Paradigm Shifts in Psychiatry: Weathering the Storms

“Weathering Storms”: Mindfulness based Approaches for Emotional Pain, Trauma and Psychosis : November 16th 2018

How can we use the principles of mindfulness to effect change in areas where there is a great need for new ways of thinking? How can compassionate, courageous and curious listening to those who have in-depth personal knowledge and experience of the phenomena help professionals to really think differently about this work?

While we recognize that modern psychiatry has done much to help those who are suffering, it struggles to cope with the challenges posed by psychotic experience. Many of the difficulties arise from fear and reactivity in the professionals (and the system) when they are faced with psychotic phenomena.  Although there are some, including the awesome Paul Fletcher who are really thinking deeply about what psychosis can tells us about how the brain processes information.  He says that “we get a glimmer of the possibility that actually many of us are in a pretty much psychotic state all the time”.  Check out his talk below.

A mindful and brain-wise understanding of the neurocognitive processes involved in the experience of psychosis can help us to be less fearful, more curious and develop the courage to lean in and be interested in what minds in these state have to teach us.

We know from the research that  the reactivity in the system around these experiences mostly makes it worse. As the mental health services constrict, risk aversion increases, fear escalates and more and more inhumane reactions drive the work of “helping people with psychosis”.

If you get a diagnosis of “schizophrenia” you lose roughly 10 years from your life expectancy. The culture of “medication for life” and the appalling side-effects that come from “successful treatment” mean that there are a group of individuals who are often harmed rather than healed by well meaning professionals.

This is not the fault of any one individual or profession. It is a consequence of a system and a model under threat, and a rigid and (in my personal view) outdated view of this phenomena.  What can we discover if we can open to a wider variety of approaches and models?

Family therapy is one of the most effective ways of working with psychosis, yet is inaccessible to many. Transpersonal approaches offer a broader aperture through which we can view these experience and used wisely, can significantly reduce distress and aid recovery. Yet they are minimized (and worse) by the mainstream medical community.

New approaches such as Open Dialogue are providing different avenues to understanding how a less stigmatizing way of working can have real benefits and promote recovery (and not just remission). The amazing work of the Alchemy Project demonstrates the power of movement, dance, creativity and community in helping those with a first experience of psychosis.  The Dragon Cafe in London is an inspirational new model of working with individuals with severe and enduring emotional distress of various sorts.  Body in Mind Training and mindful movement is one of many offerings in the cafe to support it’s work and it’s patrons. It is a beacon of hope that things can be different when you truly empower individuals to take charge of what helps them to be well with NO judgement and FULL support. Check out the RE:Create psychiatry work of Mental Fight Club.


Email for a copy of this paper or find the practices in her book Mindfulness in Motion

Yet integrating these approaches into a cash-strapped, risk averse, medical-model dominated system is highly challenging. One thing that can help is to have a really solid and open understanding of the alternatives.  If we were going to do “psychosis treatment” from scratch – what would it look like?  What can we discover if we talk to the real experts – those with experience? Better yet, what about those with experience who also have highly developed mindfulness skills?  What a gift to the medical and psychological community!

The Mindfulness Centre of Excellence has a willingness to have these hard conversations and take calculated risks in the service of positive change.  When it’s time to shift paradigms, a brain-wise mindful way of working is our key skill.

The Centre will be hosting a curated event facilitated by Anthony Fidler in London on November 16th 2018.

In the wonderfully soothing environs of Jamyang Buddhist Centre we will be exploring from a neurocognitive and integrative viewpoint practices that can facilitate growth in these challenging times.  These include movement, mindfulness, voice,m compassion and touch practices. Drawing heavily Zen and the Hara traditions of  Japan along with Tai Chi and Qi Gong traditions of China but framed within the Emotional Regulation System model of Paul Gilbert.

Anthony has out of necessity dedicated much of his adult life over the past 17 years to understanding how to live and work with non-ordinary states of consciousness. He has made his own mind his research laboratory and adapted practices he has learnt from his oriental teachers to help him to navigate challenging times and recover. He is now exploring how his personal survival toolkits and understanding can serve others who are troubled by mental or physical phenomena that feel overwhelming and confusing

While we can all benefit from these practices, this experiential workshop is aimed at individuals with experience of “psychosis” (broadly defined) and those who care for them (family members and professionals). We will be exploring from a common humanity perspective, so leave professional masks at the door and enter into a very special place were we can explore our vulnerabilities together.

Check out Anthony’s webpage for more details on this unique event. There is an application for this curated event.