The Education of Mental Health Professionals

Last week I spent two days giving talks to students and faculty at Northern Colorado University.   In the evening of the first day I spoke to a large group and the next day I was invited to speak to a class of nursing students and later to a class on diagnosis.   What has always surprised me when I have presented at universities is the lack of exposure to both the new and old concepts of what has proven to work, and the ground-breaking people who have been important influences in my thinking.  So before introducing topics such as the importance of trust, choice, risk and programs such as Hearing Voices, Soteria, Diabasis and Open Dialogue, I would ask, “Has anyone has heard of . . . .”  One or two hands would be raised by faculty to acknowledge recognition.

When illustrating the difficulty of establishing trust, I cited Thomas Szasz.  I was proud to have met with Szasz for lunch at his house where he spoke on the demise of trust in the psychotherapy relationship.  He said that trust is compromised when therapists had become arms of the government and were subject to mandatory reporting requirements.   Szasz lamented that therapists had limited confidentiality protections as compared to the absolute privacy that is the province of confession to priests.  Since no one knew of Szasz I was disappointed that my argument could not be supported by the weight of his reputation.  See the link for Szasz obituary in the NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/health/dr-thomas-szasz-psychiatrist-who-led-movement-against-his-field-dies-at-92.html

Similarly, R.D. Laing was unknown.  The Hearing Voices movement, Loren Moser, Soteria and Open Dialogue were not part of the students knowledge base or curriculum.  Having important figures, programs and research ignored and absent in the education of mental health professionals keeps us stuck and continuing to rely on ineffective harmful interventions.  However what is encouraging to me is the interest shown by students when exposed to the hope and possibilities contained in critiques of mainstream models of mental illness.