What is Cognitive Analytic Therapy?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 28 December 2019
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Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) was developed by Anthony Ryle in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is a form of short-term or brief therapy that aims at creating positive change in the here and now through examination of how change or action took place in the past. In other words, the way a person developed coping strategies in the past greatly influences how they act and are able to solve problems in the present. By first understanding development of those strategies and then understanding them in present context, people can learn to adopt more effective coping tools and models that may lead to greater mental health.

Typically, cognitive analytic therapy won’t last more than 22 to 24 sessions at most, and many people have an average of about 16 sessions. They don’t tend to leave the therapeutic environment in a full state of emotional health, but they’ve learned how to employ newer techniques for tackling emotional problems. Some people might require a second series of sessions, and it’s not clear that cognitive analytic therapy is of use for all people with problems or mental illness.


CAT does require a person to be able to cognitively engage with the therapist in reconstructing a history and accounting for past life experiences and present experiences in early sessions. This is used to create diagrams called Reformulations, which help to visibly identify the areas in which the person has the most trouble. From a reformulation and its subsequent scrutiny evolves targets or Target Problem Procedures. The bulk of the rest of the therapy is taken up by working on these in what can be structured or unstructured ways. Homework is very common in this form of therapy.

Toward the end of cognitive analytic therapy, an additional activity involves communication between therapist and client in another form. Both write goodbye letters to each other, which may help address the presence of any transference. This can help bring therapy to a more natural closing.

There are many influences for cognitive analytic therapy. Ryle’s conception of therapy draws on traditional psychoanalysis, and from work like cognitive behavioral therapy, among others. Another influence were the needs of the British National Health System. Limiting therapy to a shorter period of time, but still making it effective has always been a goal.

Presently, cognitive analytic therapy is most practiced in the UK, though its influence has spread to other parts of the world, including a few places in Europe and in the US. People have to be trained to practice CAT and this training may be difficult to find outside of the UK. A person without real training and certification offering CAT may not be fully up to the task of offering this therapy, and those seeking CAT are best off searching for someone who possesses certificates or other evidence proving true practice and education.



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