Central Cambridge

What is CAT?

What is Cognitive Analytic Therapy or CAT?

In a few sessions CAT will help you to work out why life is difficult for you now, what made it that way and how you can change things.

Developed by Anthony Ryle in a busy NHS hospital in the 1970s CAT is an amalgam of what worked with patients and actually made them better and is now used around the world. It works by helping you to identify the unhelpful patterns you have got stuck in so you know why you’re having problems. It also helps you to uncover why you developed these patterns – they will have been useful at some point in your life. And finally it helps you to start to develop new and more helpful patterns that will make life happier.

When you first come to CAT therapy you and your therapist will talk about why you have come. Using a questionnaire called ‘The Psychotherapy File’ and making diagrams as you talk, the two of you will gradually build up a picture of your difficulties. You will start to understand why you seem to be stuck in the same patterns, repeating things you don’t want to over and over again. In these early sessions you will also start to talk about how these patterns evolved in your childhood. As children we react to the situations we find ourselves in and develop strategies to cope with them. We then continue to use these strategies later in life when we don’t need them. In fact they become unhelpful or self-defeating. Once you and your therapist have established what the unhelpful patterns are and where they came from your therapist will write an explanation of all this called a ‘Reformulation Letter’. From this point CAT gives you the space to begin to recognise when you are using these patterns, why, and to start to think with your therapist about what new, helpful patterns you can develop instead. At the end of your agreed sessions you and your therapist will summarise the therapy and plan for any work you will continue when therapy is over. Usually one or more follow-ups are planned so that you can come and check in with your therapist as you develop your new strategies.

CAT is usually between 16 and 24 sessions but some people will find they need fewer or more – it’s based on individual need rather than being formulaic.

In brief CAT is about:

  • Forming a trusting relationship with your therapist which allows you to work together to explore the difficulties you are facing
  • Identifying your current problems and how they affect your life and wellbeing
  • Looking at the underlying causes of these problems in terms of your earlier life and relationships
  • Understanding how you learned to survive sometimes intense and unmanageable feelings by relating to others and yourself in particular ways
  • Identifying how these patterns may now be holding you back
  • Discovering the choices and ways of doing things differently (‘exits’) that are available to you to make your life better for yourself and those close to you
  • Finding out how you can continue to move forward after the therapy has ended