This is first to alert you to a conference taking place in Drammen, Norway, June 26-28, 2014.

Beyond the Therapeutic State
Collaborative Practices for Individual and Social change

To fill out the picture:

Image courtesy of Photokanok at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Photokanok at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mental health costs are soaring, drug prescriptions skyrocketing, diagnostic categories multiplying, and an ever-increasing number of people believe they are mentally ill. We rapidly approach a condition that might be characterized as the “therapeutic state.” Most alternatives to diagnosis and drugs focus on the individual, still locating problems within individual minds as opposed to the relational matrix of which we are part. We wish to move beyond these options.

For more on the conference, the emerging program and rationale, see: www.BeyondtheTherapeuticState.org. I especially want to introduce the conference to readers of this site because it represents at least one significant step that can result from the sorts of discussions we have been having. There are two important issues at stake here. The first is political: The conference is being offered by four therapeutic institutes in Europe, in addition to the Taos Institute. We have also enlisted the sponsorship of some 30 additional therapy institutes and organizations, primarily in Europe. The ultimate aim here is to transform European policy. However, we are working in two stages. This conference represents the first step, in which the ground-work is developed for the next, and more policy oriented event. In effect, this conference will touch on many of the critiques raised on this site (indeed, this site will be recommended to the participants). However, it will use such critique as a springboard to discuss 1) collaborative alternatives to present practices and policies, and 2) how best to go about engaging with the key players in these matters (e.g. mental health professionals, drug companies, insurance companies, and government representatives). The second event, envisioned as a year hence, will attempt to bring these players into productive dialogue.

The second relevant issue has to do with the focus in this conference on collaborative process. On the present website we have collectively and persuasively articulated the fallacies and foibles of current diagnostic practices, and to some degree the allied increment in drug prescriptions. (As an aside, for a thorough and devastating case against the ADHD diagnosis and coupled drug prescriptions, see the Sunday (12/15) New York Times article on The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/health/the-selling-of-attention-deficit-disorder.html?ref=todayspaper). As they report, fifteen percent of high school students are now diagnosed with ADHD – approximately 3.5 million – and the prescription drug sales for “curing” this “illness” is over 8 billion dollars.

Yet, in my view, attempts to generate new and “better” diagnostic devices risks repeating many of the same problems inherent in the DSM. As professionals, we would again be in the position of using our authority to tell people what is wrong with them, without exploring what they or anyone else might have to say on the topic. And we have no foundations for doing so. Thus, the present conference specifically gives voice to a range of practices that are more collaborative in nature, practices in which professionals work with clients instead of on them.

At first blush, this focus may seem to militate against individual (as opposed to group, family, or community) therapy. This is so, and not so. What we are resistant to is the kind of programmed or manualized therapy that is currently resulting from evidence-based regimens in psychology. It is not simply that we see the research results as flawed, but the practice is monologic as opposed to dialogic orientation- with the therapist working on as opposed to with the client. In effect, the therapy is a realization of a closed agenda, insensitive to multiple realities, changing contexts, differing values and traditions, and so on. However, for those therapists who find themselves working more collaboratively with their individual clients, this conference should allow for a valuable sharing. It is in collaboration – not only between therapists and those they serve – but within the culture more generally, that we are most likely to locate viable alternatives to diagnosis and drugs.

Two final notes: first, as a politically oriented movement, the more sponsoring organizations the better, including organizations and institutes from other parts of the world. Nothing is asked of sponsoring groups, except to share news of the conference with colleagues and relevant networks. Should you work in an institute or organization that would like to be added as a sponsor, please write to me at kgergen1@swarthmore.edu.
And, at the end, I am struck by several posts to this site that wish now to take steps beyond critical deliberation. Perhaps this European venture can provide some inspiration, or could be drawn in to coming initiatives among North American psychologists. I am sure the Europeans would be delighted to make a contribution.

Kenneth J. Gergen

About Kenneth J. Gergen

Ken Gergen is a Senior Research Professor at Swarthmore College and the President of the Taos Institute.