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Determining What is Important in a Good Formulation

  • Alyson Flitcroft (a1), Ian Andrew James (a1), Mark Freeston (a1) and Amy Wood-Mitchell (a2)

Research suggests that there is low inter-rater reliability between therapists when asked to formulate the same case and that there may be discrepancies in what is considered an essential part of a formulation. The present study aimed to explore the diversity of therapists' viewpoints regarding the purpose and essential features of a cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) case formulation of depression. A Q-sort methodology was used in order to render these beliefs operational. Seven experienced CBT therapists participated in the construction of 86 statements, capturing concepts considered relevant to a CBT formulation of depression. This Q-sort was then administered to 23 therapists, who rated these statements in terms of their importance using a Q-sort procedure. Three factors emerged, suggesting three dominant opinions as to the importance of features of a formulation. A “state” CBT factor, focusing on the “here and now”, accounted for most variance; followed by a second factor emphasizing “function and process” and a third factor emphasizing “trait” components. Whilst there was some agreement between what was considered to be least important in a formulation, the emergence of three distinct viewpoints suggests a lack of complete consensus amongst the therapists.

Corresponding author
Reprint requests to Ian James, Centre for the Health of the Elderly, Newcastle General Hospital, Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 6BE, UK. E-mail:
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Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy
  • ISSN: 1352-4658
  • EISSN: 1469-1833
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioural-and-cognitive-psychotherapy
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