University of Birmingham academics launch mental health workshop pack

University of Birmingham researchers running the ground-breaking Project PERFECT have launched a free online resource pack for running workshops exploring questions in the philosophy of mind, relevant to theories about, and experiences of, mental health, especially those related to unusual beliefs and experiences.

The downloadable pack is for a series of six discussion-driven workshop sessions. They explore questions in the philosophy of mind relevant to theories about, and experiences of, mental health. For instance, they invite participants to consider critically:

  • Examples of unusual experiences and beliefs which arise in absence of any mental health crisis or psychiatric diagnosis, as well as alongside these.
  • Why some unusual beliefs and experiences have been pathologised, while others have not; and why some instances of irrationality have been identified with ‘madness’, and others have not.
  • The claim that unusual experiences and beliefs are predominantly negative: the series explores how these cognitions can contribute to knowledge, and their role in supporting a unified and coherent sense of agency.

The workshop series is suitable for everyone with an interest in mental health, including people with lived experience of unusual beliefs and experiences, those involved in mental health advocacy, mental health service providers, and clinical practitioners.

The documents include a facilitator pack, which offers guidance on how to present the material, and how to set up group discussion and participation. The materials are designed so that they can be used by people who do not have any formal training in philosophy.

There are also presentation slides for each session. The first provides a course introduction and the other five look at the topics of Experiences, Beliefs, Rationality, Models of mental health, and Evaluating experiences and beliefs.

The materials are also available as printable handouts if groups do not have a projector. People looking to run a more stripped-down group, without focusing on the models and examples referenced in the slides and handouts, can download a shorter document that explores the core questions and ideas of the six headings.

The five-year Project PERFECT started in 2014 and is funded by a European Research Council grant. It aims to establish whether things that people believe, remember, or say, that are inaccurate in some important respect, can ever be good from a pragmatic or an epistemic point of view.

It explores whether delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations, which are frequent in the non-clinical population and are also listed as symptoms of psychiatric conditions, and which are frequently characterised negatively, have redeeming features.

The workshop series was developed by Dr Sophie Stammers, research fellow at Project PERFECT, and conceived of in partnership with Mind in Camden, where a programme of initial workshops was delivered last Autumn (2017).

Dr Stammers said: ‘Running the workshop series with Mind in Camden has been a fantastic opportunity to share the research we are doing on the project in contexts beyond academia. Our research challenges the perceived discontinuity between so-called normal and abnormal cognition, and the workshop series provides a philosophical framework for participants to critically question the ‘us’ and ‘them’ model of mental health that is entrenched in our discourse, and some of our mental health practices.

“We received very positive feedback. Some participants suggested that the philosophy workshops had led them to reconceptualise some of their experiences of mental health, contributing to self-understanding, while others suggested they will be incorporating elements of the workshop series into their professional practice. Now the materials are freely available online, I hope they will be of interest and use to many more people.”

Dr Sophie Stammers talks about her research as part of Project PERFECT and the Mental Health Workshops she organised with Mind in Camden