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Freely Giving to Gratefully Received: International CAT Conference - Helsinki 2023

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Don't worry - you haven't stumbled across a travel blog by mistake. This is still all about Cognitive Analytic Therapy and a gathering of my thoughts on the recent International Conference that I had the pleasure of attending in Helsinki this year.

Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki is the capital of Finland, a nordic country that is nestled between Sweden and Russia. It's population of over 5.5 million are empirically the worlds happiest nation for the sixth year in a row and I can see why.

We had the joy of experiencing long, hot summer days, where there was around 19 hours of light which made estimating the time of day very tricky! Interestingly, during the winter some parts of Finland only experience around 6 hours of light a day.

But despite being the happiest nation in the world, there is always a need for therapy and Mikael Leiman was instrumental (in amongst other things) in bringing CAT, and Dr Tony Ryle, to Finland in 1986 to run the first practitioner training.

FINACAT, a recognised association has around 200 CAT therapists now working in the public, private and third sector across Finland.

This years' ICATA event marked 20 years since the last time Finland hosted the International Conference and it focused on looking back, but also crucially, looking forwards and at the new developments in CAT.

Notable plenaries and presentations included Mikael Leiman who focussed on the development of Semiotic Objection Relations theory and Jason Hepple, who gave a very pragmatic response in his presentation on how theory helps to inform metaphor which is used in the therapy room. Jason argued that a collection of metaphor shouldn't be dismissed as less valuable in favour of finding an all encompassing scientific theory.

Ian Kerr and Simon Waight introduced us to Maori culture and the challenges of introducing a very applicable relational framework that CAT offers, but like many things developed in the West, invites some caution from those adopting it. I enjoyed this talk a lot and would have liked more time allocated to it, so I could have learnt much more about it.

Anna Law also gave a very moving and evocative plenary about using CAT in dialogue with gender diverse people. Having seen a few talks on this subject in recent years, I have to say that Anna's delivery was very powerful, asking us very direct and challenging questions that led to lots of personal reflection within ourselves.

Finally, one of the most pioneering, and perhaps controversial presentations of the conference was by Katri Kanninen, where she demonstrated their CAT-based, automated digital reformulator (take a look at

The conference was a great example of diversity and inclusion at its best, with our shared passion for this model, uniting people across countries and language barriers. We offered insights and asked difficult questions of each other and ourselves that made us reflect, all with the goal of ultimately making ourselves better therapists for our patients.

On a final note:

I managed to visit the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) on my last day and was impressed by the novel exhibition "To Spring Pasture" (ending 14.01.2024), which they describe as having...

...fairy tale-like elements and story-based imaginary content... based on the Bäcksbacka collections, the exhibition will be experienced without shoes, and the exhibition architecture is entirely scaled to a child’s size...the audience is given opportunities for self-expression.

At the end of the exhibition there was a large room dedicated to both the individual and collective art work of the visitors. Colouring pencils and sharpeners were strewn across the room and no surface seemed off limit, so of course I had to take the opportunity to express myself and contribute with a CAT influence! "Freely Giving to Gratefully Received" was the first thing that came to my mind.


To keep an eye out for the next international CAT Conference, visit:

Or perhaps this has sparked your interest in training as a Cognitive Analytic Therapist? If so, click below to find out more

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Aug 08, 2023

Hello Hayden! Thank you for sharing about our formulator tool here. My life work has been with CAT (since 1995) and teaching around it and with many different topics. It has been incredibly challenging, fun (and sometimes driving me to my intellectual limits) to try to develop an integrative tool that would help is in the midst of mental health pandemic. As I feel that all people actually need very different amounts of help, it feels also controversial to develop a tool that aims to make us more effective. But! Test this! We are glad to get comments!

Hayden Stothard
Hayden Stothard
Sep 04, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Katri for your contribution to CAT and ICATA of course!

I would also encourage people to take a look at the tool, it's very interesting.

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