Researchers at Canterbury Christ Church University have received funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to investigate how best to support people who experience psychosis.

Psychosis affects around 4 in 1,000 people and experiences can involve hearing disturbing voices, visions or unusual beliefs. There is increasing recognition that long-lasting stress or trauma and difficult childhood experiences can play a role in causing psychosis. Most people who are diagnosed with psychosis take medication which can be helpful, however there are recognised drawbacks such as effects on physical health. Medication is also less effective for people with experience of childhood trauma.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends specific kinds of talking therapy, arts therapies and family therapy, but the availability of these is limited. The 2018 independent review of the Mental Health Act also highlighted that people from Black African and Caribbean communities are particularly underrepresented in accessing these types of therapies. 

The joint project is being led by Dr Sue Holttum at the University’s Salomons Institute for Applied Psychology and will run until May 2025. Other team include Professor Christopher R. Burton, Professor of Health Services Research as joint lead applicant, Laura Lea and Dr Emma Salter from the Salomons Institute. Partner universities include the University of Manchester, University of Sheffield, and the University College London.

The team will look at the evidence around services for psychosis and develop clear explanations about how and why different combinations of support and therapies are helpful.

During the project, the team will consult with mental health staff, service users and their families using creative workshops, interviews and comment. The workshops will be innovative in using creative exercises and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, to ensure everyone can contribute equally.

I am really excited about the project. There have been important developments in how psychosis is understood in recent years, but these are only partially reflected in mental health services. We will bring together the collective wisdom of existing research, service users and their families, mental health staff and service leaders in a way that hasn’t been done before. My hope is that this will provide a really clear picture of how services can best be organised to enable as many people as possible to get to a better place in their lives.

Project lead Dr Sue HolttumReader in the School of Psychology and Life Sciences

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Rama Thirunamachandran added “As a University, part of our mission is about improving lives and wellbeing, so I am delighted to see this project funded. With complex problems of this kind, sometimes the only way to move things forward is to bring together the "collected wisdom", as Dr Holttum says. I am excited at the possibilities this offers, and I wish the project team well in taking this forward."