I have recently joined the UWE Department of Health and Social Sciences as a Senior Lecturer in Psychology. I am a developmental psychologist who has studied family relationships for the past 15 years.
At UWE, I will be teaching on the undergraduate Psychology program. I will deliver teaching on research design and analysis, as well as drawing on my expertise in family relationships. My teaching reflects the central aim of my research: to understand families as they are, rather than how they could or should be. I engage students in the key debates in the field of family psychology, for example: Do children have an obligation to maintain an active relationship with their parents? How important is genetic relatedness for family functioning?
I completed my PhD and postdoctoral research at the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge. My research examined family functioning in new and non-traditional families, such as those created through the use of assisted reproductive technologies. My specific contribution to the field has been to explore how parents explain their use of donated sperm or eggs to their children and what children think, feel and understand about how they were conceived.
Most recently, my research has explored family estrangement, which is a term that is increasingly used to refer to relationships between parents, children and siblings in adulthood that are characterised by distance and negativity. In 2015 I published a report exploring the experiences of approximately 800 people who identified as being estranged from a family member. Respondents were members of the Stand Alone community, a UK-based charity which aims to support those experiencing family estrangement. The findings of this study featured in a variety of media outlets such as The New York Times and were estimated to have reached an audience of 9 million readers.
This work is particularly relevant to the ‘Promoting Psychological Health’ theme of the PSRG. For example, I have recently conducted an evaluation of the therapeutic groups run by Stand Alone for those experiencing family estrangement. I have also conducted a qualitative research that has explored people’s experiences of accessing counselling for family estrangement. As well as publishing articles in academic journals, I write about research on family estrangement for a general audience, publishing articles in Psychology Today and The Conversation. I have also written a book: “No Family is Perfect: A Guide to Embracing the Messy Reality”, which will be published by Welbeck in January 2022.
I look forward to collaborating with colleagues and to expanding my research on family relationships in such a vibrant department.
I have recently joined the Department of Social Sciences as a Lecturer in Psychology and am very excited to be part of Team UWE and the Psychological Sciences Research Group!
I am an experimental psychologist with a strong interest in methods and Open Science. I completed my undergrad and master’s in Biology at the University of Vienna, specializing in biological anthropology and human behaviour. In 2011, I moved to Scotland to do my PhD with Prof. Dave Perrett in the Perception Lab at the University of St Andrews. After I received my PhD in Psychology in 2015, I completed a post-doc at the University of Glasgow, where I was working on a five-year-long ERC-funded project on human kin recognition with Prof. Lisa DeBruine in the Face Research Lab.
While I have a broader interest in human behaviour and social cognition, the bulk of my work has focused on social face perception. Faces have a crucial role in social interactions—they provide a rich source of information, as well as a canvas to which traits, attitudes and behavioural tendencies are ascribed to, often with consequential real-world outcomes. I am interested in understanding how facial cues affect social interactions, and why: many judgments we make are inaccurate, but also extremely quick and showing significant consensus across observers, suggesting that there is more at play than mere idiosyncrasies. In particular, I am interested in the evolutionary, neurobiological, and socio-cultural influences that shape our preferences and underpin our responses to facial cues. I take a data-driven and functional approach in my work (“perceiving is for doing”), and my research is inherently interdisciplinary, drawing on models and methods from experimental psychology, evolutionary biology, and computer science.
Oosterhof and Todorov’s prominent model of face perception suggests faces are evaluated along two main dimensions that have an adaptive origin—dominance, and trustworthiness. My PhD work investigated facial cues to body physique and their relation to perceptions of dominance and attractiveness, while my post-doctoral work has explored the role of kinship cues in perceptions of trustworthiness and attractiveness. Here at UWE, I plan to continue to draw on a functional framework to investigate social perception, focusing on questions around face preferences and impression formation, and how these are affected by individual differences, environmental pressures (such as scarcity) as well as perceptual biases and stereotypes.
Covid-19 has presented challenges in the maintenance of good psychological health and well-being for all of us. As a consequence, the role of practitioner psychologists and therapeutic professionals in society has never been more vital. The Promoting Psychological Health theme of the Psychological Sciences Research Group here at UWE, Bristol includes Academic and Practitioner psychologists and those in training through our British Psychological society accredited Masters as well as our HCPC accredited Masters and Doctoral training programmes. This includes Health Psychology, Counselling Psychology and Music Therapy. Throughout the pandemic, we have mobilised our community of practice to respond directly to the challenges of Covid-19, applying our psychological knowledge and skills using psychologically informed approaches. Our insights have been applied across research, policy, consultancy and therapeutic practice.
Health Psychology and Covid-19
Our Health Psychology team led by Dr Liz Jenkinson are part of the Health Psychology Exchange project, a collaboration of UK Health Psychologists providing consultancy around COVID-19. The UWE team and Professional Doctoral students such as Natalie Garnett and Ella Guest have been pivotal in three rapid reviews exploring the effectiveness of public health messaging and interventions in driving health behaviours during pandemics, and in the development of guidance to local and national health organisations. Two of these reviews have already been developed into British Psychological Society guidance and are now informing Public Health efforts to communicate effectively with the public, particularly around vaccination. For example, our review examined existing research which measured public responses to health messages encouraging vaccination against infectious diseases in a pandemic or epidemic. We concluded that evidence suggests that in order to be effective messages need to be credible (from trusted official sources), use community-wide outreach and mixed methods, frame risk appropriately (rather than over or understating), be tailored to be personally relevant, short and highlighting the benefits of vaccination to society as a whole rather than to the individual. One key finding was that previous research and practice did not include the voice of those under-represented groups who are often least likely to uptake a vaccine. The review recommends co-production with communities in the design and dissemination of messaging to ensure they are acceptable and accessible. We are pleased to see that recent efforts have been addressing this, and that our work has been reaching a wide audience through initiatives such as Evidence Aid.
Many of our health psychology trainees are also working on the frontline of the pandemic. From delivering vaccinations, to helping clients stay healthy during lockdown through to working in our local hospitals with clients with health conditions such as diabetes, pain and long term conditions, and now ‘Long Covid’, we are very proud to continue to supervise and support our trainees as they deliver this vital work at this difficult time.
Ageing Well in Older Adulthood
The pandemic has impacted disproportionately on older people with dementia – especially those living in residential care. PSRG members have contributed to building evidence in how best to support this vulnerable group during Covid-19. Prof. Rik Cheston and Emily Dodd carried out a survey of NHS staff to look at how the pandemic had impacted on their ability to deliver the LivDem intervention. This showed that none of the NHS trusts had established plans to reintroduce the course, and that there was widespread interest in developing an online intervention instead. Consequently, they hosted a webinar attended by a dozen clinicians in the UK and Ireland to identify best practice. In January, Emily and Rik hosted two online ‘taster’ sessions for LivDem which were attended by 60 clinicians based in the UK or Ireland. The team plan further introduction sessions for Clinical Psychologists in Yorkshire and Humberside, with intensive LivDem training to be rolled out through 2021 facilitated by Higher Education Innovation funding. Rik also contributed to an ARC West rapid review of the evidence base to identify effective primary preventative and secondary reactive approaches for staff to use when caring for people who walk with intent but are unable to leave residential care.
Counselling Psychology and online therapy
The challenges of the pandemic have presented unprecedented demand for therapeutic psychological support. Our counselling psychology staff and trainees had to swiftly pivot last year to providing some or all their clinical interventions online in line with government restrictions. This includes members of the teaching team working in private practice, and students working on placements, such as NHS departments and mental health charities such as Nilaari which provide culturally appropriate counselling for clients from the BAME community. This has created many unforeseen challenges – for example, how best to work with clients remotely. Video calling platforms may provide one solution but staff and students working with adults and young people have found that providing psychological therapy over the telephone can sometimes be more accessible than video calls over the internet, for example, as some clients struggle to access a safe and confidential space in their own home.
Senior Lecturer Christine Ramsey-Wade from the counselling psychology doctorate team has also been finding solutions to the challenges of delivering trauma-focused interventions remotely, such as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. These interventions are needed now more than ever, so some rapid research is being carried out into how best to translate these more physiological or experiential therapies online with Christine collaborating with EMDR UK on a new externally funded research bid to further investigate the effectiveness and client experience of different forms of EMDR when delivered online.
Music Therapy in education settings
Covid-19 has impacted the mental health and well-being of students at all stages of their journey through education. Adam Kishtainy, lecturer on the music therapy programme and lead for the music therapy clinic at UWE, is supporting two final year Masters students, Laura Wilson and Luke Howell, to run a music and wellbeing group at the UWE Centre for Music led by Kat Branch on the Frenchay campus. The music group makes use of active vocal and instrumental improvisation approaches, directly from music psychotherapy practice, as well as relaxation using music to encourage people to express themselves creatively and reflect on any mental health issues they are experiencing at the moment. Students from any programme can self-refer to this group. This team aim to provide a safe space to address immediate well-being issues through dynamic music making at this difficult time.
Adam is also running an outreach project, as part of the Glenside Clinic, in Bristol Metropolitan Academy and Briarwood Schools, taking in 6 of the Year 1 music therapy trainees on placement and delivering individual music therapy for their students. These schools have limited resources for psychological support and the opportunity to provide additional support for students at such a difficult time has been hugely appreciated.
PSRG psychologists and practitioners have risen to the challenge of Covid-19. We mobilised our community of practice to apply our psychological knowledge, skills and therapeutic approaches to promote good psychological health and well-being for our clients, through our research and through policy, consultancy and practice. Further challenges lie ahead, but the contribution of the psychological professions is clear. Psychology is front and centre in responding to the challenge of Covid-19.
This past autumn, we were fortunate to welcome five new lecturers to our Department who have joined PSRG. We are excited to have these phenomenal researchers join our team. All of our new members are early-career researchers who are looking to expand their research profiles, so please do reach out to them if you see potential for collaboration!
My name is Trang, and I recently joined the UWE Department of Health and Social Sciences as a Lecturer in Psychology in Individual Differences.
I originally came from Hồ Chí Minh city, Vietnam. I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology at Aberystwyth University in 2012. After completing my MEd in Psychology in Education (University of Bristol) and MSc in Psychoanalytic Theories (UCL), I started my PhD research in 2014 (University of Bristol), which focused on the psychological well-being and socio-cultural adjustments of EU/international PhD students in the UK. I collected longitudinal questionnaire and interview data over 15 months to understand some significant factors and changes over time using mixed effects modelling, thematic analysis, and narrative analysis. As a mixed methodologist, my primary research interests include mental health and well-being in HE,staff and student well-being, and intercultural practices in education.
My academic work and experience centres around individual differences in well-being and socio-cultural adaptation, and how they can be studied within multicultural social contexts. My research projects between 2014 – 2020 have been around HE student well-being and transitions, with various foci on aspects such as extenuating circumstances, BAME student experience and attainment gap, assessment and feedback, and currently I am collaborating on a project looking at UG students’ psycho-social wellbeing and their sense of community during COVID-19 and online learning.
I also work as a research volunteer for a mental health foundation for student mental health, and previously as a mental health champion for staff mental health at universities (as part of the Mental Healthy Universities initiative with Mind). I love teaching and learning about teaching, and while I am aware of the stress of moving to blended/online teaching on everyone in our sector, I also found the experience very useful in rethinking my approach to teaching and research in general, and in particular how we can address issues with equality and diversity through the new platforms.
I recently joined the UWE Department of Health and Social Sciences as a Lecturer in Occupational Psychology.
I completed my MSc in Social and Applied Psychology at the University of Kent in 2016, and stayed on at Kent to complete my PhD. My PhD focuses on perceived leadership potential, exploring a preference for leadership potential over leadership performance in leadership evaluations and the extent to which it is influenced by a pro-youth bias. My thesis took a mixed methods approach, employing thematic analysis, correlational research, and experimental studies. My research interests also include representations of age and ageing, age and gender stereotypes in leadership, and the impact of wellbeing at work initiatives on employee attitudes.
Previously, I worked as a Business Consultant for Bailey & French. In this role I worked with organisations to develop and implement workplace solutions founded on positive psychology research, covering areas such as leadership, wellbeing, and performance. Before that, I worked in learning and development in the Financial Services industry, specialising in leadership development.
I am an ‘applied’ social psychologist, with an expertise in verbal lie-detection using psychologically-based, ‘proactive’ interviewing protocols.
I studied BSc Forensic Psychology at the University of Portsmouth (UoP), obtaining a 1st class classification in 2013 and winning the Departments John Denis Award for best undergraduate dissertation. This project applied metacognitive theory to verbal lie-detection.
My PhD examined the effects of sub-optimal recall settings (i.e. reporting events after delays or in contexts when events were incidentally – rather than intentionally – encoded) upon the popular verbal veracity cue ‘richness of detail’. My PhD discovered evidence of a ‘stability bias’ (like) effect impacting liar’s statements after delays, a finding that has been independently replicated since.
In 2015 I became a full-time Research Associate at the UoP, working on two core projects: a High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) funded memory-based lie-detection project, and a Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) funded project developing the Verifiability Approach (VA). The outputs from these projects have been published in academic peer-reviewed journals including: Law and Human Behavor; the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (JARMAC); and Acta Psychologica. I have presented our findings international and won the first-place (student) prize at Cambridge during the first Decepticon international conference for our research applying the VA to insurance fraud settings.
In 2019 I became a PTHP Lecturer (and tutor) in the School of Education and Sociology (UoP), before being appointed to Lecturer of Social Psychology in early 2020. In September 2020 I became Lecturer in Social Psychology at UWE Bristol.
I recently joined the UWE Department of Health and Social Sciences as a Lecturer in Psychology.
I previously studied at Coventry University (CU) for my BSc and MScR in Psychology. I was then awarded a teaching and research scholarship at the University of Bristol (UoB). I moved to Bristol in 2016 and joined the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG). My PhD explored the effects of acute and chronic alcohol consumption on emotional face processing. I completed work that aimed to extend our understanding of how alcohol impairs our ability to process key social information that has the potential to influence behaviour (especially important given the social context in which alcohol is typically consumed).
My research interests include psychopharmacology, social drugs, alcohol-related aggression, alcohol policy, health outcomes, and emotional face processing. I am a big advocate of open science and reproducibility and believe strongly in the accurate dissemination of research findings. Because of this, I actively involve myself in public engagement events. Examples include the yearly Bristol Neuroscience festival, Women in STEMM (Ada Lovelace), and an Alcohol Labelling event hosted by TARG.
I am delighted to join UWE Bristol, and the excellent researchers at PSGR.
I recently joined the UWE Department of Health and Social Sciences as a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology. Prior to joining UWE, I was a lecturer at Middlesex University for 3 years, where I was the curriculum lead for sport and exercise psychology, lead a football science degree programme and also developed an MSc in Sport and Ex Psychology. Prior to this role in academia I worked in elite sport, with Fulham FC across their senior and junior teams and then with Sunderland AFC, supporting their senior team. I studied for a BSc ‘Sport and Exercise Science’ and an MSc ‘Sport and Exercise Science (Psychology)’ at Brunel University (London) between 2006 and 2011.
Currently, my primary research interest is in mental health and wellbeing in elite sport. My PhD project is investigating perceptions and engagement with mental health support services in English elite football. I therefore have taken interest in areas around mental health stigma, literacy and support systems, which I imagine would map on to other research being carried out in the department.
I am also currently engaged with The Royal Marines, looking into the development and measurement of psychology programmes within the force. This is in its early stages, however is covering a breadth of occupational and performance psychology themes.
As an applied practitioner I am accredited by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) and am currently on an accelerated pathway to obtain HCPC status with them.
The Sexual Health and Well Being Interest Group #SHWIG@SHWIG is a group of researchers planning and doing research on sexual health, well-being and sexual violence. @SHWIG is a special interest group within the Psychological Science Research Group @PSRG at UWE.
Sexual health/well-being cuts across many aspects of our lives including relationships, behaviour and families as well as societal level issues of freedom, identity and inequalities.
In a time when clinical sexual health services have been cut to the bone and work focused on test, trace and treat, preserving the wider prevention and health promotion roles within sexual health/well-being has become even more important.
Applied research on sexual health and well-being and its impact on the real world is fundamental to our work and highlights the inequalities and civil rights barriers we see evidenced in higher rates of Sexually Transmitted Infection and HIV for racially marginalised groups, sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement and the evolution of reproductive freedoms through greater access to abortion.
Our group works across academic disciplines around these issues. What is the balance between harm and good and patterns of power and structural inequality? How does this shape freedom of identity and sexual identity; what is societies’ contribution to driving sexual violence via restrictive social and gender norms of what it is to be a ‘real man’. What is the contribution of informal sources of education such as porn on and how do sexual identities change? How is this reflected in the growth of online transactional sex?
@SHWIG is bringing all of these issues together under the virtual umbrella of a research into practice orientated, interest group based in a digital space, the @SHWIG#SHWIG lives on twitter and is housed within the Psychological Research Group at the University of the West of England, intersecting with the Sexual Violence Research Network also at UWE.
Lead by @DrJaneMeyrick, a health psychologist and public health specialist, we are a crosscutting multidisciplinary group of researchers and research informed practitioners. Contributors work across sexual health services, outreach, abortion services, criminal justice, sex work support, sex education development, sexual violence prevention and specialist services, all of which speak to this wider agenda. We have launched this online interest group to support the interaction of disciplines around these key topics and we hope to share cutting edge research webinars/podcasts/twitter conversations in order to showcase members research and promote transition to real world change. Innovative work underway includes interviews with black men in London around sexual health; the support needs of sex workers and patient voice lead transformation of abortion care. But we also want to reach out and create bigger networks with those sharing our interest, for example, disclosure of sexual violence and abuse in universities and sexual health services is a piece of work which connects higher education, sexual health and specialist sexual violence counselling services.
We want to share the learning and to grow the knowledge through understanding from multiple disciplinary viewpoints.
We bring important tools to bear on this topic starting from a public health perspective of prevention and harm reduction, using concepts of prevalence, (what is the size of the problem), employing the evidence base, (what has been shown to work best). Finally framing this, within a wider ecological model of how we understand the world that maps issues onto the individual, family, community and society that determine them.
We are excited to welcome two new social psychologists to PSRG! Matt and Emily joined UWE in January 2020 and have recently joined the Promoting Psychological Health theme of PSRG. Read on to learn more about our newest members!
My name is Matt Wood and I have joined the UWE Department of Health and Social Sciences as a Lecturer in Social Psychology.
I conducted by BSc in Psychology and my MSc in Health Psychology here at UWE. I then moved to Newcastle where I joined the EPSRC Centre of Doctoral Training in Digital Civics to conduct my PhD. My PhD was about how young people construct and contest a gendered and sexual identity through digital technology, using discursive psychology to consider how young people talked about sexual bodies, sexual cultures & sexual health.
The majority of my work is situated in Human Computer Interaction (HCI). At its core, this is about how people (users) interact with computers, and a great deal of work in HCI is focused on interfaces and making these more usable. HCI is however an incredibly broad field, incorporating perspectives from computer science, psychology, sociology and design, to name but a few.
Broadly speaking, I am interested in the qualitative dimension of social computing. This means I’m interested in the role digital technologies play in our social interactions with others – which of course has become highly topical since the pandemic of Covid-19. But in adopting qualitative methods, I am interested in unpacking the ‘messy reality’ of the social role of technology in people’s lives. These can often be contradictory, difficult, and intercept with other aspects of people’s lives, including identity and personhood. A great deal of my PhD was spent looking at young people’s talk/discourse around digital technologies, and how they positioned these in negotiating a gendered and sexual identity.
I am thrilled to join the dynamic researchers at PSRG, and I am excited to call this interdisciplinary group my research home. In May 2020 I was awarded a Vice-Chancellor Early Career Research Award to explore the qualitative dimensions of immersion in virtual reality, with an application to Science Communication, which I’m conducting in partnership with UWE’s Science Communication Unit.
My name is Emily LeRoux-Rutledge and I have joined the UWE Department of Health and Social Sciences as a Lecturer in Social Psychology.
As a Canadian, who has lived in Kenya, France, Bangladesh and the UK, it’s perhaps not surprising that I’ve been drawn to research on identity and migration. My current research looks at how the identities of refugee and diaspora groups in the UK are affected by ongoing violence in their countries of origin, and how this impacts wellbeing.
Broadly, my research examines the identities of marginalised groups in global contexts – which encompasses a lot of things! For example, I look at how the media constructs narratives about people, how people interpret media narratives, how people construct their own identities, and how they negotiate their identities in the face of local and global narratives about who they are, and who they should be. I use primarily qualitative methodologies, and take a narrative approach to identity.
I previously held a Lectureship in Social Psychology at the University of Surrey, and I have taught at both the London School of Economics and the University of Bristol. I earned my PhD in Social Psychology from the London School of Economics in 2017, my MSc in Social and Public Communication from the London School of Economics in 2007, and my BA (Hons) in International Relations and English from the University of Toronto in 2004.
Prior to my academic career, I spent ten years working in the field of international development, managing research for organisations using media and communication for development, and I continue to work as a consultant in this sector. I’ve conducted research on a wide range of topics, from public health to climate change, and I’ve worked in more than 20 countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Kenya, Niger, South Africa, South Sudan, Senegal, Serbia, Tanzania and Uganda.
I’m delighted to join the Psychological Sciences Research Group at UWE, and look forward to working and collaborating with my many wonderful colleagues!
Thanks to Matt at Housecat Productions, we have videos about PSRG and each of our themes (footage recorded pre-pandemic). Check out each of the videos and the work that we do. Feel free to get in touch in the comments below or by email (email@example.com).
An overview of our whole research group:
About our Ageing Well theme:
About our Applied Cognition and Neuroscience theme:
About our Optimising Performance and Engagement theme:
implications of nomothetic psychotherapy research
Psychotherapy research has made significant progress in providing strong evidence for process and outcome in favour of specific approaches. However, after many years of research and advanced methodologies, we are still unsure about why psychotherapy works, and how and to what degree these findings can be applied in everyday practice (Kazdin, 2009). Evidence-based approaches do not appear to be effective for everyone, and the mechanisms of change are still investigated with diverse findings. Randomised controlled trials (RCT) and meta-analyses inform policy and guidelines followed by the likes of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Illustrating this, NICE Guidelines for the treatment of Depression state that “well-defined” depression can be treated with CBT based on its proven efficacy, however “it is not effective for everyone” (NICE, 2009). Clinicians need evidence-based recommendations to inform their work with clients. It is notable though that evidence-based practice is based on nomothetic, quantitative approaches of inquiry but what is actually demanded from practitioners is to apply these theories in an idiographic context and adjust to the needs of the individual who seeks help (Persons, 2008).
One cannot reduce psychotherapy to specific factors and cannot reduce the person to a specific list of symptoms. Added to that, each psychotherapeutic encounter is unique, in terms of transference and real relationship factors. Rigid diagnosis criteria are challenged and culturally sensitive, social models of diagnosis are encouraged in the literature, which question the constant pursuit of functionality, fulfilment and happiness (Kirmayer, Gomez – Carillo & Veissiere, 2017). In reality, clients with the same labels are likely to experience their diagnosis in different ways (Hayes et al, 2019). Moreover, each therapist has inherent biases and internal processes of interpreting each client before deciding which interventions to apply and how (Makhinson, 2012). The therapist’s training, expectations, overgeneralisations and pressure for positive results have a significant impact on the decisions they will make for therapeutic action plans. Lastly, each psychotherapeutic dyad is different, each process that unfolds in this context is a different experience for both parties. Even if the therapist follows the same approach guidelines, they will be different with different clients (Hill, Chui & Baumann, 2013). Each therapeutic encounter forms a new interaction and discussion; a new therapy (Baldwin & Imel, 2020).
psychotherapy efficacy research struggles to capture the level of complexity therapeutic
interactions entail. The findings make inferences about the general population but
do not necessarily apply to the individual (Hayes et al., 2019). Another issue
is the difficulty in defining each therapeutic modality given the new
approaches that appear and their variations in application. Too many approaches
are now presented in the literature for too many syndromes which account for
too many statistical models, and the number is growing (Hayes et al., 2019). Moreover,
there are many confounding factors when trying to measure the effects of
psychotherapy, such as the therapist’s subjectivity, training, supervision, the
therapist and researcher’s expectations and the clients’ presenting
difficulties. The researcher’s subjectivity must also be recognised in the research
process even for the most rigorous RCTs. Psychotherapy research entails bias
and the effectiveness of psychotherapy can be exaggerated. Moreover, many
studies may remain unpublished if results support null or negative hypotheses
(Dragioti, Karathanos, Gerdle & Evangelou, 2017).
back to case analysis: the idiographic paradigm in psychotherapy research
Psychotherapy is a multi-faceted, complex phenomenon. How can we understand and represent its variability in evidence-based findings? Research is moving away from protocol and approach specific treatments towards a more client-centred way of exploring psychotherapy efficacy; it instead becomes a “personalized treatment” (Zilcha-Mano, 2019, p. 694). The focus is on the implementation of methodologies which can do justice to the complexity and variability of the phenomenon of psychotherapy. Qualitative research allows the exploration of the multidimensional interactions in psychotherapy encounters and the emergence of unexpected results (Hill et al., 2013; McLeod, 2011). By implementing methods such as the Narrative Assessment Interview (Angus, Levitt & Hardtke, 1999), the Change Interview (Elliott, Slatick & Urman, 2001) or the Hermeneutic Single-Case Efficacy Design (Elliott et al., 2009), qualitative research is nowadays being used more often in exploring psychotherapeutic processes and effects.
As psychotherapy researchers, we need to pursue a route that is different to “protocol-to-syndrome.” We are moving away from labels and therapy “brands” (Hofman, 2020, pp. 297 – 298) towards elaborate descriptions of people and therapies, focusing on what works, why and how, for both specific individuals or groups that share common characteristics. The suggestion is to distance ourselves from theory-driven process and outcome studies, from measurable and quantifiable behavioural changes (Hill et al., 2013) and instead to approach the client’s perspective in an open and explorative way; to enable learning and knowledge derived from the clients’ experience of psychotherapy efficacy. In particular, idiographic qualitative phenomenological research offers the means to explore intrapsychic change. A well-designed case study provides detailed, in-depth knowledge which is readily applicable to everyday clinical practice (Persons & Boswell, 2019).
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) is a qualitative methodology that focuses on the individual’s unique experiences of the situation studied. IPA can make a significant contribution by enabling researchers and practitioners to gain insights into client’s experiences of therapeutic processes. The philosophical, epistemological, and methodological underpinnings and guidelines of IPA allow for an in-depth exploration of the client’s experience, leading to significant conceptualisations on how therapeutic approaches work (Larkin & Thompson, 2012). It is based on the phenomenological paradigm as outlined by Husserl, Heidegger, and Merlau-Ponty (Smith, 1996; Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). It provides the framework to place the therapeutic encounter in context and analyse it; to go back to the phenomenon of psychotherapy “on its own terms.” The focus is on individuals, their subjective accounts and perceptions, bracketing the understanding of preconceived ideas, beliefs, and expectations. IPA methodology views persons in-context as they expound on embodied, dynamic, and interactive experiences. Interpretation in IPA implies moving away from the obvious, focusing on the meaning participants attribute to their experience, engaging in a dialogue with the data, and illuminating sense-making (Smith, 1996; Smith et al., 2009).
Adhering to an existential framework,
IPA methodology does not rely on psychological theories for the collection and analysis
of data. It is data-driven, emphasizing personal experience (Smith, 2017). It
is deemed a useful method for psychotherapy process exploration as it frees the
researcher from the compounds of psychotherapy theory and gives voice to the
clients’ unique experience and intersubjective meaning-making processes
(Larking & Thompson, 2012). Phenomenological methods have been applied to
the exploration of adults’ experiences of psychotherapy during their childhood
have changed their live, clients’ experience of positive change and to psychotherapy outcome studies
(Binder et al., 2010; Midgley, Target, & Smith, 2006; Olofsson et al.,
2019; Wilmots et al., 2019). IPA applied to psychotherapy research allows for
the exploration of the clients’ perspective, the meaning they attribute to
seeking and receiving help and how they conceptualise the psychotherapy process
rendering the results useful for incorporation into everyday clinical practice
(Binder et al., 2010; McLeod, 2011; Midgley et al., 2014). IPA guidelines help researchers keep the focus
on the participants’ experiences and meaning-making processes, and can further
bolster and clarify the knowledge of psychotherapy effects from the clients’
approaches to research claim that there is one absolute truth outside of us to
be discovered (Ponterotto, 2005). As psychotherapy researchers, the
phenomenological perception of truth helps us view psychotherapy as real
however it is the individual’ consciousness that determines its reality. IPA
exploration of psychotherapy brings research back to the clients, to their
experience of change, from which we can acquire significant insight on how and
why psychotherapy works. We go back to the individual case and understand the
psychotherapy processes from their perspective. Thus, the findings are closely
linked to practice. Inventories and questionnaires may capture a small proportion
of this variability in psychotherapy change procedures, but they are restricted
to overt behaviours and symptoms whilst the questions might not be applicable
to the person’s issues. The use of qualitative research methods in
psychotherapy effectiveness and outcome research adds to our efforts to
comprehend when and how psychotherapy works in an explorative and descriptive
psychotherapy research allows for the client’s voice to be heard. Their
perceptions and interpretations of psychotherapy process and change may guide
research conclusions, theory advancements and policies. Hence, psychotherapy is
adjusted to the clients and the service users, and not the other way around. In
recent literature, a more pluralistic method of inquiry is now considered in an
effort to address the diversity of psychotherapy processes, encouraging
researchers’ reflexivity on the aspect of psychotherapy they choose to explore (Rieken
& Gelo, 2015). Various methodologies and epistemologies are now employed in
the search for an answer to why psychotherapy works. Qualitative methodologies,
and especially IPA, places the client in–context considering psychological,
physical and social aspects of their experience of psychotherapy. Like
clinicians who tailor their use of techniques to the specific client in the
specific therapeutic relationship, researchers should consider individual needs,
culture and social context, tailoring research methods to specific aspects of
psychotherapy process and change.
Angus, L., Levitt, H. & Hardtke, K. (1999). The narrative processes coding system: Research applications and implications for psychotherapy practice. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55(10), 1255 – 1270.
Holgersen, H., & Gier Høstmark, N. (2010). What is a “good outcome” in
psychotherapy? A qualitative exploration of former patients’ point of view. Psychotherapy
Research, 20(3), 285 – 294. doi: 10.1080/10503300903376338
Dragioti, E., Karathanos, V.,
Gerdle, B., & Evangelou, E. (2017). Does psychotherapy work? An umbrella
review of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. Acta Psychiatrica
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Psychology, like all disciplines, has a history. Like all histories, it is a contested one, and it often unravels within a dominant narrative that might surprise you. For instance, the birth of the psychological laboratory in Leibzig, Germany in 1879, its founder Wilhelm Wundt, and the American behaviourist B.F. Skinner are considered far more influential to the development of contemporary psychological science than the psychoanalytic insights of Carl Jung or Melanie Klein. My teaching experience suggests that, in their vast majority, psychology undergraduates are left a little dissatisfied at the end of their degrees insofar as their understanding of human behaviour is concerned. Psychological knowledge in the last 40 years has developed largely in silos and final year courses offer quite specialised explorations of processes (social, developmental, biological, or cognitive) that underpin human psychic life. Thus, rare opportunities are afforded for some sort of synthesis of perspectives that can form an even partially satisfactory answer to the question: ‘so, why do I do the things I do?’. As academics, we face enormous pressure to profess expertise in specialised topics, publish our work in journals that mainly speak to other academics, and create our brand by accentuating the unique contribution(s) we have made to the discipline. ‘I teach why people do the things they do’ sounds just as silly as it is impossible. But shouldn’t studying psychology help us understand ourselves and others around us?
Cognitivism is a term that has been used to describe the influence of cognitive psychology (the study of mental processes such as attention, memory, and problem solving) on mainstream psychological theory as well as popular perceptions of human subjectivity. Experimental social psychology for instance talks of social cognition, namely what our brains do when we are in groups. Many theories suggest that the social world ‘enters’ individuals via biosensory pathways and cognitive mechanisms, which can be schematically represented as diagrams (and who doesn’t love a good, self-evident diagram?) and subjected to empirical testing. The brain (or ‘mind’) is widely hailed as the seat of selfhood, and I bet that if you asked people which organ represents them best, most people would pick their brains. That is, despite emerging evidence from medicine that implicates the digestive system (gut) in interesting psychophysiological processes, few people would name their intestines as the bit of tissue they would want preserved in a jar, and I am probably not one of them. Psychoanalytically speaking, there’s nothing surprising in the finding that the gut is a significant locus of psychological activity; after all emotions have to be symbolically digested somewhere. ‘One brain per person’ is how it works, and psychology loves some good old-fashioned dualisms. And so it has come to pass that psychology will leave the study of societies to sociology and social anthropology and cast its expert light on the unit of analysis that no mortal shall divide: the individual.
Cognitivism seeps into all other branches of psychology; thus, a unitary subject that is knowable, predictable, and bound by reason emerges undisputed. How I hear you ask? Let’s rewind. Cognitive psychology arose as a direct challenge to Watsonian ‘black box’ psychology, a necessary critique of the idea that humans are shaped solely by environmental contingencies and schedules of reinforcement. It blossomed in parallel with the computer revolution and adopted much of the language of computer science (input, network, information processing, mechanism etc). Some 70 years later, this language is not confined to the study of largely involuntary brain processes such as space perception or executive function. Quite the contrary, it has implied, assumed, and naturalised the reality underpinning most of human behaviour. It’s not cognitive psychology’s claims that solidify cognitivism, in fact cutting-edge research in this area has probably moved beyond it. This is how discourse (a devilishly slippery concept) works: an ideology such as the one we are dealing with can only become entrenched if it is propped up by a myriad of supporting beams. Cognitivism engulfs reality with every university psychology department that uses imagery such as an electrode-wired person to promote itself to prospective applicants (and funders). It lurks in the most innocuous of everyday utterances: ‘it’s all in your head’. And it goes unchallenged because no self-respecting psychologist would ever explicitly defend the position: ‘we are just our thoughts’.
several problems for contemporary psychology, if one takes that to mean the
study of ‘why we do the things we do’. It is less of a problem if one is
concerned with ‘how we do what we do’, but the critique still applies I
believe. Humans are not like computers in that we possess a tricky little thing
called consciousness and an equally tricky if not more tangible thing
called thebody. Let’s pretend that there’s no such tricky little
thing as soul or spirit, otherwise this brief commentary will get derailed. How
consciousness manifests, is embodied, and interacts with other conscious beings
is, really, what psychologists are studying. We need access to more than just
cognition to understand why people fall in love, why they fight, why they
suddenly act in unpredictable ways, and what happens when many people co-exist
for prolonged periods of time. Family dynamics, ambivalent friendships, and
toxic couples won’t make much sense by illuminating the intricacies of individuals’
cognitive apparatus. Why we feel what we feel is, invariably, more interesting
to the undergraduate student than why the ‘tip of the tongue’ phenomenon
occurs. Affective cognition is cognitive psychology’s answer to the former. So
what about relationships? Cue crickets.
There are good reasons why cognitivism has prevailed, not least because it squares with scientific methods, Western biomedicine, and reasonable expectations for publicly funded psychological research to have utility and applied value. Measuring things and discovering variables that affect human behaviour often translates into practical solutions for many a modern malady. In consequence, mainstream psychology enjoys widespread applications in health, occupational, and even recreational settings. At the same time, we should not ignore the more sinister reasons. As it squares, it concurrently dovetails with an ideology of the human subject as a predictable, fixable machine that can be controlled and programmed. It delights advertisers who are in search of the ideal font, image, or message to feed consumerism. It makes sense to politicians who, through no fault of their own, are also entangled in its discursive net and therefore look to psychology to fix symptoms (or hide them) rather than transform conditions to prevent the problems in the first place. It makes people feel cleverer as it follows a rational methodology and can be delightfully illuminating to the mind that has been trained all its life to excel and produce without ever pausing to reflect on the unbearable question: ‘what and who am I producing for?’.
A little context on the writer so that the reader can more fully appreciate the vested interests in this article (free tip: all discourse carries vested interests and (dis)locations of power). I studied for a 4-year experimental psychology degree, which I enjoyed, and my first job was as a statistics instructor for the university I graduated from. After a brief detour that involved meeting Avril Lavigne and dining with Patti Smith, I trained as a counselling psychologist. Whilst in training I took issue with several other assumptions counselling psychology made (the allure of cognitivism is perhaps less felt in this particular corner of applied psychology) but I finally found a home so to speak in another sub-discipline: community psychology. After struggling for many years, I can finally combine my passion for community psychology with my expertise as a counselling psychologist and proudly co-organise the Community Psychology Festival, an annual event borne out of hope and glitter. Even though I write from this intersection, I am informed and shaped by theories and experiences that are not immediately apparent in my professional identities.
It might therefore not surprise the reader to know that I take issue not with the very existence of cognitivism, but with its obliterating influence on all other ways of conceptualising human beings. I don’t for a second believe that we are rational and unitary; our internal worlds consist of affectively laden ‘bits’ that can be pre-verbal and unconscious (this is a Kleinian view), and I have started wondering whether producing a coherent self is more of a hassle than it is to surrender to the possibility of multiple selves, even if some of them are conflictually aligned against others. ‘Make happy thoughts’ is just about the worst advice you can give someone experiencing depression or anxiety. I have a problem with cognitivism’s unintended consequence of eradicating the social dimension of what it means to live and act in this world. I try hard to instil in my students a scepticism of mechanistic claims that do not recognise just how deliciously neoliberal their implications for the human condition are (see previous blog entry on ‘resilience’ by Dr Miles Thompson). Speaking of ‘resilience’, this research paradigm is only just beginning to acknowledge that metals should be resilient, humans not so much. Imagine a person who suffers a messy breakdown at work when they are working on a temporary contract and their partner is diagnosed with a terminal illness, at a time when healthcare has been privatised. A breakdown is the healthy response here; that is what should happen in the name of ‘normality’. Quite what form that breakdown may take is a different matter; I do not wish to absolve our fictional friend from personal responsibility. I am not comfortable with ‘victim culture’ and people who are unwilling to locate their own complicity in their suffering; that is if social-material conditions allow for such agency. But to condone any notion that said fictional (yet easily recognisable) person will be described as ‘resilient’ if they continue to work with a stoic half-smile and be in rational control of their emotions is where I draw a line.
No account can ever be ‘objective’, or definitive for that matter, and I do not wish to naively scapegoat cognitivism; rather I seek to reiterate that complex institutional and social conditions have allowed it to enjoy unprecedented platforms (hello inane ‘wellbeing’ apps) and unchallenged status in the Western world. This point has been made before. Several times. It is articulated every time sacred wisdom such as the Buddhist practice of mindfulness is usurped, diluted, decontextualized, and packaged in a cognitivised version, easily available for mass consumption. Distinguished cognitive scholars have grappled with some of the issues described here, and some have actually protested the dominance of the machine as the ultimate metaphor to symbolise psychological activity (cf. Jerome Bruner’s work). How many psychotherapists must speak up to protest the irrational (the irony!) program of mass mental hygiene that IAPT has become? How many psychologists must swallow their ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ (50% at the last count) in mental health settings before we all agree: “The psychologists and their cognitive errors (‘I can’t cope’, ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘This is hopeless’) are not the problem here!” Clinical and counselling psychologists know that cognitive interventions have a place in working with distress, but it is certainly not the place they currently occupy. So you might ask, if this has been said many times before, and it is not a hugely incomprehensible point to get hold of, why is there need to still write about it? Hmmm…Let’s call it ‘selective attention’, shall we?
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If you read the higher education press, you will be aware of the concerns of many British academics and universities following the 2016 referendum and the vote in favour of leaving Europe. How the UK leaves the European Union could have many important consequences for British universities. It may become impossible for British researchers to access European research funds, which in the past have been a major source of funding. Access to staff and student mobility schemes may cease, making it harder for people to travel abroad to study and collaborate. Academic staff from Europe may no longer find the UK an attractive place to come and work, and vice versa.
As an academic that has had strong links with our nearest
European neighbour for some time, the referendum decision has been personally
painful, and the ensuing months and years since torturous. However, I am
determined to do my bit in maintaining close working relationships with our
continental colleagues, however the Brexit project turns out. So I thought I
would use my PSRG blog entry to tell you a bit about French psychology, and the
rewards of international collaboration.
This story really started for me in the winter of 2013, when I decided it might be useful to travel abroad to find out how other institutions were delivering online learning in post-graduate psychology. Having set up a distance-based MSc in the early 2000s, and by 2013 being the programme lead for the doctorate in counselling psychology at UWE, I was keen to see how professional courses could be delivered online. I duly wrote and submitted a travel grant application to the Higher Education Academy (HEA), with a view to visiting the Fielding Institute in California and Paris 8 University in France, both of which run distance courses in clinical psychology (if you are an undergraduate psychology student that speaks good French you might consider the Paris 8 Masters – though using this to get HCPC registered might be less straight forward after Brexit!). Unfortunately, the HEA hit a period of financial turbulence, and the travel grants were axed. As a result, the USA part of the plan had to go, but Paris 8 was possible with some university funding.
So in 2014 I spent a week at Paris 8 University, talking to
staff and students, and finding out how their online MSc in clinical psychology
was run. In France currently, access to the profession of clinical psychology
is via a two year MSc, as it used to be in the UK (before Plymouth University
pioneered professional doctorates in the 1990s, and everyone else followed suit).
I soon discovered that an interesting aspect of clinical psychology at Paris 8
is that it quite closely resembles our counselling psychology course at UWE, in
that students study both humanistic and psychodynamic foundations of therapy,
as well as the ubiquitous cognitive behaviour therapy.
Paris 8 University is well known in France as the experimental university which was founded after the student led riots of 1968. Well known academics have included Foucault and Deleuze. Amongst the current psychology staff is Professor Arnaud Plagnol, who like me has interests in the application of cognitive science to understanding and working with client issues in therapy. Following my 2014 visit, Arnaud and I have collaborated on a number of projects. The picture shown here is a poster we did on neuroscience and depression, at the DCoP conference in Harrogate in 2015. More recently we have written a book together called Cognitive Psychodynamics, which illustrates how psychodynamic insights into phenomena such as the unconscious and transference can be understood and further developed in therapy through a cognitive framework.
Since 2014 I have done a small amount of teaching on the Paris 8 MSc. To help me communicate better with my French colleagues and students, I have attended a number of the annual conferences of the French Psychological Society. This year’s was in Poitiers, and the picture shown here is of the Hotel Fumé, which as the name suggests was built as a hotel by the Fumé family in the 15th century. It became part of the University of Poitiers’ Faculty of Human Sciences in 1922. The University of Poitiers is one of the oldest in France, often seen as the number 2 after Paris (so the French equivalent of Oxford ;). I was pleased to be able to present at the conference the excellent research carried out by one of my professional doctorate students, Sara Dowsett, on the utility of schema theory in understanding mental health issues in higher education students. The great thing about attending this conference is also the opportunity to catch up on some of the research being done by our colleagues in the Francophone world. For example, I listened to an extremely interesting paper by Geoffrey Gauvin, who along with colleagues in Montreal has been looking at the utility of self-help groups for clients with depression. It struck me that the holistic perspective being used with clients in these groups is something we might well benefit from here in the UK.
One of the highlights, as you would expect for a conference in
France, was the conference dinner. I felt privileged to be seated opposite the
president of the French Society, Rene Clarisse. In talking to Rene, one of the
interesting things I learned was psychologists in France are pushing the
government to extend psychology training courses by an extra year, which may
well give rise to the development of professional doctorates in France. Ironically, the similarities between British
and French psychology may well therefore increase even further after Brexit,
just as the possibility of professional mobility may well get harder.
I hope my blog entry encourages you all to reach out to our
continental psychology colleagues and overcome the linguistic barriers, whatever
language your rusty GCSE happens to be in.
I received my undergraduate degree in Psychology from University of Crete in Greece. I then moved to London where I completed my Master of Science in Counselling Psychology as well as my Professional Doctorate (PsyD) in Counselling Psychology at City University of London. Prior to joining UWE, I worked as an Assistant Professor and Director of the Psychology Division at Hellenic American University (Athens, Greece) for three years.
I am a qualitative researcher and my projects have been based on constructionist methodologies like Grounded Theory and Narrative Analysis, but recently I have engaged more into phenomenological paradigms and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis in particular. My scholarly interests initially involved the exploration of psychotherapy termination, trainees’ professional development, mental health practice and the impact of financial crisis on people and services. Over the last years, my research focuses on the investigation of psychotherapy process, change and outcome, developing longitudinal, mixed method and qualitative study designs. I have collaborated with academics and researchers from Greece, UK, Netherlands, and USA, and I have published academic articles and peer-reviewed chapters based on my research activities. Given my expertise in qualitative methodologies, I have been invited to facilitate seminars and also consult on projects by a number of institutions. Moreover, I have been the organizer of five qualitative research panels in national and international conferences and I have been invited to participate in numerous discussions as a presenter. Recently, I was invited to be the keynote speaker in an international conference of the American Counseling Association.
I am a trained psychotherapist, adhering primarily to the psychodynamic and psychoanalytic model of formulation and practice but I have also been trained in Cognitive Behavioural approach. I have worked on short and long term therapeutic basis with a variety of clinical cases (depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, psychosis etc.) and ages (adults, adolescents, children and families). I have collaborated with social workers, play therapists, psychiatrists, teachers and other professionals in the fields of mental health and education. I adhere to the scientist – practitioner model based on my academic and clinical training and practice. As a researcher and a psychotherapist I believe the two domains interact and inform each other. I try to encourage this model to my students and trainees.