Art of Psychiatry Society

Speaker meeting: Dr James Whitehead “Creativity and madness – debunking the myth?” April 8 2014
March 27, 2014, 8:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


Speaker meeting: Dr James Whitehead “Creativity and madness – debunking the myth?”

Tuesday 8th April 2014 6pm Institute of Psychiatry Robin Murray lecture theatre A

The idea that creativity is linked to mental illness has long been ‘one of the characteristic notions of our culture’, as the American literary critic Lionel Trilling wrote in 1945. It has informed, among many other things, popular representations and stereotypes of artistic or literary ‘genius’, whether as personality or as practice, a range of polemics about modern art, decadence, and the avant-garde, the formation of the idea of outsider art, and psychoanalytic readings of culture.

But when, how, and why did this idea become so popular and widespread? In this talk Dr Whitehead will discuss the ways in which it was popularized or stereotyped in the nineteenth century, with particular reference to the image of the ‘mad poet’, and examine the extent to which we might think of it as a romantic (or Romantic) myth.

James Whitehead is currently Wellcome Research Fellow in the English department at King’s College London, attached to the interdisciplinary Centre for the Humanities and Health. His first book examines nineteenth-century writing (including poetry, journalism, criticism, biographical writing, medical and psychiatric literature) which linked poetry and poets to madness. It is under review for publication with Oxford University Press as Madness and the Romantic Poet. Whitehead’s current research project moves from literary mythologies surrounding madness to the realities (and unrealities) of its experience, and examines the history of autobiographical writing about mental illness

We look forward to seeing you there!

This is an open meeting and all are welcome.  As usual there will be snacks and wine

Review: The man whose mind exploded
March 9, 2014, 7:41 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized



The Man Whose Mind Exploded documentary film by Toby Amies

Review by Greg Neate

With a handheld camera and sometimes haphazard footage, this part gonzo documentary, part affectionate tribute sees first-time director, Toby Amies, investigate the final years of a determinedly individualistic yet vulnerable man, living alone on a Brighton council estate.

While Drako Oho Zarhazar’s colourful past contains enough source material for its own feature length film, it’s his cognitive impairment and declining health that draws the detective filmmaker into acting beyond being his champion. Breathlessness and neglected leg sores seduce Amies into becoming a carer for his friend, in as much as friendship’s possible with someone whose amnesia means he can’t recall who this frequent, camera-toting visitor is.

That’s not to say that ‘Drak’ lacks for an identity, as is evident from his tattooed and pierced physique that fills the screen. For this septuagenarian, “the world is my stage, so appearance is very important”; a personal assertion that would be widely endorsed by all who ever shared a bus journey with this Daliesque moustachioed, caped and croc wearing pensioner.

Still even his appearance only hints at what’s inside his cluttered, one bedroom flat where self-penned notes, old letters and eye-catching, male pornography dangle on countless strings creating a hectic, projected installation of his mind. With these hanging threads, Drak remains connected to his past, whilst Amies tries to see through them to understand how his film’s ‘star’ can live independently amongst increasing disorder but without apparent doubt.

“Trust. Absolute. Unconditional.” declares Drak, a motto which is permanently inked on his arm and which he adopted whilst recovering from his second life-threatening brain injury. It’s one of many repeated phrases and recollections that prevent him from becoming a stranger to his past, despite insisting that he lives “completely in the now”.

Interviews with his sister and nephew demonstrate that the former dancer and interior designer can relate meaningfully with those from his pre-injury past. His sister observes that despite being changed in character after his last coma, the ‘damaged’ Drak is more likeable, if still as irresponsible and hedonistic in spirit as ever.

As interesting as The Man Whose Mind Exploded makes as a case study, the film goes further by revealing the relationship between the two men, which tests each other’s tolerance. The ever stubborn subject faces down further do-gooder interference, the observer struggles with how far to intervene whilst faced with sheer bloody mindedness. This demonstration of exasperated but respectful caring for an individual’s autonomy and well-being is an unexpected outcome and it’s likely that no one would have been more surprised than this lifelong pleasure seeker.

However, with regards to whether either party is being exploited, the honours are often hilariously shared. “Do you think its fair for me to film stuff” asks Amies “when I know you’ve got brain damage?” “Yes” Drak replies instantly while plucking at his own nipples pleasurably, “because I enjoy being used!”

On the nearby pebbled, naturist beach, their mutual trust is most movingly displayed when filmmaker leaves his camera to appear cheekily in frame and assist his elder, disrobed friend with rising to his feet.

The Man Whose Mind Exploded is being screened at the British Film Institute, London as part of BFI Flare, the London LGBT Film Festival. Tickets are now on sale.  Mar 26 6:20 PM, Mar 29 6:40 PM, Mar 30 8:40 PM

Film website

Link to trailer

Link to facebook page

Review of secure by Audrey Gillan
February 2, 2014, 9:59 pm
Filed under: Radio


‘Secure’ by Audrey Gillan

Radio 4 – Afternoon Drama

Lightning fast dialogue and inspired by recent events, this Radio 4 drama delivers an imaginative and believable back story that engages right up to its gut wrenching end.

Unmistakably set in playwright Audrey Gillan’s native Glasgow, the troubles of two teenage girls in care maybe at the extreme end of experience, yet their concerns are common to many coming of age within a climate of individualism and instant interaction. What could be a voyeuristic re-enactment has universal themes, where those who are vulnerable and disenfranchised carry unquenchable feelings of hopelessness and loss.

“I want you to lock me up! I need to be safe!” shouts the middle class and bullied Siobhain though an intercom as she seeks entry from ‘the Open’ side of the care home into ‘Secure’; a place where “you’re locked up, but you feel protected”. All too quickly, her continual longing leads her and troubled roommate, Kerry, on a fateful journey to view the city lights.




Rachel Cooper’s Psychiatry and Philosophy of Science discussion by Hopkins branch of Maudsley-Johns Hopkins Reading the Mind Book Group
January 30, 2014, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

rachel cooper

By Nicole Leistikow

Discussion of Rachel Cooper’s Psychiatry and Philosophy of Science made for a cozy chat on a wintry December 5th evening, accompanied by pasta and pinot noir. Cooper’s straightforward prose and promptly terminated sentences came as a relief after the group had grappled with Thomas Szasz a few months before. It didn’t hurt that she takes on Szasz with refreshing clarity: “Szasz claims that mental illness is a myth, but he is wrong about this.” She goes on to explain that when the best explanation for a behavior is “sub-personal,” meaning biological and physiological in origin, then that behavior can be thought of as a symptom of a mental illness rather than a purposeful action. She was rather preaching to the choir in this setting, as all around the table, from attending to intern, had spent recent time on the inpatient wards and had difficulty viewing acute exacerbations of psychosis as anything intentional.

On the topic of psychosis, the discussion leader tried to interest the group in the question of whether psychiatrists should take LSD to better understand this phenomenon from the inside, an actual 1956 experiment that Cooper describes, but the chocolate truffles must have been too satisfying, because no one would make the argument that further chemical stimulation was needed. This did spur conversation on the role of empathy in treatment, and whether doctors who are simple prescribers need any warmth at all to do their job. The point was made that whether writing scripts for anti-psychotics or anti-hypertensives, physician’s acting with empathy can impact patient buy-in and adherence.

From there, the question turned to dualism and reductionism, and whether practitioners of the latter are less empathic, as people. Cooper seems to be trying to make peace between the various factions, concluding that “dualism is compatible with all neuroscientific findings” and that most reductionists can still agree that mental states are something more than brain states. The Churchlands’ views on eliminative materialism were discussed and a 2007 New Yorker was produced along with a delightful imagined conversation of Paul and Patricia Churchland after a long day of work attributing their mental states purely to neurotransmitter flux. The evening ended early with the call of toddlers for some and “tea” for others, as the group sallied forth into the snowy chill to take up their various domestic and social responsibilities, encouraged by the conclusion that if psychiatry is not purely a science, it is a practical discipline with enough rigor to be analyzed and made clearer by the likes of Rachel Cooper.


Speaker meeting: 18 February 2014 Victoria Tischler on ‘Art in the asylum’
January 30, 2014, 9:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


Art of Psychiatry speaker meeting as part of the Edward Adamson Festival

Dr Victoria Tischler on “Art in the asylum”

Tuesday 18 February 6pm Institute of Psychiatry Seminar room 1

Victoria Tischler is Associate Professor in Behavioural Sciences, School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham and curator of the recent exhibition “Art in the Asylum”. She joins us to talk about the exhibition which examined the evolution of artistic activity in British psychiatric institutions from the early 1800s to the 1970s and the reception of asylum art into mainstream artistic circles. This time period saw the shift from invasive treatments of mental disorders to more humane regimes in which creativity played a significant role.

This event is part of the Edward Adamson Festival, which is celebrating the life and work of Edward Adamson (1911-1996).  Adamson was a visionary pioneer of art as therapy and the founder of the Adamson Collection. The festival programme is available at

This is a public meeting and all are welcome.  Wine and snacks provided.


Link to short film about exhibition:
Interview with Victoria on the AoP blog:
Art at the Institute:

twitter: @artofpsychiatry

Information on finding the Institute of Psychiatry:

Details about the IoP are found on this page

Institute of Psychiatry,
King’s College London
16 De Crespigny Park
London SE5 8AF

The Denmark Hill Station serves Overground and national rail trains.  The nearest underground station is Elephant and Castle or Oval.

Seminar Room on is next to the main door when entering the De Crespigny Park entrance.

January 14 2014: Helpless Compassion’: From Samuel Beckett’s ‘Not I’ to the Francis Report
December 21, 2013, 3:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sam Beckett

Beckett participatory workshop – ‘Helpless Compassion’: From Samuel Beckett’s ‘Not I’ to the Francis Report

Seminar Room 1 Institute of Psychiatry Tuesday 14 January 2014 start 6pm (end approx 7.30pm)

**Please note that we can only accommodate a maximum of 25 participants at this workshop.  Please sign up by emailing***

Workshop facilitator: Jonathan Heron (IATL Teaching Fellow, University of Warwick / Artistic Director, Fail Better Productions.)
Discussion chair: Dr Elizabeth Barry (Associate Professor in English University of Warwick)

Please join us to participate in a workshop on Samuel Beckett’s Not I (1973) which will explore Beckett’s play in performance and reflect on the insights it provides into concepts of mental disorder, and doctor-patient interactions.

This workshop evolved from collaboration between scholars and clinicians during the Beckett and Brain Science project (Arts and Humanities Research Council, 2012).  It demonstrates activities adapted from the performing arts and has been used in medical education for consultant psychiatrists and multi-professional teams (Health Education Kent, Surrey and Sussex, 2013).

Following the workshop, Jonathan Heron will be interviewed by the AHRC Project Investigator, Dr Elizabeth Barry about their collaborative work in the Medical Humanities.

More information about previous workshops and the Beckett and Brain science project can be found at:

July 2013 book: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz
November 26, 2013, 8:51 pm
Filed under: Books, Reading the Mind


July 2013 book: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

All grades of psychiatrist were round the table on July 9th, despite the sizzling heat outside.  For some, Grosz’s work was a distillation of 25 years’ therapy into an honest, simple tome: “What I’m describing here isn’t a magical process,” says Grosz of psychotherapy, “It’s something that is a part of our everyday lives – we tap, we listen”. Nicely put. And yet, for others round the table, there was something unnatural about this tapping.

“Which genre does it belong to?”, one member cried, holding aloft a stick of satay chicken. A forensic consultant sipped his orange juice and replied, “these are a series of case-studies”.  This suggestion did not hold under scrutiny. The histories are mere pages long, some even lacking patients. For example, the chapter ‘Going Back’ concerns his odd gift to his father: a holiday to Eastern Europe, and thus to a childhood marred by Nazism. Even in the more patient-focused chapters, things seem rather well-wrapped for clinical realities.  The first, ‘How we can be possessed by a story that cannot be told’, is about a mendacious patient who fakes his own suicide to upset Grosz. But then the ending is more Grimm than grim: he marries, settles – lives happily ever after. Some of us loved the strong presence of the therapist’s own life and humanity, loved also the subtle, jargon-free exploration of dreams. Others yearned for more warts, more confusion, and more obvious use of psychological technique. Orange juice was exchanged for glasses of viticulture from the warm South, as we approached something like a conclusion.

For all their allure, we agreed that there is a tension in Grosz’s tales, between clarified fact and coddled artifice. This is alluded to in the fly-notes, which describes the cases as “aphoristic”, an original thought expressed in memorable form. None other than Hippocrates was the originator of the aphorism, with his famous maxim on medicine: ars longa, vita brevis (the life so short, the art so long to learn). Fairy tales are also a kind of aphorism. And thus with Grosz: his studies are so short, the point they make is so clear, so elegantly put across, that some readers perceived hints of the artificial behind the seeming reality of his tales.  Does this too-neat packaging of clinical truths matter? Perhaps not. Grosz is clear about his project, quoting Isak Dinesen who said: “Any suffering can be borne if it is put into a narrative.” He has done just this – indeed, done it beautifully with each case-tale. More than artful, perhaps even bordering on Art itself, these histories drew excited comparisons from works of poetry to the musical studies of Bartok. In the final analysis, we raised our collective glasses to Grosz, only to find our glasses empty. Well, such is life – and having examined it thoroughly, we closed our books.

Ben Robinson


September 2013 book: The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Sasz

Maria Walsh author of ‘Art and Psychoanalysis’ rescheduled to November 12 2013 6pm
October 15, 2013, 2:35 pm
Filed under: Art, Books

book cover

(This meeting is rescheduled from 24 September)

Tuesday 12 November 2013 6pm Institute of Psychiatry Seminar room 6

Speaker meeting: Maria Walsh talks about her book Art and Psychoanalysis

In Art and Psychoanalysis Maria Walsh investigates how psychoanalysis has been an invaluable resource for artists, art critics and historians throughout the twentieth century.  Artists as varied as Max Ernst, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman and Marina Abramovic can be examined with the benefit of psychoanalytic thinking, and contemporary critics use psychoanalytic concepts as tools to understand how meaning operates.    Walsh’s argument is that psychoanalysis, like art, is a cultural discourse about the mind in which the authority of discourse itself can be undermined, provoking ambiguity and uncertainty and destabilising identity.


This is a public meeting, all are welcome.

Cancelled Maria Walsh 24 September 2013
September 19, 2013, 7:08 am
Filed under: Art

book cover

Unfortunately our 24 September meeting with Maria Walsh is cancelled.  We are rescheduling for later in the year.

Our apologies for any inconvenience.

Speaker meeting: Dr David O’Flynn chair of Adamson Collection Trust 22nd October IoP 6pm
September 4, 2013, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Art

“Self portrait”: name and date currently unknown (behind frame); poster paint on paper. Courtesy of Adamson Collection Trust

Have you ever wondered about the stories behind the sculptures you can encounter by Nelson ward at Lambeth Hospital?

They are part of over 5000 works of art collected by the British artist Edward Adamson (1911-1996) during his years at Netherne Hospital, where he pioneered the use of art as therapy. The Adamson Collection was on display and in storage at Lambeth Hospital from 1997 until 2012, when most of the 4500 drawings and paintings were relocated to the Wellcome Library. The art work was initially produced in a research studio as a form of diagnosis and treatment at Netherne in the early 40s, with its content scrutinised by treating psychiatrists: particularly Eric Cunningham Dax and Francis Guttman. Adamson then developed his thinking further and regarded that the artistic self-expression itself was healing. His studio became a safe and creative space for those with restricted freedom of movement.

The Art of Psychiatry Society is pleased to announce that Dr David O’Flynn, consultant psychiatrist at SLaM and chair of Adamson Collection Trust, will be joining us on 22nd October presenting a talk titled “The Adamson Collection: the Art of Healing”. The meeting will take place in the Adamson Room at the Maudsley Learning Centre.

All are welcome.
For more information, please visit



Wellcome Collection



”Woman and Child’: Gwyneth Rowlands; date unknown; Indian ink, watercolour and varnish on flint. Courtesy of Adamson Collection Trust.



Portrait of Edward Adamson, with kind permission of John Timlin