Spotlight On - Complex Psychotherapy Interventions Team

Posted by Devon Partnership Trust in News on 23rd October, 2023

We spoke to Ross Stephenson, Principal Adult Psychotherapist in the Psychotherapy Team within the Personality Disorder Service (also known as the Complex Psychotherapy Interventions (CPI) Team). He told us about the purpose of the team, their current priorities and what motivates them.

What is the main purpose of your team? And what does a typical day look like?

We provide conjoint therapy to patients with a personality disorder diagnosis. This means that our patients join a weekly analytic group, and have weekly one-to-one therapy, which run alongside each other over a period of two years.

Our aim is to create an environment where patients’ emotional experiences can emerge and be thought about. We want to help them express and understand their difficulties, find new ways of relating, and learn to live safely and well in the here and now.

Our patients have often been supported by quite a few other services before they get to us. We work with them when they’re stable and familiar enough with what is it to do psychotherapy and they’re able to do the work for two years, as it can be challenging to commit.

A typical day would involve seeing patients, meeting with colleagues, and facilitating an analytic group at Wonford House in Exeter.

There are seven of us in the team. We’ve got a professional lead, psychotherapists, a psychiatrist who’s doing his training in psychotherapy and an admin lead. Even though we’re a small team, we all have a lot of opportunities to communicate and work together through regular team meetings and supervision. We’re quite close knit and because we have regular contact with people in the wider personality disorder service the team actually feels bigger than it is. 

What are you teams current priorities?

Our main priority is implementing the requirements of the Community Mental Health Framework (CMHF), such as the introduction of new outcome measures, development of personalised care, and our links with colleagues across the organisation.

Another priority is getting patients off of our waiting list and into therapy. We also want to build our psychotherapy team, as we currently have some vacancies available.

What qualifications and training do the team have? And what career paths have people taken?

We all have robust training in some form of psychodynamic psychotherapy to Master’s level or above, and are registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. This kind of training involves theoretical learning, clinical practice, and undergoing therapy oneself over a number of years.

Our team have a varied background in the healthcare and caring professions, within and outside of the NHS, before choosing to specialize in psychotherapy.

What are some of the challenges the team faces?

Since COVID-19, returning to face-to-face work has been particularly challenging due to the high demand for limited clinical space at Wonford House and the challenge for finding consistent rooms over the two-year therapy period. This can require a degree of tenacity.

In terms of our clinical work, our patients have complex and severe difficulties of long standing, which means that positive change is often a challenging and hard won process for both them and us.

What do you enjoy most about being part of this team?

It’s very rewarding to work with people who have had such difficult experiences in their lives, yet have managed to resolve to help themselves.

Having time to reflect on the work with colleagues in supervision is invaluable, and always a great learning experience.

What motivates your team?

We want to do the best we can with a group of people who are often not fully understood, and have experienced great hardships. We have the opportunity to meet and relate to our patients at a level of depth which can create significant change, such as reducing hospital admissions, patterns of self-harm, alcohol and substance misuse and patient’s relationships with others on a day-to-day basis. This can be very rewarding.

What achievement is your team most proud of?

I can’t necessarily speak for the whole team, but I think we are all very pleased to be able to work together to help create the kind of changes described above. Our team has been doing this work for over 20 years, since we began in the basement of Wonford House, and our ongoing learning allows us to offer consultation to other colleagues across the organisation who are working with our patient group.

Members of the team also staff the Medical Psychotherapy Training which introduces psychotherapeutic practice to doctors as an essential part of their training in psychiatry.

What is the best bit of feedback you have received from a patient or service user?

One patient described themselves as no longer having a personality disorder, just a personality!

What do you and your team do to unwind?

We are a group with a wide range of interests, but we recently had a brilliant away day which brought together members of different teams across the personality disorder service – Engage and Emerge, who conduct psychosocial work with patients in the community, the staff of the Iris Centre, and our Psychotherapy Team. This was expertly convened and allowed us to engage with serious material whilst also really enjoying being with each other in person, after so much time working together online.

And finally... how would you sum up your team in one word?