Take any psychotherapies class and you will get your usual dose of the classic models built on grand schemes attempting to explain the meaning of life and human behavior: psychoanalysis (and later versions of object relations), humanist/client-centered, behaviorism, cognitive (and later combinations of the two), and various forms of family systems models. Students in advanced courses may learn a bit about various combinations of these models but usually such classes leave learners picking and choosing a theoretical home–or becoming eclectic by trying to take parts of each model.
But nowadays, models are built not to explain the meaning of life but to show “what works” in therapy. Sometimes model builders stumble onto a technique and then attempt to provide evidence how and why such interventions work. For example, I would classify Les Greenberg’s EFT, Francine Shapiro’s EMDR and Marsha Linehan’s DBT (though DBT has much more robust evidence supporting and has validity whereas Shapiro’s techniques have reliability but lack validity in my mind) as these kinds of models.
Now comes another model to try to capitalize on a number of proven techniques: Integrative Cognitive Affective Therapy. Right now, it seems to be used and studied for the treatment of Bulimia. But, I expect to see it grow over the years to any number of problems (just as DBT is not just used for Borderline Personality Disorder anymore).
What is ICAT? It is an attempt to improve upon the weaknesses of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) while maintaining the robust empirical power of the model. What are CBT’s weaknesses? Stephen Wonderlich says they are “1) a limited view of emotional responding; 2) inadequate consideration of interpersonal factors; 3) insufficient attention to therapist-client relationship; and 4) overemphasis on conscious-controlled cognitive processing.”*
ICAT attempts to improve on CBT by paying very careful attention to emotion, mindfulness, and other aspects of a person’s experience of self and world. Again, Wonderlich describes ICAT as “a collection of interventions drawn from an array of cognitive behavioral and emotion-focused therapies and based on a testable theoretical model…”
ICAT for Bulimia exists in a 21 session form as of now. It focuses on experiencing and identifying key emotions involved in the Bulimic process, making initial changes to eating habits, developing alternative coping mechanisms to deal with distressing emotions, dealing properly with desires, practicing self-regulation and challenging discrepancies between ideal and actual self. What makes it different from CBT is its focus on emotion and collaborative work between patient and counselor.
In many ways, it seems to adapt other model’s focus on validation, affect, mindfulness, and distress tolerance. Over and over it appears that understanding and addressing subtle emotional interpretations of life are the building blocks to changing pathological behaviors.This is not the first attempt to build an affective version of CBT. Some attempted to talk about constructivist CBT but that did not take hold. I suspect this model has a better chance at catching on.
*Wonderlich, Stephen (Summer, 2009). “An introduction to Integrative Cognitive Affective Therapy for Bulimia Nervosa” Perspectives: A Professional Journal of the Renfrew Center Foundation, pp 1-5.