lowen

Alexander Lowen identified narcissists as having a true and a false, or superficial, self. The false self rests on the surface, as the self presented to the world. It stands in contrast to the true self, which resides behind the façade or image. This true self is the feeling self, but for the narcissist the feeling self must be hidden and denied. Since the superficial self represents submission and conformity, the inner or true self is rebellious and angry. This underlying rebellion and anger can never be fully suppressed since it is an expression of the life force in that person. But because of the denial, it cannot be expressed directly. Instead it shows up in the narcissist’s acting out. And it can become a perverse force.

Masterson

James F. Masterson argued that all the personality disorders crucially involve the conflict between a person’s two selves: the false self, which the very young child constructs to please the mother, and the true self. The psychotherapy of personality disorders is an attempt to put people back in touch with their real selves.

Symington

Neville Symington developed Winnicott’s contrast between true and false self to cover the sources of personal action, contrasting an autonomous and a discordant source of action – the latter drawn from the internalisation of external influences and pressures. Thus for example parental dreams of self-glorification by way of their child’s achievements can be internalised as an alien discordant source of action. Symington stressed however the intentional element in the individual’s abandoning the autonomous self in favour of a false self or narcissistic mask – something he considered Winnicott to have overlooked.

Vaknin

As part of what has been described as a personal mission to raise the profile of the condition, psychology professor (and self-confessed narcissist) Sam Vaknin has highlighted the role of the false self in narcissism. The false self replaces the narcissist’s true self and is intended to shield him from hurt and narcissistic injury by self-imputing omnipotence. The narcissist pretends that his false self is real and demands that others affirm this confabulation, meanwhile keeping his real imperfect true self under wraps.

For Vaknin, the false self is by far more important to the narcissist than his dilapidated, dysfunctional true self; and he does not subscribe to the view that the true self can be resuscitated through therapy.

Miller

Alice Miller cautiously warns that a child/patient may not have any formed true self, waiting behind the false self façade; and that as a result freeing the true self is not as simple as the Winnicottian image of the butterfly emerging from its cocoon. If a true self can be developed, however, she considered that the empty grandiosity of the false self could give way to a new sense of autonomous vitality.

Orbach (False Bodies)

Susie Orbach saw the false self as an overdevelopment (under parental pressure) of certain aspects of the self at the expense of other aspects – of the full potential of the self – producing thereby an abiding distrust of what emerges spontaneously from the individual himself or herself. Orbach went on to extend Winnicott’s account of how environmental failure can lead to an inner splitting of mind and body, so as to cover the idea of the false body – falsified sense of one’s own body. Orbach saw the female false body in particular as built upon identifications with others, at the cost of an inner sense of authenticity and reliability. Breaking up a monolithic but false body-sense in the process of therapy could allow for the emergence of a range of authentic (even if often painful) body feelings in the patient.

Jungian Persona

Jungians have explored the overlap between Carl Jung’s concept of the persona and Winnicott’s false self; but, while noting similarities, consider that only the most rigidly defensive persona approximates to the pathological status of the false self.

Stern’s Tripartite Self

Daniel Stern considered Winnicott’s sense of “going on being” as constitutive of the core, pre-verbal self. He also explored how language could be used to reinforce a false sense of self, leaving the true self linguistically opaque and disavowed. He ended, however, by proposing a three-fold division of social, private, and of disavowed self.

Criticisms

Neville Symington criticised Winnicott for failing to integrate his false self insight with the theory of ego and id. Similarly, continental analysts like Jean-Bertrand Pontalis have made use of true/false self as a clinical distinction, while having reservations about its theoretical status.

The philosopher Michel Foucault took issue more broadly with the concept of a true self on the anti-essentialist grounds that the self was a construct – something one had to evolve through a process of subjectification, an aesthetics of self-formation, not something simply waiting to be uncovered: “we have to create ourselves as a work of art”.

Literary Examples

  • Wuthering Heights has been interpreted in terms of the true self’s struggle to break through the conventional overlay.
  • In the novel, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, the heroine saw her outward personality as a mere ghost of a Semblance, behind which her true self hid ever more completely.
  • Sylvia Plath’s poetry has been interpreted in terms of the conflict of the true and false selves.

What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

Introduction

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that began with efforts to treat personality disorders, ADHD, and interpersonal conflicts.

There is evidence that DBT can be useful in treating mood disorders, suicidal ideation, and for change in behavioural patterns such as self-harm and substance use. DBT evolved into a process in which the therapist and client work with acceptance and change-oriented strategies, and ultimately balance and synthesize them, in a manner comparable to the philosophical dialectical process of hypothesis and antithesis, followed by synthesis.

This approach was developed by Marsha M. Linehan, a psychology researcher at the University of Washington, to help people increase their emotional and cognitive regulation by learning about the triggers that lead to reactive states and helping to assess which coping skills to apply in the sequence of events, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to help avoid undesired reactions.

Linehan developed DBT as a modified form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in the late 1980s to treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and chronically suicidal individuals. Research on its effectiveness in treating other conditions has been fruitful; DBT has been used by practitioners to treat people with depression, drug and alcohol problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), binge-eating disorder, and mood disorders. Research indicates DBT might help patients with symptoms and behaviours associated with spectrum mood disorders, including self-injury. Work also suggests its effectiveness with sexual-abuse survivors and chemical dependency.

DBT combines standard cognitive-behavioural techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness largely derived from contemplative meditative practice. DBT is based upon the biosocial theory of mental illness and is the first therapy that has been experimentally demonstrated to be generally effective in treating BPD. The first randomised clinical trial of DBT showed reduced rates of suicidal gestures, psychiatric hospitalisations, and treatment drop-outs when compared to treatment as usual. A meta-analysis found that DBT reached moderate effects in individuals with borderline personality disorder.

Overview

DBT is considered part of the “third wave” of cognitive-behavioural therapy, and DBT adapts CBT to assist patients to deal with stress.

This approach was developed by Marsha M. Linehan, a psychology researcher at the University of Washington, to help people increase their emotional and cognitive regulation by learning about the triggers that lead to reactive states and helping to assess which coping skills to apply in the sequence of events, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to help avoid undesired reactions.

Linehan developed DBT as a modified form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in the late 1980s to treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and chronically suicidal individuals. Research on its effectiveness in treating other conditions has been fruitful; DBT has been used by practitioners to treat people with depression, drug and alcohol problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), binge-eating disorder, and mood disorders. Research indicates DBT might help patients with symptoms and behaviours associated with spectrum mood disorders, including self-injury. Recent work also suggests its effectiveness with sexual-abuse survivors and chemical dependency.

DBT strives to have the patient view the therapist as an ally rather than an adversary in the treatment of psychological issues. Accordingly, the therapist aims to accept and validate the client’s feelings at any given time, while, nonetheless, informing the client that some feelings and behaviours are maladaptive, and showing them better alternatives. DBT focuses on the client acquiring new skills and changing their behaviours, with the ultimate goal of achieving a “life worth living”, as defined by the patient.

In DBT’s biosocial theory of BPD, clients have a biological predisposition for emotional dysregulation, and their social environment validates maladaptive behaviour.

DBT skills training alone is being used to address treatment goals in some clinical settings, and the broader goal of emotion regulation that is seen in DBT has allowed it to be used in new settings, for example, supporting parenting.

Four Modules

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one of the core ideas behind all elements of DBT. It is considered a foundation for the other skills taught in DBT, because it helps individuals accept and tolerate the powerful emotions they may feel when challenging their habits or exposing themselves to upsetting situations.

The concept of mindfulness and the meditative exercises used to teach it are derived from traditional contemplative religious practice, though the version taught in DBT does not involve any religious or metaphysical concepts. Within DBT it is the capacity to pay attention, nonjudgmentally, to the present moment; about living in the moment, experiencing one’s emotions and senses fully, yet with perspective. The practice of mindfulness can also be intended to make people more aware of their environments through their five senses: touch, smell, sight, taste, and sound. Mindfulness relies heavily on the principle of acceptance, sometimes referred to as “radical acceptance”. Acceptance skills rely on the patient’s ability to view situations with no judgment, and to accept situations and their accompanying emotions. This causes less distress overall, which can result in reduced discomfort and symptomology.

Acceptance and Change

The first few sessions of DBT introduce the dialectic of acceptance and change. The patient must first become comfortable with the idea of therapy; once the patient and therapist have established a trusting relationship, DBT techniques can flourish. An essential part of learning acceptance is to first grasp the idea of radical acceptance: radical acceptance embraces the idea that one should face situations, both positive and negative, without judgment. Acceptance also incorporates mindfulness and emotional regulation skills, which depend on the idea of radical acceptance. These skills, specifically, are what set DBT apart from other therapies.

Often, after a patient becomes familiar with the idea of acceptance, they will accompany it with change. DBT has five specific states of change which the therapist will review with the patient:

  • Precontemplation is the first stage, in which the patient is completely unaware of their problem.
  • In the second stage, contemplation, the patient realises the reality of their illness: this is not an action, but a realisation.
  • It is not until the third stage, preparation, that the patient is likely to take action, and prepares to move forward. This could be as simple as researching or contacting therapists.
  • Finally, in stage 4, the patient takes action and receives treatment.
  • In the final stage, maintenance, the patient must strengthen their change in order to prevent relapse.

After grasping acceptance and change, a patient can fully advance to mindfulness techniques.

There are six mindfulness skills used in DBT to bring the client closer to achieving a “wise mind”, the synthesis of the rational mind and emotion mind: three “what” skills (observe, describe, participate) and three “how” skills (nonjudgementally, one-mindfully, effectively).

Distress Tolerance

Many current approaches to mental health treatment focus on changing distressing events and circumstances such as dealing with the death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness, terrorist attacks and other traumatic events. They have paid little attention to accepting, finding meaning for, and tolerating distress. This task has generally been tackled by person-centred, psychodynamic, psychoanalytic, gestalt, or narrative therapies, along with religious and spiritual communities and leaders. Dialectical behaviour therapy emphasizes learning to bear pain skilfully. This module outlines healthy coping behaviours intended to replace harmful ones, such as distractions, improving the moment, self-soothing, and practicing acceptance of what is.

Distress tolerance skills constitute a natural development from DBT mindfulness skills. They have to do with the ability to accept, in a non-evaluative and non-judgemental fashion, both oneself and the current situation. Since this is a non-judgmental stance, this means that it is not one of approval or resignation. The goal is to become capable of calmly recognizing negative situations and their impact, rather than becoming overwhelmed or hiding from them. This allows individuals to make wise decisions about whether and how to take action, rather than falling into the intense, desperate, and often destructive emotional reactions that are part of borderline personality disorder.

Emotion Regulation

Individuals with borderline personality disorder and suicidal individuals are frequently emotionally intense and labile. They can be angry, intensely frustrated, depressed, or anxious. This suggests that these clients might benefit from help in learning to regulate their emotions. DBT skills for emotion regulation include:

  • Identify and label emotions.
  • Identify obstacles to changing emotions.
  • Reduce vulnerability to emotion mind.
  • Increase positive emotional events.
  • Increase mindfulness to current emotions.
  • Take opposite action.
  • Apply distress tolerance techniques.

Emotional regulation skills are based on the theory that intense emotions are a conditioned response to troublesome experiences, the conditioned stimulus, and therefore, are required to alter the patient’s conditioned response. These skills can be categorised into four modules: understanding and naming emotions, changing unwanted emotions, reducing vulnerability, and managing extreme conditions:

  • Learning how to understand and name emotions:
    • The patient focuses on recognising their feelings.
    • This segment relates directly to mindfulness, which also exposes a patient to their emotions.
  • Changing unwanted emotions:
    • The therapist emphasizes the use of opposite-reactions, fact-checking, and problem solving to regulate emotions.
    • While using opposite-reactions, the patient targets distressing feelings by responding with the opposite emotion.
  • Reducing vulnerability:
    • The patient learns to accumulate positive emotions and to plan coping mechanisms in advance, in order to better handle difficult experiences in the future.
  • Managing extreme conditions:
    • The patient focuses on incorporating their use of mindfulness skills to their current emotions, to remain stable and alert in a crisis.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

The three interpersonal skills focused on in DBT include self-respect, treating others “with care, interest, validation, and respect”, and assertiveness. The dialectic involved in healthy relationships involves balancing the needs of others with the needs of the self, while maintaining one’s self-respect

Tools

Specially formatted diary cards can be used to track relevant emotions and behaviours. Diary cards are most useful when they are filled out daily. The diary card is used to find the treatment priorities that guide the agenda of each therapy session. Both the client and therapist can use the diary card to see what has improved, gotten worse, or stayed the same.

Chain Analysis

Chain analysis is a form of functional analysis of behaviour but with increased focus on sequential events that form the behaviour chain. It has strong roots in behavioural psychology in particular applied behaviour analysis concept of chaining. A growing body of research supports the use of behaviour chain analysis with multiple populations.

Efficacy

Borderline Personality Disorder

DBT is the therapy that has been studied the most for treatment of borderline personality disorder, and there have been enough studies done to conclude that DBT is helpful in treating borderline personality disorder. A 2009 Canadian study compared the treatment of borderline personality disorder with dialectical behaviour therapy against general psychiatric management. A total of 180 adults, 90 in each group, were admitted to the study and treated for an average of 41 weeks. Statistically significant decreases in suicidal events and non-suicidal self-injurious events were seen overall (48% reduction, p=0.03; and 77% reduction, p=0.01; respectively). No statistically-significant difference between groups were seen for these episodes (p=.64). Emergency department visits decreased by 67% (p<0.0001) and emergency department visits for suicidal behaviour by 65% (p<0.0001), but there was also no statistically significant difference between groups.

Depression

A Duke University pilot study compared treatment of depression by antidepressant medication to treatment by antidepressants and dialectical behaviour therapy. A total of 34 chronically depressed individuals over age 60 were treated for 28 weeks. Six months after treatment, statistically-significant differences were noted in remission rates between groups, with a greater percentage of patients treated with antidepressants and dialectical behaviour therapy in remission.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)

Exposure to complex trauma, or the experience of traumatic events, can lead to the development of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) in an individual. CPTSD is a concept which divides the psychological community. The American Psychological Association (APA) does not recognise it in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the manual used by providers to diagnose, treat and discuss mental illness), though some practitioners argue that CPTSD is separate from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

CPTSD is similar to PTSD in that its symptomatology is pervasive and includes cognitive, emotional, and biological domains, among others. CPTSD differs from PTSD in that it is believed to originate in childhood interpersonal trauma, or chronic childhood stress, and that the most common precedents are sexual traumas. Currently, the prevalence rate for CPTSD is an estimated 0.5%, while PTSD’s is 1.5%. Numerous definitions for CPTSD exist. Different versions are contributed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), and individual clinicians and researchers.

Most definitions revolve around criteria for PTSD with the addition of several other domains. While The APA may not recognise CPTSD, the WHO has recognized this syndrome in its 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The WHO defines CPTSD as a disorder following a single or multiple events which cause the individual to feel stressed or trapped, characterised by low self-esteem, interpersonal deficits, and deficits in affect regulation. These deficits in affect regulation, among other symptoms are a reason why CPTSD is sometimes compared with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Similarities between CPTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder

In addition to affect dysregulation, case studies reveal that patients with CPTSD can also exhibit splitting, mood swings, and fears of abandonment. Like patients with borderline personality disorder, patients with CPTSD were traumatised frequently and/or early in their development and never learned proper coping mechanisms. These individuals may use avoidance, substances, dissociation, and other maladaptive behaviours to cope. Thus, treatment for CPTSD involves stabilising and teaching successful coping behaviours, affect regulation, and creating and maintaining interpersonal connections. In addition to sharing symptom presentations, CPTSD and BPD can share neurophysiological similarities, for example, abnormal volume of the amygdala (emotional memory), hippocampus (memory), anterior cingulate cortex (emotion), and orbital prefrontal cortex (personality). Another shared characteristic between CPTSD and BPD is the possibility for dissociation. Further research is needed to determine the reliability of dissociation as a hallmark of CPTSD, however it is a possible symptom. Because of the two disorders’ shared symptomatology and physiological correlates, psychologists began hypothesising that a treatment which was effective for one disorder may be effective for the other as well.

DBT as a Treatment for CPTSD

DBT’s use of acceptance and goal orientation as an approach to behaviour change can help to instil empowerment and engage individuals in the therapeutic process. The focus on the future and change can help to prevent the individual from becoming overwhelmed by their history of trauma. This is a risk especially with CPTSD, as multiple traumas are common within this diagnosis. Generally, care providers address a client’s suicidality before moving on to other aspects of treatment. Because PTSD can make an individual more likely to experience suicidal ideation, DBT can be an option to stabilize suicidality and aid in other treatment modalities.

Some critics argue that while DBT can be used to treat CPTSD, it is not significantly more effective than standard PTSD treatments. Further, this argument posits that DBT decreases self-injurious behaviours (such as cutting or burning) and increases interpersonal functioning but neglects core CPTSD symptoms such as impulsivity, cognitive schemas (repetitive, negative thoughts), and emotions such as guilt and shame. The ISTSS reports that CPTSD requires treatment which differs from typical PTSD treatment, using a multiphase model of recovery, rather than focusing on traumatic memories. The recommended multiphase model consists of establishing safety, distress tolerance, and social relations.

Because DBT has four modules which generally align with these guidelines (Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Affect Regulation, Interpersonal Skills) it is a treatment option. Other critiques of DBT discuss the time required for the therapy to be effective. Individuals seeking DBT may not be able to commit to the individual and group sessions required, or their insurance may not cover every session.

A study co-authored by Linehan found that among women receiving outpatient care for BPD and who had attempted suicide in the previous year, 56% additionally met criteria for PTSD. Because of the correlation between borderline personality disorder traits and trauma, some settings began using DBT as a treatment for traumatic symptoms. Some providers opt to combine DBT with other PTSD interventions, such as prolonged exposure therapy (PE) (repeated, detailed description of the trauma in a psychotherapy session) or cognitive processing therapy (CPT) (psychotherapy which addresses cognitive schemas related to traumatic memories).

For example, a regimen which combined PE and DBT would include teaching mindfulness skills and distress tolerance skills, then implementing PE. The individual with the disorder would then be taught acceptance of a trauma’s occurrence and how it may continue to affect them throughout their lives. Participants in clinical trials such as these exhibited a decrease in symptoms, and throughout the 12-week trial, no self-injurious or suicidal behaviours were reported.

Another argument which supports the use of DBT as a treatment for trauma hinges upon PTSD symptoms such as emotion regulation and distress. Some PTSD treatments such as exposure therapy may not be suitable for individuals whose distress tolerance and/or emotion regulation is low. Biosocial theory posits that emotion dysregulation is caused by an individual’s heightened emotional sensitivity combined with environmental factors (such as invalidation of emotions, continued abuse/trauma), and tendency to ruminate (repeatedly think about a negative event and how the outcome could have been changed).

An individual who has these features is likely to use maladaptive coping behaviours. DBT can be appropriate in these cases because it teaches appropriate coping skills and allows the individuals to develop some degree of self-sufficiency. The first three modules of DBT increase distress tolerance and emotion regulation skills in the individual, paving the way for work on symptoms such as intrusions, self-esteem deficiency, and interpersonal relations.

Noteworthy is that DBT has often been modified based on the population being treated. For example, in veteran populations DBT is modified to include exposure exercises and accommodate the presence of traumatic brain injury (TBI), and insurance coverage (i.e. shortening treatment). Populations with comorbid BPD may need to spend longer in the “Establishing Safety” phase. In adolescent populations, the skills training aspect of DBT has elicited significant improvement in emotion regulation and ability to express emotion appropriately. In populations with comorbid substance use, adaptations may be made on a case-by-case basis.

For example, a provider may wish to incorporate elements of motivational interviewing (psychotherapy which uses empowerment to inspire behaviour change). The degree of substance use should also be considered. For some individuals, substance use is the only coping behaviour they know, and as such the provider may seek to implement skills training before target substance reduction. Inversely, a client’s substance use may be interfering with attendance or other treatment compliance and the provider may choose to address the substance use before implementing DBT for the trauma.

What is Metacognitive Therapy?

Introduction

Metacognitive therapy (MCT) is a psychotherapy focused on modifying metacognitive beliefs that perpetuate states of worry, rumination and attention fixation.

It was created by Adrian Wells based on an information processing model by Wells and Gerald Matthews. It is supported by scientific evidence from a large number of studies.

The goals of MCT are first to discover what patients believe about their own thoughts and about how their mind works (called metacognitive beliefs), then to show the patient how these beliefs lead to unhelpful responses to thoughts that serve to unintentionally prolong or worsen symptoms, and finally to provide alternative ways of responding to thoughts in order to allow a reduction of symptoms. In clinical practice, MCT is most commonly used for treating anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), health anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as depression – though the model was designed to be transdiagnostic (meaning it focuses on common psychological factors thought to maintain all psychological disorders).

Refer to Metacognitive Training.

Brief History

Metacognition, Greek for “after” (meta) “thought” (cognition), refers to the human capacity to be aware of and control one’s own thoughts and internal mental processes. Metacognition has been studied for several decades by researchers, originally as part of developmental psychology and neuropsychology. Examples of metacognition include a person knowing what thoughts are currently in their mind and knowing where the focus of their attention is, and a person’s beliefs about their own thoughts (which may or may not be accurate). The first metacognitive interventions were devised for children with attentional disorders in the 1980s.

Model of Mental Disorders

Self-Regulatory Executive Function Model

In the metacognitive model, symptoms are caused by a set of psychological processes called the cognitive attentional syndrome (CAS). The CAS includes three main processes, each of which constitutes extended thinking in response to negative thoughts. These three processes are:

  • Worry/rumination.
  • Threat monitoring.
  • Coping behaviours that backfire.

All three are driven by patients’ metacognitive beliefs, such as the belief that these processes will help to solve problems, although the processes all ultimately have the unintentional consequence of prolonging distress. Of particular importance in the model are negative metacognitive beliefs, especially those concerning the uncontrollability and dangerousness of some thoughts. Executive functions are also believed to play a part in how the person can focus and refocus on certain thoughts and mental modes. These mental modes can be categorised as object mode and metacognitive mode, which refers to the different types of relationships people can have towards thoughts. All of the CAS, the metacognitive beliefs, the mental modes and the executive function together constitute the self-regulatory executive function model (S-REF). This is also known as the metacognitive model. In more recent work, Wells has described in greater detail a metacognitive control system of the S-REF aimed at advancing research and treatment using metacognitive therapy.

Therapeutic Intervention

MCT is a time-limited therapy which usually takes place between 8-12 sessions. The therapist uses discussions with the patient to discover their metacognitive beliefs, experiences and strategies. The therapist then shares the model with the patient, pointing out how their particular symptoms are caused and maintained.

Therapy then proceeds with the introduction of techniques tailored to the patient’s difficulties aimed at changing how the patient relates to thoughts and that bring extended thinking under control. Experiments are used to challenge metacognitive beliefs (e.g. “You believe that if you worry too much you will go ‘mad’ – let’s try worrying as much as possible for the next five minutes and see if there is any effect”) and strategies such as attentional training technique and detached mindfulness (this is a distinct strategy from various other mindfulness techniques).

Research

Clinical trials (including randomised controlled trials) have found MCT to produce large clinically significant improvements across a range of mental health disorders, although as of 2014 the total number of subjects studied is small and a meta-analysis concluded that further study is needed before strong conclusions can be drawn regarding effectiveness. A 2015 special issue of the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research was devoted to MCT research findings.

A 2018 meta-analysis confirmed the effectiveness of MCT in the treatment of a variety of psychological complaints with depression and anxiety showing high effect sizes. It concluded (Morina & Normann, 2018):

“Our findings indicate that MCT is an effective treatment for a range of psychological complaints. To date, strongest evidence exists for anxiety and depression. Current results suggest that MCT may be superior to other psychotherapies, including cognitive behavioral interventions. However, more trials with larger number of participants are needed in order to draw firm conclusions.”

In 2020, a study showed superior effectiveness in MCT over CBT in the treatment of depression. It summarised (Callesen et al., 2020):

“MCT appears promising and might offer a necessary advance in depression treatment, but there is insufficient evidence at present from adequately powered trials to assess the relative efficacy of MCT compared with CBT in depression.”

In 2018-2020, a research topic in the journal Frontiers in Psychology highlighted the growing experimental, clinical, and neuropsychological evidence base for MCT.

References

Morina, N. & Normann, N. (2018) The Efficacy of Metacognitive Therapy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Psychology. 9:2211. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02211.

Callesen, P., Reeves, D., Heal, C. & Wells, A. (2020) Metacognitive Therapy versus Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in Adults with Major Depression: A Parallel Single-Blind Randomised Trial. Scientific Reports. 10(1):7878.

On This Day … 14 October

People (Births)

Jurg Schubiger

Jürg Schubiger (14 October 1936 to 15 September 2014) was a Swiss psychotherapist and writer of children’s books. He won the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (German Youth Literature Award) in 1996 for Als die Welt noch jung war.

For his “lasting contribution” as a children’s writer Schubiger received the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 2008. The award conferred by the International Board on Books for Young People is the highest recognition available to a writer or illustrator of children’s books.

On This Day … 01 October

People (Births)

  • 1915 – Jerome Bruner, American psychologist and author (d. 2016).
  • 1940 – Phyllis Chesler, American feminist psychologist, who wrote Women and Madness (1972).

Jerome Bruner

Jerome Seymour Bruner (01 October 1915 to 05 June 2016) was an American psychologist who made significant contributions to human cognitive psychology and cognitive learning theory in educational psychology.

Bruner was a senior research fellow at the New York University School of Law. He received a B.A. in 1937 from Duke University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1941. He taught and did research at Harvard University, the University of Oxford, and New York University. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Bruner as the 28th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.

Phyllis Chesler

Phyllis Chesler (born 01 October 1940) is an American writer, psychotherapist, and professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island (CUNY).

She is known as a feminist psychologist, and is the author of 18 books, including the best-seller Women and Madness (1972), With Child: A Story of Motherhood (1979) and An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (2013). Chesler has written on topics such as gender, mental illness, divorce and child custody, surrogacy, second-wave feminism, pornography, prostitution, incest, and violence against women.

In more recent years, Chesler has written several works on such subjects as anti-Semitism, Islam, and honour killings. Chesler argues that many western intellectuals, including leftists and feminists, have abandoned Western values in the name of multicultural relativism, and that this has led to an alliance with Islamists, an increase in anti-Semitism, and to the abandonment of Muslim women and religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries.

On This Day … 27 September

People (Births)

  • 1913 – Albert Ellis, American psychologist and author (d. 2007).

People (Deaths)

  • 2004 – John E. Mack, American psychiatrist and author (b. 1929).

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis (27 September 1913 to 24 July 2007) was an American psychologist and psychotherapist who founded Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). He held MA and PhD degrees in clinical psychology from Columbia University, and was certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). He also founded, and was the President of, the New York City-based Albert Ellis Institute. He is generally considered to be one of the originators of the cognitive revolutionary paradigm shift in psychotherapy and an early proponent and developer of cognitive-behavioural therapies.

Based on a 1982 professional survey of US and Canadian psychologists, he was considered the second most influential psychotherapist in history (Carl Rogers ranked first in the survey; Sigmund Freud was ranked third). Psychology Today noted that, “No individual—not even Freud himself—has had a greater impact on modern psychotherapy.”

John E. Mack

John Edward Mack (04 October 1929 to 27 September 2004) was an American psychiatrist, writer, and professor and the head of the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. In 1977, Mack won the Pulitzer Prize for his book A Prince of Our Disorder on T.E. Lawrence.

As the head of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Mack’s clinical expertise was in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and the psychology of religion. He was also known as a leading researcher on the psychology of teenage suicide and drug addiction, and he later became a researcher in the psychology of alien abduction experiences.

On This Day … 24 September

People (Births)

  • 1901 – Alexandra Adler, Austrian neurologist and psychologist (d.2001).

People (Deaths)

  • 2013 – Boris Karvasarsky, Ukrainian-Russian psychiatrist and author (b. 1931).

Alexandra Adler

Alexandra Adler (24 September 1901 to 04 January 2001) was an Austrian neurologist and the daughter of psychoanalyst Alfred Adler.

She has been described as one of the “leading systematizers and interpreters” of Adlerian psychology. Her sister was Socialist activist Valentine Adler. Alexandra Adler’s husband was Halfdan Gregersen.

In 1943, Adler studied survivors of the Coconut Grove nightclub fire of 1942. The study found that 50% of the survivors still experienced trauma and disturbances a year after the accident. These symptoms included changes in personality such as lack of sleep, anxiety, guilt and fears of the event. It was also studied that survivors were only recognising parts of what happened. It would theorized that it was due to the stress or a possible lesion in the brain due to carbon monoxide exposure. Adler became one of the first neurologists to create a detailed documentation of what is known as post traumatic stress disorder.

In the 1950s and throughout the 60’s, Adler continued her father’s work of Adlerian psychology for possible treatments for schizophrenia, neuroses, and personality disorders. She believed this could be done through modern drug treatment, group therapy, and the existentialist and religious psychotherapies.

Boris Karvasarsky

Boris Dmitrievich Karvasarsky (Russian: Борис Дмитриевич Карвасарский; 03 February 1931 to 24 September 2013) was a Russian psychiatrist, a disciple of V. N. Myasishchev.

Education

Karvasarsky was born in Derazhnia, Ukraine, on 03 February 1931. In 1954 he graduated from S.M. Kirov Military Medical Academy. Then he completed postgraduate courses in the Bekhterev Psychoneurological Institute and was awarded the Degree of Candidate of Science in 1961. He attained his M.D. degree at the age of 37 (in 1968).

Scientific Work

Karvasarsky headed the Department of Neuroses and Psychotherapy in the Bekhterev Research Institute from 1961 until his death. During the period of 1982 until 1993 he also held the chair of Child-Adolescent Psychotherapy in Leningrad Institute for Postgraduate Medical Education. In 1986, he became Head of the Republican Centre for Scientific and Methodic Coordination in Psychotherapy.

The objectives of the centre include annual analysis of the state of psychotherapeutic services in Russia and ongoing education of the specialists rendering psychotherapeutic treatment to the population.

He worked as editorial board member of several journals including The Bekhterev Review of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology and the Bulletin of Psychotherapy. He was president of the Russian Psychotherapeutic Association until his death. He has also been chief psychotherapist of the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation for about 20 years.

Proceeding from V. Myasishchev’s ideas and his conception of pathogenetic psychotherapy, Karvasarsky elaborated personality-oriented (reconstructive) psychotherapy. After making a special study of this psychotherapeutic approach, some research workers concluded it to be nothing but “Soviet psychoanalysis.” Its proponents, however, challenge such a characterisation. When treating neuroses, associates of the Bekhterev Psychoneurological Institute mainly make use of personality-oriented (reconstructive) psychotherapy. The method has not been extensively used in other regions of today’s Russia, but has been shown capable of yielding satisfactory results in patients with different mental disorders related to borderline psychiatry.

On This Day … 19 September

People (Births)

Adam Phillips

Adam Phillips (born 19 September 1954) is a British psychotherapist and essayist.

Since 2003 he has been the general editor of the new Penguin Modern Classics translations of Sigmund Freud. He is also a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.

Joan Acocella, writing in The New Yorker, described Phillips as “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytic writer”, an opinion echoed by historian Élisabeth Roudinesco in Le Monde.