An Introduction to Power Threat Meaning Framework

power threat meaning framework

1. What is the power threat-meaning framework?

The Power Threat Meaning Framework is an alternative framework to psychiatric diagnosis, authored by Dr Lucy Johnstone and Professor Mary Boyle.

2. When was it developed?

The Power Threat Meaning Framework was published in January 2018, following the Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP) discussion to shift the paradigm from functional psychiatric diagnosis. This decision was made in the context of ongoing conceptual and empirical difficulties, such as the lack of biomarkers, to reliably provide diagnoses.

Contributors included professionals, service users and carers.

3. What are the aims of the power threat-meaning framework?

The aim of this framework is to situate difficulties within the context of psychological and social factors.

4. What does the power threat-meaning framework look like?

This meta-framework looks at patterns and unusual experiences in the context of the power dynamics at play within an individual’s system, the threats that such power dynamics exhibit, and the meaning an individual attributes to this threat. The subsequent ‘presenting difficulties’ are then viewed as threat responses.

The framework is not specific to any one model or intervention, but is to be viewed as adaptable to any.

5. Which are the areas to explore?

  • What has happened to you? (Power dynamics present).
  • How did it affect you? (The type of threat posed).
  • What sense did you make of it? (Meaning making).
  • What did you do to survive? (Type of threat responses the individual is using).
  • Additional: What are you strengths? (Access to resources).
  • What is your story? (Opportunity to create own narrative).

6. What are the benefits of the power threat-meaning framework?

  • Allows for individualized understanding of current difficulties and distress, based on the particular cultural context, understanding and perceptions of the situations and behavioural responses.
  • Moving away from a problem-saturated view of the person (what is ‘wrong’ with you) towards viewing the current difficulty as understandable within the whole context.
  • Lack of pathologising responses, as they can be understood and viewed within the particular context. This removes the lens of viewing responses as ‘bizarre’ or invalid.
  • Removes judgment of seeing responses as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but rather as attempts to survive, based on human instinct to seek support and protection in the context of the resources available to them.
  • Provides an explanation of why current distress or difficulties have occurred while validating the distress.
  • Promotion of social action by looking at the link between distress and social injustices.
  • Understanding distress at community and cultural levels, not just at the individual level.

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