Personal Reformulations in the Workplace

In this blog, Catalyse Associate Jenny Marshall shares some thoughts and experience on how personal reformulation can aid difficulties in the workplace.

I’ve worked hard in my career and this has always served me well until recently. I was struggling in a new more senior role and the harder I worked, the worse it seemed to feel. I just didn’t seem to be able to find a way out”.

For the first time, I really feel like I understand burnout; ever increasing demands felt impossible and I found I couldn’t switch off from increasing anxiety”.

The examples above may sound familiar. We may have seen aspects of them in colleagues, people we manage or people managing us. We may have felt these experiences within ourselves. In both examples, there is a narrative that the usual ways of coping or surviving in the workplace, are no longer working. There is a sense of stuckness, a drive to find an alternative way of being but not knowing or understanding how to do this. In such situations, this may be a good starting point for a personal reformulation (PR).

There may be many reasons why someone may not choose to have therapy in this situation. Instead they may want help in understanding why old patterns of working and coping now feel unhelpful and are keeping them stuck. These patterns, whether relating to others or to self, are a good here and now place to start in a PR.

We all experience change in our working lives and with change brings uncertainty and anxiety. How we respond to this depends on our individual relational patterns and ways of coping. Having an awareness of our own patterns can help us to navigate these changes.

The first example,

I’ve worked hard in my career and this has always served me well until recently. I was struggling in a new more senior role and the harder I worked, the worse it seemed to feel. I just didn’t seem to be able to find a way out”.

on further reflection, had been triggered by a change in role. This led to the usual strategy: work hard, always meet or exceed expectations no longer being possible. This can happen in more senior roles when staff are no longer only responsible for their own work but for the work of others. Exploration of this pattern in more detail also flagged up how not only was it not working; it was actually hindering performance. Working harder and taking more on was compromising the ability to deliver on expectations. It was only when this was acknowledged through mapping and the reflective process, that a shift became possible. It was easier to understand what needed to change. This pattern is represented below as a series of boxes and arrows.

The second example represents an pattern commonly seen in healthcare.

For the first time, I really feel like I understand burnout; ever increasing demands felt impossible and I found I couldn’t switch off from increasing anxiety”.

As carers, we can often feel a natural pull to being responsible, caring and looking after others. However this can become problematic when we do this to the extent of neglecting our own needs. Similar to the first example, creating a safe space to explore these dynamics is key to understanding what needs to change.

With both the above examples, we could take the reformulation further, to reflect on early childhood patterns. This helps us see similarities between the relational patterns in the here and now and in early relationships. There may be a narrative around the current coping strategies and how they have developed from childhood. With a personal reformulation, the focus is on the here and now, within the workplace. Some individuals may choose to go on and follow this up with a personal therapy. For others they may not and PR may be sufficient for understanding and/or change.

PRs may be helpful for those workplace situations where we start to notice, ‘I am struggling, I feel stuck and am not sure what to do’. We might perhaps notice feeling like ‘I’ve been here before, feeling like this, I want to do things differently’. If we notice and think about patterns causing us difficulty – which we all have – at an early stage, it may prevent further difficulty or even sickness from work. It may allow for different choices, decisions and what CAT terms ‘exits’ from these patterns.

As a PR is briefer than therapy, I feel it is worth a note about the ‘healthy’ parts of a map. If you are coming to a PR in relation to current challenges in the work place, space to explore multiple positions on the map may help by allowing a ‘zooming out’ from the difficulties. This can help you consider when things have been different. Space to remember and learn from times when we have felt more able to overcome difficulties may give us the ‘exits’ we need from our current difficulties. As we all have problematic patterns, we all have strengths and ways of surviving which are effective and allow us to feel good about ourselves.

There are different ways of doing PRs. Traditionally they took place over one longer session (up to three hours with a break). They were adapted to an extended (usually two hours) session with a follow up session (up to an hour). Since online working has become common, a further adaptation has been to conduct the PR over three hourly sessions. With all options, it is important that the therapist is trained in cognitive analytic therapy.

Catalyse personal reformulation therapists are listed on the page at this link. They are all accredited CAT practitioners or CAT psychotherapists and are familiar with the aims and methods of the CAT personal reformulation approach. Feedback from PRs has been very positive. People say that they value the process both personally and professionally. Generally feedback suggests it has helped them gain insight, recognition, awareness and understanding. Read more at the All About Personal Reformulation page.

If you are interested in exploring the idea of a personal reformulation further, contact one of the PR therapists who will be happy to discuss this further with you.

2021 CPD Survey

We’ve been thinking long and hard about CPD possibilities for the coming year. We’d appreciate your help in telling us what events and resources would be of most interest. All those on our mailing lists should have received an invitation to complete our brief anonymous survey. Just in case yours has slipped into the depths of a busy inbox, the survey link is It takes just a few minutes to complete. Thanks in advance: we look forward to hearing from you before the end of June 2021.

Finance Director Role

Do you like playing with money? Have a good head for figures and enjoy finance things?  We’re looking for a CAT person with a background in, or ability to learn, finance management. 

Glenys Parry, our Finance Director, is going to leave this role next year and we’re inviting expressions of interest to replace her.  She will be available to help you learn the ropes. 

The work takes up about two or three hours a week.  There is an hourly fee payable.  Although it’s about finance, the role brings you close to all the people involved with CAT training, CPD, consultancy, therapy and research activities in the North, and so it’s very interesting.  

If you want to know more, please click on the box below to see/download the person spec and job description.  

If you’re not personally interested, but you know someone who might fit the bill, please pass on this information.

Dawn Bennett

Image of person writing in a notepad inside a car

Behind the Scenes: CAT on Film

In her first Catalyse blog, Kathryn Pemberton reflects on moments in her role as production manager during the creation of the series of twelve training films on cognitive analytic therapy (CAT).

It is early, on a wintery Sunday morning and for the past ten minutes I’ve been shuffling around a car park in deepest darkest North Manchester. I’m suddenly very conscious that to anyone watching, my behaviour must look rather strange, if not a little bit suspicious. I am not alone either. Three dark clothed men, and my colleague, Dawn Bennett, are also here. Our heads are down, eyes focussed on the floor, all determinedly shuffling away. An observer might mistakenly think we are simply trying to stay warm, or else are possibly trying to locate a lost item in the snow. Perhaps we have been caught in a moment of intense social awkwardness…

Actually, it’s none of these things. We are here to shoot the new Catalyse training films and the three dark clothed men are members of our production crew. This morning we need to get a series of exterior shots which reflect the passage of time. The films we are shooting span five months in the life of Paul and his therapist, Lisa over the course of a sixteen session CAT. The next scenes to be shot are set towards the end of the therapy. It’s supposed to be June, and snow simply does not suggest early summer. Hence the obsessive shuffling as we attempt to kick aside the smattering of snow so it is out of shot.

We have two days to get everything filmed – yesterday we completed most of the interior scenes; a busy day with a very tight schedule and somewhere around a dozen costume changes for the actors. There’s a playful but focussed atmosphere, everyone is pulling together and there’s a definite air of excitement in the (nippy) air. Alongside this there is also, for me, a sense of responsibility. These filming days mark the culmination of months of planning and preparation in my role as production manager. I’ve been accompanied on this venture by Catalyse trainers offering much needed consultancy: Dawn Bennett, Glenys Parry and Mark Evans.

It all started as an idea reflecting a need. A series of high quality, affordable and accessible training films on cognitive analytic therapy (CAT). We started with a blank slate and lots of questions. What did we want the films to show? What was their function? Should we use actors or ‘real’ people or a mixture of both? Improvised or scripted? Should we show examples of ‘good’ therapy and then ‘bad’ therapy?

At this point we had more questions than answers and so we concentrated on what we did know. We wanted the films to be multi-functional, a training tool for different courses and services. They needed to be useful for individuals training in, or already trained in CAT. We also knew we wanted to demonstrate skills and competences using both content and process. Finally, the way the information was communicated needed to be in line with the ethos of CAT. It needed to be collaborative, scaffolding and encouraging the viewer to be an active agent in their learning.

Gradually, we began to answer some of the other questions. Quite early on we decided to use an actor for the role of Paul, the client. We were lucky enough to find a junior doctor for the role of Lisa, the CAT therapist, who had used CAT in her practice, and also had acting experience. The planets were beginning to align…

We also knew that we wanted the therapy to be realistic, and therefore, imperfect, but ‘good enough’. In doing so, we wanted to encourage debate and to get people reflecting on their own practice. For example if they didn’t agree with some of the decisions or actions of the therapist, we wanted the viewer to be curious about why they disagreed and to consider what they might do differently.

Initially, I envisioned the scenes to be semi-improvised. A rough idea of the content and scripted ‘plot points’ would guide the actors through the main content required in the scene. However, we learned during initial rehearsals that without full control of the content and the words used, we couldn’t guarantee that specific learning points would be covered. We also couldn’t be sure of the length of each film.

At this point, two things dawned on me. Firstly, I was going to have to write twelve scripts. This was the easy part in some ways as I have always written bits and pieces of plays and screenplays. The harder part was breaking it to our lovely actors that they were going to have to learn it all!

Rehearsals were looming. I had finished the scripts and the Catalyse team had studied them. We’d all agreed on the accuracy and quality of the content. By the end of this process, the actors had just two weeks to learn them. To their absolute credit, they took this request in their stride and duly learned twelve scripts in two weeks, turning up to rehearsals practically word perfect.

And that is how I found myself with numb toes, trying to bring summer to a snowy carpark in Manchester. We were lucky. The weather held, the snow stayed out of shot and we got the scenes we needed of Paul in his car (film 11, revision through recognition) before hurrying inside to defrost.

Once the filming was complete, we entered the post production period. This was where the production company edited the rough cuts, adding the on-screen text and voice overs. I can only liken this process to waiting for an exam result. I trusted that the production company had understood all our notes and directions – and had taken on board my constant requests for close ups of the SDR. The production company were very patient (how many CAT therapists does it take to agree on an edit…). At times my requests must have felt rather pedantic, but we knew the value was in the detail, and it was important to get it right.

At last, after several weeks of post-production, we all agreed on the final edit. Twelve, high quality, multifaceted, accessible training films, reflecting the ethos of CAT, and some lovely close ups of the SDR to boot.

Now we just had the small matter of the 80 page supporting materials to write…

You can find out more about the CAT training films and watch a two minute trailer at this link.

If you’re interested in using the films and supporting materials in your training or learning, check out the subscription options listed there. A discounted rate applies for ACAT members and ACAT-accredited training courses.