Towards a Greater Acceptance of the Cognitive in CAT

Harvey, L., 1993. Towards a Greater Acceptance of the Cognitive in CAT. Reformulation, ACAT News Winter, p.x.


Towards a Greater Acceptance of the Cognitive in CAT

Linda Harvey

I was impressed by Tony Ryle’s recent presentation to the Supervisors’ Meeting in which he extolled the cognitive input of CAT and seemed to acknowledge that psychoanalytic theory alone could not offer a workable therapy. I felt however that his paper Persuasion or Education? - The role of Reformulation in Cognitive Analytic Therapy1 leaned too heavily on evidence from social and developmental psychology. I think much can be learned from cognitive psychology, and useful comparisons made with knowledge gained from research into artificial intelligence. Where else can you get immediate evidence of the truism ‘If you put rubbish in you get rubbish out”, which of course is espoused by us all when taking into consideration early experiences. Below I offer a few examples of relevant studies.

A very simple comparison with the Procedural Sequence Model and Object Relations Theory can be made via computer programs designed to model human behaviour. Some models use a production systems concept (Anderson’s ACT-Star 1983), whilst others are modelled on the processing of schemas. The latter are similar in concept to Piaget’s building blocks of learning. The notion was first presented by Bartlett (1932), when he suggested that memory was organised via a system of schemas and that events would then be interpreted via previous knowledge of events. Quite complex and workable computer programs have been devised using this concept. Schank since 1982 has worked on a number of increasingly sophisticated language programs which have been shown to modify schemas as a result of incoming data. The relevance of such computer models cannot be that they exhibit human processing ability, because there is no way of knowing this. However they do show that certain theories are workable.

Figure 1 suggests a procedure for learning (adapted from Rumelhart and Norman).

It is not difficult to see how such a model lends itself to the generation of computer programs. I feel that as a model of learning it shows how our own system may fail if we remain fixed at the level of accretion. Object Relations Theory could be described alternatively as a failure in restructuring - and CAT’s application in terms of schema tuning.

A graphic example of how a client could describe her own procedures in terms of the PSM or in her case as a computer program is provided by Gabrielles SDR on page 116 of “CAT - Active participation in change”. Evidence that we are not as logical as computers is provided by research into human problem solving. Particularly relevant to CAT therapy - where analogy is often used in reformulation and TPPs - are the studies on analogical problem solving. Gick and Holyoak (1980) compared the ability of subjects to recognise similarity in problems and to make use of the knowledge gained from solving one problem to solve another. In a controlled study, where two similar problems were presented but the subject was given no hint about the similarity, only 20% of the subjects successfully made use of the first solution to solve the second. With the addition of a “hint” to notice the similarities, 92% of subjects were successful. It would seem that (if nothing else) therapists should be able to offer ‘hints’. Equally relevant is the study that shows that subjects searching for solutions to problems will apply analogs of previous experience, or old knowledge to new events (Gentner and Gentner 1980; Gick and Holyoak 1980). The ‘snag” for example may well be described in these terms.

This tendency to a particular mental set or Einstellung has been shown to be unhelpful when applied to problem solving in changed situations, and was identified as early as 1942 by Luchins and Luchins. Exhaustive experiments that they conducted in 1950 towards reducing mechanisation in problem solving produced the recommendation that “the trend towards concretizing ... problems by relating them more closely to everyday activities is in part motivated by the desire to make the subject matter more meaningful to the child but this need not result in giving the child a better insight ... - he may still repeat blindly certain rules and formulas. What are needed are teaching methods that will lead to the understanding of the structural qualities of ... concepts and encourage productive thinking.” They were actually referring to mathematical problems, but their suggestions seem relevant to CAT. In particular I feel it shows that the prose reformulation alone is not sufficiently instructive to enable a client to feel other than “understood”.

A further study relevant to the methods used in CAT was produced by Reed, Dempster and Ettinger (1985). They pointed out that although analogy is useful in the solving of similar problems, the degree of usefulness depends on the degree of real similarity that exists. Their suggestion to teachers is “that the solution to example problems should be available to students, and the principle underlying the solution to a problem should be stated explicitly.’ In our terms this would suggest that a fuzzy TPP cannot be applied to a number of target problems. For the best results it really does need to be specific. After all, if a teacher really wants to ensure a pupil does well in an exam he doesnt just give him the questions - he gives him the answers as well, and multiple choice does not enhance performance! This I feel has implications for the too easy reliance of trainees on the unadulterated Psychotherapy File TPPs.

All of these findings support rather well the long-expressed views of certain members of the CAT fraternity. They do not of course differ from the final statements of Tony Ryle but they do borrow substantiation from different sources. Though controversial, I feel this can only enhance the model.

Linda Harvey

Full Reference

Harvey, L., 1993. Towards a Greater Acceptance of the Cognitive in CAT. Reformulation, ACAT News Winter, p.x.

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