A clinical formulation, also known as case formulation, is a theoretically-based explanation or conceptualisation of the information obtained from a clinical assessment. It offers a hypothesis about the cause and nature of the presenting problems and is considered an adjunct or alternative approach to the more categorical approach of psychiatric diagnosis. In clinical practice, formulations are used to communicate a hypothesis and provide framework for developing the most suitable treatment approach. It is most commonly used by clinical psychologists and psychiatrists and is deemed to be a core component of these professions. Mental health nurses and social workers also use formulations.
Types of formulation
Different psychological schools or models utilize clinical formulations, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and related therapies: systemic therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and applied behavior analysis. The structure and content of a clinical formulation is determined by the psychological model. Most systems of formulation contain the following broad categories of information: symptoms and problems; precipitating stressors or events; predisposing life events or stressors; and an explanatory mechanism that links the preceding categories together and offers a description of the precipitants and maintaining influences of the person's problems.
Behavioral case formulations used in applied behavior analysis and behavior therapy are built on a rank list of problem behaviors, from which a functional analysis is conducted, sometimes based on relational frame theory. Such functional analysis is also used in third-generation behavior therapy or clinical behavior analysis such as acceptance and commitment therapy and functional analytic psychotherapy. Functional analysis looks at setting events (ecological variables, history effects, and motivating operations), antecedents, behavior chains, the problem behavior, and the consequences, short- and long-term, for the behavior.
A model of formulation that is more specific to CBT is described by Jacqueline Persons. This has seven components: problem list, core beliefs, precipitants and activating situations, origins, working hypothesis, treatment plan, and predicted obstacles to treatment.
A psychodynamic formulation would consist of a summarizing statement, a description of nondynamic factors, description of core psychodynamics using a specific model (such as ego psychology, object relations or self psychology), and a prognostic assessment which identifies the potential areas of resistance in therapy.
One school of psychotherapy which relies heavily on the formulation is cognitive analytic therapy (CAT). CAT is a fixed-term therapy, typically of around 16 sessions. At around session four, a formal written reformulation letter is offered to the patient which forms the basis for the rest of the treatment. This is usually followed by a diagrammatic reformulation to amplify and reinforce the letter.
Many psychologists use an integrative psychotherapy approach to formulation. This is to take advantage of the benefits of resources from each model the psychologist is trained in, according to the patient's needs.
Critical evaluation of formulations
- Clarity and parsimony: Is the model understandable and internally consistent, and are key concepts discrete, specific, and non-redundant?
- Precision and testability: Does the model produce testable hypotheses, with operationally defined and measurable concepts?
- Empirical adequacy: Are the posited mechanisms within the model empirically validated?
- Comprehensiveness and generalizability: Is the model holistic enough to apply across a range of clinical phenomena?
- Utility and applied value: Does it facilitate shared meaning-making between clinician and client, and are interventions based on the model shown to be effective?
Formulations can vary in temporal scope from case-based to episode-based or moment-based, and formulations may evolve during the course of treatment. Therefore, ongoing monitoring, testing, and assessment during treatment are necessary: monitoring can take the form of session-by-session progress reviews using quantitative measures, and formulations can be modified if an intervention is not as effective as hoped.
- Bruch, Michael; Bond, Frank W., eds. (1998). Beyond diagnosis: case formulation approaches in CBT. The Wiley series in clinical psychology. Chichester, UK; New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471975257. OCLC 38486295.
- Mace, Chris; Binyon, Sharon (October 2005). "Teaching psychodynamic formulation to psychiatric trainees. Part 1: Basics of formulation". Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 11 (6): 416–423. doi:10.1192/apt.11.6.416.
- Butler, Gillian (1998). "Clinical formulation". In Bellack, Alan S.; Hersen, Michel. Comprehensive clinical psychology. 6 (1st ed.). Amsterdam; New York: Pergamon. pp. 1–24. doi:10.1016/B0080-4270(73)00186-3. ISBN 0080427073. OCLC 38048834.
- Crowe, Marie; Carlyle, David; Farmar, R. (December 2008). "Clinical formulation for mental health nursing practice" (PDF). Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. 15 (10): 800–807. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2008.01307.x. PMID 19012671.
- Pinsof, William; Breunlin, Douglas C.; Russell, William P.; Lebow, Jay (September 2011). "Integrative problem-centered metaframeworks therapy II: planning, conversing, and reading feedback" (PDF). Family Process. 50 (3): 314–336. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.2011.01361.x. PMID 21884073.
- Perry, Samuel; Cooper, Arnold M.; Michels, Robert (May 1987). "The psychodynamic formulation: its purpose, structure, and clinical application". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 144 (5): 543–550. doi:10.1176/ajp.144.5.543. PMID 3578562.
- Cipani, Ennio; Golden, Jeannie A. (2007). "Differentiating behavioral & traditional case formulations for children with severe behavioral & emotional problems". International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy. 3 (4): 537–545. doi:10.1037/h0100821.
- Eells, Tracy D.; Kendjelic, Edward M.; Lucas, Cynthia P. (Spring 1998). "What's in a case formulation?: development and use of a content coding manual". The Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research. 7 (2): 144–153. PMC . PMID 9527958.
- Kanter, Jonathan W.; Cautilli, Joseph D.; Busch, Andrew M.; Baruch, David E. (2005). "Toward a comprehensive functional analysis of depressive behavior: five environmental factors and a possible sixth and seventh" (PDF). The Behavior Analyst Today. 6 (1): 65–81. doi:10.1037/h0100055.
- Zettle, Robert D. (2007). ACT for depression: a clinician's guide to using acceptance & commitment therapy in treating depression. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. ISBN 9781572245099. OCLC 148853276.
- Hayes, Steven C.; Strosahl, Kirk D.; Luoma, Jayson; Smith, Alethea A.; Wilson, Kelly G. (2004). "ACT case formulation". In Hayes, Steven C.; Strosahl, Kirk. A practical guide to acceptance and commitment therapy. New York: Springer. pp. 59–73. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-23369-7_3. ISBN 0387233679. OCLC 55534832.
- Tsai, Mavis; Kohlenberg, Robert J.; Kanter, Jonathan W.; Holman, Gareth; Loudon, Mary Plummer (2012). Functional analytic psychotherapy: distinctive features. The CBT distinctive features series. Hove, East Sussex; New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415604031. OCLC 698324521.
- Persons, Jacqueline B. (1989). Cognitive therapy in practice: a case formulation approach (1st ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0393700771. OCLC 19125638.
- Ryle, Anthony (2005). "Cognitive analytic therapy". In Norcross, John C.; Goldfried, Marvin R. Handbook of psychotherapy integration. Oxford series in clinical psychology (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 196–217. ISBN 0195165799. OCLC 54803644.
- Denman, Chess (July 2001). "Cognitive–analytic therapy". Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 7 (4): 243–252. doi:10.1192/apt.7.4.243.
- Caspar, Franz; Silberschatz, George; Goldfried, Marvin; Watson, Jeanne C. (March 2010). "Similarities and differences in four views of David". Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. 20 (1): 101–110. doi:10.1037/a0018886.
- Eells, Tracy D. (December 2013). "In support of evidence-based case formulation in psychotherapy (from the perspective of a clinician)". Pragmatic Case Studies in Psychotherapy. 9 (4): 457–467. doi:10.14713/pcsp.v9i4.1836.
- Persons, Jacqueline B. (December 2013). "Who needs a case formulation and why: clinicians use the case formulation to guide decision-making". Pragmatic Case Studies in Psychotherapy. 9 (4): 448–456. doi:10.14713/pcsp.v9i4.1835.
- Dawson, David L.; Moghaddam, Nima G. (2016). "Formulation in action: an introduction" (PDF). In Dawson, David L.; Moghaddam, Nima G. Formulation in action: applying psychological theory to clinical practice. Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 3–8 . ISBN 9783110470994. OCLC 932645602.
- Schacht, Thomas E. (December 1991). "Formulation-based psychotherapy research: some further considerations". American Psychologist. 46 (12): 1346–1347. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.46.12.1346.
- Eells, Tracy D. (December 2013). "The case formulation approach to psychotherapy research revisited". Pragmatic Case Studies in Psychotherapy. 9 (4): 426–447. doi:10.14713/pcsp.v9i4.1834.
- Basseches, Michael; Mascolo, Michael F. (2009). "Psychotherapy as a developmental process: implications and future directions for psychotherapy research, practice, and training". Psychotherapy as a developmental process. New York: Routledge. pp. 283–312. ISBN 9780805857306. OCLC 244063508.
- Eells, Tracy D., ed. (2007) . Handbook of psychotherapy case formulation (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 9781593853518. OCLC 65617415.
- Frank, Rochelle I.; Davidson, Joan (2014). The transdiagnostic road map to case formulation and treatment planning: practical guidance for clinical decision making. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. ISBN 9781608828951. OCLC 819383623.
- Goldman, Rhonda N.; Greenberg, Leslie S. (2015). Case formulation in emotion-focused therapy: co-creating clinical maps for change. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. ISBN 9781433818202. OCLC 878667783.
- Hallam, Richard S. (2013). Individual case formulation. Practical resources for the mental health professional. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press. ISBN 9780123982698. OCLC 819717435.
- Haynes, Stephen N.; O'Brien, William Hayes; Kaholokula, Joseph Keaweʻaimoku (2011). Behavioral assessment and case formulation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781118018644. OCLC 701808359.
- Ingram, Barbara Lichner (2012) . Clinical case formulations: matching the integrative treatment plan to the client (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781118038222. OCLC 723035074.
- Johnstone, Lucy; Dallos, Rudi, eds. (2013) . Formulation in psychology and psychotherapy: making sense of people's problems (2nd ed.). London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415682305. OCLC 894506578.
- Kleiger, Mary Jo Peebles (2012) . Beginnings: the art and science of planning psychotherapy (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415883085. OCLC 706022579.
- Persons, Jacqueline B. (2008). The case formulation approach to cognitive-behavior therapy. Guides to individualized evidence-based treatment. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 9781593858759. OCLC 226356799.
- Wilson, F. Robert (2012). "Assessment, diagnosis, and treatment planning from the ecological perspective". In Cook, Ellen Piel. Understanding people in context: the ecological perspective in counseling. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association. pp. 179–206. doi:10.1002/9781119222743.ch8. ISBN 9781556202872. OCLC 764589015.
- Woody, Sheila R.; Detweiler-Bedell, Jerusha; Teachman, Bethany A.; O'Hearn, Todd (2003). Treatment planning in psychotherapy: taking the guesswork out of clinical care. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 1572308052. OCLC 49743479.
- Zayfert, Claudia; Becker, Carolyn Black (2007). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for PTSD: a case formulation approach. Guides to individualized evidence-based treatment. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 9781593853693. OCLC 71139450.