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Joe Kelly sends in a report on the Politics of Evidence conference

Joe Kelly is a writer and campaigner around mental health issues. Organised by the Philadelphia Society, 'The Politics of Evidence' conference took place on 10 October 2009 at King’s Fund Centre, Cavendish Square, London.

I recently attended the R.D.Laing Conference at the  Kings Fund Centre. It was a good conference, bringing together approximately 100 delegates from a mixture of backgrounds, but principally from the liberal wing of psychiatry. It was a 10am start after coffee and check-in. The first speaker was Dr David Healey. He gave a good talk about anti-depressants, principally Seroxat for treating depression in pregnancy.

It has become regular practice for doctors and psychiatrists to prescribe this particular drug. Dr Healey spoke of birth defects and other negative side effects. A learning curve to partners and wives to avoid these types of drugs at all costs. You do not often get such a powerful lesson at conferences. The atmosphere was informal and Dr Joanna Moncrieff leader of the critical psychiatry network took the podium.

In her audio-visual slide show she showed a history of psychiatry, and showed political desire to develop a systemising model of psychiatry, similar to the medical model. This emphasised the influence of the drug companies in the development of services. I think her talk gave a good picture of neo-liberal development and market capitalism.

The next two speakers, Dr John Heaton and Dr Lucy King, spoke about evidence as in evidence-based psychiatry. Through a circuitous route of logic they proved that evidence-based psychiatry was difficult to achieve. There were questions from the floor. One was about wellbeing and wholeness. Questions and answers do not always mirror each other- but it was good to speak out and there was much food for thought.

During lunch I talked to my to my former psychiatrist, Dr Pietro Pizzo. He believed in holistic treatment, which helped me a lot. I was glad to see him again. I also met Fiamma, a charming Italian lady who is a career advisor doing a PhD.

Back again at the lecture theatre the next speaker was Dr Pat Bracken from Cork in Ireland. I know Pat from my contact with John McCarthy of Mad Pride Ireland fame. Pat was a very good speaker emphasising the placebo effect over the drug effect.

Basically he believed more in the cultural and social aspects of a person’s life; they'd be more likely to heal their mental health problems more than medicine. The placebo effect was his expression for the meaningful things in a person’s life that make them feel good. It does not seem like rocket science but its good to hear these things.

The next speaker was Dr Miles Clapham who talked about 'R' - a lady who had experienced abuse and violence and was violent in return. It was a long story, which was quite detailed. The doctor was positive and exemplified a healing and caring attitude and was not afraid to show some of his faults, which I found quite refreshing. He was not a smart Alec who had all the answers, rare in psychiatry.

The R D Laing conference was well presented and stimulating. Two of the speakers Dr Joanna Montcrief and Dr Pat Bracken also spoke at the Critical Psychiatry conference at Norwich a few months earlier.

There is obviously a desire to change the profession move it away from traditional thinking and it’s addiction to pharmaceuticals but we are not there yet. Doctors are not traditionally radical so real change does not happen easily.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 7 November 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 17 November 2009