MHRNS Public lecture 2

Dr. Philip Thomas, 'Narrative Psychiatry and the Little Red Alfa', 11 March 2013, doors open at 6.30pm for a 7pm start.

Teviot Lecture Theatre, Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh


Psychiatry is having to face up to a big problem.  Much of the evidence for the effectiveness of drug treatments indicates that most psychiatric drugs are barely more effective than placebos (dummy tablets).  In addition, there are serious doubts about the effectiveness and the safety of the drugs used to treat the most severe form of mental disorders - schozophrenia.  In psychotherapy outcome research it has been recognised for at least seventy years that it's not the specific ingredients of different psychotherapies that are effective, but the qualities of the therapist and the theraputic relationship.  This raises a difficult question: on what grounds should an ethical, caring and effective form of psychiatric practice rest?

In this talk I will briefly outline this problem, before describing the main features of what I and others call narrative psychiatry as a way forward.  Narrative psychiatry engages with the diverse contexts and meanings that matter to people who use mental health services.  It is also capable of accommodating many divergent models, or ways of understanding madness and distress, including the biomedical model.  In particular it foregrounds the ethical and moral aspects of mental health practice, and thus fully recognises both the importance and complexity of self-defined recovery.  Most interestingly, however, is the way that narrative psychiatry reveals the value of the humanities in psychiatry.  This, as well as the other elements of narrative psychiatry, will be illustrated through a short story based in my clinical experience.

Dr. Philip Thomas:

Phil Thomas graduated in medicine from Manchester University in 1972, and trained as a psychiatrist in Edinburgh.  He worked as a full-time consultant psychiatrist in the NHS for over twenty years, in Manchester, North Wales and Bradford.  He has worked closely with survivors of psychiatry, service users and community groups, nationally and internationally.  Until recently he was chair of Sharing Voices Bradford, a community development project working with Black and Minority Ethnic communities.  In his first consultant post in Manchester he worked closely with the African-Caribbean community in the city, and was part of a team that set up the Manchester African-Caribbean Mental Health Project.

He has published over 100 scholarly papers mostly in peer reviewed journals, and authored or co-authored three books, most recently Postpsychiatry, with Pat Bracken, published by Oxford University Press in 2005.  His early academic work concerned the problems of classification and diagnosis in psychiatry, and this resulted ultimately in his doctoral thesis (The Linguistic Analysis of Psychotic Speech).  Since then, his interests in language and communication have taken a narrative and philosophical turn, and his current academic work places his interests in the intersection of biomedicine and the humanities.

He left clinical practice in 2004 to devote his time to writing.  His main areas of interest are the moral and ethical basis of psychiatric theories and practice, which he now explores in his scholarly and creative writing (creative non-fiction).  He is currently working on two books, one on critical and narrative psychiatry, and a collection of semi-fictional short stories based in clinical practice, under the title Madness, Meaning and Culture.  Until recently he was professor of philosophy, diversity and mental health in the University of Central Lancashire, and is now an honorary visiting professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities in the University of Bradford.

 See Dr. Thomas's lecture slides here: Narrative Psychiatry (Philip Thomas)