ICATA View From The Floor

Mary-Clare Wilson-Verrall, 2019. ICATA View From The Floor. Reformulation, Winter, pp.37-38.


Colleagues came from around the globe in June 2019 for a conference showcasing CAT’s diversity and international growth. “Bella Italia” was the location, and the city of Ferrara in Emilia Romagna was hot, hot, hot. The temperature was unusually high and the atmosphere sultry, but the real heat came in the discussions: the sharing, the companionship and the soaring degrees of generosity of our hosts.

The theme of the ICATA conference 2019 was on Exploring and integrating dialogues in CAT. Everyone who attended took the chance to maximise on dialogue and the all-round interactivity. It was a fertile ground for networking among international practitioners/therapists from fifteen countries, sharing contrasting experiences and ideas all underpinned with the familiarity of our shared CAT backgrounds. Also underpinned by a few days in the wonderful setting of Ferrara - sharing food and Prosecco!

The pre-conference workshop by Mikael Leiman, Reformulation on the fly: using Dialogical sequence analysis as a focusing tool in dialogue, explored his supervisory technique of clinicians role-playing their clients. This then led to a very moving experience when a member of the audience came forward to talk about a live encounter in her life - choosing to draw on personal experience of loss and separation. Leiman gave voice to Bakhtin, exploring how important things come back in dialogue. “The word wants to be heard,” he reminded us - noting that clients never start in unimportant places and that words have power.

Echoing this, the official conference opening involved a visit from author Ali Smith, whose novel How to Be Both is set in Ferrara. We heard extracts in English and Italian. These captured the dialogue of the character George, who is struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of her mother. Ali Smith spoke about the way grief “takes you apart and puts you back together again,” bringing the conversation perceptively around how narratives and our stories are not fixed: participation changes our stories when we are heard and understood by a witnessing other. How resonant for CAT people!

Steve Potter’s Saturday plenary Why transference matters in CAT gave a detailed review of what goes on dialogically in the transference. Reformulation was explained as a literal re-storying and re-wording - played out in the dialogues of the therapy room. Dialogue brings with it complex occurrences of that transference and through it we gained valuable insights into the specific CAT tools of this key topic.

Alison Jenaway and Carol Gregory presented an interactive and enjoyable workshop, drawing on ideas from Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy in CAT. What might this add to CAT practice? We practised on our own states of mind. We closed our eyes to see how we felt when focusing on our procedures. We had to get another part of ourselves to step back and ask questions: how did the first part think it was helpful - and for how long had it been playing its role? It was an unusual undertaking and felt really empowering, helping continue the conference theme of dialogue with the self.

Our excellent hosts, the Italian Association of Cognitive Analytic Therapy, brought us a wealth of opportunities for dialogue about dialogue. There was an interesting poster exhibition. The conference also allowed for plenty more innovative approaches to CAT being undertaken by practitioners in different countries. Vicky Petratou (UK) offered a stimulating workshop introducing the House of Self States (HOSS), [published in this current edition of Reformulation – Ed.] as a new creative mapping structure that develops how we can be with, and connect to, the unbridgeable parts of ourselves and others. In this model, the house is the containing structure and the housemates are Self States. When the isolated house mates begin to talk to each other from the different floors of the house then dialogue helps integration. We were tasked to apply this to a chosen fairy tale and all talked enthusiastically afterwards, keen to learn more and to use the tool ourselves.

A workshop delivered by Carlos Chiclana and Esther Gimeno (Spain) talked about integrating spirituality in CAT, enlightening us on the context of CAT in religiously active communities and also the difficulties in integrating CAT with spirituality and religion. Can we improve CAT through a recognition of our clients’ and our own spirituality, religion and culture? As we discussed the pros and cons, we ended up considering as therapists whether our patients might struggle to bring what is spiritually important to them if we are less in touch with spirituality ourselves.

There were chances across the sessions and plenaries to talk through the essentials of CAT. One plenary on the final day got us to focus on the relative potential of different lengths of CAT sessions - as a single extended session, as 6-8 sessions, and long-term CAT, as well as the typical 16 -24 session. We talked about what happens in the middle of therapy, such as learning to be with another, and helping discover another person’s self by using yourself. 

These are just a few of the sessions I was lucky enough to attend – there were many others and I wished I could have gone to all of them. The warm generosity of our hosts included a delicious conference dinner with playful entertainments. I got to meet fellow colleagues from around the globe, got to know people better who I’ve worked or studied with, and got to enjoy dedicated time focused entirely on CAT… and the culinary marvels of Ferrara.

Mary-Clare Wilson-Verrall

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Mary-Clare Wilson-Verrall, 2019. ICATA View From The Floor. Reformulation, Winter, pp.37-38.

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