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Introducing the Power Threat Meaning Framework

12 January 2018

Our Division of Clinical Psychology has published a report offering a new perspective on why people experience mental distress.

It is already attracting national and international interest, and the 400 places at today’s launch sold out within hours.

A group of senior psychologists (Lucy Johnstone, Mary Boyle, John Cromby, David Harper, Peter Kinderman, David Pilgrim and John Read) and high profile service user campaigners (Jacqui Dillon and Eleanor Longden) spent five years developing the Power Threat Meaning Framework as an alternative to more traditional models based on psychiatric diagnosis. They were supported by researcher Kate Allsopp, by a consultancy group of service users/carers, and by many people who supplied examples of good practice that is not based on diagnosis.

You can read the full Power Threat Meaning Framework or a shorter overview.

The Framework applies not just to people who have been in contact with the mental health or criminal justice systems, but to all of us. It summarises and integrates a great deal of evidence about the role of various kinds of power in people’s lives, the kinds of threat that misuse of power pose to us and the ways we have learnt to respond to those threats.

In traditional mental health practice, threat responses are sometimes called ‘symptoms’. The Framework looks instead at how we make sense of these difficult experiences and how messages from wider society can increase our feelings of shame, self-blame, isolation, fear and guilt.

The approach of the Framework is summarised in four questions that can apply to individuals, families or social groups:

  • What has happened to you? (How is power operating in your life?)
  • How did it affect you? (What kind of threats does this pose?)
  • What sense did you make of it? (What is the meaning of these situations and experiences to you?)
  • What did you have to do to survive? (What kinds of threat response are you using?)

Two further questions help us think about what skills and resources people might have and how they might pull all these ideas and responses together into a personal narrative or story:

  • What are your strengths? (What access to Power resources do you have?)
  • What is your story? (How does all this fit together?)

Dr Lucy Johnstone, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and along with Professor Mary Boyle, the lead authors of the Power Threat Meaning Framework, said:

“The Power Threat Meaning Framework can be used as a way of helping people to create more hopeful narratives or stories about their lives and the difficulties they have faced or are still facing, instead of seeing themselves as blameworthy, weak, deficient or ‘mentally ill’.

“It highlights and clarifies the links between wider social factors such as poverty, discrimination and inequality, along with traumas such as abuse and violence, and the resulting emotional distress or troubled behaviour, whether it is confusion, fear, despair or troubled or troubling behaviour.

“It also shows why those of us who do not have an obvious history of trauma or adversity can still struggle to find a sense of self-worth, meaning and identity. “

The Framework, say the authors, has implications for therapeutic or clinical work. It can also offer constructive alternatives in the areas of service design and commissioning, professional training, research, service user involvement, peer support and public information. There are also important implications for social policy and the wider role of equality and social justice.

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