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Putting the ‘C’ into CBT: using translational cognitive neuroscience to understand treatment response in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy


Project Description

The new Institute of Mental Health at UCL is seeking a PhD student to work on an interdisciplinary project exploring the cognitive factors underlying CBT.

Patients with mood and anxiety disorders experience negative cognitive biases in their thinking. These are targeted by CBT, which is effective in some but not all individuals. Our understanding of cognitive biases has shown substantial improvements over recent years but these improvements have yet to translate into improved clinical outcomes. In this inter-disciplinary project, which brings together basic research, clinical psychology, and psychiatry, we seek to use contemporary cognitive neuroscience to better understand CBT response in patients with debilitating mood and anxiety disorders.

The PhD is will be supervised by Dr Oliver Robinson (Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/icn/), Professor Roz Shafran (Institute of Child Health: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/child-health/) and Professor Glyn Lewis (Division of Psychiatry: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/psychiatry).

The full-time PhD studentship is funded by the Institute of Mental Health for three years from October 2019. See below for funding details. Applications via CV and cover letter should be sent to no later than 5pm on Monday 22nd April 2019. Interviews will take place on 2nd May.

Background

One in four of us will suffer from some form of mental health problem in our lives. For the majority of us, this will be some form of anxiety or low mood.

We currently have effective psychological treatments that can treat anxiety and low mood; the most of common of which is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). However, only one-third to one-half of those treated will fully recover, and we are not currently able to effectively target CBT to people who will benefit from it. This project will use advances from basic cognitive neuroscience to better understand individual differences in response to CBT.

The student will bridge the gap between basic research and clinical practice from three parallel and complementary angles. We will encourage the student to pursue their own ideas; but one option is to put together a battery of contemporary cognitive neuroscience measures (i.e. cognitive tasks) that asses cognitive processes relevant to CBT and mood/anxiety symptoms. One possible focus, subject to the student’s interests, might be on measures that are relevant to treatment outcomes. The student will review the literature to put together a relevant cognitive task battery and collect data from these tasks using AIM 1) large online studies as well as AIM 2) laboratory experiments exploring the impact of mood/anxiety diagnosis and laboratory-induced stress on task performance. Finally, they will AIM 3) attempt to use tasks to improve outcome-prediction and treatment response for individuals undergoing CBT.

The student will be physically based in the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (within the Neuroscience and Mental Health group: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/icn/research/research-groups/neuroscience-and-mental-health), but this is a collaborative project with supervisors across the Division of Psychiatry and Institute of Child Health as part of the new UCL Institute of Mental Health. Academic supervision and broader skills training and career development support will be provided across these institutes.

Key Requirements

A 2:1 or equivalent in an undergraduate degree in a Psychology, Neuroscience or related discipline, and a Master’s qualification by September 2019 (or equivalent research experience such as a research associate position or a placement year). Applicants are required to have excellent written and verbal communication skills. Candidates with a background in computational methods/statistics or related subjects may be considered if they also demonstrate additional experience and interest in mental health research/practice. The student should also be able to work collaboratively in multi-disciplinary and multi-professional teams as well as with clinical populations. Research interests in mental health, clinical psychology, treatment development, computer programming and experience with advanced statistical/computational modelling methods are desirable.

Further Details

If you have any queries about this studentship, please contact Dr Oliver Robinson ().
Details about the UCL Institute of Mental Health can be found here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/mental-health/

Funding Notes

The studentships include home fees, a student stipend and research costs for each of the three years of the award. The funding is for a full-time PhD. Funding of clinical salaries will not be possible. Students must be eligible to pay fees at the UK/EU rate. Please see UCL’s guidance for prospective students (View Website) or contact Access and Admissions in Student and Registry Services for further information.

The 2019/20 funding is as follows with yearly increases subject to review by the UCL Finance Committee:
Stipend: £17,280
Home Fees: £5,161
Research Costs: £1,200

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