Post-Rationalist Cognitive Psychotherapy

Post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy is an extremely interesting approach that took root at the beginning of the 21st century. It can be really effective in treating emotional problems.
Post-Rationalist Cognitive Psychotherapy

Last update: 10 May, 2022

Post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy is a current of psychology that was derived from cognitive therapy and constructivism. It was founded in the late 1990s by the neuropsychiatrist, Vittorio Guidano. Later, other psychologists developed and elaborated on his ideas.

The basic idea of post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy is that each person builds reality in a unique and unrepeatable way. Within this process, language and identity are fundamental. In fact, the purpose of the therapy is to facilitate that construction.

Although post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy takes the form of clinical intervention, it’s also considered a theoretical school in itself (a complete conceptual framework). It postulates that we achieve well-being when we manage to give consistency and continuity to our personal history. This is expressed through our coherent and flexible narrative about who we are and where we’re going.

Personality development unfolds as a spiral process of constructions and reconstructions that stem from the ability to experience oneself as subject and object.”

-Vittorio Guidano-

man in therapy
Language and identity are basic concepts in post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy.

Post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy

Vittorio Guidano based his theory on the works of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. In fact, he started from a cognitive-constructivist model. The central idea here is that no univocal and defined external reality exists. It claims that we each self-construct and self-organize our own identity.

Therefore, we generate knowledge from our own interpretation of reality. We do this by processing information provided by the world, which is influenced by our subjectivity.

Unlike the previous type of cognitivism, in post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy, emotions play an important role. As a matter of fact, they’re even more important than cognition. This current found its first foundations in the book, Cognitive Processes and Emotional Disorders, by Vittorio Guidano and Giovanni Liotti, published in 1983. However, it didn’t take a definitive form until 1999.

Experience levels

Post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy posits that all human experience occurs on two levels. Such levels exist and act simultaneously. The first corresponds to our experience with the world as such. The second concerns our interpretation or explanation of that experience:

  • First level. It corresponds to our immediate lived experiences. It’s formed by the sensations, emotions, and behaviors that flow naturally within us when we live a certain experience. It’s an unconscious process.
  • Second level. This involves the way we interpret our immediate experiences. It includes our understanding and ordering of ideas and emotions in the face of the reality we’re experiencing. It’s a conscious process.

In post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy, the job of the therapist is to address the relationship between experience and its interpretation. Such an experience encompasses personal identity (the self). When there’s no continuity and coherence in this terrain of the self, for instance, when there’s a crack between the two levels, psychological symptoms occur. For example, anxiety or depression.

Worried woman in therapy
The immediate experience and our way of interpreting it are two of the basic concepts in this type of psychotherapy.

The therapy

Post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy is of a collaborative type. In other words, there must be work on both sides. The basic tool used is self-observation. The psychotherapist reformulates the emotional problems experienced by the patient. They then help them to become aware of their symptoms, process them, and integrate them into the narrative of their personal history. This results in a consistent vital reading.

This type of therapy is conversational and involves a type of directed dialogue. Both parties focus on the analysis of the sensory, emotional, affective, emotional, and behavioral aspects of the patient.

Post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy also uses the Moviola technique. Its name refers to the first machine that allowed the editing of movies. In fact, in this type of psychotherapy, something along the same lines is carried out with the patient. It involves three processes:

  • Panoramic view. It divides an experience into a sequence of scenes. It’s like watching a movie frame by frame. It gives an overview of the situation.
  • Reduction. It specifies the sensory and emotional details that are present in each of the defined scenes. It’s similar to looking through a magnifying glass at each fragment of the experience.
  • Amplification. Once each scene has been fully detailed, the sequence is rebuilt. In this way, the patient sees a different panorama than the one they perceived at first. They then find the common thread.

Post-rationalist cognitive psychotherapy is a really interesting approach. Although it’s applicable to all kinds of symptoms, it can be extremely effective in treating emotional problems.

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  • Aguilar Prieto, A. G. (2014). Experiencia inmediata:¿ fundamento del encuentro hombre-mundo?. Intersticios19(41), 57-64.
  • Guidano, V. (2000). Psicoterapia cognitiva postracionalista y ciclo de vida individual. Revista de psicoterapia, 11(41), 35-65.