Michael O’Loughlin: Exploring Narrative Approaches to Psychological Distress


This week we interview Professor Michael O’Loughlin. Professor O’Loughlin is a college professor and researcher at Adelphi University and a licensed psychologist and a psychoanalyst in private practice in New Hyde Park, New York. Dr O’Loughlin writes critically about the biomedical model of psychiatry and psychology and also has a deep interest in psychiatric rights and social justice issues.

In 2015 as an editor he launched a book series entitled Psychoanalytic Studies: Clinical, Social, and Cultural Contexts, with Lexington Books. In August 2017, with colleagues Dr. Awad Ibrahim (University of Ottawa), Dr. Gabrielle Ivinson (Manchester Metropolitan University), and Dr. Marek Tesar (University of Auckland), as series co-editors, he launched a book series, Critical Childhood & Youth Studies: Clinical, educational, social and cultural inquiry, to be published by Lexington Books.

Professor O’Loughlin talks about his childhood experiences and how they influenced his narrative and conversational approach to psychological distress.

In this episode we discuss

  • How Dr. O’Loughlin’s early experiences growing up in Ireland led to a deep interest in social justice issues, particularly poverty and inequality.
  • That as a young man in college he engaged in charity work and activism.
  • How, more recently, he became interested in psychiatry when he was appointed as a lecturer in clinical psychology, but realised that there weren’t required courses on trauma or psychosis.
  • That this led to teaching courses in intergenerational trauma and the way that our history shapes us as people.
  • That Michael has engaged in autobiographical writing to understand the way that deprivations and injustices that he experienced had a formative impact on his own thinking and writing.
  • That another course on madness and psychosis was perceived by clinical psychology students as radical, leading to a realisation that mainstream psychology is a very conservative discipline.
  • How he became interested in interviewing psychiatric patients and telling stories that represented a diverse group of people and experiences of psychiatric services.
  • That this led to a project at Fountain House in New York City to see if narratives could be reinforced and shared.
  • That Michael does not himself use the terms mental illness or disorder because he feels that we need to be flexible and that even this terminology can be stigmatizing.
  • How he has recently focused on creating spaces where participants can share their experiences and stories and it shouldn’t be a classification or categorization exercise.
  • That he has found many that have experienced the psychiatric system have felt that the system impeded their recovery.
  • That a collaborative team of Adelphi academics, Fountain House staff and Fountain House members will together publish research.
  • That Professor O’Loughlin feels that psychology and psychiatry are traditional and reactive disciplines and that psychiatry has been driven by pharmacological concerns.
  • How Michael’s work with children is grounded in his own childhood experiences and a sense that human beings need nurturing spaces and validation.
  • That Michael is extremely disturbed about the medicating of young children with drugs that are not known to be safe for them such as antipsychotic drugs.
  • The unwillingness to understand that a child’s distress has an origin and that we have a responsibility to engage with the child and create a space for them to communicate.
  • How we define normality within such a narrow range that children find it very difficult to conform to society’s expectations.
  • That there seems to be little room for a child in school, only room for a student.
  • That psychoanalysis has tools to understand our emotions and experiences but also has tools to help understand societal drivers that may underlie psychological distress.
  • The worry that talking therapies are being replaced by tick lists and categories and that we need to bring stories back into psychology.

Relevant links:

Michael O’Loughlin, PhD

Psychoanalytic Studies: Clinical, Social, and Cultural Contexts

Arthur Frank

Kathryn Bond Stockton

To get in touch with us email: [email protected]

© Mad in America 2017

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Justin Karter
MIA Research News Editor: Justin M. Karter is the lead research news editor for Mad in America. He completed his doctorate in Counseling Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He also holds graduate degrees in both Journalism and Community Psychology from Point Park University. He brings a particular interest in examining and decoding cultural narratives of mental health and reimagining the institutions built on these assumptions.


  1. Fascinating interview. I was left wondering whether he intends to extend these counter narrative conversations beyond the context of Fountain House at some point. There are plenty of people out there, with “lived experience”, who are not in Fountain House, or in rehabilitation along clubhouse model lines, who might participate in such a project if it reached them, and I would think both program and participants could benefit thereby.

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