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Developing a Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy Treatment Programme Designed to Promote Hopefulness and Self-Esteem in Mental Health Service Users Recently Diagnosed with a Psychotic Illness: A Pilot Study to Explore Service-Users’ Experiences of Accessibility, Engagement and EfficacyBackground This study sits within a wider research agenda, the aim of which is to develop a novel psychological therapy programme designed to target hopelessness and compromised self-esteem in young people recently diagnosed with a psychotic illness. The aspiration is to develop a programme that is experienced as accessible and engaging and perceived to be of value. It is anticipated that that process will progress through several stages and a number of iterations. The primary objectives of this specific piece of research were to undertake a first piloting of the Therapy Programme, gather evaluative feedback from participant-service users, and fine-tune the approach. The secondary objective was to explore the perceived value of the programme with regard to ‘proof of concept’. Method The research design combined the methodological rigour of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis with a mixed-methods focus on data, underpinned by the philosophical paradigm of critical realism. Quantitative data was collected through the completion of outcome measures pre, during and post-therapy. Qualitative data was gathered through the facilitation of semi-structured feedback interviews with participant-service-users shortly after the completion of each of their Therapy Programmes. Participants were followed-up at 2 years from the commencement of their therapy to ascertain the subsequent trajectory of their lives and to explore reflections on their experiences of the programme from a perspective of temporal distance. Findings Eight Early Psychosis Service clients were recruited to receive the Therapy Programme. Three withdrew from the therapy. Another completed the Programme, but failed to complete all of the research requirements. One completer-participant experienced a psychotic relapse shortly before the end of therapy. The principal purposes of the research were the elicitation of critical reflections on the Therapy Programme and meaningful recommendations for its improvement. There was some evidence of reticence amongst participants regarding the expression of critical statements. Where more critical observations were expressed, they focussed primarily on the relative balance and chronological ordering of different elements. The consensus recommendation was for the ‘pure’ elements of the approach, including direct attention to the cognitive-constructs of hope and self-esteem, to proceed the consideration of more applied goals. There was a strong collective recommendation to allocate more attention to addressing unhelpful illness narratives. A Participant Handbook, written as a resource for those involved in the therapy, was positively received with regard to design. Participants, however, recommended significant change to the complexity of its content. Of the four completer-participants, three showed substantial improvements in reported hope, self-esteem and wellbeing over the period in which the therapy was delivered. Those gains were sustained at follow-up. The participant who experienced a psychotic relapse showed limited improvements on all measures at the end of the treatment period, but had progressed significantly at follow-up. In each case, reported scores on the outcome measures were supported by substantial success in negotiated life-goals. Participant feedback regarding the programme, post-therapy and at follow-up, was generally very positive, with all participants identifying causal connections between the therapy, achievement of therapy and life goals, and subsequent improved outcome scores. Limitations To accommodate a priority focus of qualitative data, participant numbers were small and there was no access to normative or comparative data for the service user population. The limitations of the sample size were compounded by a high rate of attrition. The delay to follow-up introduced additional confounding variables. As a consequence of the study-design, therefore, quantitative data can only be regarded as providing indicative evidence of reported improvements across the measures of wellbeing. It cannot be said to evidence a causal connection between therapy and identified improvements or to support statements regarding the efficacy of the approach. Finally, although participants were recruited explicitly to be collaborators in the evaluation and betterment of the Therapy Programme, reflections appeared to be somewhat biased towards a validation of the approach and critical evaluations, although present, were limited. The credibility of these observations is, further, undermined by the design-decision to have the therapist conduct the post-therapy feedback interviews. Conclusions The primary objective of the research was to generate meaningful recommendations for the improvement of the Therapy Programme. That purpose was achieved. The secondary objective was to consider the programme with regard to ‘proof of concept’. Subject to the limitations detailed above, the level of improvement reported over the period in which the therapy was offered, together with the fact that those gains had not been lost at follow-up, tentatively supports an argument for further development of the programme.