Accepted Paper:

Studying psychological therapies: an ethnographic approach to 'metacognition'  
Mikkel Kenni Bruun (King's College London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines 'metacognition' ethnographically, based on fieldwork among practitioners of psychological therapies in the UK. It considers some theoretical and empirical tensions that arise in dealing with 'metacognition' in both psychology and anthropology.

Paper long abstract:

Medical and psychological anthropologists have long been interested in the study of mental healthcare and recent anthropological focus on 'evidence-based' therapeutics is an important new contribution to the field. However, this paper argues that studies of psychological therapies risk being caught up in the same definitional realities that need careful ethnographic attention. This paper draws on fieldwork in the IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) programme and its provision of cognitive behavioural therapies, in which questions of 'metacognition' have gained new excitement in the discipline of psychology and outside of it.

In the nationwide practice of new and older psychotherapeutics, 'metacognition' - understood broadly as modes of thinking about and relating to thought - presents particular models of 'the mind', 'the self', 'cognition', etc., which have been difficult to reconcile in both abstract and practical terms. This ethnographic tension is part of a renewed focus on 'integrative' and 'transdiagnostic' approaches, including an emphasis on 'co-production' between therapists and patients and mental health services at large. Psychological therapies have become recognised as effective interventions for a range of mental health problems within this framework, but they have also generated their own therapeutic uncertainties.

This paper suggests a way of approaching 'cultures of metacognition' which requires a keener ethnography of psychological epistemologies. One important aspect of this approach is that rather than forming part of a common analytical language, various versions of 'metacognition' have become objects of anthropological analysis, as ethnographically interesting notions that people hold about themselves and others.

Panel Cog03
Cultures of metacognition