School of Psychology

Staff Profiles

Professor Mark Freeston

Professor of Clinical Psychology

Background

Introduction

My main research interests are in the field of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and other disorders dominated by intrusive thoughts, worry and rumination. The current focus is to extend psychological models of these disorders through increasing the degree of specification. Through this strategy I believe we will ultimately develop a knowledge base that will enable treatments to become more effective for those who currently benefit little with existing psychological treatments.

In recent years I have been investigating the role of Intolerance of Uncertainty along with colleagues and students. We first became interested in Intolerance of Uncertainty (IoU) in 1993 at Université Laval (Quebec) when we realized that although people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder had difficulty solving problems, they actually had good knowledge of problem solving.  So what got in the way?  Our clinical hunch was that they could not tolerate situations where the outcome was not yet known, and that this was independent of any negative consequences.  That is, for some people uncertainty was part of the threat or threatening in and of itself. From a hunch came a questionnaire published in 1994, the Laval model of GAD with IoU at its heart, then a treatment with several RCTs, and much more work on the model. There has also been snowballing interest in the scale and indeed in the construct.  It appears to have face validity, resonates as a concept with clinicians and patients alike and it is being used with different populations and in different areas of psychological research.  Along with a range of collaborators, our current lines of research in this area include the nature of IoU and its manifestations in everyday life; its possible origins and developmental course, its potential contribution to anxiety (including performance anxiety), depression, psychosis, and autism spectrum disorders; its possible role in physical health conditions, its presentation and role in non-western cultures, IoU and healthy ageing, developing IoU-specific treatment strategies, etc.

Background

Studies:

Mark Freeston completed a Maîtrise en Psychologie (M.Ps.) in 1990 at Université Laval in Québec, including clinical training in CBT, and was recipient of a scholarship awarded by Fonds pour la formation des chercheurs et de l'aide à la recherche (FCAR) from the Quebec provincial government. He then completed a Doctorat en psychologie (Ph.D.) in 1995 on the conceptualisation and treatment of obsessive thoughts at Université Laval, Québec and was supported by a scholarship awarded by the Medical Research Council of Canada. Post-doctoral studies followed at le Centre de recherché Université Laval Robert-Giffard researching factors related to the maintenance and treatment of GAD. During this time he received a post-doctoral fellowship awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Positions:

After completing post-doctoral studies, Mark Freeston took up a position as Assistant Professor (Research) at Centre de recherche Fernand-Seguin in Montréal supported by les Fonds de Recherche en Santé du Québec (1997-1999) and then as Research Scholar by the Medical Research Council of Canada (1999-2000). He moved to Newcastle in September 2000 to take post as Director of Research and Training at the Newcastle Cognitive and Behavioural Therapies Centre and Honorary Professor at the University of Durham. In March 2001, he was appointed Professor of Clinical Psychology at Newcastle University where he is Senior Research Tutor for the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.  From 2003 to 2006 he chaired the NICE Guideline Development Group for CG 31 (Obsessive-compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder: treatment). He was Course Director for the NCBTC Postgraduate Diploma in Cognitive Therapy from 2000 to 2010. He is currently Head of Research and Development at Newcastle Cognitive and Behavioural Therapies Centre.

Roles and Responsibilities

I divide my time between Newcastle University and the NHS.

I teach research methods in clinical psychology, with a particular interest in “smallish-N” designs in clinical settings and Single Case Experimental Design. I provide research supervision to PhD, DClinPsy, MPhil, MSc and undergraduate students and have supervised or co-supervised over 50 students in recent years.

I regularly provide workshops on the cognitive behavioural treatment of OCD and GAD in the UK, Europe and elsewhere as well as experiential approaches to training in CBT for anxiety, workshops on clinical supervision in CBT, approaches to comorbidity and complexity, and Intolerance of Uncertainty as a Transdiagnostic Construct.

Languages

I am fluent in French.

Research

Research Interests

My main research interests are in the field of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and related disorders dominated by intrusive thoughts and rumination. The current focus is to extend psychological models of these disorders through increasing the degree of specification. I am also interested in the development of worry in children and adolecsents. Through these strategies I believe we will ultimately develop a knowledge base that will enable treatments to become more effective for those who currently benefit little with existing psychological treatments.
Other research interests include Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT) formulation, training and supervision research.

Other Expertise

I have a particular interest in "smallish N" and single case designs that under the right circumstances can provide a high level of inference in response to focused clinically-relevant questions.

Current Work

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: I am currently pursuing three lines of research to further develop psychological models of key features of OCD. These are: 1) Detailed desciptions of specific phenomenology in OCD; 2) Developmental issues related to OCD; 3) Experimental analogues of psychological mechanisms involved in the development and maintenance of OCD.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Together with Dr Jacqui Rodgers and others we are investigating the Laval model of worry (Dugas, Ladouceur, Gagnon & Freeston, 1998), and specifically the construct of Intolerance of Uncertainty (Freeston et al., 1994). We are investigating this construct among adolescents with the goal of achieving a develomentally informed account of why some people find uncertain situations both problematic and aversive.
A related line attempts to specify how intolerance of uncertainty may present differentially in OCD and GAD.
With colleagues in the Institute of Health and Society we are looking at aspects of anxiety, including intolerance of uncertainty and repetitive and compulsive behaviours, may how they appear and relate to each other among people with autistic spectrum disorders.

Future Research

The current research will ultimately lead to new cognitive behavioural treatment strategies. These initially will be developed and piloted using experimental single case designs.

Research Roles

I am Senior Research Tutor for the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

Postgraduate Supervision

I provide supervision in the areas of interest noted above.

Teaching

Postgraduate Teaching

I am module leader for the Research Module for the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. I provide a significant amount of teaching into the module, especially on quantitative research methodology and the particular issues for effective research in clinical settings.

Publications