Going Deeper into “Madness”:
ISPS 2015’s International Dialogue


As awareness spreads about there being something wrong with existing approaches to “psychosis” aka “madness.” Interest grows in exploring what to do instead.

One meeting place for exploring this question of “what to do” will be the ISPS conference in NYC in March 2015, which is titled “An International Dialogue on Relationship and Experience in Psychosis.”

This conference promises to stand out in terms of the variety of voices,  perspectives, approaches and traditions that it will bring together to focus on the deeper issue of how helpers can best understand and interact with those experiencing what is called psychosis.

I’ve been a member of ISPS (The International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches for Psychosis) for many years now; I currently serve as chair of the education committee for the US branch of ISPS and I’m the lead moderator for its US list serve.  What keeps me interested in this group and its discussions is the focus on understanding psychosis in depth, the willingness to look at it from a lot of angles, and the interest in service models that address the true complexity of the issues people face while maintaining hope for understanding and integration, not just the suppression of unwanted experiences.

In some important ways, the subject of how to make sense of psychosis cannot be separated from the subject of how we make sense of our own existence at its deepest levels.  Often it seems there are a wide variety of possible ways to make sense of things, but then there is the challenge of how to make sense of all these possible explanations and perspectives, and how to talk to each other so that we can share our experience and work together in various ways.  This problem can exist at various levels:  within and between the “parts” of an individual mind, between an individual in crisis and someone trying to help that individual, and between and amongst all those who together form a mental health system or even a culture, etc.

The best approach to these potentially bewildering and overwhelming issues seems to be dialogue; a dialogue which doesn’t determine any final answers, but does improve relationships at various levels, and encourages multiple approaches to understanding.

I value the dialogues I have found within ISPS:  these dialogues have allowed me to improve my understanding of madness and to increase my ability to communicate what I understand to diverse individuals and audiences.  I think if we are ever going to shift society and the mental health system into a wiser approach to extreme experiences, we all need to find such opportunities for dialogue so we can hone our ability to connect with people coming from a variety of different backgrounds and levels of understanding.

The international conference in NYC aims to compress a lot of such dialogues into just a few days!  This conference will bring together not just people from all over the world but also people holding a wide variety of perspectives:  psychiatrists, other mental health professionals, people with lived experience,  family members; and people from schools of thought as varied as psychodynamic, CBT, Open Dialogue, Art Therapy, the Hearing Voices Movement, and biomedical perspectives.

(Some ISPS members including myself did protest the idea of inviting people to speak who have been associated with the biomedical status quo:  we argued that we have already heard from too much from this overly dominant and often dogmatic orientation.  The organizers for the conference however could not be dissuaded from their target of including as full a spectrum of perspectives as they could.)

The conference website has much more information about the conference, including the list of plenary speakers (people as diverse as Pat Deegan, Aaron Beck, Mary Olson, Jeffry Lieberman, Ann-Louise Siver, and Maurizio Peciccia.)

Unfortunately, ISPS is not a financially rich organization, so registration fees have to pay most of the cost of putting on the conference.  Professionals who want to attend a bit more economically should register by the “early bird” deadline of 12/15/14.  There are substantially lower rates (but not full scholarships) for people with lived experience, family members, students, and people from low to moderate income countries.

And, if you won’t be able to attend this conference but still want to learn from ISPS and participate in various ways, there are definitely other options for you to consider!

You may want to consider joining ISPS, which comes with a free subscription to the journal Psychosis, and the ability to join various member-only list serves where a wide variety of issues are discussed.  (Non-members can also join the ISPS-US list serve for free for a trial period of 3 months. To do so, send a request to [email protected])

By the way, one great article from the journal Psychosis, which you can access for free is “Spirituality and Hearing Voices:  Considering the Relation.)

ISPS publishes a number of books (listed here – anyone can use the access code “ISPS14” to get a 20% discount when buying ISPS books from Routledge (use that link) before December 31st, 2014.  The most popular book in that series has been “Models of Madness:  Psychological, Social and Biological Approaches to Psychosis” edited by John Read (who has extensively documented the links between childhood adversity and psychosis) and Jacqui Dillon, chair of the UK Hearing Voices Network and an international speaker and trainer.  This book is now in its second edition.

Finally, as a possible substitute or supplement to in-person conferences, ISPS is beginning to hold online meetings, which are expected to occur about monthly.  The first such meeting will be Friday 12/12/14, noon EST, featuring Bertram Karon on the topic of “Who am I to treat this person? What it feels like to treat a ‘seriously mentally ill’ person.”  Those who attend will have opportunities to ask questions and to share their thoughts.

For those of you not already familiar with Bertram Karon, you should know that he has extensive experience providing therapy for people diagnosed with schizophrenia and in researching such therapy, and is co-author of the book “Psychotherapy of schizophrenia: The treatment of choice.”   He was also recently interviewed on Madness Radio.  You can read a bit more about him, and also register for the online meeting, at https://ispswithkaron.eventbrite.com .  (Note that a donation is requested from non-members of ISPS, though no one is turned away for lack of funds.)

If you have read this far, thanks for your interest!  It’s going to take a lot of people like yourself, working on this issue from a lot of different angles and from within a variety of different organizations, to shift our society to a “sane” approach to “madness”!  I hope the information provided here about ISPS is of some use to you in working toward that goal.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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    • Hi Frank, I should make a couple of points.

      First, ISPS is not a psychoanalytic or psychodynamic society, even though it was founded by people with that orientation: currently the group includes people who come from a wide variety of orientations, anyone who advocates for stronger psychological and or social approaches to what we call psychosis can find a place in the group.

      Second, there always has been diversity in the psychoanalytic/psychodynamic community about the whole “biological” thing. People like Bertram Karon, who was involved decades ago in research showing that psychodynamic therapy can work better than medications, have emphasized trauma and reactions to difficult life events rather than anything biological.

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      • Points taken, Ron. I imagine I could be included under the Point No. 1. I’m aware, to some extent, that there are the differences you speak of in Point No. 2. I just say it’s good to have a school that isn’t completely under the sway of biological psychiatry. Thank you for posting.

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  1. I think it’s not such a bad think that guys like Lieberman got invited – it may be an occasion to ask them some tough questions. They may also draw in some folks who normally would not go to a conference like that.

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