Radical and Critical Approaches to Understanding and Supporting Mental Health

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Radical and Critical Approaches to Understanding and Supporting Mental Health

► this workshop is online. Register here.

Speakers & Abstracts

  • Gen Eickers: ‘Pathologizing Trans Identities: Emotional Marginalization and Mental Health’

In recent years, an array of critical emotion theorists have emerged who call for change with respect to how emotion theory is done, how emotions are understood, and how we do emotion. In this talk, I draw on the work that some of these authors have produced to analyze how emotional marginalization of trans identities is experienced, considering in particular how this emotional marginalization results from  the long history of pathologization of trans people. The  past and current pathologization of trans people  is produced through  normative assumptions, values, and beliefs that uphold systems of normalcy, including assumptions, values, and beliefs about how we feel and express emotions. In order to examine these issues, I identify three different stages at which emotional marginalization may take place: emotion experience, emotional display, and emotion recognition. Emotional marginalization of trans people can occur at any of these stages. The central concern here is thus to show how emotional marginalization, at each of these stages, affects trans people, especially considering questions around the mental health of trans people.

  • Sahanika Ratnayake: ‘What The Big Three Actually Said: Rosenzweig, Rogers and Frank on the Dodo Bird Problem and the Boundaries of Therapy’

In contemporary research, the “Dodo Bird Problem” or the “common factors” debate is a highly specific problem in research on talking therapy. It refers to the finding that most therapeutic modalities perform on par with with each other, raising the question of what the “active ingredients” of therapy are — whether they are factors common across various schools of therapy, such as an empathetic therapeutic relationship or factors specific to particular schools of therapy such as specialised therapeutic techniques or theoretical framings.

However, historical debates about the Dodo Bird Problem are far more nuanced, raising questions not only about research on therapy, but the exact boundaries and nature of therapy. In this talk, I will consider the work of three theorists — Saul Rosenzweig, Carl Rogers and Jerome Frank — who are cited as a matter of course in contemporary discussions of the Dodo Bird problem, with little regard for the complexities of what they actually said.

For instance, Rogers maintains that it is a therapeutic relationship with specific characteristics that is responsible for the efficacy of therapy. However, Rogers then goes on to say something far more controversial — that any relationship with these characteristics can be therapeutic or healing. This raises questions about the particular expertise of those delivering talking therapy and the boundaries of therapeutic relationships. Similar questions about expertise and what can be understood as “therapeutic” are posed by Rosenzweig and Frank.

In excavating historical discussions of the Dodo Bird problem, I hope to not only to interrogate what kinds of things and relationships can be considered therapeutic according to these thinkers, but also track the medicalisation of research into talking therapy by considering how the Dodo Bird problem was recast in contemporary literature.

  • Bennett Knox: ‘Hermeneutical Pluralism in Psychiatry: Lessons from the Spectrum 10K Controversy’

“In this presentation I will develop a view I call “hermeneutical pluralism” in psychiatry, through critical engagement with a recent controversy in psychiatric science. Spectrum 10K—which promises to be the largest genetic study on autism in the history of the UK—was paused in 2021 after an outcry from autistic academics and activists, many of whom understand autism according to the neurodiversity paradigm. It is currently undergoing a consultation process with the autistic community, in an attempt to address some of these concerns. Utilizing the moral imagination framework of Matthew J. Brown from Science and Moral Imagination (2020), I will outline some lessons we can draw from Spectrum 10K that can help develop a theory of the proper relationship between psychiatric science and the neurodiversity movement. My central claim is that productive engagement between these two groups requires both: 1) psychiatric scientists who are themselves neurodivergent and subscribe to the neurodiversity paradigm, and 2) a robust knowledge system developed by neurodiversity activists and scholars which is somewhat independent of psychiatric science. It is this requirement of an independent neurodiversity knowledge system which makes my view pluralist: it is important that the interpretations of the neurodiversity movement not be fully assimilated by psychiatric science, as this would risk robbing the neurodiversity movement of the radical nature of its critiques.”

  • Sujaya Dhanvantari: ‘Racism, Colonialism and Debilitation’

In this paper, I show that the unequal distribution of precarity moulds the racialized and colonized with forms of “undiagnosed” pain and trauma. Drawing on Alia Al-Saji’s concept of “racialized time,” I aim to reveal the ways in which racial and colonial pasts structure the present experience. I also weave in Saidiya Hartman’s work on the legacies of slavery shaping individual and collective bodies as pained. Critiquing Judith Butler’s term precarity, I argue for a more nuanced understanding of the specific historical markers of precarity that render racialized bodies more susceptible and exposed to illness and trauma. These markers, I contend, are borne intergenerationally. Finally, I suggest that the term “racialized precarity” can help us to elucidate these more prevalent exposures to chronic illness, disability, and death. Furthermore, it can help us to develop decolonial approaches for addressing the racial and colonial coordinates of debilitation.

  • Sandrine Renaud: ‘Understanding Injustices related to Mental Health Care: Sanism as a Key Concept’

People categorized as having a mental health disorder experience injustices in their interactions with health care systems which contribute, among other things, to a degraded quality of care and services, a loss of agency, and even a denial of fundamental rights. To understand these injustices, many different concepts are used in the literature, such as stigma, social exclusion, epistemic injustice, occupational injustice and sanism. This presentation, based on my ongoing doctoral research, aims to (1) map the use of these concepts in the academic and activist literature and (2) situate sanism as a key concept to understand injustices related to mental health care. Sanism is defined as the systemic oppression of those categorized as having a mental health disorder or as not being “sane”. Building on the work of Mad activists and scholars, I argue that this concept is best suited to explain the structural mechanisms and social determinants that perpetuate mental health injustices, and thus, to propose relevant strategies to overcome them.

The workshop, organized by Federica Berdini, Anne-Marie Gagné-Julien, and Zoey Lavallee, is co-sponsored by the Centre de Recherche en Éthique, Montréal (CRÉ), the Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto (C4E), the Groupe de recherche interuniversitaire sur la normativité (GRIN), the Canada Research Chair on Feminist Ethics (CREF), and the Canada Research Chair on Epistemic Injustice and Agency (CRC-IAE)                                     

Wed, Apr 26, 2023
09:00 AM - 02:00 PM
Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto
200 Larkin