On Saturday I was lucky enough to attend the Annual Spring Conference organised by the Taunton Association for Psychotherapy (TAP). This year’s theme was depression and the day was marketed as ‘Dialogues Around Depression’ – a title which reflected the different speaker’s approaches to the subject. It is a Conference open to anyone interested in the human mind and the way in which we relate to the world, and this year there were representatives from across the therapy spectrum – from homeopaths to NHS Nurse Specialists.
And me. I rarely understand any of the jargon the specialist field of psychology can employ, and have only managed to stay for the first hour of the Conference in previous years…
But that is not for want of trying, because I am actually the Administrator for TAP, a role I take as a freelancer to help support my main job as a writer. TAP was founded over 26 years ago and in addition to the conference it offers ‘an annual programme of diverse and stimulating evening talks given by people from a wide professional and geographical field on the theme of psychological understanding.’ They are a grand lot and I recommend you check out the website at www.taplimited.org.uk. But my involvement with them has highlighted to me how wide is the field of psychology and how different are the many approaches to depression and anxiety.
This year the format of the Conference was tweaked allowing time for four ‘vignettes’ to ground the conference in real experience. I had seven minutes to tell my story ‘Mental illness, motherhood and finding the real me’, which went quite well, but I felt very nervous and was glad to have lots of supportive comments afterwards. It is great to be in a room full of people who are committed to working with people with depression and anxiety without judgement. The real star was Viv Tuffnell, who read her piece ‘The Uninvited Guest’ (a moving parable about learning to understand the visitor that is your depression) and then, nearer the end ‘Dandelions and Bad Hair Days’ from the book I edited of the same title. She has written of her own impressions of Saturday in Vine leaves, dandelions and serendipity ~ my thoughts on the TAP conference and there you can see how the impact of what Martin Seager (a clinical psychologist, lecturer, broadcaster and activist on mental health issues) and Dr Christopher Irons (a clinical psychologist who works for a mental health team in East London) stirred up the audience in a way that a conference about depression could hardly hope to achieve. What is ‘compassion focused therapy?’ Is depression genetic? Is it something we ‘just can’t help’? Or is genetic expression so turned off by environmental factors that genetic predisposition theories are largely pointless?
In fact, Martin Seager could have stormed Westminster by force with the support of eighty therapists by the time he had concluded, arguing that instead of bowing to the pharmaceutical and medical lobby, or hitting on the next ‘big cure’ (at this conference it was mindfulness) Government should look at psychologically informed policies, organisational cultures, training and support. He focused on the ‘fundamental triad’ of trauma/abuse, neglect/deprivation, loss/absence in childhood as the basis of depression and expressed disappointment that no-one properly questions the ‘medical model’.
We don’t fail to value ourselves because we have a
condition called “depression”, rather we feel
depressed when our lives are not mirrored, valued or
supported – this is the human condition….
The presentations are available here if you would like to get a flavour of the kind of challenges the speakers posed to us all. It was a fascinating day and unlike most conferences, there was not one point at which, even after a great lunch, I felt like falling asleep. And to top things off, TAP allowed me to sell copies of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days to attendees, who could read the twenty plus personal experiences of mental ill-health it contains and take it, and the whole day, back to inform their practice.
I enjoy working for TAP and was so pleased that all our hard work paid off this year with, on a first look, great feedback. In these difficult financial times the cost of the conference (£86) is, to many, hard to justify. But the ideas presented and the ‘dialogues’ they should inspire are SO important, as Government continues to look only at treating the symptoms of depression to ensure the fewest number of working days are lost, instead of examining the wider issues that also lead to a gang culture, the vicious circles associated with some physical and sexual abuse and lives permanently blighted by childhood trauma.
Perhaps a march on Westminster, even a virtual one, is a very good idea…