It's just not right.
Grumpy old psychiatrist wonders why - and tries things to escape oppression, institutionalisaton, industrialisation of mental health and digital tyranny.
Hopefully by only bending the rules, but never breaking them.
Well, we'll see.
Interesting workshop in York today,
of the NHS England T4 providers of personality disorder services, plus a small number of hangers-on like me.
For our long-planned meeting of
about 15, we were denied space at The Retreat, and were booked into to a
Catholic Convent instead, but only informed about the change three days ago.
George Broke, a development director for Schoen, came to introduce himself to us and explain.
The Retreat has now largely been
taken over by Schoen, which is a large German MH hospital group, about the size
of Priory, with an ambitious/vigorous/aggressive business plan to expand into
the UK, particularly for large specialist inpatient units.
The only Quaker-run bit that
remains of The Retreat is community and outpatient services at The Tuke Centre
(presumably without space for our meeting).
He was very positive about how
most of the Retreat inpatient staff had been TUPE’d over to the new owners (not
Tuke’d I’m afraid) and that the Kemp Unit and eating disorder unit (Acorn in a
previous incarnation, and the first ever UK TC to be accredited, but no longer
a TC) were both promising elements of their business development, although perhaps a
bit more innovative than Schoen are used to.
But the new plans for the site
are certainly back in line with the modern world: they are soon to add a substantially
enlarged inpatient unit – including Kemp + ED – to be built to the southeast of
the old hospital façade. Hopefully hidden enough to not impinge too much on the
grade A listed piece of mental health heritage. We’ll see.
All rather sad, I think. Possibly
the end of moral treatment as we know it…
I'm off to a formal meeting on Wednesday to discuss the prison policy on psychiatric medication in the democratic TCs. So here's some notes I have made to help me think it through...
1 'Medical' or 'psychiatric' treatment should not necessarily have to have to include, or even consider including, any pharmacological component. TCs are such a treatment: they arose from a different therapeutic philosophy in contexts where medication was not relevant or not invented. There is no evidence that their effectiveness has been enhanced by allowing psychotropic medication to be used for their members, except perhaps to increase staff sense of 'knowing better' and social control. TCs are a safe place in which the effects of no medication can be carefully monitored and responded to by psychotherapeutic means
2 Psychiatric drugs directly hamper TC treatment. All groups of psychiatric medication have effects on mental functions that hinder the therapeutic process, or block it: minor and major tranquillisers cause drowsiness and lack of full attention; drugs used for depression and other stimulants can give a false sense of elevated mood; lithium is often reported to leave people 'feeling like a zombie', and most people on it recognise the emotional blunting it causes.
3 Psychiatric drugs indirectly hamper TC treatment. The other way medication hampers TC treatment is that it takes away responsibility for how one is feeling, thinking and behaving - and allows swallowers to think that a pill can cure one's woes. Taking a pill is much easier than making a decision to pursue a more the more difficult option - which involves allowing oneself to trust the holding, containing and transforming effects of therapeutic belongingness. The symbolic meaning of medication also prevents the relational equality needed in a TC: the relationship between the prescriber and the swallower is necessarily unequal.
4 No psychiatric drugs are licensed for the specific treatment of 'Personality Disorder', for which therapeutic communities are a definitive treatment. The diagnosis of 'co-morbidity' usually covers this - but the co-morbid conditions are only symptoms (such as depression, anxiety, agitation, insomnia, voices) of the underlying condition. Medication can doubtless help symptoms, but that is all it does. Diagnosing co-morbid conditions can be seen as an exercise of professional power, which is not subject to the enquiry and scrutiny of other decisions made about members of a therapeutic community.
5 Medication is less effective than advertised. The general trajectory of many psychiatric medications is enthusiastic optimism, followed by extensive routine use, followed by problems and questions - examples include barbiturates, amphetamines, benzodiazepines and most recently SSRIs. Advocates of new medications often include influential clinicians, guideline-issuing bodies, professional organisations as well as the pharmaceutical industry. The recent challenge of the 2017 NICE depression guideline by numerous experts and fourteen professional organisations opens the question of possible pharmaceutical bias - at the highest levels.
6 Long-term use of medication is harmful. Detailed work by Joanna Moncreiff in the UK and Peter Gotzsche in Denmark have made a strong cases against the way in which psychiatric drugs are currently used. Moncreiff argues that drugs do not specifically target any 'diseases', but have specific effects that may ameliorate symptoms; thee neuroleptics cause brain atrophy, tardive dyskinesia and poorer long-tern outcomes than no medication. Gotzsche goes further and presents evidence to show how psychiatric drugs kill half a million people every year in the USA and Europe.
7 There is a wider movement going on for a more relational and democratic type of psychiatric care. Therapeutic communities and their progeny have always had these core principles, but many other organisations and movements are now espousing similar values: Open Dialogue, Soteria Houses, Multifamily Therapy, Greencare, Hearing Voices Network - as well as numerous small service-user led groups and networks.
In the wider sweep of the history of psychiatry, I believe that many of our current medications will look as archaic as chaining people up and beating them, or putting them into a coma with insulin. But the same may be true of current psychotherapies. Not so sure about psychedelics, though - they seem to have been used fairly well for many centuries...
I'm not usually somebody who gets at all excited about psychometric 'instruments' (as their manufacturers rather grandly call them sometimes) - but ReQoL feels a bit special. In the same way that CORE did three decades ago - something that can really let us and our service users know how we're doing. And this one is based on a value set that comes from research showing what matters to service users themselves - not by clever academics in a university, or powerful doctors in the clinic, saying what should matter. And even more fun was meeting a mystery man on the way into the conference room, who knew me, but wouldn't tell me who he was (though I recognised him, despite 20+ years since last meeting). When he stood up to speak - about the scientific process behind the new measure - I knew: it was Mike Barkham, one of the main developers of the CORE - and regular in the snooker room at the Raven Hall Hotel at the annual Society for Psychotherapy Research (UK) bashes in the 1990s.
The morning was quite energising,
and felt like this was a good new measure that was designed around measuring
something that really mattered – and could help us all coordinate across
services, research, commissioning and policy.
But then the afternoon came along.
I found Tim Kendall very dispiriting – his vision extending no
further than which bits to spend a little bit of extra money on, and a rather
nihilistic mood agreeing it’s all bad and won’t get much better (in my working
lifetime, at least!)
And as for the best thing Andrew Lansley did was to make the
NHS even more hierarchical and driven top-down– I was close to passing out with
It was probably worse because I found the afternoon ‘café’ workshop
perhaps the dullest event I have ever been to – and annoying in confirming
my fear that legions of clever people are running round feeding the machine – and getting
quite excited about it.
But where are the service users in it all?
And where were they today? A: not there, because it was all
about the experts doing clever and complicated things without them.
And as Tim said, their scores aren’t what really matters, because
it’s the measures that show how well that machine is working that he is interested
Then he goes and says that an ‘official’ PD measure is being
written – probably by people none of us have ever heard of, with a big grant
that’s not connected to any of the other work that’s been done in the field over
many years, or is currently going on.
And he was extremely lukewarm about ReQoL, which I thought
was going to get his backing - as a sensible and robust outcome measure for us
all to coordinate ourselves around (and, dare I say, more democratic and meaningful
to service users than bureaucratic old warhorses like HoNOS). But no. Aargh.
So NHSE is even more of a disorganised and fragmented mess than
I thought – as a personality disorder consultant colkleague, from the Cassel, exactly put her finger on in questioning him. It’s not
harder hierarchical management it needs – it relationality at all levels (not
performativity) and real service user co-production!
And as for the withering scepticism he expressed in his aside about
‘being human’ (or something like that) …my blood ran cold.
In the old days, like when he was chairing the Borderline
NICE group, he used to wear a black polo-neck and tight black jeans – like a
baddie out of a Bond film. But I find the new look, with suit and tie, and Robin Day glasses,
much more sinister!
“Mental health policies and
services are in crisis - not a crisis of chemical imbalances, but of power imbalances.
We need bold political commitments, urgent policy responses and immediate
“We need little short of a revolution in mental health care to end decades of
neglect, abuse and violence.”
However, there is no sign of a revolution around the corner: indeed,
with the economic power vested in the pharmaceutical industry and the social power
in the medical profession, any UK policy change is likely to be fiercely fought
- and very slow.
But there are some signs of an evolution – from the World Health
Organisation, from some British professional institutions, the voice of service
users, and from a small independent clinic in Oxfordshire – by using the lens
of trauma treatment.
·Historically, the psychiatric profession has
defined disorders by their symptom presentation rather than by cause. This is
changing with the 2018 publication of ICD-11: see previous blog ‘Thinking about
British professional institutions
·The British Psychological Association has
published a detailed critique of biomedical practice in the ‘Power Threat
Meaning Framework’. Its central ideas include trauma-informed thinking,
formulation rather than diagnosis, and relational practice.
·Public Health Wales is running a large public
education and information campaign about ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ and their
consequences for individuals and society.
·‘Enabling Environments’ and ‘Psychologically
Informed Planned Environments’ are becoming well established in the criminal
justice sector, with government support.
·‘Psychologically Informed Environments’ are
becoming similarly established in the voluntary sector, particularly for
homelessness, with support from local commissioners, and lottery funding.
·Several organisations have come together for a parliamentary
launch of a consensus statement about ‘personality disorder’, led by Norman
·The Royal College of Psychiatrists is working on
a parallel position statement.
Service users and other critics of mainstream services
·Trauma is often not recorded or registered, and
rarely taken seriously.
·Mainstream psychiatric provision often
·Medication only ever offers temporary and
·The most acceptable services are co-designed
with experts by experience.
A small Oxfordshire clinic
·Khiron House is residential trauma treatment
service which takes private and NHS referrals
·It combines a rigorously designed therapeutic
environment with intensive individual and interpersonal neurobiological
therapies (based on the work of Daniel Siegel, Pat Ogden and Bessel van der Kolk).
·No other residential units in the UK offer this
level of specific trauma expertise.
·It prioritises psychosocial treatment over
biomedical, and aims to work in collaboration with prescribing doctors.
·It follows a wholly non-paternalistic model, and
expects its residents to be able to take day-to-day responsibility for
·Its current working practices are not suitable
for CQC registration.
·A higher dependency unit is being planned, with
full nursing cover – for those who experience severe dissociative symptoms which
require a higher level of psychosocial containment. This is likely to seek CQC
·Declaration of interest: I work for them as medical
director (ie communication channel to the mainstream system), chair of ethics
and governance board, and clinical advisor (specifically on therapeutic
environments). It is a very part-time role, and does not involve any contact
with the residents or involvement in the specific therapies.
There is a wind of change in the air, as evidenced by several formal processes related to mental health policy. This includes the publication of ICD-11, the parliamentary launch of the consensus statement on personality disorder, the Welsh government's public health strategy on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma, the serious professional challenge to the NICE revision of depression guideline, emerging evidence of severe long-term adverse consequences of neuroleptics, and a recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur - who called for a revolution in mental health. LINK (also see previous blogs)
The therapy yurt under the apple blossom at Khiron House
Why Khiron is different
A small part of that revolution is what we are doing at
Khiron House: delivering an intensive programme in which the primary modes of
treatment are psychotherapeutic and psychosocial, and biomedical psychiatry has
a secondary role. Many patients and clinicians appreciate that mainstream and traditional approaches can only offer superficial ways of coping with the consequences of
severe and complex trauma - without ever truly overcoming it. We believe that our
expectations and ambitions should be higher, as the growing body of research evidence indicates. Khiron’s
work is based on providing a rigorously planned therapeutic environment in
which highly specialised trauma-focussed psychotherapies can be delivered. This
field is sometimes called ‘interpersonal neurobiology’, and the definitive interventions
are based on the work of Pat Ogden, Daniel Siegel and Bessel van der Kolk. The planned environment work is based on several years' research and development on which the Enabling Environments award at the Royal College of Psychiatrists Centre for Quality Improvement is based.
What we are up against
One of our difficulties is how the whole health system, and
its regulation and governance structures, is based on traditional views of
disorder, ultimate responsibility and individualism. Our therapeutic philosophy
is quite different: we see formulation and understanding as more important than
diagnosis, we always try to help people to take responsibility for themselves in
the face of paternalistic requirements of the system, and we believe that our
residents’ forces of healing come as much from each other as from expert
therapists. This means we do not fit very well with regulators’ expectations of
zero tolerance of risk, or of staff being wholly responsible for the thoughts,
feelings or behaviour of others; nor can our therapeutic and relational methods
of promoting and maintaining safety ever meet strictly objective criteria.
However, through our Ethics and Governance Board, we intend
to square this circle, and run an extremely safe service which exceeds regulators
expectations, without perverse rules or policies, and is in line with our
theoretical model, our therapeutic philosophy and our ethical stance.
One specific area of conflict is often that of prescription
of psychotropic medication. Unfortunately, for many patients this has become
the defining modus operandi of modern
psychiatry. We do not deny the power or usefulness of
medication, but only when it is used in specific circumstances and as a secondary
means of support: the primary treatment with us is always psychosocial.
All classes of psychotropic medication influence people’s mental
state and experience of their own emotions: this is their purpose. However,
this often impedes access to the feelings, thoughts and emotions which need to
be dealt with by the psychotherapy process. This is why we encourage our
residents to understand the medication they are on, be aware of what effects it
might be having on them, and be taking as little as they need.
When severe emotional instability or dysregulation inhibits somebody’s
capacity to participate in psychotherapy, judicious use of medication does have
a role. This is time-limited and the medication
needs to be safely tailed off when the capacity for self-regulation capacity has
been established through psychotherapeutic interventions.
We hope that our referrers and fellow-professionals understand and
respect the way in which our stance is different to mainstream approaches – and
that we all chair the common task of trying to provide the best ways for individuals
to get the help they need. To do this, we want to work collaboratively with colleagues
working in other settings, by sharing expertise and responsibility.
We do not prescribe medication at Khiron House, and we encourage our
residents to keep a diary of their medication - and discuss it with their
prescribers. These can be referring private or NHS psychiatrists, or home or
local GPs. Our residents are strongly encouraged to understand why they are
taking the medication which they are prescribed, and to have an active part in
any decisions about it. We recommend that those with trauma-based conditions
are on as little psychotropic medication as possible, and on none indefinitely.
Medical Director, Khiron House
Professor of Therapeutic Environments and Relational Practice, School of
Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham
Clinical Advisor, Enabling Environments, Centre for Quality Improvement,
Royal College of Psychiatrists, London