Sometime in late 2013, I began to work with the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry, Inc. (ISEPP) on its 2014 annual conference. Having just arrived at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and benefiting from the support of an endowed chair, I thought of gathering critical thought leaders in mental health to share their ideas for system change in a joint ISEPP/UCLA event.
We identified nearly 40 individuals who had spent time and effort thinking about, communicating and enacting needed change in the mental health system. Each received an invitation to a conference on “transforming mad science and re-imagining mental health care.” It referred to compelling critiques and included this concept statement:
Mental health care could become more educational and make deliberate use of non-professionals and self-help, it could reject pseudo-science and conflicts of interests, grapple squarely with coercion, perhaps change its name to reflect the actual goals of helping psychosocially distressed people develop self-confident, self- and other-caring orientations to life. The obstacles and contradictions are daunting, but too few proposals of alternative arrangements and vocabularies exist to stir hearts and minds. This conference specifically asks you to envision new ideas and new practices, to flesh out your favorite alternative in whatever area concerns you.
We also included a summary of each invitee’s relevant work, as well as specific tailored questions evoking the significance and implications of their ideas for rethinking business-as-usual in mental health care. To each invitee we stipulated:
We’re allocating 30 minutes for each plenary presentation: not more than 10 minutes on the present situation, at least 20 minutes on its future: how does it look to you in detail, how do we get there, potential problems or unintended consequences? (Think of it as an extended TED talk.)
Almost everyone replied quickly but more than half declined, citing prior commitments, too-short allotted presentation time, or because, as a few put it, they had “never thought of the future” and “wouldn’t know what to say.”
Other invitees accepted enthusiastically. Eventually, they came from five countries representing education and psychiatric liberation (Bonnie Burstow, Laura Delano), psychiatry (Allen Frances, David Healy), medicine and methodology (Peter Gøtzsche), psychology (Pascal-Henri Keller, John Read), social work (Tomi Gomory, Shannon Hughes, Jeffrey Lacasse, myself), neuroscience and neurology (François Gonon, Jonathan Leo, Peter Whitehouse), journalism (Robert Whitaker), and philosophy (Keith Hoeller). All but two were current or former academics.
The joint ISEPP/UCLA conference was held in Los Angeles on November 14-16, 2014. I and others received consistent feedback from attendees of the conference’s success. MIA journalist Rob Wipond published an account the following week.
Today, ISEPP and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs are delighted to bring you videos of 13 of the 15 invited plenary talks.* These smartly produced and edited videos range from 20 to 30 minutes in length and are freely available on www.TransformingMadScience.com
Each video is accompanied by a crisply written interview with the speaker, focusing on the goals of their work, challenges facing their profession, and how they evaluate any salient changes in mental health practice and research.
These stimulating talks brim with unusual analyses, insights and novel ways to look at old problems. Not surprisingly, they raise more questions than they answer. We are the fortunate audience to view the advanced guard’s effort to convey humane knowledge, values, caring passion and concern about the problems of madness and of the professions’ response to it.
Yet it’s fair to say that not all was delivered as was hoped for. In my view, that’s because it is very intimidating, perhaps even foolhardy, to outline a more-or-less concrete future, to step publicly into the unknown. Most invitees were more inclined to detail or deepen their well-founded critiques than propose uncertain scenarios — though nearly all offered some specific suggestions for reform or change, or embedded them deep inside their critiques. Other speakers daringly leapt into the abyss of future uncertainty, allowing us to peer into their vision and imagine new principles or systems of care, or the dissolution of current systems of “care.”
These videos are a historical record of the challenging and provocative thoughts of some critical thought leaders, and it is a deep pleasure to share with the public this portion of another successful ISEPP conference. I hope these videos serve to inform, inspire, promote dialogue, and better imagine what could be.
* Our budget only allowed the filming of the invited plenary speakers, but many other speakers made wonderful presentations at this ISEPP conference.