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Clin Psychol Rev. 2011 Mar;31(2):249-59. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.005. Epub 2010 Feb 1.

An integrative mechanistic account of psychological distress, therapeutic change and recovery: the Perceptual Control Theory approach.

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Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, United Kingdom.


The exact nature and mechanisms of psychological change within psychological disorders remain unknown. This review aims to use a psychological framework known as Perceptual Control Theory (Powers, 1973, 2005; Powers, Clark, & McFarland, 1960) to integrate the diverse literature within psychotherapy research. The core principles of Perceptual Control Theory are explained, and key domains of psychotherapy are considered to explore how well they converge with these principles. The quantitative and qualitative empirical literature on the process of psychological change is reviewed to examine how it fits with predictions based on Perceptual Control Theory. Furthermore, the prerequisites for psychological change; client qualities, therapist qualities, the therapeutic alliance and the shifting of awareness, are also considered to examine their consistency within a Perceptual Control Theory account. Finally the strengths and limitations of a Perceptual Control Theory account in explaining the mechanism of psychological change are considered.

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