METACOGNITIVE THERAPY (MCT)
Metacognitive therapy (MCT) was developed by Dr Adrian Wells and Dr Gerald Matthews in the early 1990s. It shares elements in common with, but is distinct from, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
The main difference is that whilst CBT concentrates upon the negative CONTENT of a person’s thoughts and strives to alter that content, MCT, in contrast, focuses not on the contents of a person’s thoughts but rather on the WAY IN WHICH THE PERSON THINKS – it aims to help the person experience their negative thoughts in a new and accepting way which can greatly reduce the emotional distress that they had previously been causing.
Although MCT was first devised in order to treat anxiety, it is now used to treat a wide range of psychiatric conditions; these include :
– Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
– Social Phobia
– Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Research into the effectiveness of MCT for the above conditions has so far yielded promising results.
WHAT ARE METACOGNITIONS?
Essentially, metacognitions are THOUGHTS ABOUT OUR THOUGHTS. This might sound a little odd at first, so I will illustrate what is meant by the definition with the assistance of an example :
Suppose a person started to suffer clinical depression – at first, his/her thoughts (or ruminations, as they are referred to by psychiatrists) may be quite specific ; for example, worries about being made redundant at work, the breakdown of an important relationship, ruinous debt etc…etc…
As time goes on, however, the worries can become more abstract, and the individual can start worrying about the fact s/he is always worrying. This is also referred to as meta-worrying. Similarly, s/he might begin to feel depressed about always being depressed,
It is very easy to get tied up with this type of thinking, and many do. Essentially, it adds another layer of worry or depression that is clearly superfluous and serves no purpose other than to further lower mood and further torment the hapless individual.
Metacognitions such as those illustrated above frequently become OBSESSIVE and OUT OF CONTROL, dominating our mental state and making it extremely hard to think about anything else – thoughts circle around and around our tortured and exhausted minds in a futile, painful and incessant manner.
Indeed, one of the main behaviors that exacerbates depression and anxiety is OVER-THINKING ABOUT, AND OVER-ANALYZING, THE PARTICULAR PREDICAMENT IN WHICH WE FIND OURSELVES SO CRUELLY PLACED (I know this from my own experience, as I was particularly badly afflicted by obsessional anxieties and over-analysis). Dr Wells refers to getting ‘stuck in our thoughts’ in such a way as Cognitive Attentional Syndrome.
MCT works by helping people, as I stated in the first paragraph, change the way in which they think, and subsequently how they experience their negative thoughts, rather than trying to change the content of their thoughts. One of the aims is to help them accept their thoughts much more without those thoughts triggering psychological distress; and, also, to help them realize they do not need constantly to engage in an exhausting mental fight with their thoughts.
Research has so far shown MCT to be highly effective at treating a range of conditions. Another promising finding is that the therapy can achieve very significant positive effects in as little as 8 weeks.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).