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Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT)

Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) is helpful for a wide range of difficulties, including anxiety,

depression, low self-esteem, trauma and relationship problems. It aims to help you to become aware of your patterns of behaving and your beliefs, and to understand how they influence the way you cope with life’s difficulties.

CAT originates from cognitive (the way you think) and psychoanalytic models, drawing on knowledge about how we relate to each other. CAT aims to help you to change your ways of thinking, feeling and behaving so that you can learn to manage your life in an emotionally healthier way.

During CAT, you work in close collaboration with your counsellor or psychologist to create a shared understanding of your current difficulties and how to address these. It is a very active therapy and you will be expected to continue working on your problems between therapy sessions. It is a time-limited therapy, with an average length of 16 sessions.

The first few sessions of your counselling will be spent building a picture of your childhood and young adult years, highlighting any significant events and key life experiences. This will help you to understand how you have learnt to deal with problems and identify patterns which have developed over the years. The analytic aspect of CAT will also focus on important relationships you’ve had with others and how you have learnt to relate to them. From this map of your life, you will able to start to understand how you react to situations, think about them and your feelings about them.

What you will often realise, with the help of your counsellor, is that some ways of coping with problems are so habitual that we keep on repeating them even when they stop becoming helpful in dealing with specific difficulties. Therefore, the solution we’re applying to solve the problem is actually becoming part of the problem, exacerbating feelings of anxiety, depression, frustration and stuckness.

For example, an anxious personwho was badly bullied at school might deal with conflict in close relationships by either attacking the other person (fighting back) or withdrawing and ignoring them. Whilst these might be helpful tactics when faced with a school bully, and possibly resolve the problem, it is not a healthy way to deal with conflict in a mature adult relationship. CAT could help the person to identify this pattern of behaving, understand its origins, and develop different ways of managing conflict.

CAT is an insightful therapy for people who are keen to develop a deeper understanding of themselves whilst still focusing on making changes in the here-and-now. It has an emphasis on how people relate to others and themselves. Often we do not realise how we are stuck in unhelpful patterns in our lives – and how we repeatedly applying the same solution with limited or destructive consequences. CAT is helpful in bringing these patterns into our awareness so we can then choose whether we want to change them or not.

CAT is usually a weekly therapy and you will be working towards specific goals, which you will set with your counsellor or psychologist in the beginning stages of your therapy. By the end of therapy, you would be well on your way to applying new and more effective problem-solving techniques to your difficulties. This will allow your symptoms of anxiety, depression or trauma to start easing and help you to build better interpersonal relationships with others. You can find an accredited CAT therapist on the Association for Cognitive Analytic Therapy (ACAT) website (