Art of Psychiatry Society

The Art of Psychiatry conference
March 8, 2011, 11:10 am
Filed under: Other

By Dr Penny Brown

It all started with a bomb scare… Outside the conference venue (The Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch)


You can download two of the conference’s sessions from here – Darian Leader’s afternoon keynote speech is well worth a listen

This report initially featured in the London Division December newsletter.


On an overcast autumnal day in central London, three hundred and fifty psychiatry trainees defied tube strikes and bomb scares to attend the third Annual London Psychiatry Trainee Conference. Joined by a host of names from literature, art, stage and screen, the trainees enjoyed a wide variety of entertaining and thought-provoking sessions on ‘The Art of Psychiatry’.

The conference has become an annual fixture since 2008 and Dr Stephen Ginn, East London ST4 in General Adult Psychiatry, took on the challenge of organising the 2010 meeting. He chose to focus the theme on psychiatry and the arts, explaining his motivation as follows:

‘Many psychiatrists, including trainees, have a strong interest in the creative arts and this informs their practice.  Both psychiatrists and creative artists are concerned with exploring human behaviour and motivation, and come to the subject of the mental disorder from different viewpoints and with different narratives. For instance the language creative artists and psychiatrists use to record or express psychopathology is totally different but equally valid. I have a strong belief that we have much to learn from one another and my motivation for making this year’s London trainee conference about the shared elements between psychiatry and the arts was to explore this space and to give trainees an opportunity to examine their practice from alternative viewpoints.’

Stephen and his organising committee planned a day of lectures and workshops, and in addition to inviting artists and psychiatrists from a number of disciplines, trainees were also encouraged to present their own work. The committee were overwhelmed with proposals of trainee presentations on wide-ranging topics, from studies of ‘Outsider Art’ to psychodynamic interpretations of the baptism scene from ‘There Will be Blood‘.

On the day of the conference, the Cumberland Hotel, with a lobby filled with contemporary art, set the scene for what was to come. On display at the entrance to the conference area was an exhibition of ‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists‘. This award-winning collaboration between artist Gemma Anderson and forensic psychiatrist Dr Tim McInerny is a series of portraits of psychiatrists and their patients, exploring how patients experience mental illness and how this is formulated and treated by the doctor.

“Connor” by Gemma Anderson from ‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists’

After an introduction from Dr Michael Maier, Head of the London Deanery School of Psychiatry, Professor Dinesh Bhugra gave the first keynote lecture on ‘Using films for teaching and cultural competence’. With examples from Hollywood to Bollywood, he demonstrated how film can teach psychiatrists about mental state examination (such as Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of OCD in As Good as it Gets) and psychotherapeutic concepts (counter-transference in Analyze This), as well as cultural sensitivities and prejudice.

Professor Dinesh Bhugra giving the first keynote lecture ‘Using films for teaching and cultural competence’

The enjoyment and good-humour of the delegates was evident even when the following session was delayed due to a combination of bomb scares and stranded pianos, but after an extended coffee break we were treated to a performance of ‘Losing It’, a two-woman show tracing the emotional breakdown of Ruby Wax, through monologue and music, with songs performed by jazz singer Judith Owen whom Wax met while a psychiatric inpatient. Wax’s depictions of her own struggle with bipolar disorder, as well as group therapy in the addictions-riddled world of the Priory, were both amusing and sensitive, and her work in breaking the stigma of mental illness can only be welcomed.

Ruby Wax and Judith Owen perform “Losing It”

The conference was then divided into ten parallel sessions. A team of dramatists and directors discussed theatre and television depictions of psychiatry, and artists explored the role of art in expressing and understanding mental illness. In a workshop on psychiatry and graphic novels, Darryl Cunningham and Philippa Perry gave examples of how graphic novels can provide an accessible but educational medium for discussing mental health issues and battling its associated stigma. Poet Dr Sarah Wardle read from her own work and discussed the benefits to doctors of reading poetry. Author Will Self drew a substantial crowd, despite competing with the delayed lunch, and gave a thought-provoking reading of his latest novel ‘Walking to Hollywood‘, which included surreal stories that raised questions about our daily assumptions. The roles of psychiatry in film and literature were explored, and in discussing psychiatry and music Dr Andrew Johns gave a fascinating talk which included a psychopathy checklist on Wagner’s Siegfried.

Three sessions were led by trainees who discussed their own studies of creative arts and psychiatry as well as experiences working abroad, and opportunities for creativity in teaching psychiatry were demonstrated by the Extreme Psychiatry team.

Will Self discusses Psychiatry and Literature

The afternoon keynote lecture was given by psychoanalyst and author Darian Leader. He spoke about the psychodynamic treatment of psychotic patients using the example of German judge Daniel Schreber, whose memoirs of his own mental illness were later interpreted by Jacques Lacan. Leader went on to join Nell Lyshon, the first female playwright at Shakespeare’s Globe with ‘Bedlam’, Sarah Wardle, Gemma Anderson and Dr Tim McInerny to take part in the final plenary session discussing ‘What can creative artists and psychiatrists teach each other’. Lyshon was accompanied by three poets from Vita Nova, a theatre company providing writing workshops to recovering addicts, who read self-penned poems about their own experiences of mental illness to a captivated audience.

Delegates and members of the plenary panel Dr Tim McInerny, Gemma Anderson, Nell Lyshon and poets from Vita Nova enjoying “Losing It” ealier in the day

The conference ended with a poster prize presentation, won by Dr Paul Wallang (ST6 Forensic Psychiatry, East London) whose poster on “Wittgenstein’s Legacy and Narrative Networks” was perfectly in keeping with the theme. All in all the day was a huge success enjoyed by delegates and speakers alike, as was clearly evident later on in the hotel bar!

2 Comments so far
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This website is exemplary in its validation of the interface between the arts and psychiatry, in terms of how they can inform each other.
I will look forward to being a regular follower and hopefully contributor to this dynamic site.

Comment by Lorraine Nicholson

Cool new blog. Will deffo subscribe.

Comment by Steve

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