In November last year I attended this one day conference organised by PCCS Books in Nottingham. Two of the keynote speakers – Lucy Johnstone and Sami Timimi – had previously travelled to Powys to speak at a conference organised by our team in March 2014 - Finding Meaning in Psychosis: Early Intervention Services. This conference had highlighted the debate that challenges the validity of ‘mental illness’ diagnosis and raised questions about whether the idea of ‘mental illness’ is useful in driving innovation. However, due to leave I had been unable to attend. So, I was really keen to make the trip across country now to find out more about implementing innovative approaches to mental health distress. And the conference promised not just two but several inspirational speakers.
PCCS Books is an independent mental health publisher dedicated to the demedicalisation of distress, and person-centred, recovery-focused mental health services. The name developed out of a training organisation called ‘Person-Centred Couselling Services’, and at the conference (I think they organise one every couple of years) Director Heather Allan welcomed everyone and set the scene for the day:
“The case for demedicalising mental health services is well rehearsed. The research has been done, the conferences have been held and the intellectual argument all but won. Yet on a day-to-day basis, services continue to operate within the medicalised status quo. One of the aims of this conference will be to look at how we can implement realistic, practical changes in our mental health practice, education and lives, in order to continue the progression from rhetoric to reality.”
Due to limited space I can only touch briefly on the speakers’ presentations with a focus on their practical suggestions for bringing about change in working practice. (Full presentations are available here however).
Lucy Johnstone – Challenging, compromising or colluding? Some thoughts on trying to bring about change in mental health systems
Lucy made regular reference to her own personal situation working as a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital for Cwm Taf University Health Board in South Wales. This is the most socially deprived area in the whole of Wales, where 13% of the population are in contact with mental health services. It was a very medicalised service when Lucy arrived.
Lucy has since introduced an approach called “team formulation”. Regular meetings take place involving services in contact with an individual experiencing distress, within Community Mental Health teams, Assertive Outreach teams, rehab services and inpatient wards, to develop an in-depth understanding of that person’s particular difficulties. Staff will then work together to tailor any support to the needs of the individual rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. Using a case study of a 17 year old girl hearing hostile voices, Lucy contrasted the medical approach, which resulted in a diagnosis of psychosis/schizophrenia, to the way team formulation drew out the young woman’s story of abuse and bullying over a period of years. The latter approach acknowledges that responses such as hearing voices are survival strategies – “a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.”
In Cwm Taf team formulation has spread organically and not aroused much resistance. Lucy explained that her colleagues may not always agree with her approach but they take her stance on board, and some people are shifting away from using diagnostic approaches. The team formulation approach had led to “a change in thinking” and become “part of the culture as a word and a concept.”
“Instead of giving a diagnosis, we need to listen to people’s stories.”
Peter Beresford was introduced as the first “out” mental health service user to become a professor (Professor of Social Policy at Brunel University in London in fact). He spoke knowledgeably about the political background to current mental health service provision, noting politics’ powerful alliance with traditional psychiatry at the expense of those living with mental distress. He believes that “lived experience” is devalued by government, and rather than trying to influence politicians we would be better advised to take the initiative ourselves. Peter’s recommendations included:
- Resisting forced employment and impoverishment.
- Holding on to good participative practice.
- Listening to service users.
- Encouraging service user input in professional training, which has a real impact on service culture.
- Focusing on changing the future for mental health and service users by innovating, by developing our ideas for change and our practice.
“We have to be courageous and rigorous and stop hoping that powerful big voluntary organisations will speak for us.”
Look out for Part 2 of this conference report next week, when I feature the talks of keynote speakers Sami Timimi and Pete Sanders. You can also find out more about the Soteria Network and the British Association for Person-Centred Approach, along with other organisations who attended. Thanks for reading, and let us know your thoughts on these ideas and approaches in the comments box below.