‘Is misused neuroscience defining early years and child protection policy?’ Zoe Williams, Guardian 26 April 2014

Zoe Williams article: ‘Is misused neuroscience defining early years and child protection policy?‘ in The Guardian 26 April 2014.

Child undergoing MRI brain scan

We are now used to seeing images of areas of the brain ‘lighting up’ on an MRI ­scanner – but what if MRI scans tell us much less than we think?


Neuroscience is huge in early years policy. This week, in what’s been characterised as the largest shake-up of family law in a generation, the 26-week time limit for adoption proceedings has come into force, much of it justified by the now-or-never urgency of this set of beliefs, that the first three years (or sometimes first 18 months) hardwire a baby’s brain, either give it or deny it the capacity for a full life. This is the engine of what is known as the First Three Years movement, which has transfixed politicians from across the spectrum. Allen and Duncan Smith’s report opened with an illustration of the “normal child’s” large brain and the shrivelled, walnut brain of the neglected child.”

“The child protection changes are the most extreme end of the policy shaped by neurosciences, but it’s visible across all early-years policy; it can justify the removal of children who have been exposed to domestic violence or even children who may be hypothetically exposed, the mother having been abused before.”

“Here’s the thing: what if it’s over-baked? What if the claims made for neuroscience are so extreme that most neuroscientists would disown them? What if the constant references to “brain scans of neglected children” actually just meant one brain scan, from one highly contested study?”

Read complete article


Coercing Other People

Mental Health Cop

soapbox Policing and mental health services have many things in common (as well as some potentially insurmountable differences) but I want to consider one issue that is arguably the most controversial aspect: they are each systems of social control which involve the coercion of other people, by the threat of and the use of physical force. It is when force is being considered, threatened and used that we see these social infrastructures at their most controversial and we have noted for decades the tragic outcomes from restraint related deaths in both our police and health services. We have also come to learn how the misapplication of force can erode trust and confidence in these institutions, both in terms of affecting towards whom force was deployed and the confidence that the general public have arising from that.

Using force directly usually does one of two things: it hurts (or kills) people and…

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clinical psychology in Scotland – handmaidens of psychiatry?

It seems to me that clinical psychology in Scotland does the bidding of psychiatry.  Is tied to the apron strings.  Has embraced the labels and constraints of the mental illness mantra.  And cannot break free for fear of the unknown.  Or of being consigned to oblivion, having no identity except for being under the authority of its master.

How then can their talking therapies do the real business of helping a person find release when they are bound by the same constraints?  Are they not just colluding with an oppressive system to keep the converts quiet and under control?

Is it the label “clinical” that ties them in to a system-centred way of thinking rather than a person-centred way of acting?  Two years ago our request for CBT was ignored and mindfulness given.  Our agency was disregarded and our voices not listened to.  You might describe it as being silenced. 

What use therapists who are not putting their clients and patients first?  But maybe a clinical psychologist is not a therapist first and foremost.  Maybe they are clinical team members before anything else.  Their loyalty lies with the doctor, the psychiatrist, the clinical lead in the health board area.

And this loyalty will likely translate into psychiatric system thinking.  Deciding what is best for a patient, regardless of what the patient wants.  Reading the psychiatric notes and taking what’s written as gospel truth.  Believing the opinions of clinical staff before the voices and stories of the patients and carers.  

That’s been my family’s experience over many years.  Slanderous opinions written as fact then believed by clinical psychologists, passed on to their trainees.  Reputations destroyed by the stroke of a pen.  Stories unheard and voices silenced.

What then can universities do to shift the perspective of practising clinical psychologists in health board areas who are handmaidens of psychiatry?  Are they prepared to do anything or are they happy with the status quo, with psychiatric labelling, declarations of incapacity and badmouthing of character, based on nothing more than psychiatric opinion?

If they’re not up for improving the situation for patients and carers, for providing person-centred talking therapies and for meaningfully involving people with lived experience in their training of clinical psychologists then what is the point of their endeavours?  It’s just another tokenistic, tick-box exercise in the scheme of things.

Nothing to be proud of.


it’s all in the detail? not in SPSP-MH patient safety wise where I live

Just got sent this (meant to be) 2 page information leaflet from SPSP-MH – Scottish patient safety programme in mental health – for carers, patients, services users, called ‘Safety First – It’s all in the detail’, which has no detail:

What is the point of writing a leaflet for folk like me that has nothing of real detail in it?

Here’s my Email just sent to Dr David Hall, SPSP-MH lead and his colleagues from HIS – healthcare Improvement Scotland – Johnathan McLennan et al, copied to NHS Fife mental health leads Graham Monteith et al, asking for more detail:

To be continued …



James Davies author of ‘Cracked’ interviewed in Psychiatric Bulletin

Psychiatric Bulletin, Perspectives, Profile: James Davies (author of Cracked) interviewed by Neil Armstrong:


James Davies

Your recent book, Cracked, has provoked a lot of interest and comment. For those who haven’t read it, how would you summarise the argument? 

In a nutshell, I argue that psychiatry over the past 40 years, under the dominance of the medical or ‘technological’ model, has done a lot of harm in the name of helping vulnerable people. Not intentionally, I hasten to add, but as an outcome of taking the medical model too far. Your readers will be familiar with the arguments: psychiatry has medicalised more and more natural, albeit painful, responses to the difficulties of living; it has become wedded to medications of questionable value (for many people) and whose long-term effects are still uncertain; it has allowed itself to be compromised by pharmaceutical ties; it has stigmatised people through labels and has sold itself as closer to the rest of medicine than it is. All this has led to a situation in which the integrity and efficacy of the profession is now under serious scrutiny.

What led you to write the book?cracked-james-davies1

My experience of working with people in the NHS who had been adversely affected by psychiatric diagnoses and drugs that were, in my view, often entirely unnecessary. It takes relatively little time to assign a descriptive label, but it takes many months to really understand a person and why they suffer. Yet most psychiatrists have little time for the latter, which is why I’d so often encounter understandable human experience, even necessary experience, being medicalised and medicated to the detriment of the patient. In many cases the diagnoses were leading to little other than the illusion of understanding, for doctors, and stigma and selfstigma for patients. The medications themselves, although helpful for some of the more severely distressed in the short term, ended up confusing us all: what experience was drug induced and what the product of the ‘person’ or the ‘condition’? After some time nobody would really know any more, patient, psychologist or doctor.

Read the complete article

my comment on seemenow Judith Robertson’s blog post

Learning from social reporting at #seeme14 by Judith Robertson, seemenow programme director

“Judith thanks for giving your take on the SeeMe event from the perspective of the overseer.

You mention voices of dissent, I would rather describe them as critical voices, as dissent means not commonly or “officially” held but I think critical voices at the event were more than what we heard in tweets, blogs and officially. As an activist and campaigner I tend to hear the critical opinions because people feel safe in saying it to me. In fact I got an Email from a colleague, a worker at the event, who said that very same thing. That although they didn’t agree what everything I said they appreciated that we could have a conversation, agree to differ and they would be safe in my company.

I want to commend you in your role at the event where I did think you were an overseer, keeping an eye on what was going on and supporting your staff if/when they needed it. I witnessed this and was impressed. I also noticed that you were listening and open to learning. That you didn’t have to be the centre of attention or the loudest voice, despite being the new lead in seeme. I do like to see servant leadership, it’s getting to be a rarer quality these days.

I am hopeful of positive change in the new anti-stigma campaign in Scotland and for the voices of people with lived experience to become more meaningfully involved in mental health matters. To have equal places at the table and to be held in as much high regard as the biggest paid worker. Maybe even more so. I’ve mostly worked with volunteers over the years since 1980 and getting into community development, and often been a volunteer myself. Volunteering was a major part of my recovery from mental illness in 2003/4.

So I wish you all the best Judith in your emerging role with seemenow, or whatever it it going to be named, and I hope you enjoy the ride. Chrys”


Learning from social reporting at #seeme14

See Me Now

see me Programme Director Judith Robertson reflects on the impact of the social reporting and social media work at last weeks event:


As the dust begins to settle on #seeme14 at Dunblane Hydro, we have begun to analyse and reflect on our social media activity. From my perspective I would like to thank everyone who contributed online and helped build wider engagement with see me.

This event was the first time see me has attempted to reach out to people online and we were keen to see what support and interest there was for online engagement. From the number of tweets, retweets and blogs it’s clear that there is a big appetite for engagement by people involved with the programme and with people not present at the event.

Over the period from 31st March to today, close to 1500 tweets were sent using the #see me14 hashtag. They came from…

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revealing yourself

I wanted to say a few words about the difficulty in Scotland’s mental health world of being the person that you are and revealing this to others.  For me it’s easier to be myself and to be congruent.  Especially if it’s about human rights abuse in psychiatric settings.  I can do no other than speak out about it.  Especially if it’s about me and mine.

I’ve noticed at mental health meetings and events that people with lived experience are in the habit of playing a part, and noticed this recently at the #seeme14 event in Dunblane.  Where on one occasion it was like a scene out of a Shakespeare play with a king and queen in residence.  Acting out royally.  I made a sharp exit so as not to spoil their performance.  I’d seen it many times before.

The reasons for people hiding their true selves I think will be many.  Firstly, and I suspect mainly, for protection.  So that others won’t attack them for expressing their opinions which may be unpopular or too honest.  (how can you be too honest? I don’t know as I prefer honesty)

So when I came into the mental health world in 2008, to be “meaningfully involved”, I came in without a mask and not playing a part, just being myself.  Before too long people wanted me to hide my true self, conform, play a part, just like them.  They said I was “scary”.  As a community worker of nearly 30yrs, in many settings, I’d not heard that said to my face before.  It was puzzling.

I’m non-conformist, it’s why I survived psychiatry, made a complete recovery, and there’s no way I was going back into the box, no matter how much they tried to make me fit in.  So I got excluded, pushed out.  Still I wouldn’t conform.  Why should I?  That wouldn’t be me. 

If you’re in the habit of playing a part and hiding stuff then it’s likely to be very difficult to start revealing yourself to all and sundry.  Easier to be the real you with a chosen few confidantes and wear the mask in public.  However I’m one of those folk who can’t resist looking behind it or even yanking it off.  To get to the real person underneath.

It’s the child in me that enjoys the game and the adult in me that appreciates a whodunnit, a mystery to be solved.  What’s going on, why did they do that, who is the real person behind the mask?  Or as my 5yr old granddaughter puts it, who are the goodies and the baddies?

Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there’s doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

Words and Music by: Malvina Reynolds


alligators, swamps and #humanrights at #seeme14

Prof Alan Miller, Scottish Human Rights Commission, spoke on Thursday at the #seeme14 re-founding anti-stigma campaign event on the “human rights based approach”.

[thanks to David for retelling this to me on the Friday, I hope it’s an accurate representation of his words]

Comment and question to Prof Miller:

“Trying to get hold of human rights is like trying to get a grip of a handful of steam.

On the North Sea I worked with Louisiana oil men who used to say: ‘When you’re up to your ass in alligators it isn’t the time to be draining the swamp’ .

Why is it so difficult in today’s Scotland when having experience of mental illness to access your human rights?

I don’t remember the question being answered although I do remember Prof Miller saying something about “capacity”: