I’ve recently come back from three days at an amazing conference on Attachment and Trauma. It was three days of stimulating, invigorating, fascinating presentations by some of the leading names in the field (Cozolino, Yehuda, Van der Kolk, Damasio, Porges, Gallese, Siegel, Shapiro and more).
I am very much aligned with what Drop the Disorder stands for. I have been excited by reading Laing and astonished when reading Greenberg, Bentall, Davies and so on. We must treat every person as a human being, not as a collection of labels. However, what this conference revealed to me is just how ingrained the medical and diagnostic models are in psychotherapy as well as in society.
The speakers were all approaching the field from a developmental perspective and all made direct links between development and later psychological distress. All were humane and compassionate. Drugs were barely mentioned and neither were ‘faulty wiring’, ‘chemical imbalance’ or other such phrases that make our blood boil. However, it is an inescapable fact that the default position was the current diagnostic model. Discussions were couched in terms of illnesses or disorders – this paradigm was just a given.
But it made me think. How do researchers and theorists have their often complex and highly nuanced – and potentially incredibly valuable – discussions in a language of shared understanding without using this common model? In a way, one could argue, the words are not offered in judgement but are used simply as symbols for psychological conditions to make them collectively understood. The names are simply an epistemic device rather than a stick to beat people with.
The other issue of course is that although we look at psychological distress in terms of development and experience, there are still things happening in our brains, in our various biological systems as a result of those experiences. The neuroscience – and epigenetic evidence – is increasingly persuasive, especially in revealing the extent to which much of our behaviour is unconscious and shaped by early experience – or the experience of our antecedents.
The fact is, there is a huge task ahead of us to help people understand others’ distress in an experiential context and if we keep ourselves in isolation, refusing to engage with other schools of thought, we miss out on opportunities to share our message, influence opinion and even to learn.
For me, I don’t want to become stuck in a single paradigm, whose boundaries become the whole arbiter of what I learn and understand to be true. Surely, we owe it to ourselves, our clients and society at large to keep our eyes, ears and minds open otherwise we are as guilty as the biomedical die-hards of adhering to a flawed model and failing to respond to facts staring us in the face?
Freelance Writer & Trainee Therapist