What are Expressive Therapies?

Introduction

The expressive therapies are the use of the creative arts as a form of therapy, including the distinct disciplines expressive arts therapy and the creative arts therapies (art therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, writing therapy, poetry therapy, and psychodrama).

Unlike traditional arts expression, the process of creation is emphasized rather than the final product. The expressive therapies are based on the assumption that people can heal through the various forms of creative expression. Expressive therapists share the belief that through creative expression and the tapping of the imagination, people can examine their body, feelings, emotions, and thought process.

Brief History

Margaret Namburg, Edith Kramer, Hanna Kwiatkowska and Elinor Ulman have been credited with being the pioneers of the field of sensory art therapy. While all of these scientists made significant contributions, Margaret Namburg has been hailed the “Mother of Art Therapy”. Her work focused on the use of art, mainly as a psychoanalytic diagnostic tool. It followed closely other psychoanalytic practices of the time, and was viewed as the communication of unconscious ideas and emotions that were being expressed by the patient.

Modern Approaches

Today’s art therapy is broken down into three different approaches:

ApproachOutline
PsychodynamicThe psychodynamic approach uses terms such as “transference” and defence mechanism to describe why individuals express the art in the way they do, and why this is an expression of the subconscious.
HumanisticThe humanistic approach is more of a positive psychology approach, and is defined by an optimistic view of humans, and how expression through their art allows them to take control over these emotions.
Learning and DevelopmentThe learning and developmental approach focuses on the art therapy as a method to assist children who have emotional and developmental disabilities.

Definition and Credentialing

Expressive arts therapy is the practice of using imagery, storytelling, dance, music, drama, poetry, movement, horticulture, dreamwork, and visual arts together, in an integrated way, to foster human growth, development, and healing. Expressive arts therapy is its own distinct therapeutic discipline, an inter-modal discipline where the therapist and client move freely between drawing, dancing, music, drama, and poetry.

According to the National Organisation for Arts in Health (NOAH), what distinguishes the six creative arts therapies – art, dance/movement, drama, music and poetry therapy as well as psychodrama – from expressive arts therapy is that expressive arts therapy interventions are designed to include more than one of the “expressive” art forms (art, dance, drama, music, poetry), whereas creative arts therapists, such as art, dance/movement, drama, music, poetry and psychodrama therapists, are often intensively trained and educated to use only one modality in their practice. However, NOAH also acknowledged that the terms “are often used interchangeably in the field”, and that in any case all such professionals should collaborate closely. 

The International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA) is the responsible organisation handling the credentialing of expressive arts therapists.

The National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Association (NCCATA) connects all six modalities of the creative arts therapies. However, each modality of the creative arts therapies has its own national association that regulates professional credentials, establishes educational standards and hosts annual conferences for the purpose of exchanging new ideas and research.

Education

Each national association of the different modalities of expressive therapies sets its own educational standards. In the United States, there are a fair number of colleges that offer approved programmes in compliance with the national associations’ credentialing requirements.

There are 37 universities for music therapy, 34 universities for art therapy, seven universities for dance/movement therapy, and five universities for drama therapy, as well as 5 universities for expressive arts therapy, that have approved master’s degree programmes in the United States. In addition, the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) has 75 undergraduate music therapy programmes approved. Once finished with an academic degree, potential therapists have to apply for credentialing at the responsible national association.

Creative Arts Therapies Modalities

There are six creative arts therapy modalities, recognised by the NCCATA, including art therapy, dance therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, poetry therapy and psychodrama. In some areas, the terms Creative Arts Therapy and Creative Arts Therapist may only be used by those who are properly licensed, as is the case in the State of New York.

Art Therapy

Created in the 1940s, Art therapy consists of the combination of psychotherapy and art. The creative process as well as the created art piece serves as a foundation for self-exploration, understanding, acceptance and eventually healing and personal growth. The creative act in therapy therefore can be seen as a means of re-experiencing inner conflict connected to resolution. The four main types are expression, imagination, active participation, and mind-body connection. Assisting in those with depression, breast cancer, and asthma, art therapy can be done at any age and does not require and skill set. Art Therapy has undergone extensive research which revealed that it decreases anxiety, increases self-concept and quality of life, and reduces negative thoughts. With two main goals in mind, Art Therapy strives to enhance personal and relational goals for those in need. Self-esteem, social skills, and cognitive functions are also said to be an area of importance. A certified art therapist is essential in order for the therapy to ensure improvement, however common art therapy using even a friend to discuss trauma can be enough to help someone.

Dance/Movement Therapy

Like other creative arts therapy modalities, dance/movement therapy is based on the assumption that “mind, body and spirit are inseparable and interconnected” (ADTA). Movement is the primary tool of intervention in a therapy session, but dance/movement therapy also uses the art of play in therapy. Like other creative art therapies it uses primarily nonverbal communication. Dance and movement therapy has shown to be the most beneficial in those who enjoy exercises that involve less talking an expression through movements.

Drama Therapy

Drama therapy refers to the combination of the two disciplines drama/theatre and psychotherapy. Drama Therapy, as a hybrid of both disciplines, uses theatre techniques to treat individuals with mental health, cognitive, and developmental disorders. Through the art of play and pretend, patients gain perspective in therapy to their life experiences, which in the field is referred to as “aesthetic distance”.

Music Therapy

Music Therapy is the use of music, music-making, or other music-related interventions within a therapeutic relationship. Music therapy is a broad field with many areas and populations to specialize in. A holistic practice, music therapy can address emotional/psychological, cognitive, communication, motor, sensory, pain, social, behavioural, end of life, and even spiritual needs. This is due in part to music being processed in many areas of the brain. Music therapy helps patients “communicate, process difficult experiences, and improve motor or cognitive functioning” (Jenni Rook, MT-BC, LCPC, 2016). When used as psychotherapy, at its core, music therapy may use music as a symbolic representation and expression of the psychological world of the individual.

Music Therapy also benefits a variety of disorders, like cardiac and mental disorders. It aids those who suffer from depression, anxiety, autism, substance abuse, and Alzheimer’s. In cases where a person is suffering from mental disorders, music relieves stress, improves self-esteem, etc. Evidence has shown that people who have used Music Therapy in the past have improved in several aspects of life that do not concern just those suffering from mental illness. In music therapy people may improve their singing which may then impact their ability to speak. Therefore, it can change several aspects of life, not just those of helping mental illness.

Poetry Therapy

Poetry therapy (also referred to using the broader term bibliotherapy) stands out from other creative arts therapies, which are all based on the assumption of the existence of a language that functions without words. Poetry therapy, however, is the use of the written word to bring healing and personal growth.

Psychodrama

Psychodrama is a distinct form of psychotherapy developed by Jacob L. Moreno in the early 20th century. Moreno, a trained psychoanalyst himself, had the goal of creating a more effective, action-based form of psychoanalysis as developed by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. He developed a clear three phase structure (warm up, action, sharing) to his therapy as well as multiple intervention-methods that are still used by psychodrama therapists today.

Although related, psychodrama and drama therapy describe different modalities within the field of creative arts therapies. Whereas psychodrama uses real-life experience of the patients in therapy to “practice new and more effective roles and behaviors” (ASGPP), drama therapy lets the patients explore more fictional stories, such as improvised scenes, myths or fairy tales.

Benefits

BenefitOutline
Self-DiscoveryThis discovery often leads to a relief of emotional tension caused by past events, and can be used as a coping mechanism.
EmpowermentArt therapy gives individuals the ability to articulate their fears and stresses in a non-conventional way, and often leads to sense of control over these emotions.
Stress ReliefEffective for stress relief by itself, but can provide even better results if paired with other relaxation devices such as guided imagery.
Physical Pain Relief and RehabilitationArt therapy has been shown to help decrease pain in patients who are recovering from illness and injury. It has also been used in patients who are chronically or terminally ill, to provide relief and pain control.

Empirical Evidence

Ball (2002)

Ball conducted long-term research on five children who were considered to be severely emotionally disturbed. These children participated in 50 art therapy sessions, and the results suggested that the art therapy was successful, and the children showed marked progress in their treatment over the course of the 50 sessions.

Pifalo (2006)

In this study, 41 girls or young women who had been sexually abused were given structured group art therapy for eight weeks, and were measured before treatment using the Briere’s Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (TSCC). They were given the test again after the treatment, and for 9 out of 10 of the girls, a statistically significant reduction in scores on the test were observed.

Bar-Sela, Atid, Danos, Gabay & Epelbaum (2007)

This study worked with 60 adults who had cancer. These adults attended weekly individual art therapy, in addition to watercolour painting classes. After just four sessions, the experimental group saw marked and significant improvement in depression and fatigue, as measured by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and a brief fatigue inventory. While they showed a decrease in depression, there was no significant difference in the levels of anxiety of the patients.

Gusak (2006)

In this study, the researcher worked with 29 incarcerated men. The men attended eight sessions of group art therapy, and were tested before and after the treatment using the Beck Depression Inventory Short Form. After the eight sessions, all of the men showed significant improvement in the symptoms of depression and their score on the Beck Depression Inventory reflected these improvements.

Bulfone et al. (2009)

In this study Bulfone et al. utilised music therapy as their treatment. 60 women who had been diagnosed with stage 1 or 2 breast cancer were randomly assigned to a control or experimental group. The control group received standard assistance before chemotherapy, while the experimental group had the chance to listen to music before the chemotherapy began. The results showed that the anxiety levels of the experimental group were significantly lower than those of the control group, and also showed a significantly lower level of depression.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expressive_therapies >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What is Working Through?

Introduction

In psychodynamic psychotherapy, working through is seen as the process of repeating, elaborating, and amplifying interpretations. It is believed that such working through is critical towards the success of therapy.

The concept was introduced by Sigmund Freud in 1914, and assumed ever greater importance in psychoanalysis, in contrast to the immediacy of abreaction.

Interpretation and Resistance

Interpretations are made when the client comes up with some material, be it written, a piece of art, music, or verbal, and are intended to bring the material offered into connection with the unconscious mind. Because of the resistance to accepting the unconscious, interpretations, whether correct or partially incorrect, consciously accepted or rejected, will inevitably require amplifying and extending to other aspects of the client’s life.

In a process Sandor Rado compared to the labour of mourning, the unconscious content must be demonstrated repeatedly in all its various forms and linkages – the process of working through.

Because of the power of resistance, the client’s rational thought and conscious awareness may not be sufficient on their own to overcome the maladjustment, entailing further interpretation and further working through.

Rat Man

Before formulating the concept of working through, in his case study of the Rat Man, Freud wrote of his interpretations:

“It is never the aim of discussions like these to create convictions. They are only intended to bring the repressed complexes into consciousness…and to facilitate the emergence of fresh material from the unconscious. A sense of conviction is only attained after the patient has himself worked over the reclaimed material”.

Transference

The necessity of working through the transference is stressed in almost all forms of psychodynamic therapy, from object relations theory, through the openings offered for working through by transference disruption in self psychology, to the repetitive exploration of the transference in group therapy.

What is a Therapeutic Alliance?

Introduction

A therapeutic alliance, or working alliance, is a partnership between a patient and their therapist that allows them to achieve goals through agreed-upon tasks.

The concept of therapeutic alliance dates back to Sigmund Freud. Over the course of its evolution, the meaning of the therapeutic alliance has shifted both in form and implication. What started as an analytic construct has become, over the years, a transtheoretical formulation, an integrative variable, and a common factor.

Alliance as Analytic

In its analytic permutation, Freud suggested the importance of allowing for the patient to be a “collaborator” in the therapeutic process. In his writings on transference, Freud thought of the patient’s feelings towards the therapist as resembling the non-conflicted, trusting elements of early relationships with the patient’s parents, and that this could serve as the basis for collaboration in this way.

In later years, ego psychologists popularised a construct that they would relate to the reality-oriented adaptation of the ego to the environment. For certain ego psychologists, the construct refocused psychoanalytic thought away from a perceived overemphasis on transference and allowed space for greater technical flexibility across different psychotherapeutic modalities. It also called into question the idea of therapist as a tabula rasa, or blank screen, and turned away from the idealised therapist stance of abstinence and neutrality. Instead, it brought attention to the real, felt dimension of the therapeutic relationship, and made an argument for the therapist as being supportive and the patient as identifying with the therapist.

Alliance as Integrative

Edward Bordin reformulated the therapeutic alliance more broadly, namely beyond the scope of the psychodynamic perspective, as transtheoretical. He operationalised the construct into three interdependent parts:

  • The affective bond between the patient and therapist;
  • Their agreement on goals; and
  • Their agreement on tasks.

This conceptualisation preserved the earlier focus on the affective aspects of the alliance (i.e. bond), while also incorporating more cognitive dimensions as well (i.e. tasks and goals). Bordin’s work led to a desire among researchers to further develop ways to measure the alliance based on his initial operationalisation. Around this time there was a surge of interest in psychotherapy integration and psychotherapy research on the alliance.

Alliance as Intersubjective

Jeremy Safran and J. Christopher Muran, along with their colleagues Catherine F. Eubanks and Lisa Wallner Samstag, advanced a further reformulation of the alliance. They agreed with Bordin that at an explicit level, patient and therapist collaborate on specific tasks. However, on an implicit level, they are also negotiating specific desires derived from underlying needs.

In this regard, the authors invoked the motivational needs for agency (self-definition) and communion (relatedness), and the existential need for mutual recognition (to see another’s subjectivity and to have another see one’s own as the culmination of knowing one exists), to advance an intersubjective consideration.

The authors suggested ruptures invariably occur as result of the inherent tensions in the negotiation of these dialectical needs. They distinguished between withdrawal and confrontation rupture markers, interpersonal communications or behaviour by patient or therapist.

  • The former includes movements away from self or other: that is, movements towards isolation or appeasement, pursuits of communion at the expense of agency.
  • The latter includes movements against the other: that is, movements towards control or aggression, pursuits of agency at the expense of communion. They defined the repair of these ruptures as a critical change process.

Alliance in Psychotherapy Research

Beginning in the 1970s, the alliance construct became a primary focus of psychotherapy research. This can be attributed largely to Bordin’s reformulation, which led to the development of Working Alliance Inventory (WAI) and Lester Luborsky’s Penn Helping Alliance Questionnaire (HAq). The Vanderbilt Psychotherapy Process Scales and the California Psychotherapy Alliance Scales (CALPAS) were other noteworthy measures.

Christoph Flückiger, AC Del Re, Bruce Wampold, and Adam Horvath conducted a meta-analysis on the alliance in psychotherapy. The researchers synthesized 295 independent studies of over 30,000 patients published 1978-2017. Results confirmed a moderate relationship between alliance and psychotherapy outcome.

In addition, Eubanks, Muran, and Safran conducted two meta-analyses on rupture repair in the alliance. The first indicated a moderate relationship between rupture repair and outcome. The second examined the effect of an alliance-focused training on rupture repair. Results suggested some support for the effect of such training.

What is Andy’s Man Club?

Introduction

Andy’s Man Club is described as:

“a talking group, a place for men to come together in a safe environment to talk about issues and problems they have faced or are currently facing”.

Background

It was formed by Luke Ambler and his mother-in-law Elaine after his brother-in-law took his own life.

The club, with its slogan “it’s okay to talk”, started in early 2016 in Halifax with a first meeting of nine men. Since then, the group has expanded across the country and by February 2020 had over 800 men attending every week. Each group meeting is led by a volunteer “group facilitator” who has been trained by the organisation.

Other similar organisations have come to exist, some with a local focus and others with a national.

In 2021 they earned the Queens’s award for voluntary service.

Similar Charities

  • It’s tricky to talk.
  • Talk Club.
  • MenSpeak.
  • Men Walk Talk.
  • Proper Blokes Club.
  • It’s Worth Talking About.
  • Man-Down.

Locations

There are a variety of locations (as of November 2021):

  • Altrincham.
  • Batley.
  • Bradford.
  • Brighouse.
  • Dewsbury.
  • Doncaster.
  • Dundee.
  • Dunfermline.
  • Edinburgh.
  • Exeter.
  • Glenrothes.
  • Gosport.
  • Halifax Central.
  • Halifax North.
  • Hartlepool.
  • Hebden Bridge.
  • Huddersfield Ainley Top.
  • Huddersfield Central.
  • Hull Central.
  • Hull North.
  • Leeds East.
  • Leeds West.
  • Manchester.
  • Newton Abbot.
  • Oldham.
  • Perth.
  • Peterborough.
  • Plymouth.
  • Porthcawl.
  • Preston.
  • Rhondda.
  • Rochdale.
  • Rotherham.
  • Scarborough.
  • Sheffield.
  • Stafford.
  • St. Andrews.
  • Sunderland.
  • Torbay.
  • Wakefield.

What is Systems-Centred Therapy?

Introduction

Systems-centred therapy (SCT) is a particular form of group therapy based on the Theory of Living Human Systems developed by Yvonne Agazarian.

The theory postulates that living human systems survive, develop, and transform from simple to complex through discriminating and integrating information. Corresponding to the small and rigorously defined set of concepts, SCT defines a set of methods, techniques and instruments. SCT practitioners use these with individuals, couples and groups to explore the experience of their differences and work with these to integrate them. Using the method of functional subgrouping, these living human systems increase their ability to see both sides of their issues and resolve them productively. The theory was first developed in Agazarian’s 1997 book, Systems-Centred Therapy for Groups, and grew out of her earlier work in group psychotherapy under the influence of such figures as W.R. Bion and John Bowlby through the further input of the general systems theory of Ludwig von Bertalanffy.

SCT explains how living human systems contain their energy within functional boundaries and direct it towards their goals: the primary goals of survival and development and the secondary goals of environmental mastery. In SCT training groups, all members work in functional subgroups rather than work alone. Subgroups work both sides of every issue in the group-as-a-whole.  This practice strengthens both the therapeutic capacity of the training group and allows individual members to choose which side of the conflict has therapeutic salience for their own personal work.

Theory of Living Human Systems: An Introduction

SCT and consultation developed by Yvonne Agazarian is based on the Theory of Living Human Systems, a theory that can be applied to any living human system as small as one individual or a large group and couples, families, classrooms, committees, businesses or even nations. Thus the theory offers a set of ideas for thinking about how living human systems work that can be applied at any level.

The theory defines “a hierarchy of isomorphic systems that are energy-organizing, self-correcting and goal directed” – working on the assumption that psychic patterns will be repeated in the same form (isomorphy)at every nested level of interaction. Each of these constructs is then operationally defined with methods developed that test the hypothesis of the theory. In this way, it offers a comprehensive systems theory and methodology of practice that can be applied in clinical, organisational and educational settings. Most importantly, Agazarian’s theory of living human systems introduces the hypothesis that the single essential process by which living human systems survive, develop and transform is by discriminating and integrating differences.

Working with Differences

Differences are challenging for people, whether they are differences in opinions, beliefs, ideas, wishes, or feelings. Differences are challenging even when we find them inside of ourselves. Groups often respond to differences that are “too different” by ignoring the differences, avoiding the differences, trying to change or convert the differences or blaming, judging or scapegoating the differences. Groups that respond in these ways to differences can survive unchanged for a long time since anything that challenges the status quo does not become incorporated into the group or is rejected by the group.

Because of this tendency, Systems-centred therapists or consultants pay a lot of attention to communication within the system. They are particularly looking to reduce the defensive “noise” within the communication.  Noise is defined as contradictions, (Simon and Agazarian), ambiguities and redundancies (Shannon and Weaver). This concept of noise was developed from work by Shannon and Weaver who formulated observations about the inverse relationship between noise and information transfer. By highlighting and reducing contradiction, ambiguities, and redundancies, i.e. “noise”, communication is more effective in transferring information and the system has a better chance of discriminating and integrating its differences.

According to the theory of living human systems, groups that are able to take in and use differences are able to not only survive but also develop and transform. This kind of development enables groups to use their differences as resources to find solutions to problems that are more comprehensive and responsive to the complexity of the problem. They are able to move with less difficulty toward their goals.

Functional Subgrouping

In systems-centred therapy, members are taught to manage differences and resolve conflicts by a technique called functional subgrouping. Rather than individual members working alone, functional subgrouping requires that all members of a system that are similar work together to deeply explore their similarity. When that subgroup finishes its exploration, the subgroup holding a difference begins its work, exploring their similarities with one another. Inevitably, as the members of a subgroup talk with each other, they discover differences (i.e. differences within the apparently similar) within their subgroup and also, find similarities with the other subgroup (similarities in the apparently different). By using functional subgrouping, the whole group has a better chance of integrating its differences rather than rejecting differences. When a group can make use of its differences it becomes more complex and interesting akin to the way music is enriched by harmonies or interwoven themes. The group moves from the survival of the status quo to development and transformation.

SCT clients learn through experience. By exploring one’s experience rather than explaining it, members learn to tell the difference between comprehensive understanding (words first, experience second) and apprehensive understanding (experience first, words second). Clients learn to restore the connection between their comprehensive, thinking self and their emotional, intuitive self. Learning this skill leads to “containing” the energy and gaining the knowledge that frustrations and conflicts arouse, rather than discharging, binding or constricting it in defensive symptoms.  Energy in SCT is understood as the ability of the group or individual to work towards its goals.

Working with Perspectives

Another important part of the theory of living human systems is that groups function more effectively when there is the capacity to shift perspective from the perspective of the individual to the perspective of the whole group.  Being able to shift perspective from seeing things from the perspective of a person in a group (or couple or family or business, etc.) to the perspective of a member of the group creates a climate of mutual work toward a common goal. Individuals who are able to make the shift from the perspective of an individual to the perspective of a member or systems-centred perspective are less likely to take personally the inevitable challenges that arise as a human system moves toward its goal.  When we take things less personally, we are less likely to get bogged down in frustration, hurt feelings and unproductive arguments. When we understand ourselves in the context of the systems that we belong to and co-create – our families, schools, businesses, labour unions, political parties, churches, sports clubs – we not only participate in their tasks, we are also involved in their development: establishing the distribution of authority and the degree of trust that help these systems survive and grow. Doing this, we contribute to the system balance between innovation and continuity, and at the same time strike a balance between our own desire to learn and our want for security.

Phases of Development

The systems-centred methods which developed from the theory of living human systems offers a map of predictable phases for the development of human systems. In the first phase of development, a system comes to terms with the issues of giving and taking authority and with the authority that resides in the members. Successful management of this phase leads to cooperation between members and between members and leaders. Unsuccessful management of this phase results in members behaving defiantly or compliantly which inevitably undermines the group’s development.

In the second phase, called the intimacy phase, the group wrestles with the challenges of closeness and distance from fellow members. This is the phase of team building for workgroups and the phase in which the issues related to separation and individuation are explored in therapy groups. As the group works in this phase it explores the pull to becoming enchanted with itself or becoming disenchanted and falling into despair with no energy to do its work. Successful management of this phase allows members to gain greater access and intimacy with themselves and also to work together with others in a climate of tested and mutual trust.

In the third phase of development, the group has the opportunity to develop a greater access to its emotional and rational intelligence and develops the capacity to use that information effectively in the service of the group’s goals. The group works more efficiently as it is more able to accept the reality of the role each member plays in the group, and stays more connected to the goal of the group and the reality of the environment in which the group is working.

Successfully managing the challenges of these phases of development means that the system is capable of developing an effective distribution of authority, establishing a climate of trust, and developing the capacity for system adaptation and learning. Wheelan (2005) has shown that work groups that are more developed in their phases have increased productivity.

As Psychotherapy

The theory of living human systems has been applied to psychotherapy as well as to business, organisational and educational consultation. In its application to psychotherapy, a unique aspect of this theory is that it is equally applicable to both individual and couples psychotherapy and to group psychotherapy. SCT posits that much of a person’s suffering is related to viewing oneself only from the perspective of the individual self, a person-centred view. By developing a capacity to see oneself from the perspective of the system one is a part of, a systems-centred perspective, the psychotherapy client is able to more consciously influence their own development and the development of the systems they are a part of.

A SCT therapist uses the phases of development described in the theory of living human systems to systemically train a client to recognise states of mind that interfere with reaching the client’s goal. These interfering states of mind are referred to as defences. Two of the most common defences that bring people to psychotherapy are anxiety and depression;  these are addressed in the first phase of treatment. Clients are taught how to recognise and reduce these defences so that they are freed to traverse life less painfully and more smoothly. SCT work is a partnership in which the therapist governs the structure of the therapy and clients make a series of manageable choices at different “forks in the road”. Each fork is a choice a person makes between familiar defences and experiencing the emotion, conflict or impulses that triggered the defence. The systems-centred therapist teaches the client to systematically weaken the defence, such as anxiety or tension, in a structured sequence that matches the client’s ability to choose. As each defence is undone, the client can choose to take the fork in the road away from the symptoms generated by their defensive responses, and towards discovering the conflicts, between their emotions or impulses and the fears of their emotions or impulses, that were being defended against. As SCT psychotherapy proceeds, the client acquires skills that increase their ability to undo their own defences. Through this process, clients regain their ability to use their common sense,  (and existential humour!) to manage the every day conflicts between themselves and reality. Clear outcome criteria for each step are in the sequence of defence modification locates the client in the SCT treatment plan. Because each defence modification addresses a specific symptom, therapy can be delivered either continuously or chunked into modules. SCT can therefore be applied to the goals of both short-term and long-term therapy.

Criticism

Irvin D. Yalom has seen the formation of subgroups as a negative indicator in the context of group therapy.

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 Clinical Behaviour Analysis?

Introduction

Clinical behaviour analysis (CBA; a third-generation behaviour therapy) is the clinical application of behaviour analysis (ABA). CBA represents a movement in behaviour therapy away from methodological behaviourism and back toward radical behaviourism and the use of functional analytic models of verbal behaviour – particularly, relational frame theory (RFT).

Current Models

CBA therapies include acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), behavioural medicine (such as behavioural gerontology and paediatric feeding therapy), community reinforcement approach and family training (CRAFT), exposure therapies/desensitisation (such as systematic desensitisation), functional analytic psychotherapy (FAP, such as behavioural activation (BA) and integrative behavioural couples therapy), and voucher-based contingency management.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy is probably the most well-researched of all the third-generation behaviour therapy models. Its development co-occurred with that of relational frame theory, with several researchers such as Steven C Hayes being involved with both. ACT has been argued to be based on relational frame theory, although this is a matter of some debate within the community. Originally this approach was referred to as comprehensive distancing. Every practitioner mixes acceptance with a commitment to one’s values. These ingredients become enmeshed into the treatment in different ways which leads to ACT being either more on the mindfulness side or more on the behaviour-changing side. ACT has, as of May 2021, been evaluated in over 600 randomised clinical trials for a variety of client problems. Overall, when compared to other active treatments designed or known to be helpful, the effect size for ACT is a Cohen’s d of around 0.6, which is considered a medium effect size.

Behavioural Activation

Behavioural activation emerged from a component analysis of cognitive behaviour therapy. This research found no additive effect for the cognitive component. Behavioural activation is based on a matching law model of reinforcement. A recent review of the research supports the notion that the use of behavioural activation is clinically important for the treatment of depression.

Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training

Community reinforcement approach and family training (CRAFT) is a model developed by Robert Meyer and based on the community reinforcement approach (CRA) first developed by Nathan Azrin and Hunt. The model focuses on the use of functional behavioural assessment to reduce drinking behaviour. CRAFT combines CRA with family therapy.

Functional Analytic Psychotherapy

Functional analytic psychotherapy is based on a functional analysis of the therapeutic relationship. It places a greater emphasis on the therapeutic context and returns to the use of in-session reinforcement. The basic FAP analysis utilises what is called the clinically relevant behaviour (CRB1), which is the client’s presenting problem as presented in-session. Client in-session actions that improve their CRB1s are referred to as CRB2s. Client statements, or verbal behaviour, about CRBs are referred to as CRB3s. In general, 40 years of research supports the idea that in-session reinforcement of behaviour can lead to behavioural change.

Integrative Behavioural Couples Therapy

Integrative behavioural couples therapy developed from dissatisfaction with traditional behavioural couples therapy. Integrative behavioural couples therapy looks to Skinner (1966) for the difference between contingency shaped and rule-governed behaviour. It couples this analysis with a thorough functional assessment of the couples relationship. Recent efforts have used radical behavioural concepts to interpret a number of clinical phenomena including forgiveness.

Clinical Formulation

As with all behaviour therapy, clinical behaviour analysis relies on a functional analysis of problem behaviour. Depending on the clinical model this analysis draws on B.F Skinner’s model of Verbal Behaviour or relational frame theory.

Professional Organisations

The Association for Behaviour Analysis International has a special interest group in clinical behaviour analysis ABA:I. ABA:I serves as the core intellectual home for behaviour analysts.

The Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) also has an interest group in behaviour analysis, which focuses on clinical behaviour analysis.

The Association for Contextual Behavioural Science is devoted to third-generation therapies and basic research on derived relational responding and relational frame theory.

What is Behavioural Activation?

Introduction

Behavioural activation (BA) is a third generation behaviour therapy for treating depression.

It is one functional analytic psychotherapy which are based on a Skinnerian psychological model of behaviour change, generally referred to as applied behaviour analysis. This area is also a part of what is called clinical behaviour analysis (CBA) and makes up one of the most effective practices in the professional practice of behaviour analysis. The technique can also be used from a cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) framework.

Overview

The Beck Institute describes BA as “getting clients more active and involved in life by scheduling activities that have the potential to improve their mood.”

Theoretical Underpinnings

Behavioural activation emerged from a component analysis of cognitive behavioural therapy. This analysis found that any cognitive component added little to the overall treatment of depression. The behavioural component had existed as a stand-alone treatment in the early work of Peter Lewinsohn and thus a group of behaviourists decided that it might be more efficient to pursue a purer behavioural treatment for the disorder. The theory holds that not enough environmental reinforcement or too much environmental punishment can contribute to depression. The goal of the intervention is to increase environmental reinforcement and reduce punishment.

The theoretical underpinnings of behavioural activation for depression is Charles Ferster’s functional analysis of depression. Ferster’s basic model has been strengthened by further development in the study of reinforcement principles which led to the matching law and continuing theoretical advances in the possible functions of depression, as well as a look at behaviour analysis of child development in order to determine long-term patterns which may lead to dysthymia.

Methods

One behavioural activation approach to depression was as follows: participants were asked to create a hierarchy of reinforcing activities which were then rank-ordered by difficulty; participants tracked their own goals along with clinicians who used a token economy to reinforce success in moving through the hierarchy of activities; participants were measured before and after by the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and a great effect on their depression was found as a result of their treatment. This was then compared to a control group who did not receive the same treatment. The results of those who received behavioural activation treatment were markedly superior to those of the persons in the control group. Multiple clinics have since piloted and developed the treatment.

Another behavioural activation approach utilised a different methodology: clients are asked to develop an understanding of the relationship between actions and emotions, with actions being seen as the cause of emotions. An hourly self-monitoring chart is created to track activities and the impact on the mood they create for a full week. A rating scale from 1 to 10 is used for each mood change per hour. The goal is to identify depression loops. A depression loop is when a temporary coping method reduces the overall depression, such as the temporary relief provided by alcohol or other drugs, escape or avoidance or rumination. When patterns of dysfunctional responding, or loops, are identified alternative coping responses are attempted to break the loop. This method is described with the acronym “TRAP” (Trigger, Response, Avoidance Pattern) which is to be replaced with a “TRAC” (Trigger, Response, Alternate Coping response). Particular attention is given to rumination, which is provided with its own acronym RCA (Rumination Cues Action). Rumination is identified as a particularly common avoidance behaviour which worsens mood. The client is to evaluate the rumination in terms of it having improved the thing being ruminated about, providing understanding, and its emotional effects on the client. Attending to experience is suggested as an alternative to rumination as well as other possible distracting or mood improving actions.

The general program is described with the acronym ACTION (Assess behaviour/mood, Choose alternate responses, Try out those alternate responses, Integrate these alternatives, Observe results and (Now) evaluate). The goal being the understanding of the relationship between actions and emotional consequences and a systematic replacement of dysfunctional patterns with adaptive ones. Additionally, focus is given to quality sleep, and improving social functioning.

Research Support

Depression

Reviews of behavioural activation studies for depression found that it has a robust effect and that policy makers should consider it an effective treatment. A large-scale treatment study found behavioural activation to be more effective than cognitive therapy and on par with medication for treating depression. A meta-analysis study comprising 34 Randomised Control Trials found that while Behavioural Activation treatment of adults with depression showed significantly greater beneficial effect compared with control participants, compared to participants treated with CT/CBT, at post treatment there were no statistically significant differences between treatment groups. A 2009 meta-analysis showed a medium post-treatment effect size compared to psychotherapy and other treatments.

Anxiety

A 2006 study of behavioural activation being applied to anxiety appeared to give promising results. One study found it to be effective with fibromyalgia-related pain anxiety.

In the Context of Third Generation Behaviour Therapies

Behavioural activation comes under the heading clinical behaviour analysis or what is often termed third generation behaviour therapy. Other behaviour therapies are acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), as well as dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and functional analytic psychotherapy (FAP). Behavioural activation owes its basis to Charles Ferster’s Functional Analysis of Depression (1973) which developed B.F. Skinner’s idea of depression, within his analysis of motivation, as a lack of reinforcement.

Professional Organisations

The Association for Behaviour Analysis International has a special interest group for practitioner issues, behavioural counselling, and clinical behaviour analysis. The association has larger special interest groups for behavioural medicine. It also serves as the core intellectual home for behaviour analysts.

The Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) also has an interest group in behaviour analysis, which focuses on clinical behaviour analysis.

Doctoral level behaviour analysts who are psychologists belong to the American Psychological Association’s division 25 -Behaviour analysis. APA offers a diplomate in behavioural psychology.

BA in Virtual Reality

Due to a lack of access to trained providers, physical constraints or financial reasons, many patients are not able to attend BA therapy. Researchers are trying to overcome these challenges by providing BA via Virtual Reality. The idea of the concept is to enable especially elderly adults to participate in engaging activities that they would not attend it without VR. Possibly, the so-called “BA-inspired VR protocols” will mitigate the lower mood, life satisfaction, and likelihood of depressions.

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.

Book: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – A CBT Guide To Theories & Professional Practice

Book Title:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – A CBT Guide To Theories & Professional Practice.

Author(s): Bill Andrews.

Year: 2019.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Independently Published.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Here is finally a complete guide on CBT that is for the mental health practitioner as well as the clients. The guide is expansive on CBT with new ideas and suggestions for both clinical and non-professional settings.

The book’s main purpose will help you deliver:

  • Hacks for fast and effective treatments to most mental health issues.
  • A complete professional guide for mental health practitioners of all levels.
  • Detailed explanations and simple strategies anyone can help implement.
  • Effective uses including suggested therapies for most mental health disorders.

A well researched cognitive therapy guide explores powerful tools & suggested therapies, including everything you should know about CBT and it’s effective uses.

Both professional practitioner and even mental health novices can benefit from this power packed guide.

Finally you can deal with disorders in a fast and powerful way and we also include a complete range of important topics most other CBT guides omit like:

  • Changing Maladaptive Thinking.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Assessment Model Explanations.
  • Intervention & Treatment Analysis.
  • The Power of CBT: Removal of Erroneous Thinking.
  • Cognitive Distortion Made Whole.
  • Reducing Emotional Distress with CBT.
  • Modern CBT & the Latest Tools and More!