The Philosophy of Mental Illness at LSE

Forum for European Philosophy Consilience panel discussion. Date: Tuesday 7 May 2013

Venue: The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House.


Speakers: Professor Matthew Broome, Dr Bonnie Evans, Professor Tim Thornton.  Chair: Dr Kristina Musholt

How should we think of mental disorders?
Can psychiatry be reduced to neuroscience, or is there something irreducibly mental in mental illness?

Matthew Broome is associate clinical professor of psychiatry and consultant psychiatrist in early intervention in the Division of Mental Health and Wellbeing at the University of Warwick Medical School.

Bonnie Evans is a researcher in the Centre for the Humanities and Health at King’s College London.

Tim Thornton is professor of philosophy and mental health at the University of Central Lancashire.

Suggested hashtag for this event for Twitter users: #LSEphilosophy

For me this event raised more questions than answers.

Professor Tim Thornton set the stage and introduced The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry which is the most comprehensive reference resource for this area ever published. (100 years of research)

Philosophy has much to offer psychiatry, not least regarding ethical issues, but also issues regarding the mind, identity, values, and volition. This has become only more important as we have witnessed the growth and power of the pharmaceutical industry, accompanied by developments in the neurosciences. However, too few practicing psychiatrists are familiar with the literature in this area.

He spoke of a general approach vs person centered approach, the need to balance the thin line between the pathology of illness, that mental healthcare carries contentious issues of coercion and compulsion and the challenge of getting all international views heard.

Mental health issues are deeply philosophical

‘Psychiatrists are interested in what should be a taxonomy of mental illness – they are searching for a paradigm shift asking conceptual questions which philosophers would provide some of the answers.’

‘evidence based medicine is essentially a general broad approach of gathering good quality evidence; psychiatry is simpler, person specific there is a need to balance the two virtues (breadth and person specific) this is an empirical and conceptual challenge.’

Dr Bonnie Evans then gave a presentation about the concept of autism, and how it has changed over the years. In 1961 the Ministry of health wanted to find out how many children has mental disorders and Bonnie presented the then (crude) classifications (behaviors and characteristics) that were used with a picture of a mental hospital in 1957 with the caption: ‘imbeciles with mental deficiency.’  Autism was later defined as ‘Lack of contact with reality’ citing the 1964 work of Victor Lotter she went on to say 1970’s hospitals closing down coincided with the rise in educational classifications of autism and the rise in speech therapists and Bonnie mentioned the Autism spectrum, touching briefly on the higher functioning of Aspergers ….

I find myself wanting to connect Bonnie with  Nadine Honeybone Founder of The Autism Directory which is a charitable organisation based in the UK. It aims to pull together useful resources and information concerning autism in the UK, and signpost it from the directory, to help autism families get the help they need.

Dr Matthew Broome described the attitudes and bias in psychiatry and posed the question ‘why shouldn’t medicine encapsulate psychiatry?’

His research interests include the prodrome of psychosis, functional and structural neuroimaging, cognitive mechanisms in delusion formation, psychopathology, and the philosophy of psychiatry and of cognitive neuroscience. Clinical interests include prodromal, early, and refractory psychotic illness, neuropsychiatry, and student mental health.

Q: Colorblindness A: ‘who is to say whether this or in fact deafness is a disorder?’ (paraphrase Professor Tim)

I posed the following Question: Why is it that people of your caliber are not behind NLP?  

‘Mind body spirit is about the whole person that is what I am missing from this debate. Robert Holden, the Happiness project his new book is about loveability, you (Matthew) mention the pain pleasure principle, once somebody does (practices) mindfulness, or kindness growth and contribution (their mental health challenges are eased) often they have solved a lot of their problems. The NHS IAPT programme is committed to CBT – I know a lot of people in the Personal Development world who practice phobia cures, Milton Erikson, NLP, NAC is actually in my experience getting better results. I work with people who have criminality caused by mental health. Serious mental illness is not well funded.

Matthew replied its not widely part of the curriculum therefore not experienced it. He agreed CBT is the NHS commitment (evidence based)

Notes: Neuro-Associative Conditioning or NAC was developed by Anthony Robbins, author of “Unlimited Power”, “Awaken the Giant Within” and the “Personal Power” tape series, from the foundations of Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP which was developed by Richard Bandler and Dr. John Grinder in their effort to model communication strategies of effective therapists.  Anthony Robbins taught neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and Ericksonian Hypnosis after training with NLP co-founder John Grinder

NLP is a series of tools and techniques to help a person become more in control of their emotions and behaviour. It is a very cognitive form of therapy and as such it is useful for improving your attitude and perspective.

In the late 1960s Richard Bandler was a computer science undergraduate at the University of California with an interest in psychotherapy.  He noticed how ineffective most therapists were, but noticed that there were a few who got results. These were Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls. He and colleague John Grinder closely studied them, and realised that the supposed “intuition” both used in their work had a structure. From this study of the conscious and unconscious behaviour of the therapist Neuro-Linguistic Programming grew.

Later, Bandler and Grinder studied the hypnotist Milton H Erickson. Combining his approach with that of Satir and Perls produced a highly effective therapeutic model – which was the first fruit of the fledgling Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Hypnotherapy is simply hypnosis but for therapeutic benefits. When you are relaxed in hypnosis the conscious mind “gets out of the way” so it isn’t filtering information quite as much as it usually does. This mean that suggestions about things you know you would like to change or improve (such as stopping smoking) are much more readily accepted.

‎”Mans Mind, Once Stretched To A New Idea, Never Goes Back To Its Original Dimension” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” ~ David Brinkley

My conclusion: Matthew had me thinking about the pain pleasure principle and an excellent article I read from Minesh Bhindi  click here: Why Reading Personal or Spiritual Development Education Can Ruin Your Ability To Create Wealth

For me, Minesh’s wise analysis provides a clear understanding of why it is important to follow your own dream (inside out design of life) then to let go of the outcome.

Paradigm shift: To learn more on the inside out nature of reality review the current work of Jamie Smart and Michael Neill who build on the late Sydney Banks principles. Philosopher and author Sydney Banks has found something so profound that it is dramatically impacting our world. Psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, teachers, police officers, and countless other individuals are experiencing powerful insights and beautiful changes in their lives, simply from reading or hearing his words about the nature of thought.

‘’It’s never the thing that’s the problem, it’s the way you look at the thing.’’

If you give someone a diagnosis they will live that diagnosis as their identity.

Medication has its place and is sometimes essential, although all too often what could have been a short term measure turns into a reliance and another addiction on top of addiction. I believe that medicating for a ‘situation depression’ can be eliminated if you catch people before they get to the ‘black’ depths of not being able to function.

I think the whole person (mind body spirit) treatment is missing from this debate and more joined up collaboration across psychiatry, psychology and philosophy is needed.

My grateful thanks to Matthew Broome for connecting at the end of the event and offering to continue the dialogue.




  • Mark Abrahams
    Posted May 16, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Rose Evans. This is great bit of helpful work.
    We should help people towards the truth of mental order.
    Mental dis-order is simply a misunderstanding of what’s really going on.
    When people begin to see what’s really going on, as we point towards the source, they can naturally self-correct … and they do.
    We all do.
    It’s just that most of us don’t know it. Yet.
    Psychiatry need not be reduced; it can be radically reviewed with the simple Principles guiding the way.
    All science, technology, engineering and maths follow Principles.
    People can, unnecessarily, play around with the idea of the Principles as a science if they want.
    It may add an ‘around-the-houses’ element or factor to the understanding but the Principles are the Principles are the Principles.
    And we ARE the Principles.
    The best way to ‘teach’ or share the Principles is to live the Principles … be the result … be the evidence.
    For me, experiential education (with the Principles threaded in with ‘lessons’) is a great way of helping people, especially children, adolescents and parents, live nicer lives.
    There is nothing irreducibly mental in mental ‘illness’ just as there is nothing irreducibly mental in mental ‘health’. It’s just words … and words can get in the way.
    Let’s not get confused between intellect and intelligence, knowledge and understanding, foolishness and wisdom. They are all simply words. Let’s look beyond the words and feel our thinking as we follow our natural wisdom … linked common sense.
    The Principles are simply metaphor by which people can begin to understand the human experience. Like so much metaphor that has gone before, used by all enlightened people in order to point towards the source, let’s not get too literal. The language of communication is much more than words, FB or Twitter.
    Love And Wellbeing … its L.A.W.

    • Rose Evans
      Posted May 17, 2013 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      Well said Mark Abrahams and thank you for taking the time to comment.
      I agree with you, we ARE the principles, your comments had me think of the quote that is attributed to Gandhi: ‘Be The Change You Want to See in the World’ The quotation seems to have been paraphrased from the following paragraph:
      ‘We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.’
      [From VOL 13, Ch 153, General Knowledge About Health, Page 241, Printed in the Indian Opinion on 9/8/1913 from The Collected Works of M. K. Gandhi, published by The Publications Division, New Delhi, India.]
      I have asked a friend who has extensively studied transpersonal psychotherapy, the transcendent or spiritual aspects of the human experience, to guest blog an article about the mind body spirit connection, the parts that I found were missing from the LSE event.
      I am passionate about natural depression cures and as you point out life self corrects if left alone, I am saddened when I see people live a diagnosis just because a professional labeled them.
      Mark, you have a great sign off phrase: Love And Wellbeing … its L.A.W.
      Here’s to responsibility; to BEing the principles: From Common Sense to Common Practice.
      Love & Smiles Rose x ☆¨¯`♥ ¸.☆¨¯`♥ ¸.☆¨¯`♥

      To elaborate further on NLP I attach a link below
      This interview is a good overview of what NLP is; it explains how NLP helps people to create success the metaphor they use is upgrade mind-set ‘a manual to run the software of the brain’ Create a new ‘map’ of values and beliefs and use NLP to overcoming limiting beliefs. Create lasting change with NLP tools and tactics

  • Ray Haynes
    Posted May 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    I find myself writing my own commentary on previous blogs, and possibly the whole ethos of the Work Stress to Success website, just don’t ask me why!
    I think a little background about myself would help contextualise what I wish to say. I am a former qualified nurse that worked at a very senior level, however, I am also an ex-offender who has been fortunate enough to meet Rose in her other role working in the charity sector.
    I think what possibly triggered me putting fingers to keyboard, was the blog from Mark Abrahams with his continued repeating of the word Principles. Clearly to those “in the know” this is of some importance, but not of high value to the masses without background knowledge. Subsequently his opinion seemed somewhat rambling to me.
    If I were to briefly respond to his blog myself, it would go along the lines of; “Mark, we live in a society where everything and everyone gets labelled, that’s life, get on with it.”
    I would agree that not all labels are appropriate or fair, but our society just loves labels, indeed to many it brings comfort e.g. someone suffering from an unknown illness often finds comfort when their doctor can give their illness a name, the diagnosis brings comfort.
    My experience of working with Rose has been wonderful, despite the fact that we communicate in very different, almost opposing manners. In my humble opinion, Rose is very New Age with lots of airy fairy hippy speak, where I prefer plain talking and scientific evidence and facts. Don’t get me wrong, or misquote me here, she is very highly qualified and very much knows what she is talking about, but my little brain doesn’t operate in the same world as hers.
    An example may be the headline from another blog, “Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn here.”. The blog continues with “The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts.”, what my head hears when reading this is “La la la la la, la la la, hippy speak, la la la.” Now, my version of this would read a little differently e.g. “We are born with love, without doubts or fears. We learn love is not easy and requires work, or it fails. We learn fear to protect ourselves, fear is good, but we must not allow it to control our lives.”
    I think what I’m trying to say, is that Rose may bring a message to you in manner that you’re less comfortable with, but she brings the message with the very best of intentions.
    As someone that is a natural doubting Thomas, I can assure you that Rose will bring more positive thinking into your world. She has a quote for every occasion and situation, I have yet to see her stuck for words! If I were only cynical, I would perceive the type of service she provides as nothing but airy fairy clap trap, but look just beneath the surface and you will find she is actually providing each individual find answers they are looking for to help with their present and their future.
    As a plain speaking, give it to me straight kind of man, I couldn’t recommend her services highly enough.

    • Rose Evans
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Thank you for taking the time to comment Ray and for the marvelous compliments you pay me. Given that my web site is all about work life BALANCE I compliment you for your plain speaking and especially for bringing a balanced perspective when we are delivering training, it is my aim to simplify the many training distinctions I use, e.g. when I use words like polarity I see people glazing over! It is a skill to simplify the complex. I have subscribed to a series of presentation tips written by Simon Raybould

      Tip No. 4 with THANKS to

      Do not simplify what you say, just how you say it – presenting simply isn’t the same as dumbing down.

      Einstein said that everything should be made as simple as possible – but no simpler. There’s truth in that – the more simple you make it the more people will ‘get’ it (but if you over-simplify you’ll just patronise and annoy people). The trick, of course, lies in finding the balance between the two.

      But don’t get the idea that explaining things simply means you have to explain simple things. The more complicated your ideas, the more work you need to put in to finding a way of explaining them that works for your audience. Try analogies and examples if necessary, or a carefully designed graphic.

  • Rosie
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    We all have 3 free spiritual gifts
    1. Dreams
    2. Meditation
    3. Prayer

    “Spiritual activities lead to a more developed brain.” When we do modern energy work and start working with high level concepts, get together with others and try to help them, do our personal development, we actually do more than “the religious types” referenced in the article below


    Sheila M. Elred writes in Discovery Magazine that a recent study has found that people at risk of depression were much less vulnerable if they identified as religious. Brain MRIs revealed that religious participants had thicker brain cortices than those who weren’t as religious.

    ‘One of the worst killers of brain cells is stress,’ says Dr. Majid Fotuhi. ‘Stress causes high levels of cortisol, and cortisol is toxic to the hippocampus. One way to reduce stress is through prayer. When you’re praying and in the zone you feel a peace of mind and tranquility.’

    The reports concluded that a thicker cortex associated with a high importance of religion or spirituality may confer resilience to the development of depressive illness in individuals at high familial risk for major depression. The social element of attending religious services has also been linked to healthy brains. ‘There’s something magical about socializing,’ says Fotuhi. ‘It releases endorphins in the brain. It’s hard to know whether it’s through religion or a gathering of friends, but it improves brain health in the long term.'”

    “Listening to sermons and reading religious works like the Bible may also invoke a cognitive benefit. “You’re exercising your higher cortical function, thinking about complex concepts that require some imagination,” says Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University and a professor of psychiatry.

    According to Koenig the benefits of devout religious practice, particularly involvement in a faith community and religious commitment, are that people cope better.

    “In general, they cope with stress better, they experience greater well-being because they have more hope, they’re more optimistic, they experience less depression, less anxiety, and they commit suicide less often. They don’t drink alcohol as much, they don’t use drugs as much, they don’t smoke cigarettes as much, and they have healthier lifestyles. They have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, probably better cardiovascular functioning, and probably a healthier hormonal environment physiologically—particularly with respect to cortisol and adrenaline And they live longer.”

    So where does that leave non-believers? “Out of luck, I guess,” Koenig jokes. “Actually, I would suspect that people doing the types of things like religious people do — socializing, doing similarly complex cognitive tasks, would have similar benefits. But it is interesting that religion provides that whole package of things that people can adopt and pursue over time.” Dr Dan Blazer says the study is very interesting but is still exploratory and that spirituality may be a marker of something else, such as socioeconomic status. “It’s hard to study these things,” concludes Fotuhi.

    “It’s why research has stayed away from them. But there does seem to be a strong link between #spirituality and better #brain health.””

  • hospitalkhoj
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    This is generally well thought-out a progressive inclination because when patients spend extended periods in top mental hospitals in India they have a propensity to become overly dependent and lose interest in taking care of them.

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