Crop of presentation image of an hourglass with research words

Inspiring and Connecting Through Research into Cognitive Analytic Therapy

ACAT chair Alison Jenaway reports back on April’s joint research conference in this, her first guest blog for Catalyse.

“Only connect” wrote E.M. Forster, in his book Howards End, as isolation is a killer. I am paraphrasing, but this is what I had in mind when I was planning the idea of a regular Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) research day. I wanted to be able to gather a group of experienced researchers and lock them in a room with CAT therapists who are keen and interested in research. My hunch was that by some magical process, this would produce a future Professor of CAT.  Call me naïve if you like, but this was my hope when I persuaded Stephen Kellett and Glenys Parry to organise the first research conference to showcase CAT.

To be honest they did not take much persuading. I don’t think the people who agreed to present their research on the day did either, nor the experienced researchers that gave up their time to support the day. My plan was that I would just be there to introduce the reasons behind the conference, and then watch the connecting happen from the sidelines. What I was not expecting, was how much I personally would be inspired by the day.

It really was fascinating, not so much the content of the research and the results, but the way each presenter described why they did what they chose to do, what went well, what went wrong, what they might do differently if they started again, and what they would like to do next. This felt different to other research presentations I have listened to in the past, where the presenter seems to be determined to convince you that the way they did it was the right way, indeed the only way it could have been done. It was like going behind the scenes at the theatre, and gave me more of an insight into the “researcher’s attitude”. It really made me feel that perhaps one day, just maybe, I could do this too.

The morning was made up of presentations for research projects at various stages of completion. Peter Taylor kicked off with an explanation of what a Delphi study is, and how his team used it to explore whether CAT seemed, to therapists, to be a helpful therapy for patients with psychosis.  Good luck to anyone who thinks they can get a group of CAT therapists to agree about anything, but there did seem to be some common themes emerging. His team have recently published a case series of CAT in psychosis which includes qualitative data from patients.

Craig Hallam was next, describing a huge amount of work, juggling multiple ethics committees and associated paperwork, in his study on CAT outcomes for people with learning disabilities.  Despite much solid effort and goodwill – his own, his supervisors’ and CAT colleagues working in this area – recruitment remained a challenge. Craig was pragmatic in moving on to a more manageable project that could be completed within the timeframe of his clinical psychology training. I hope that he will find a way to keep the study going once qualified, given the amount of work already put in. There were plenty of nods of recognition around the room as he generously shared a CAT map of reflections on this process.

Mark Evans described a fantastic piece of work, his small pilot randomised controlled trial of CAT for bipolar disorder, carried out with a tiny amount of funding, and what sounded like a massive amount of good will. Katie Ackroyd is similarly amazing, in her ability to get research into CAT consultancy going in the real world of a busy clinical job.

We have all come to expect that now from Steve Kellett, of course, which is unfair of us. As Steve said, he was jealous of the tiny amount of funding that Mark Evans had to spend! Steve presented his work exploring whether narrative reformulation is really necessary in eight session CAT for depression within an IAPT service, conveying in the process how much fun research can be if you are doing it as a team.

There was some great networking over lunch, and Barney Dunn, from Exeter University was available to talk to people who might be interested in applying for an NIHR ICA fellowship programme. In his view, this was one of the best chances we have in ACAT of getting funding for CAT research projects, and developing a future academic researcher into CAT, at the same time. He and other NIHR advocates are happy to support people looking for research funding .

After lunch we divided up into small groups and so I only have a small fraction of what went on. Frank Margison and I had a group of three keen people who were just starting to think about what research they might be able to do, and we all got excited about the possibilities. Frank has a great overview of how to frame a research question and how you might go about answering it. He didn’t seem to mind me interrupting every now and then to say “I’ve just had another great research idea”.

I think everyone else at the day was as inspired by it as I was. I am planning to lock people up in a room together again next year, for a similar day in London, but it may be that Barney Dunn’s ideas are a more practical way forward in the long run.

Dr Alison Jenaway is a Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy in the Liaison Psychiatry Service in Cambridge, working with patients with physical health problems and medically unexplained symptoms. She is a CAT therapist and supervisor and has been using CAT for around 20 years. She is currently Chair of the national Association for Cognitive Analytic Therapy (ACAT)