New guidelines for clinical psychologists

Good Practice Guidelines for the Use of Psychological Formulation, commissioned by the Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), were launched at the DCP Annual Conference in Birmingham today. 

Although formulation is recognised as a core skill for clinical psychologists in all specialties, to date it has not been the subject of any official guidelines or professional standards. Lead author Lucy Johnstone and co-authors Stuart Whomsley, Samantha Cole and Nick Oliver have endeavoured to define best practice in psychological formulation in consultation with Chairs of Faculties and Special Interest Groups, psychologists who have researched and published in the area, and service user and carer representatives. 

A formulation can be defined as a of a person's difficulties, agreed between the psychologist and client, which is based in psychological evidence and informs the intervention. It serves a wide range of purposes for individuals, teams and organisations across many different healthcare settings

However, it is a complex area, and even the definition of formulation varies across clinicians and professions. The document establishes broad principles in a number of areas including multi-model and single model formulation, problem-specific and person-specific formulation, formulation in teamwork, and formulation and diagnosis.

It discusses the role of formulation in its wider service and social contexts. It also summarises the current evidence-base for formulation, and makes recommendations for further research, practice and development. 

The guidelines conclude with a checklist of best practice in formulation, which is intended for use in clinical work, evaluation, supervision, training, audit and research.

Dr Lucy Johnstone said: "Writing this document has been an extremely complex task. It recognises the value of all types of formulation. At the same time, it argues that clinical psychologists bring their own particular training and strengths to formulation and formulating. It recommends that clinical psychologists use their broad-based skills to formulate from an integrated, multi-model perspective which locates personal meaning within its wider systemic, social and societal contexts."