Congratulations to Elizabeth Li - the winner of our 2022 new researcher award.

Elizabeth’s submission was titled “Mapping the Journey from Epistemic Mistrust in Depressed Adolescents Receiving Psychotherapy”.

It aimed to understand the perspectives and experiences during therapy of young people with depression, through the lens of epistemic trust.

Elizabeth is a third-year PhD student at University College London (UCL) and Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, as well as being a teaching assistant at UCL. She has been a counsellor since 2016.

She said: “I’m very honoured and grateful to win the new researcher award.

“This is the first time I’ve been acknowledged by professionals in this field and so it will be encouraging to me, not only during my PhD, but also in my life-long career.”


Elizabeth Li

Elizabeth Li

The study is part of her PhD research, which is looking at epistemic trust and mistrust in social cognition, psychopathology and psychotherapy.

Epistemic trust refers to a person’s capacity to gain knowledge and hold new information in a way that supports resilient social functioning.

Elizabeth said: "Infants develop openness to the reception of social communications from their primary caregivers within the context of early attachment relationships, as an adaptation enabling them to survive and benefit from the environment.

"Those who grow up in an abusive and deprived environment and those who have experienced this kind of relationships are likely to be stuck in a state of epistemic mistrust as an adaptive strategy.

"Epistemic mistrust reflects a tendency to treat any source of information as unreliable, irrelevant, or ill-intentioned, so that they reject or avoid allowing themselves to be influenced by communication from others.

"I feel genuinely empathic with them, and I want to help, which is the reason why I’m researching this topic.

"I hope to help those who are stuck in the past, in their mind, and those that do not reach their full potential due to the things that others have done to them.”

Elizabeth’s research analysed interviews with 15 depressed young people, who all showed signs of epistemic mistrust or hypervigilance when they started therapy, over a two-year period.

It found that there were three patterns of journeys relating to epistemic trust and mistrust over the two years.

The research suggested that a therapist who displays a level of expertise and empathy, or any supportive adult outside therapy who acts as a reliable source of knowledge for adolescents, can help generate epistemic trust and trigger their capacity for social learning, in turn leading to recovery from depression.

Elizabeth hopes that her research will help bring more attention to the concept of epistemic trust and encourage more research to be conducted on this topic.

She added: “More importantly, I hope this research can reach clinicians and the public. I believe even simply knowing about this concept can encourage improvements in mental health practice and raise mental health awareness in community.”

Elizabeth thanked her supervisors Professor Patrick Luyten, Professor Nick Midgley, and Dr Chloe Campbell for “their support, encouragement and trust. I feel lucky to have them.”

She also thanked fellow PhD student Eva A Sprecher for her contribution to the research.