Psychoanalysis Unit


Students' Research


The Future of Neuroscience 2019 Special

Interview with PhD student Stefanella Costa Cordella 


Susanne Hommel

"Assessing the Quality of the Parent-Infant Relationship: Reliability and Validity of the Parent-Infant Relational Assessment Tool (PIRAT) Global Scales"

The PIRAT Global Scales (Broughton, Hommel & the Parent-Infant Project, 2016) have been manualized to provide a global assessment of the infant-parent and parent-infant relationship up to the age of 2 years. They offer a shared language and understanding among health professionals from various disciplines as to what constitutes risk and resilience. Preliminary research into interrater reliability showed, PIRAT Global Scales provide a reliable assessment of the overall relational quality and can be used as a screening tool to identify infants at risk (Hommel, Broughton & Target, 2014, 2015, 2016). The study evaluates PIRAT Global Scales’ psychometric properties based on a standardized 3.5 days reliability training. Further research evaluates PIRAT Global Scales’ reliability and validity on a larger sample of mother-infant dyads. The PIRAT Global Scales reliability and validity study uses data from a Parent-Infant Psychotherapy Randomized Controlled Trial. The research establishes PIRAT Global Scales’ reliability, in particular internal consistency and interrater-reliability. Furthermore, the study establishes PIRAT Global Scales’ validity compared to a number of widely used, well-validated measures of parent-infant interaction, such as the Emotional Availability Scales (EAS, Biringen, 2000), the Coding Interactive Behavior (CIB; Feldman, 1998) and the CARE-Index (Crittenden, 2001) and indicators of risk, such as ‘Disorganized Attachment’ (Main & Solomon, 1986, 1990), low ‘Reflective functioning on the Parent Development Interview’ (PDI-R; Slade, Aber, Berger, Bresgi & Kaplan, 2003) and high ‘Parental Stress’ assessed by the Parenting Stress Index – Short Form (PSI-SF; Abidin, 1995). PIRAT Global Scales are shown to be reliable and valid, and therefore enable the user to set their observations within a reliable and validated assessment framework of the parent-infant relationship. Implications of the research findings for the clinical use of PIRAT Global Scales in a variety of clinical settings and for future research will be discussed.

Supervisors:  Professor Mary Target, Dr. Carol Broughton, Professor Kai von Klitzing.

Felicitas Rost

"The Anaclitic-Introjective Depression Assessment (AIDA). Treatment Resistant Depression at Different Developmental Levels - The Anaclitic-Introjective Depression Assessment"

Long-term and relapsing forms of depression are at a serious disadvantage due to the shortage of research evidence guiding their clinical management. Moreover, differences in responsiveness to treatment might results as a function of the interactions between patients’ pre-treatment personality characteristics and various aspects of the therapeutic process. This PhD takes the Two-configurations model developed by Blatt and collaborators as its starting point. In order to circumvent well-known biases of self-report questionnaires as well as difficulties of available instruments to assess issues of dependency and self-criticism at different developmental levels reliably, the aim was to develop a viable alternative following a person-centred approach. After introducing the conceptualisation of treatment-resistant depression from four angles (the personal, psychoanalytic, psychiatric, and Blatt’s integrative) the development and preliminary validation of the Anaclitic Introjective Depression Assessment (AIDA) is presented.  The observer-rated measure was developed using expert consensus rating and Q-methodology. Psychometric properties, preliminary reliability, and validity were established using a sample of 128 patients diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression from a RCT investigating the effectives of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Using Q-factor analysis, four naturally occurring clusters of patients representing concerns with relatedness and self-definition were identified. Anaclitic and Introjective issues of severe depression appear to be expressed at different developmental levels.  Whether and to what extent the four clusters of depressed patients differed was investigated by testing their relations to expert anaclitic/introjective prototypes, developmental adversity, and various functioning indices. Finally, using multi-level modelling, their differential response to psychoanalytic treatment compared to receiving treatment-as-usual was investigated. Overall findings, provide good preliminary reliability and validity of the new measure and evidence that anaclitic and introjective concerns are hierarchically organized among severe depression. Limitations, and implications for future research and clinical practice are discussed.

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy, Professor Patrick Luyten.


Tina Adkins

"The Development and Implementation of a Mentalizing Intervention for Foster Parents"

Mentalization-based interventions show promise in improving mental health outcomes for children and parents through increasing a family’s ability to mentalize.  Mentalization or reflective functioning typically develops within the context of a secure, attached relationship and involves the ability to understand behavior in relation to mental states such as thoughts and feelings.  In fact, mentalization might be a key factor responsible for the intergenerational transmission of attachment.  (Allen, Fonagy & Bateman, 2008).  One area not given much consideration when recruiting or training foster parents is their attachment state of mind or their capacity to mentalize.      This project involved the development and implementation of a psycho-educational intervention for foster parents, designed to increase their knowledge and ability to mentalize and be reflective with their foster children.  Fifty-two foster parents in Austin, Texas, received the intervention.  Pre and post data were collected measuring reflective functioning, parenting stress and child adjustment.  The same measures were collected with a comparison group of 48 foster parents who received a typical training.  Results indicate there were significant differences between the groups post training, with the intervention parents’ significantly increasing their reflective capacities and lowering their parenting stress, while the comparison group did not show any such improvements. These findings support the hypothesis that a short-term psychoeducational intervention can increase a foster parent’s ability to mentalize themselves and their children.  These skills are very beneficial for foster parents, as they frequently deal with children who come into their home with challenging behaviors, attachment issues and negative internal working models of relationships.  They might be less likely to jump to conclusions about their foster children’s negative behaviors, and will be more likely to interact with them in a therapeutic manner.  This type of intervention has the potential to lower placement breakdowns and improve the mental health of foster children

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy, Professor Patrick Luyten

Manuel Batsch

"Freud: Memory and the Metapsychological Witch"

This thesis aims to describe the type of knowledge at stake in Freud’s first metapsychology, as bracketed by the period from the Project For A Scientific Psychology to the Papers On Metapsychology of 1915. It is a line of research stemming from a question: what could be a reading of this metapsychological corpus that would succumb neither to positivism nor to hermeneutics? The core of the matter is to understand a metapsychological knowledge of the unconscious that is not born from either empirical data or the deciphering of a primary meaning. The methodology I employ rests on Jacques Derrida’s reading of Freud: the endeavour to locate “those elements of psychoanalysis which can only uneasily be contained within logocentric closure”. I propose that it is in Freud’s first metapsychology that we can find the source of the psychoanalytic corpus that resists the logos. This resistance is both theoretical and formal. On a theoretical level I try to extract from Freud’s description of the metapsychological unconscious a hallucinatory mode of thinking that operates beyond the logos and that can be conceived as a hallucinatory archi-writing. On a formal level I try to show how through his metapsychological texts, Freud invented a graphic system and a type of writing – a metapsychological writing – in order to describe a mode of thinking that resists being verbalized. Finally, this work proposes that Freud’s first metapsychology generated consequences for his clinical practice. The act of construction, theorised by Freud in his 1937 paper Constructions In Analysis, can already be identified in From The History Of An Infantile Neurosis (1918 [1914]) and in A Child Is Being Beaten (1919). Through my reading of these texts I attempt to show how Freud’s metapsychological knowledge of the system unconscious made the act of construction possible.

Supervisors:  Professor Juliet Mitchell, Dr. Liz Allison

Michael Berry

" Towards a Psychodynamically-informed Model for the Biopsychosocial Treatment of Male Sexual Dysfunction."

Current evidence for the utility of psychodynamic methods in treating sexual dysfunction is very limited. In this research, I seek to make an innovative contribution, which will have an important impact on clinical practice, by providing an empirical research-base for the systematic use of psychodynamic methods in evidence-based healthcare practice, in the field of male sexuality. This research project seeks to answer two questions: first, to what extent do therapists currently use psychodynamic techniques in treating male sexual dysfunction? Second, how are contemporary psychodynamic techniques best integrated into the biopsychosocial treatment of male sexual dysfunction? This research project uses a combination of: 1) surveys administered to practitioners in the sex therapy field, and 2) interviews with experiences psychotherapists specializing in the treatment of sexual difficulties and disorders. The evidence presented in this thesis indicates that psychotherapists make use of prototypical psychodynamic techniques to a statistically significant degree.  Therapeutic approaches appear to be integrative, drawing on a range of techniques, and heavily emphasizing particular psychodynamic methods and practices, which are outlined.  Attachment theory appears to have an especially important place in the work of psychosexual therapy specialists, and is outlined as a key psychodynamically-based model.  Additionally, clients’ reflective functioning capacity—their ability to mentalize their own sexual behaviours, and intimate relationships—is a crucial element of the clinical picture.  As such, mentalization-based practice may be a particularly useful model for application in the psychosocial treatment of sexual and relationship problems.  Finally, a significant number of research participants have emphasized the use of mindfulness-based practice in the sex therapy.  By outlining these key research findings, this thesis provides new evidence for an integrative biopsychosocial approach to treatment, which includes core insights from attachment theory, and recommends the conjunctive use of mentalization- and mindfulness-based techniques.

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy; Professor Patrick Luyten

Ana Calderon

"Development and validation of the Adolescent Psychotherapy Q-set (APQ)"

The Adolescent Psychotherapy Q-set (APQ) is a Q-set composed of 100 items that provides a basic language and rating procedure for describing and researching a wide range of events, interventions, and processes involved in the therapy of adolescents in a form suitable for quantitative analysis. It aims to be a pantheoretical and sensitive instrument to capture the complexity of an adolescents’ psychotherapeutic session in three categories: (1) young person’s feelings, experience, behaviour, and attitudes; (2) therapist’s attitudes and actions; and (3) climate or atmosphere of the encounter and the nature of the interaction of the dyad. The APQ is an adaptation of the Psychotherapy Process Q-set (PQS; Jones, 2000) and the Child Psychotherapy Q-set (CPQ; Schneider & Jones, 2004), which have been used to research the psychotherapy process of adults and children, respectively, across a range of treatment modalities and different clients.

This thesis will report on the development and validation of the APQ by presenting the results of the APQ criterion, convergent, and discriminant validity, and test re-test and inter-rater reliability studies. Data derived from a controlled clinical trial (Improving Mood with Psychoanalytic and Cognitive Therapies or IMPACT study) that compares the efficacy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Short Term Psychoanalytic Therapy (STPP) for moderate to severe depressed adolescents. Results will be discussed in relation to issues of measure development, and the psychotherapeutic processes in children, adolescents and adults research. Special emphasis will be made to the classification, description, and comparison of CBT and STPP treatments, and the potential gap between clinical practice and theory. 

Supervisors: Professor Mary Target; Dr. Nick Midgley

Jonathan Isserow

"Dreaming on the Surface of the Skin: Towards a Psychoanalytic Visual Research Methodology in Documentary Film"

My practice based research investigates the possibility of developing a psychoanalytic visual research methodology in documentary film. It does so through developing theoretical and filmic links between the two disciplines - that being psychoanalysis and documentary film. I critically analyze the seminal documentary practice of James and Joyce Roberston, elucidating and contextualising their approach as visual researchers. I use this analysis to inform the development of my own film making practice that paradoxically attempts to visually explore the unconscious and the interior through representations of the ordinary, external and surface.

Supervisors: Professor Stephen Hart (UCL Documentary Film); Professor Lesley Caldwell (Psychoanalysis Unit)

Daniel Stolfi 

"Refracted Truths: Mediating Constructions of Identity through the Illness and Healing Experience of Homeless Native American Men along the Wasatch Front, Utah."

General areas of interest include spirituality, creativity and healing as performative and symbolic embodiment of social and cultural value and how this informs our understanding of social medicine across cultures, particularly from the perspective of masculine ideologies, masculine marginalization, and male resistance to help-seeking. Specific areas of interest include the illness and healing experience of Great Basin Native Americans, with an emphasis on Native American men in urban settings; adult male homelessness as an autonomous and non-representational spatial practice; and Mormonism as cultural production. 

Supervisors:  Professor David Napier (UCL Anthropology); Professor Juliet Mitchell (Psychoanalysis Unit)

Pia Tohme

"Mentalizing Adolescence: Reflective Functioning Capacities in Parents of Identical Twins and its Relationship to Adolescent Attachment"

This research aimed at investigating reflective functioning capacities in parents of adolescent identical twins and understanding its relationship to attachment security. The thesis opens with an elaboration of the basic tenants of attachment theory and the concept of mentalization, operationalized as reflective functioning (RF). This is followed by a summary of findings explaining the association between parental RF and the development of a secure parent-infant attachment. The next chapter illustrated the main development in adolescence, emphasizing the different, but equally important role of both, mothers and fathers, in ensuring the adolescents’ healthy passage through this stage. A section then detailed the additional task of twin differentiation in the case of twins, as they seek independence from both parents and their twin. Previous findings led the research to highlight the importance of both, maternal and paternal RF skills in helping adolescent twins negotiate their independence from familial ties and sensitively responding to each twin’s separate needs.

One hundred families were interviewed, with each parent asked to complete the Parent Development Interview (PDI) twice, once about each twin and the Family Environment Scale. The adolescents completed the Child Attachment Interview (CAI), the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment and the Youth Inventory.

Data analysis was conducted considering three main research questions addressing the limitations of existing literature:

1) do mothers and fathers have similar RF capacities with regards to adolescent identical twins,

2) do parental RF capacities predict adolescent attachment security and what are the determinants of attachment    discordance and

3) what is the impact of the quality of twins’ relationship to each other on attachment classifications to parents.

A case study concluded the analysis in an attempt to pinpoint individual differences in parental mentalization of twins through an in-depth review of the CAI and PDI narratives.  

Supervisors: Professor Mary Target; Dr. Yael Shmueli-Goetz

Patricia Townsend

"The artist's creative process: a Winnicottian view"

My PhD project is to investigate the process of making visual art from a psychoanalytic viewpoint. I am interested in the ways in which new artworks come into being, the trajectory of their development, the states of mind the artist moves through along this trajectory and the physical spaces that help or hinder the process.  I draw on the ideas of a range of psychoanalytic writers focusing, in particular, on the writings of D.W. Winnicott, Marion Milner, Christopher Bollas and Kenneth Wright. 

Supervisors: Professor Sharon Morris (UCL Slade School of Fine Art), Professor Lesley Caldwell (Psychoanalysis Unit)

Cathy Troupp

"Does Meaning Matter in the Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa?"

A mixed methods study of the experience and meaning of illness for children and young people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and other restrictive eating disorders, and their parents. The study is intended to yield both a qualitative and quantitative contribution to the question of how parents and children themselves understand the meaning of the eating disorder, and what factors may promote change in the treatment of young people with anorexia nervosa (AN). In particular, the study addresses the question of whether the acquisition of insight, and the development of personal narratives that imbue the condition with meaning, are important in the process of recovery.

Supervisors:  Professor Mary Target, Dr Dasha Nicholls (GOSH/Institute of Child Health)

Kalina Yordanova

"Transmission of Traumatic Experiences in the Families of War Survivors"

My research explores the inter-generational transmission of war experiences in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In order to investigate this, I use semi-structured interviews, family trees and children's drawings. My research is trying to describe how parents hand down their traumatic experience to their children and what their children's response is. On the basis of the collected data, I argue that parents' desire to avoid the topic of the war derives from the ambiguity of their experiences in war. Second, war narratives are gender-dependent: women's stories of the war are related to preserving life while their husbands' narratives are about destruction. Consequently, women are more comfortable with sharing their experiences with children than men. Third, the war is often felt by former soldiers to have been thrilling and more 'colourful' than the everyday life after it. As a result, they do not fully invest themselves in their families but in the regular meetings with other former combatants where they relive their experience by telling war jokes, going to the places where they served the army or remembering the ones who died in the war. Men's participation in the war feeds into their wives' and children's suspicion of men's debatable morality in war. Men have not only failed to sustain order and peace, but have actually destroyed the latter by having engaged in violence. Their emotional withdrawal from the family and their failure to sustain law and order represent a collapse of the paternal function in the aftermath of the war.

Supervisors: Dr Ger Duijzings (SSEES), Dr Lionel Bailly (Psychoanalysis Unit)

You Zhou

"Adolescent Twin's Mental Representations of Self and Other in Relation with Zygosity, Attachment Patterns, and Psychological Disturbances"

My PhD project is a genetic-behavioural study to examine different levels of object representations in relation with different attachment patterns and psychopathology in adolescence. I am using about 150 pairs of monozygotic and dizygotic adolescent twins (aged 14-15 years old) as my sample, which is a partial sample selected using randomized sampling strategy from a two year collative study TEDS project (Twin Early Development Study) between UCL and SGDP of KCL. A specific coding manual was adapted from a well-established coding system Differentiation-Ralatedness Scale to examine individual's levels of object representations. Five trained coders and I are coding each twin's representations of self, their parents and the other twin based on their interview narratives. These coded data will be linked with twin's attachment pattern and psychopathology from an existing database.  

For adolescent twins, there is added difficulty to complete their separation-individuation developmental task during the adolescent period, so I am hoping to address following questions in my PhD study:

1) Whether there is a role of genetic impact on object representations despite of sparse literature;
2) Whether twin's secure attachment with his or her parents provide a better foundation for adolescent twin to establish an individuated and differentiated identity from the other twin.
3) How the levels of object representations might be able to work as an underlying mechanism to understand the link between attachment patterns and psychopathology.  

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy; Professor Pasco Fearon


Katy Cook

"Manifestations of Lacanian Psychoanalysis in the fiction of Jean Rhys"

The specific aim of this research is to psychoanalytically explore the fiction of Jean Rhys's novels in light of the psychological processes that mirror the development of Rhys's oeuvre. Psychoanalytic criticism, particularly that which utilizes the work of Jacques Lacan, will offer a potentially valuable and largely unexplored way of reading and appreciating Rhys's work, specifically in regard to the progression of her five novels. Some notable themes that connect the literature and psychological texts in question will include the subjects of desire, loss, and Otherness.

Supervisors: Professor Juliet Mitchell; Dr Lionel Bailly

Ya-Wen Lee

"Multi-dimensions of the Reflective Functioning Questionnaire"

The aim of my thesis targets at better understanding of the internal structure of the RFQ54 and its improvement. Results will be used to further refine the questionnaire. The second part of my thesis will focus on the potential applications of the revised RFQ54, such as shortening the questionnaire without compromising its validity and applying the RFQ in longitudinal studies to discern the trajectory change of RF in psychotherapy. 

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy; Professor Patrick Luyten

Nicolas Lorenzini

"Mothers' implicit attitudes towards parenting: Relationships to parenting quality and offspring's attachment style"

My PhD thesis is framed within the Dynamic Interpersonal Therapy (DIT) trial. DIT is a 16-session psychodynamic psychotherapy for depression and anxiety. The on-going trial aims at establishing this therapy within the NICE guidelines for depression, therefore it will be offered for free to NHS users as part of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies initiative. My work within this trial will be developing a model for the trajectory of change during therapy and at follow-up. As a secondary goal I plan to measure implicit-self-esteem pre and post-therapy. My interest has always been the utilisation of psychoanalysis in public health contexts, where time and resources are scarce. I have become interested in bringing together the richness of psychoanalytic thinking and empirical methodology. I think such communion is the only way to be able to offer public health user a cure which takes into account the subject and the unconscious.

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy; Professor Patrick Luyten

Dee McQuillan 

"A Study of James Strachey's Working Life"

I am using historical and biographical research methods to recover information about Strachey's past and generate ideas and questions. James Strachey (1887-1967) worked as a psychoanalyst in Gordon Square during the 1920s and 30s then took charge of what was to become The Standard Edition from 1948.  He left thousands of letters and documents, indeed he was rather a hoarder of paperwork; most of his papers are in the British Library but I have been able to find additional primary material.  

Supervisors: Professor Sonu Shamdasani; Professor Juliet Mitchell

Leonardo Niro Nascimento

"Predictive Egos: From Helmholtz to Freud and the Bayesian Brain"

The free-energy principle, developed by Karl Friston and team, is an integrative model of the brain that builds on hierarchical Bayesian models of neural processing. According to it, the brain works by extracting statistical data from the environment and using it to construct probabilistic models with which it predicts future input. Free-energy is a measure of the prediction-error, i.e., of the difference between the prediction and the input, and is ultimately also a measure of entropy, so that biological agents must constantly minimize free-energy - either by changing the models or by changing reality so that it fits the model - in order to maintain low entropy. This represents a deeply embodied and situated view of the brain, for in it each agent is taken as 'a statistical model of its environmental niche' (Friston, 2011: 89), so that each biological agent represents a "map" of its environment. Some authors, including Friston (Carhardt-Harris and Friston, 2010; Hopkins, 2012; Solms and Panksepp, 2012), have already started to note some general similarities between the free-energy model and Freud's economic model of the mind. The economic model, first developed by Freud in Studies on Hysteria (Freud & Breuer, 1893-5), says that each impression or input to the brain generates an increase in what he called "the sum of excitation", and that the main task of the brain would be to minimize this quantity. In the paper on Freud, Friston and Carhardt-Harris state that 'the process of minimizing 'the sums of excitation' is exactly the same as minimizing the sum of squared prediction-error or free-energy in Helmholtzian schemes' (Carhardt-Harris and Friston, 2010: 1270). In my presentation I intend to explore this and other similarities, as well as to propose some consequences of this model which were explored by Freud but not yet by others. However, the main goal of my work is to show that those similitudes are not coincidental, and that they can be traced back to a tradition which ultimately starts with Kant, and is further developed by Joh. Mueller, Helmholtz, Fechner, Bruecke and Freud, according to which "we see our concepts". This perspective was largely abandoned in academic psychology along the XX century - apart from psychoanalysis - having only recently returned.

Supervisors: Professor Patrick Luyten; Professor Jim Hopkins


Chia-Chi Chow 

"Working title: Mentalizing Capacity in Adolescents"

My research explores the influences of important factors in the development of mentalizing capacity or empathy in adolescence including interaction quality between children and parents, aggression types and neurobiological correlates. 

Supervisors: Professor Pasco Fearon; Dr Yael Shmueli- Goetz

Jonathan Davidoff

My research interests are around the Lacanian theory of psychosis, its clinical implications and its possible junctions with the arts and literature in particular. I am interested as well in post-Lacanian French psychoanalysis as well as in the British School of psychoanalysis. I am interested in Post-Structuralist philosophy as well as in some metaphysical authors such as Gerschom Scholem, Franz Rosenzweig and Emil Fackenheim. I am one of the coordinators of a series of conferences entitled "Psychoanalysis and Politics", which is part of the Nordic Summer University and organise two symposia a year around different topics related to psychoanalysis, psychology, politics, philosophy, sociology, history and aesthetics. 

Supervisors: Professor Patrick Luyten; Dr Lionel Bailly

Udita Iyengar

"Understanding Risk, Resilience, and Neural Correlates of Unresolved Trauma in Mothers."

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy, Dr Lane Strathearn (Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas)

David Lucas

"Magical Thinking and Anxiety Disorder (working title)"

An interdisciplinary, conceptual study of magical thinking as it relates to obsessive-compulsive and anxiety disorders. 

Supervisors: Professor Patrick Luyten; Dr Liz Allison

Charis Kontou

"The Myth of Persephone as a Representation of the Death Drive"

In this PhD project I will mainly trace the origins of separation, the subsequent melancholia and its effects on the subject, by studying the myth of Persephone. 

Supervisors: Professor Juliet Mitchell, Dr Lionel Bailly, Dr Robbie Duschinsky.

Emily Stapley

"Improving Mood with Psychoanalytic and Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: My Experience (IMPACT-ME) - the experiences of parents"

Supervisors:Professor Mary Target; Dr Nick Midgley


Haili Wu

"Emotional Finance in China - Oriental wisdom meets western financial markets"

I intend to examine a significant "idea" systems (knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, values and symbolisms) held by individuals and social systems using inter-disciplinary approaches: Economics, Psychoanalysis, Anthropology and Philosophy. This idea system is that the application of the I Ching on financial markets in China. I will first elaborate what the idea is about by reading relevant books and by interviewing authors. I will choose case studies related to different groups: people who generate the idea, people who use the idea (professional or retail investors) and how this belief system helps them to manage anxiety and stress during daily trading; people who are merely interested in this idea and people who dismiss the idea. There are similar techniques in the west which are so called Financial Astrology. I will explore some similarities between western financial astrology and Chinese I Ching at the end of my thesis.

Supervisor: Professor David Tuckett, Dr Toshie Imada (Brunel University)

Andrew Balfour

"Living Together with Dementia: a Psychosocial Intervention for Couples"

The aim of this research project is to investigate whether we can develop a psychosocial intervention which can be shown to help couples who are living with dementia, in order to support adjustment to the illness, change unhelpful patterns of interaction, foster more satisfying interpersonal engagement and so strengthen their resilience in managing the illness together. Our approach draws upon video-based techniques developed in working with parents and infants (Parker 2012) including those with socio-cognitive impairments (Gutstein 2005), as well as psychotherapeutic approaches to working with parent-infant dyads (Baradon et al 2005) and couples (eg Ruszczynski 1993) and explores whether this might form the basis of a new intervention for couples with dementia.

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy, Dr Martin Debbane.

Tara McFarquhar

I propose to use data from a RCT of Dynamic Interpersonal therapy (DIT) for depression to create a coding system for categorising the interpersonal affective focus (IPAF) of therapy and then to examine the relationship between the focus and the outcome of therapy. Currently, there is no way to categorise and compare IPAFs, in order to gain insight into whether working on certain types of interpersonal problems is more effective at reducing depressive symptoms. I will develop a framework to identify the key features of an IPAF from audio transcriptions of therapy, based on the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems, which can then be used to predict outcome of treatment.

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy, Professor Patrick Luyten, Professor Alessandra Lemma

Donia Heider

"An exploration of how parental divorce/separation may affect the inner world of latency-age children: A mixed methods design."

The present study aims to explore divorced/separated co-parents' in conflict and their capacity for parental reflective functioning; the current study also aims to explore the child's inner experience of divorce/separation and bereavement, as well as their attachment representations following such events. The study will utilize the Parent Development Interview (PDI); the Story Stem Assessment Profile (SSAP); qualitative interviews; and finally, a kinetic family drawing task. Results will be analysed using both qualitative and quantitative analysis procedures. Final results and analyses will be discussed within the context of Psychoanalysis, future research, therapeutic work and interventions, social support, and within the field of Psychology as a whole.

Supervisors: Professor Mary Target, Dr. Saul Hillman, Dr. Alejandra Perez

Cristina Papadaki

"Awareness of Illness Following Brain Damage"

The overall aim of the proposed studies is to investigate, under the prism of a classic neurological disorder of body awareness, Anosognosia for Hemiplegia (AHP), how information about exteroceptive and interoceptive body is processed, integrated and organised in the brain to form mental representations of the coherently experienced body. More specifically, we will investigate self-touch, belief updating and selective forgetting in anosognosic patients.

Supervisors: Dr Aikaterini Fotopoulou, Dr Paul Jenkinson (University of Hertfordshire)


Wayne Full

"Towards a new psychoanalytic model for understanding Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) clients."

This research project aims to increase our understanding of the ways in which psychoanalytic practitioners in the UK conceptualise same-sex attraction both theoretically and clinically, and to enhance our knowledge of psychoanalytic practitioners' subjective encounters with and observations of LGB clients. Moreover, it will identify some of the key clinical issues for psychoanalytic practitioners to consider when working with LGB clients. Based on the findings, a new psychoanalytic model for understanding same-sex sexualities will be outlined.

Supervisors: Professor Mary Target, Professor Michael King.

Wilson Gallego Hoyos

"Elaboration and Validation of a Measure to Assess Mentalisation. A Contribution to Process Research in Psychotherapy".

Supervisor: Professor Patrick Luyten, Professor Peter Fonagy

George Salaminios

"Mentalization in Populations At-Risk for Psychosis (working title)"

Supervisors: Dr Martin Debbané, Professor Patrick Luyten


Sally O'Keeffe

"Why do adolescents with depression drop out of psychotherapy?"

The overall aim of this research is to understand why adolescents with depression drop out of psychotherapy. This research will explore how risk factors and treatment factors are associated with dropout from psychotherapy, as well as adolescents' perspectives of why they stopped going to therapy. This research will use data from the IMPACT study, which is a clinical trial investigating the effectiveness of three types of therapy in the treatment of adolescent depression. Alongside the IMPACT trial, the IMPACT-My Experience (IMPACT-ME) study sought to explore the experiences of adolescents who were taking part in the trial. Drawing on the IMPACT and IMPACT-ME datasets, I will conduct a mixed-methods study.

Supervisors: Dr Nick Midgley, Dr Peter Martin

Bianca Isabel Pérez Rentería y Hernández

"Child, Mother, and Disappeared Father: Violence, Disappeareance and the Paternal Metaphor"

Supervisors: Dr Lionel Bailly, Dr Yael Shumueli-Goetz

Nicholas Sutcliffe

"A case-controlled study and qualitative analysis of officers' suicides within the Metropolitan Police Service; causations, trends and intervention strategies"

The aim of this research project is to investigate the circumstances of officers' suicides within the Metropolitan Police Service, using a mixed methodology approach. Potential links with personal and organizational stress related factors will be examined from a psychoanalytical perspective to help identify causation, trends and future intervention strategies

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy, Professor Nancy Pistrang

Fiona Robinson

"Psychodynamic psychotherapy for looked after children with histories of maltreatment or abuse"

The overall aim of this research is to take steps towards evaluating psychodynamic psychotherapy as an intervention for looked after and/or adopted children, and potentially laying the groundwork for a future clinical trial. The research will comprise three interlinked studies. The first study will explore the current nature and provision of psychotherapy for UK looked after and adopted children, using an online survey of child psychotherapists. Study two aims to build on the findings of study one, for example through semi-structured interviews with child psychotherapists to explore aspects of their work with these children. Study three will be dependent on the findings of studies one and two, but could involve working with a group of child psychotherapists to develop a manual of psychodynamic psychotherapy for looked after and/or adopted children.

Supervisors: Dr. Nick Midgley, Professor Patrick Luyten.

Hedda Joyce

"The Past in the Present: Trans-generational Legacy of Nazism and WWII in Third Generation Germans living abroad"

My research is about the experiences, reflections and re-presentations of individuals with German background living in the UK today in relation to the Third Reich and WWII. With increasing time from the original events public discourse and socio-political frameworks increasingly influence the

understanding of the past by later generations, yet trans generational transmission of values and attitudes continue to shape the difficult relationship of German's to this disturbing past. Through individual in depth interviews I investigate the legacy through the perspective of individual perceptions today applying an interdisciplinary approach. Psychoanalytic concepts relating to identity formation, object relations and 'working through' are applied to explore the interrelationship between individual representation and wider social frameworks in this historical context. The aim is to develop an interdisciplinary model, doing justice to both disciplines and gain greater insights into the trans-generational aspects of this disturbing legacy which could inform future Holocaust education and post-conflict policies.

Supervisors: Professor Mary Fulbrook (UCL German department), Professor Lesley Caldwell

Elena Panagiotopoulou

"Reclaiming Body Image from Within: A scientific study on how interoception and mentalisation influence our bodily self"

This PhD focuses on how tactile 'interpersonal' pleasure on the body's surface (affective touch) is integrated with other sensory and interpersonal signals (e.g. vision, hunger, synchronous social stimulation) to form mental representations of one's own body and of others' intentions. Previous studies have shown that slow-paced, gentle stroking, usually found in maternal caresses in early life and adult romantic relationships, is processed by specialised pathways starting from the skin and ending in particular parts of the brain, leading to positive inner feelings. However, no studies have yet been conducted in relation to mentalisation and the bodily self. The PhD will integrate insights from neuroscience and psychoanalysis to examine three parallel aims: 1) Bodily Pleasure and the Self: will examine how affective touch and other, related interoceptive feelings of the body may influence how we perceive our body from the outside, e.g. how our body image is formed. 2) Bodily Pleasure and Others: will examine how affective touch and other interpersonal behaviours on the body are perceived and interpreted in relationship to the self, as well as other's intentions 3) Bodily Pleasure, Functional and Eating Disorders: will examine how the determining factors of bodily awareness studies in (1) and (2) may be crucial for psychopathologies of embodiment, such as functional and eating disorders, as well as for their subclinical manifestations in the general population, e.g. high scores in self-objectification (people who are more likely to view their bodies as 'objects' and are highly susceptible to external images of the 'perfect body').

Supervisors: Dr Aikaterini Fotopoulou, Professor Alessandra Lemma.

Mariana von Mohr

"Working title: The Role of Interpersonal Affective Touch on Pain"

In the clinical realm, the social modulation of pain has been an important topic, which has been greatly neglected by empirical research. Among social interactions, physical ways through which we interact with others may play a critical role in our experience of the world and consequently, also shape the way we experience pain. Particularly, given its opposite affective value and social meaning to pain, interpersonal affective touch -which recent research suggests may be mediated by a separate, specific neurophysiological system- may reduce pain experience, as compared to discriminative, neutral touch. Critically, our perception of these two opposite affective modalities may also depend on prior experienced about interpersonal relating. Here, in a series of studies conducted in healthy subjects and in different social contexts, we will employ neuroimaging methods to investigate this issue. The findings of this project may have potential implications for understanding the processes involved in pain and the social factors affecting it.

Supervisors: Dr Aikaterini Fotopoulou, Dr Charlotte Krahe (King's College London)

Claire O'Dowda

"'It's not you it's me': Negative and Null Clinical Outcomes and the Therapeutic Relationship"

Research indicates that approximately one third to two thirds of therapy clients experience a deterioration (an iatrogenic effect) or no improvement in their condition (Lambert, 2010). Freud himself, and subsequent psychoanalysts and psychodynamic psychotherapists, have suggested that particular processes are involved in negative therapeutic reactions. Currently Professor Peter Fonagy and Dr Patrick Luyten of UCL are investigating this area and have formulated a theory of how therapy does or does not work. This research project investigates these ideas from the interpersonal, experiential angle of the therapeutic relationship. The goal is to shed light on the impact of implicated interpersonal processes on therapeutic progress.

Supervisors: Professor Patrick Luyten, Professor Peter Fonagy


Jessica Yakeley

"Mentalization-based treatment for antisocial personality disorder: Evaluating the implementation of a randomized controlled trial in the UK Criminal Justice System"

My PhD is on identifying and understanding the challenges, using the concept of mentalization, in implementing this RCT for a mentalizing intervention for offenders with ASPD in the Criminal Justice System (CJS). The hypothesis is that the CJS can be conceptualized as a non-mentalizing system and that this will be the one of main barriers to the implementation and evaluation of a mentalizing intervention, and therefore increasing the mentalizing capacity of the system will facilitate implementation. Quantitative and qualitative data using semi-structured interviews and focus groups will be carried out with key participants in the trial implementation: probation officers, MBT therapists, trial participants, experts by experience and peer researchers. The PhD draws on ideas from three areas of research - mentalization, the psychoanalytic study of organizations, and implementation science.

Supervisors: Professor Peter Fonagy, Dr Stephen Butler


Antonella Cirasola

“The role of Therapeutic Alliance in psychological therapies for adolescent depression.”

While the efficacy of psychotherapy has been established, little is known about how therapeutic change is facilitated, especially in adolescence. The therapeutic alliance is considered an active agent of change across most psychotherapies. This study aims to (a) investigate if early alliance predicts symptom change in psychotherapy for adolescents with depression, and whether patients’ characteristics moderate the alliance–outcome relation; (b) compare trajectories/patterns of alliance during treatment and explore their relationship to symptom change; (c) describe the development of the alliance, including ruptures and resolutions, and explore how patients and therapists negotiate this over treatment. The setting for this study is the Improving Mood with Psychoanalytic and Cognitive Therapies (IMPACT) trial, in which 465 adolescents with diagnosis of major depression were randomised to receive cognitive-behavioural therapy, short-term psychoanalytic psychotherapy and brief psychological intervention. Data includes audio recordings of therapy sessions, patient and therapist evaluated alliance, a battery of outcome measures and in-depth qualitative interviews with patients and their therapists. The use of self-report, observational and qualitative data will allow a mixed-methods, multi-perspective, longitudinal description of the alliance and its link to psychotherapy process and outcome.

Supervisors: Dr Nick Midgley, Dr Peter Martin, Professor Peter Fonagy.

Andrea Dainesi

“Exploring the roles of genes, shared and non-shared environment on adolescents'attachment: a behavioral genetic study on monozigotic and dyzigotic twins.”

Behavioural genetic designs are normally used to shed light on the aetiology of observable behaviours and psychopathology, insofar as individual differences can be explained by genetic variability and variability in experiences. The variance in the components of shared environment, non-shared environment and genes can thus be estimated from the observed differences in samples comprised by same-sex dyzigotic twins (sharing 50% of genetic heritage) and monozigotic twins (sharing 100% of genetic heritage). By using this type of design, in the last decades several studies have confirmed the traditional assumption that attachment security is exclusively environmentally driven during infancy and early childhood. In other words, it appears that early on attachment security is not influenced by inherited characteristics, but it solely depends on the quality of the caring environment, with particular emphasis on the caregiver's sensitivity and responsiveness to the infant's cues. However, there is a modest continuity of attachment security from these early life stages into later childhood and adulthood, and recent studies have found that inherited characteristics seem to have a substantial influence on security of attachment in adolescence. A plausible reason for this increasing relevance of the genetic component is that a bidirectional mechanism plays a role, according to which the child's inherited characteristics become more salient during development and evoke certain parenting qualities in their caregivers. 

This study aims to test the role of genetic and environmental influences on the quality of parenting and on the covariation between this variable andadolescents'attachment security on a sample comprised by 582 twin pairs and their mothers. Parenting quality is assessed during videotaped interactions, where parents and adolescent twins are asked to discuss and resolve a "hot topic" that commonly lead to difficulty in their relationship. Adolescents' attachment security is assessed through the Child Attachment Interview, a semi-structured interview that establishes attachment organisation by accessing adolescent's mental representations on attachment relationships.

Supervisors: Pasco Fearon, Yael Schmueli-Goetz.

Gabby Harris



A study bringing the insights of the Winnicottian paradigm to bear on the psychoanalytic concept of narcissism: How can Winnicott's concept of the 'use of an object' develop our understanding of narcissism?


My research proposes to investigate the concept of narcissism within psychoanalytic theory, starting with an expedition of the evolution of the concept of narcissism since Freud and demonstrate how narcissism is understood from the Winnicottian paradigm. This research will seek to critically evaluate and demonstrate underlying assumptions in other psychoanalytic theoretical models which therefore affect the conclusions drawn regarding the concept of narcissism. This research study will seek to expose these underlying assumptions and put forward an alternative model from the Winnicottian paradigm. Through the study of relevant papers, Winnicottian Paradigm as it currently stands will be set out. This will involve an in depth exploration of the relevant papers by Winnicott. I will demonstrate how Winnicott's work offers an implicit theory of narcissism. I will amplify and explore Abram's (2005, 2007) recent extension of Winnicott's work and demonstrate how Winnicott's concept of the 'use of an object' and Abram's subsequent developments of this concept; 'the surviving object'  and 'non-surviving object', are particularly fruitful in aiding our understanding of narcissism; repeated survival of the object results in the building up of an 'intrapsychic surviving object', it can be stunted by an 'intrapsychic non-surviving object' when there is repeated non-survival of the object. Therefore within this paradigm, it is the object's 'survival' which is pivotal to the establishment of identity and development of the psychic life of an individual which intrinsically impacts on how we can understand narcissism. How these concepts are seen and utilised in the clinical setting of an analysis will be explored. From this foundation, my research will set out to further our understanding of narcissism by shedding light and making explicit the Winnicottian paradigm view-point on narcissism.  


Supervisors: Dr Liz Allison, Professor Jan Abram

Lu Li


“Potential Personality Characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder - Data from Eye Movement Experiment”


Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a kind of unstable mental disorder that is hard to adjust in the functional fields like interpersonal relationship, recognition, behaviour and emotion etc. (Falk et al., 2011), which usually leads to the social function damage of the patients, difficulty in treatment and a 10-50 times higher suicide rate than the ordinary crowd. Many scholars in mental health around the world have paid widespread attention to the field of diagnosis and treatment in BPD patients (Bender et al., 2001; Paris, 2007), while little on the potential personality characteristics of BDP patients, especially the studies of psychological research. 


At present, a large number of eye movement experiments show that the patterns of eye movement are related with various psychological processing activities of humans (James et al., 2000). When recognising and understanding pictures, peoples eye movements are composed of a series of saccade and fixation (Hoffman et al., 1995). Therefore, eye movement processing indexes reflect the information processing process of the brain objectively and timely. 


Though BPD is a puzzle that is most focused on in the clinical psychology filed, the research is mainly concentrated on the literature review on the pathology of BPD (Falk et al., 2011), the diagnosis and evaluation of BPD patients as well as the corresponding psychological analysis and treatment about BPD (Bender et al., 2001; Gross et al., 2002), while little on the potential personality characteristics of BPD patients, let alone that on the exploration ways conducted with the physical signs like eye movement and electroencephalogram etc.


My research programme will be divided into two parts, named Research1 and Research2 in the article. The Research1 will combine the questionnaire and interview to differentiate the potential personality characteristics of BPD patients and non-BPD individuals, to discuss whether there are significant differences between BPD patients and non-BPD patients in their psychological processing course. After that, the Research2 will adopt experiments to explore whether the different trajectories and recognition modes of eye movements can reflect the potential personality differences between them to further provide a physiological basis for the diagnosis of BPD patients.

According to earlier studies, the sum of needs or pressures of BPD patients maybe higher than non-BPD individuals; average pupil size of BPD across the interest area such as face or eyes maybe different with normal individuals. Besides, this study will focus on the fixation counts, which maybe indicates the nature of unstable or conflictive personality of BPD patients.


Supervisors: Professor Patrick Luyten, Dr Martin Debbané

Fernanda Ruiz-Tagle Gonzalez

“The Anna Freud Centre's Parent-Toddler Groups: Outcomes from parents' perspectives”

The Anna Freud Centre’s (AFC) Parent-Toddler Service is an early intervention therapeutic unit that supports parents and their toddlers in order to prevent later disturbances from arising in the children’s development. Its preventive nature arises from the possibility of reaching very young children (aged 1 – 3 years), identifying and addressing difficulties as soon as they arise. The service runs therapeutic parent-toddler groups (PTG). This project aims to address the trajectory within the PTG and a follow-up, from a qualitative perspective. The intention is to compare Reflective Functioning in parents and attachment styles when joining the PTG (Pre-PDI or Time 1), when leaving the PTG (Post-PDI or Time 2), and when entering school (Follow-up-PDI or Time 3). This will be done by the qualitative analysis of PDI interviews at Time 1 and 2, video recordings of the sessions, considering as well, a follow-up on children and parents who attended a PTG and where the children are about to start school, to reach a better understanding on the further effects of the PTG on the parent-child relationship.

Supervisors: Dr Liz Allison, Dr. Inge Pretorius.

Jonathan Shann

“Scaffolding or Bridges? – A Study of Freud’s Metaphors”

“We are justified, in my view, in giving free rein to our speculations so long as we retain the coolness of our judgement and do not mistake the scaffolding for the building.” Freud (1900, SE4:536)

“…images that are true symbols because they are the best possible expressions for something unknown – bridges thrown out towards an unseen shore.”  Jung (1922, CW15:§116)

Psychoanalysts and psychotherapists have long employed metaphor in their theoretical writing and clinical practice, and reflected critically on their use of it.  Freud, although rarely writing explicitly about metaphor, used it to powerful effect and was acutely aware of its significance and limitations.  Freud (1933) confided, “analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home” (SE22:72): I intend to explore what, if anything, metaphor can decide in psychoanalysis (and how) – and to evaluate that feeling of homeliness.  To do this, I am analyzing how Freud used metaphor (and to what other uses and criticisms his metaphors have since been subjected), and considering to what extent contemporary controversies remain rooted in Freud’s metaphoric loam.

I am exploring four categories of metaphor: (1) metapsychological metaphors; (2) clinical process metaphors; (3) symptomatic metaphors; and (4) mutative metaphors.  By metapsychological metaphors, I mean those which describe unconscious processes or working models of the mind (dynamic, topographic, economic, genetic, adaptive, structural) – for example, Freud’s hydraulic model of repression and the return of the repressed.  Epistemological enquiries commonly focus on metapsychological metaphors, as do debates about the status of psychoanalysis as science.  Metaphor can, of course, be problematic, but many writers nonetheless regard it as a royal (if rocky) road to the mind-body problem, especially since the groundbreaking (non-psychoanalytic) work of Lakoff and Johnson.  Clinical process metaphors describe what analysts do, or what happens in analysis – the analyst as archaeologist or as surgeon, or free association as the view from a railway carriage.  Symptomatic metaphors are those which reveal what lies beneath: metaphors crystallized as conversion symptoms, dreams, concrete thinking, or parapraxes.  They are defensive – both keeping and revealing secrets. Mutative metaphors facilitate or evidence therapeutic change in analysis. The tradition of “interpreting within the metaphor” invokes mutative metaphor.  Mutative metaphors confront us with the question of the nature of therapeutic change – and the shift from the analyst as archaeologist to the analytic encounter as engagement with thought, utterance, and gesture - metaphor as a bridge to (and from) the dynamic unconscious. 

Supervisors: Dr Liz Allison, Professor Peter Fonagy

Ai Yun Taha

“Neurobiology of Mentalizing in Personality Disorder”

This research aims to investigate the neurobiology of mentalizing in individuals with personality disorder as compared to healthy controls, by investigating mentalizing as a multi-dimensional construct as well as associations of functional connectivity and resting state functional connectivity (RSFC) with indices of personality and clinical psychopathology, attachment history and reflective functioning. In addition to using fMRI to investigate functional connectivity when individuals are actively engaged in social economic tasks, fMRI will also be used to investigate resting state functional connectivity occurring in the absence of external demands within demarcated brain regions, including the default mode network (DMN).

Supervisor: Professor Peter Fonagy


Julia Grieshofer


“Getting in and out of role: What does this entail and is resilience a central factor in the actor’s ability to do it?”

Literature Overview:

‘Actors report experiencing vicarious trauma through their acting experiences – they are so emotionally, intellectually and physically engaged in their roles that it can be difficult to switch off’ (Robb, et al., 2016). 

Robb’s claim reflects a reality that many professional actors are familiar with. Either ‘the actor’s personal life [is] taking over a performance … [or] the character [is] taking over the actors life offstage’ (Panero, 2019, p. 6). Heath Ledger, for instance, openly reported sleeping problems and major anxiety - ‘I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going’ (White, 2017) - caused by the physically and mentally draining role of the Joker in Batman. Actors use their personal experiences as a resource to delve into the emotional states of the characters they play and Heath Ledger’s problems might have been fuelled by his extreme preparation methods of staying in his apartment or hotel room for months, merely sleeping two hours a night to get hold of the emotional state (the schizophrenic mind set) of the character (Panero, 2019). This brief example illustrates the enormous psychological demands that exist where actors are required to move in and out of role. One would image that the psychological resilience of the actor determines to a certain extent whether or not an actor remains psychologically well when getting in and out of role. In this research, I want to explore two things: Firstly I want to explore in more depth the psychological processes involved in ‘getting in and out of role’, and secondly I want to evaluate the role of resilience in enabling actors to do this. 

Resilience has been defined as ‘a multidimensional subject that relates to an individual’s ability to adapt positively in response to significant adversity’ (Friedberg & Malefakis, 2018, S. 82). In other words, resilience is the ability to withstand physical or emotional distress, such as may be caused by physical abuse or trauma. Researchers (Atkinsison & Masten), (Friedberg & Malefakis, 2018) tend to agree that resilience is a psychological capacity that develops over time, however it may be difficult to define. Hauser (Allen, 2010) saw that is was comprised to the following: a drive to mastery (that is, the wish to develop/overcome/manage adversity), an interest in internal processes (potential for mentalizing) and a drive to relate. X on the other hand, resilience is comprised of X. 

Thus, there are competing views about what actually constitutes resilience. It is something of an umbrella term, but I think it is commonly understood to indicate that an individual has a certain psychological flexibility and can recover fairly quickly following troubling experiences. 

Proposed methodology:

Proposed research questions:

1.     What is the aesthetic work of the actor?

2.     What role does resilience play in enabling the actor to do this work?

I would like to propose an exploratory study that seeks to understand what actors actually do when they act and whether resilience is an important factor in enabling them to tolerate the demands of acting. 

Whilst existing literature on the acting process has attempted to describe what this process consists in, and the skills used by actors to get in and out of role, the process itself is not yet fully clarified. Nemiro (1997), Burgoyne (1999), Thomson and Jaque (2017) and Panero (2019) found evidence that ‘boundary blurring’ is often involved, even to a pathological degree. What this means is that actors may readily lose a sense of self, and may even become dissociated form self as part of ‘becoming a character’ (Thomson & Jaque 2011, 2012). Brown, Crockett and Yuan (2019) discovered that when actors perform, they deactivate an area of their brain which is responsible for self-processing, indicating that a ‘loss of self’ occurs when an actor is in role and a sort of ‘double conscience’ is used to navigate between the self and the character simultaneously. Nuetzel (2003), an psychoanalyst who has written about the acting process, theorises that an ‘artistic self’ exists between the artist’s true and the false selves which helps him to carry out his aesthetic work. No psychoanalytically oriented research has so far examined the nature of the aesthetic work of the actor or the role of resilience in this work. 

Supervisors: Dr Christine English and Dr. Liz Allison

Luisa Boada


“The place of musicality in human psychosomatic development”

This study is part of the nascent research field of biomusicology (which studies the innate components and universal character of music) and focuses on exploring and defining what is the place of musicality in human psychosomatic development. This interdisciplinary study centres in the process of self-development and the not yet fully studied importance of our innate musicality in facilitating (or not) this trajectory.

Music as the cultural product is different but related to musicality: the innate component that all humans have from the start; and if encouraged and stimulated, it will allow the child to enter into a musical culture which involves social exchange and meaningful cooperation. This innate component is a musical competence – or musicality- that is rooted very early in evolution and carries cues from other animals' musical patterns inherited to favour survival (Honing, 2018; Dissanayake, 2008). In humans, musicality is particularly distinctive because it facilitates the patterns of vocalisations and interactions between adults and their children. The initial communications between an infant and its parent are at the core of our human experience, because before we talk, we convey meaning through the emotional reciprocity carried in the ‘communicative musicality’ (Malloch & Trevarthen 2008). These human interactions are the basic material of cultural music but also, and more central to this study, allow the understanding and formulation of metapsychological hypotheses which claim for the significance of these musical innate components in the structure and dynamics of the psyche, from the beginning of life. Our communicative musicality serves an embodied present experience of interpersonal emotional sharing, assisting the process of separation and self-formation in the new-born infant.  I.e. the innate musical component facilitates a developmental course which contains the evolutionary traces of phylogenesis, as well as an ontogenetic trajectory that helps the infant in transitioning through the developmental stages of the self. It is a trajectory which will later have psychological, social and cultural significance. This is a study that will start addressing the gap between the biological and the sociocultural explanations of music by using the psychoanalytic developmental model(s), to start bridging and make use of the significant and potential contributions of psychoanalysis into the research agenda of the new field of (bio)(psycho)(socio)musicology.  

Supervisors: Professor Lesley Caldwell, Professor Lionel Baily, Dr Aikaterini Fotopoulou.

Yushi Bai


“The role of pre-treatment personality traits on therapeutic changes for adolescent depression”

Unipolar major depression is a significant mental health problem affecting a substantial proportion of adolescents with a high rate of persistence into adulthood. A range of effective psychotherapies for depressed adolescents have been recognised, including the Short-term Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (STPP), Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT), and non-directive Brief Psychosocial Interventions (BPIs). However, one important problem is the response rate. For example, a recent large clinical trial investigating the effectiveness of psychotherapies for adolescent depression in the UK, the Improving Mood with Psychoanalytic and Cognitive Therapies (IMPACT) study, reported that patients’ response rate in CBT, STPP and BPT were generally around 70%. Such results imply that the treatments could be improved, and it is important to find predictors of response, which can be identified through research on mechanisms of therapeutic changes. 

One of the obstacles to investigating therapeutic changes is the assumption of homogeneity among patients. The two-polarities theory, a well-established personality developmental theory, provides a theoretically grounded, empirically supported framework for introducing patients’ difference in research on therapeutic changes. This theory suggested that a well-functioning personality organisation evolved through a complex interaction between the two fundamental developmental dimensions, interpersonal relatedness and self-definition, across the life span. Interpersonal relatedness refers to the development of increasingly mature interpersonal relationships, while self-definition refers to the development of a positive sense of self or identity. The emphasis on one or the other of these two dimensions would lead to maladaptive personality functioning and even psychopathology. Some promising empirical findings, however, are generally derived from the adult population. For example, a range of research focused on depressed adults and identified that in the short-term psychotherapies, the pre-treatment self-criticism traits interfere with the therapeutic progress by limiting patients’ capacity to establish and maintain adaptive interpersonal relationships both within (therapeutic alliance) and outside (social support) the therapeutic process.


This research aims to expand the research into the adolescent population and investigate the mechanisms of change through young person’s pre-treatment personality traits based on the two-polarities theory. Specifically, the present study aims to explore whether and how adolescents’ pre-treatment personality traits would influence their therapeutic process and treatment outcome. This research will adopt a mixed-methods approach and draw on data from the existing IMPACT study, in which 465 adolescents with diagnoses of major depression were randomised to receive CBT, STPP and BPI for 36-weeks and were followed to 86-weeks. Data includes both quantitative data, e.g., outcome and personality measures in each time points, and qualitative data, e.g., in-depth interviews and audio recordings of therapy sessions.


Supervisors: Professor Patrick Luyten and Dr Nick Midgley

Eva Sprecher 


"Long-Term Fostering Relationships: Experiences, Understandings and Mentalization"

Description: This research project starts with an in-depth exploration into the experiences of care-experienced young people and foster carers of fostering relationships using qualitative, participatory and creative research methods. Using an iterative and co-production informed methodology the experiences of these groups will be used as the starting point for an investigation into how foster carers and care-experienced young people co-construct knowledge about fostering relationships. For example, what aspects of these relationships are seen as important? What do these relationships look like? How are these similar or different to other relationships in participant's lives? This qualitative work will generate research questions regarding long-term fostering relationships which will form the basis for the latter part of this PhD research using quantitative and qualitative data from the Reflective Fostering Programme.

Supervisors: Dr Nick Midgley, Dr Michelle Sleed.


Elizabeth T Li

Thesis Title: The Role of Epistemic Trust in Psychopathology: Implications for the Development of Individual’s Resilient Trajectory

Thesis Abstract:
My PhD project is in clinical psychology and the focus is on epistemic trust (one’s willingness to receive new knowledge as trustworthy and relevant). High prevalence of mental disorders, low help-seeking behaviour, and high early drop-out rates from treatment require a rigorous scientific explanation of psychopathology. As a recently introduced concept, epistemic trust requires empirical work never previously done. My project not only offers a validated measurement tool for epistemic trust but a new perspective to reconceptualise psychopathology. In year one, I will investigate epistemic trust in people diagnosed with mental disorders using an experimental approach. In year two, I will develop an Epistemic Trust Scale for non-clinical populations. An initial version will be tested in a sample of 1,000. A focus group will then be used to improve items; a revised version will be tested again in a sample of 5,000. Data collected in this stage will also be used to explore how trauma, attachment and psychopathology are related to epistemic trust. In year three, I will assess, by using existing audio tapes collected from a previous clinical study (the IMPACT study), how epistemic trust specifically relates to adolescent depression and how it gets established across different psychological treatments.

Brief Biography:

I have been trained to be a reflective and self-aware counsellor/psychotherapist with access to CBT, Person-Centred and Psychodynamic approaches. I have gained work experience in clinical settings, research and educational environments and non-profit organizations. They contributed to my comprehensive understanding of the development of the person, group processes and the therapeutic relationship. During my postgraduates, I have built up a sound knowledge of theories and research skills in the areas of mental health, developmental psychology and clinical psychology. My research interest centres around exploring how the family environment and interpersonal world, from early life to adolescence, impact one’s mental health and adjustment and how these developmental experiences relate to ongoing psychopathology.

Liat Kaye

Thesis Title:  Re-examining the effects of adoption after complex trauma, a follow-up study

Thesis Abstract: The research project is a twenty-year follow-up to a study of the development of attachment in adopted children and their adoptive parents that was first undertaken in 1997. Very few studies of this kind presently exist within the fields of attachment, trauma and resilience; nor in the field of adoption (Hodges et al, 2000 and 2003; Steele et al, 1999 and 2003). The original project is the result of a partnership between the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Coram Family and UCL. Now, 22 years later, nearly all of the original collaborators are involved in the third iteration.
This study will set out to examine two populations: a) children adopted from birth (infancy) and b) children adopted (late) who had experienced discontinuities in care and maltreatment. These children were seen at three time points in middle childhood for phase 1 and then in adolescence for phase 2.  For this third phase of the study, we will employ a methodology that utilises quantitative, qualitative and non-invasive biometric approaches to assess both adopters and adoptees. The sample will be adoptees and their adoptive parents, divided into early- and late-placed groups. Along with presently collected quantitative and biometric data, we will integrate data from four previous time-points allowing us to quantitatively examine how types of factors in earlier childhood (e.g. attachment status, number of previous caregivers, sibling placement) may be predictive of outcomes in adulthood. We will use a qualitative approach to gather experiential data to understand individual trajectories and journeys from childhood through young adulthood. This should allow us to examine how the adoptees have coped with the transition to adult life including issues such as education, employment, social network, romantic attachments, long term partners/marriages and parenthood.

Liat Kaye, MSc, MSEd, MBPsS is a PhD researcher within UCL and ChAPTRe (AFC) jointly; under the supervision of Drs. Peter Fonagy, Saul Hillman and Patrick Luyten. Before joining the Department of Psychoanalytic Studies, Liat completed her MSc in Psychoanalytic Developmental Psychology at UCL and the Anna Freud Centre. Prior to this, Liat gained research and clinical training in academic and community settings in the United States. Her research interests are personality disorders and relational trauma, as well as the development of effective and accessible prevention strategies and treatment approaches.

Supervisors: Peter Fonagy, OBE, FBA, FAcSS,FMedSci; Saul Hillman, PhD; Patrick Luyten, PhD

Mengran Li

Thesis Title: Attachment transfer after marriage among Chinese adults from one-child families in China and UK

Thesis Abstract:
Attachment transfer is the process of transferring primary attachment figure along with the attachment-related functions from caregivers (usually parents) in childhood to peers (friends and/or partners) later in life (Freeman & Brown, 2001). As this concept has been becoming an emerging topic in the research of personal relationships, most studies aiming at delineating the mechanism of this transfer process were however conducted in Western societies (Hazan & Zeifman, 1994; Fraley & Davis, 1997; Mayseless, 2004 Freidlmeier & Granqvist, 2006). The only one carried out in China (Zhang, Chan, & Teng, 2011) were among college students with a mean age of 21.44 (most of them were unmarried), hence the state of attachment transfer after marriage among Chinese adults remain unclear. Additionally, findings from researches conducted in Western world may not be replicated in China due to potential cultural differences. The aim of this study is therefore twofold: first to examine the states of attachment transfer after marriage among Chinese adults, and then to find out what facilitates or impedes this transfer process. Among all the potentially moderating factors (attachment support/styles, marital quality and living arrangements, etc.), the impact of acculturation will be particularly examined by comparing the extent of attachment transfer of Chinese people in China and those of Chinese adults living in UK (e.g. London). Such study also has further implication for offspring, as couples who have a strong attachment bond are more capable of providing a supportive and stable family environment (Feeney, 2004).

To address these questions, attachment transfer will be studied in terms of its general components (proximity seeking, safe haven, and secure base functions), as well as attachment support, attachment orientation and marital quality. 350-400 Chinese married adults from one-child families living in China and UK will be invited to participate in this research, with mixed methods conducted. Participants will be first instructed to complete a series of questionnaires (WHOTO, ASI, ECR, KMS), those whose score are relatively higher or lower will then be invited to a semi-structured interview from which the reason behind their representative scores will be furthue explored. Presumably 20-30 participants will be involved into the interview part, depending on the result of previous quantitative analysis.

Brief Bio:
MSc Psychological Studies, University of Glasgow

Bachelor of Laws, China University of Political Science and Law

Supervisor: Professor Patrick Luyten

Peter Sheng Yao Hsu


Thesis Title: Individual differences in the processes of social cognition and body-related information

Thesis Abstract:

‘There are no facts, only interpretations (Nietzsche, 1954)’. In other word, the apple in your eyes is not the one in my mind because we have different experience with apples. In this research, the main question of how people with different experiences and backgrounds suffering from (triggered by) different social contexts vary in their body image-related decision making and risk taking processes will be investigated.

Body image-related decision making and risk taking are commonly seen in modern society. For example, when we are making a decision of whether or not to do cosmetic surgery to improve appearance, the accompanying risks of surgery fails and permanent mental harm have to be considered. Although attachment styles and personalities, which respectively represent early acquired and inherent models of social cognition, and interoception, the perception of the body's internal state, are demonstrated to affect the level of risk taking (Boyer, 2006; Werner et al., 2009), body-specific research still remains largely unexplored. In order to fill this research gap, a Body Analogue Risk Task will be used to assess how individual differences may affect people’s willingness to pump up their body to gain monetary rewards but also taking the risk of losing rewards anytime. Meanwhile, the way we interact with others and interpret social information may also mediate our decision making (Hartgerink, 2015). Due to this reason, the contexts of social acceptance and rejection will be included to see the changes of body risk taking between people with different features. Social contexts in this part will use Tinder Task, an online speed dating app, to obtain social feedbacks (van der Veen, Burdzina, & Langeslag, 2019). This question also raises another interesting question on how these people interpret the information of social contexts. For instance, when you (or people with different features) are rejected or accepted by a group of playing partners, can you understand or infer the reason of their acceptance or rejection, namely mentalisation, and how different level of mentalisation result in four fundamental needs (needs of belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence). In this part, an online Cyber Paradigm will be used to generate meaningful contexts of social acceptance and rejection (Williams & Jarvis, 2006).

This research expects to contribute to the knowledge of individual differences in body image perception and can be a preliminary research to explore the projection of early developmental relationships onto the present social contexts, or said transference.

Brief Biography:
Peter received his Master degree in Clinical and Health Psychology at Bangor University and was using EEG as a tool to research the cognitive processes of recognition (memory). He was also trained as a research assistant at National Taiwan University to research ageing by using physical examinations, cognitive assessments, and fMRI (task switching). His main interests in psychoanalysis are transference and object relations theory. Combined with his knowledge in neuroscience, he is aiming to use neuroimaging techniques to explore the concepts of psychoanalysis, and he also optimistically believes that in the near future, with the development of Artificial Intelligence, specifically machine learning, observing people’s unconscious on a couch will no longer be a DREAM.

Supervisors: Dr Aikaterini Fotopoulou, Dr Michal Tanzer, Dr Elena Panagiotopoulou