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The CAT relational thesis at the heart of all therapy

Updated: Feb 20



Cognitive Analytic Therapy is a relational therapy, which is a word used to describe most therapeutic modalities these days. What is meant by "relational" is often left being somewhat vague and polymorphous suiting the needs of the writer. After so many years of working as a CAT therapist and teaching CAT therapists, I believe that the relational thesis that underpins CAT also applies to all therapeutic relationships.



Reflective capacity depends on relational awareness

  • Reflective capacity is key to well-being, mental health and therapy. It is the capacity to have a compassionate observing eye and an empathic narrative ear.

  • For CAT, reflective capacity depends upon relational awareness (an ability to be simultaneously in touch with what is going on within, between and around me and my world)

Relational awareness can be damaged by:

  • Childhood trauma, exploitation, smothering or neglect

  • Restrictive and divisive social forces and conditions

Or enabled by

  • Vital childhood experience of mutual, fair and honestly playful engagement and learning

  • Open and integrative social conditions

Recovering, developing or healing relational awareness (and thereby reflective capacity)

  • is a shared, active conversational process in CAT

  • aided by conceptual tools such as reciprocal roles, self-states, coping procedures and patterns of relating.

  • mediated by the co-creative, self-conscious use of therapeutic methods such as mapping, writing and voice work.

And by an understanding and use of the therapeutic relationship

  • Both as a positive and benign partnership (transference friendly) built on consistency, transparency and trust

  • And as an enactment magnet for the transference and replay of compelling (and haunting) patterns of relating

    • from the past

    • in the present

    • from the system

  • carried into the therapy room where they are played out helpfully or harmfully as ghost roles and voices with a simultaneous life in the present and in the past.

The goals of therapy are threefold

  • reducing distress and troublesome symptoms

  • Increasing self-worth and effectiveness

  • Developing narrative freedom, story power and voice awareness

Narrative freedom is the ability to have more than one narrative to more than one story.

  • It is the capacity to listen and relate in the spaces between stories and narratives and hold in mind more than one story, author or location.



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