Relational Mental Health: the Patras conference theme

The Conference Theme

The theme for the Sixth International CAT conference in Patras, Greece was relational mental health and CAT’s existing and potential contribution.

What do we mean by Relational Mental Health?

A relational approach to mental health is ever more pressing: as the extent, mix and severity of distress, the awareness of and sense of entitlement to psychological help increases and the cost pressures on the tax payer pull us towards smarter more joined up ways of working. Regardless of the type of treatment, intervention or care, and, regardless of the profession of the provider, the quality of the helping relationship is going to determine outcome in the face of this complexity.

CAT is an approach with a triple interest in the therapeutic relationship as: a dynamic interpersonal process, a collaborative exploration and as a search for the integration of multiple factors.

In this conference

We wanted to explore how CAT can make an integrated response to these pressing needs for a more relationally informed mental health provision. Together, through the events and meetings of the conference, we hoped to sketch out the task, as we see it, within and between our different national and professional communities.

We wanted to celebrate CAT as a pluralistic approach with many influences and contributions. A rough count of the number of distinctive regional, national and professional communities practising CAT comes to over thirty such groups. We need to speak to each other not just as individuals but also as communities from our different contexts.

CAT is thirty years old in the UK and twenty years old in Finland. It has been practised for a similar length of time in Spain and Greece and for fifteen years in Ireland and Australia. A growing number of countries are showing an interest. We need to be able to communicate what is distinctive about our work and our contribution to the wider field of mental health.

We looked at relational mental health in terms of the client, the system or context, the therapist and finally in terms of the model. In respect of this last point in particular we looked at the many ways of involving other approaches within the middle phase of a CAT approach. CAT is both a particular intervention in its own right and a relational ‘umbrella’ for a range of interventions and modes of working. Its strength is to be a model with open borders.

CAT’s reformulation approach offers a containing and guiding framework for a variety of interventions with a cognitive, emotional, behavioural or interpersonal focus. In this spirit it is an integrative therapy with an integrative multi-modal and multi-disciplinary approach. However it is most strikingly a relational therapy that seeks to combine a more problem solving, symptom reducing focus with a person building self-understanding focus. This is aided by the relational use of the therapeutic tools of mapping, writing and rethinking patterns of interaction. It directly offers a therapeutic framework for individuals and groups and indirectly offers a similar framework for consultative and educative approaches to building reflective capacity.

In sum CAT teaches relational abilities and offers a language and framework for relational mental health.

We hoped to produce a monograph of the contributions to the conference and use the conference to audit and appraise the strengths and weaknesses of CAT as whole, and components of CAT practice in particular, to help integrate the rich variety of ways in which CAT is being practised. We wanted to celebrate our commitment to the founding principle of CAT to scaffold ways of working with the therapeutic factors and mechanisms of change that are common to all treatment and care.


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