Class Descriptions


Being With Those In Crisis

September 12th 2017
Cindy Peterson-Dana, LMHC, Ed Altwies, PsyD., and Jazmine Russell

Putting oneself in the presence of a person experiencing a deep emotional crisis require equipoise, self-care, courage, and trust, regardless of degree or level of experience. When it comes to crisis experiences such as extreme highs and lows or hallucinations, there is often a great deal of suffering and confusion attendant. This seminar will explore these states as natural reactions to pain and psychological distress and give an overview of recent attempts to provide immediate support to those experiencing first episode psychosis and other altered states early on.

Topics include: 

  • Being present & creating a safe space
  • Self-care & maintaining boundaries 
  • Meeting each other's basic needs
  • Engaging with extreme and unusual experiences
  • When to call for help
  • Working within context and preferred language
  • Harm reduction strategies


(De) Institutionalization, and Self-Determination

September 19th 2017
Issa Ibrahim and Sascha DuBrul, MSW

You don't have to be locked up in a mental hospital to be institutionalized. For folks who've been diagnosed with mental illness, what does it mean to be free from internalized shame and stigma? How do we take our pain and anguish at the ways we've been treated and turn it into creativity and brilliance (spoiler alert: we do it together.) Come to a facilitated conversation with Issa Ibrahim (The Hospital Always Wins) andSascha DuBrul (The Icarus Project). We will share some of our own experiences in the service of creating space for others to share their own. We will talk about the history of how people like us -- the mad ones and our allies -- have worked to make the world a better place through organizing, making art, coming up with transformative healing practices, and engaging in peer support. 

Topics include:

  • History of institutionalization
  • Blatant and subtle coercive practices: forced treatment, consent, etc.
  • Effects of institutionalization on people experiencing a serious emotional crisis
  • Police involvement, discrimination, and violence
  • Movement towards community support


September 26th 2017
Jazmine Russell and Noel Hunter, PsyD.

In traditional mental health systems, some experiences of trauma are normalized, such as feelings of grief after natural disasters or the death of a loved one, while other experiences of trauma remain stigmatized and pathologized. Although initially overlooked, the impacts of trauma on mental and emotional health have become further recognized in clinical treatment. From diagnosing PTSD in war veterans, to the language of “trauma-informed care” in private practice, trauma is an integral concept to supporting those who are suffering. To understand the role of extreme circumstances in emotional distress is vital in offering necessary care and avoiding retraumatization.

In this seminar, we will explore the roles of interpersonal, social, and political factors in trauma as well as the various ways in which trauma can manifest. We will discuss the body’s responses to trauma in the nervous system, and explain the latest research and statistics on the impact of traumatic experiences on mental health. We will then share tools for healing from trauma and supporting oneself and others.

Topics include:

  • Addressing personal, interpersonal, institutional, and collective trauma
  • Pathologization, retraumatization and disproportional effects of trauma on oppressed groups
  • Effects of trauma on mental/emotional health
  • History of"trauma-informed" care
  • Post-traumatic growth and optimal responses to trauma


Models of Mental Difference

October 3rd 2017
Noel Hunter PsyD., and Brad Lewis MD, PhD.

Prevalence studies, although controversial, find that psychiatric diagnoses can be applied to more than 26 percent of the population in a given year and almost half of the population (46.4 percent) is diagnosable within their lifetimes. Many psychiatrists and mental health workers understand these diagnoses through the biomedical model. “Broken brains,” “chemical imbalances,” and “disordered neuronal pathways” are the widely used metaphorical frames that link mental difference to our bodies, our brains, and our genes. But the biomedical model is not the only model available for understanding mental difference and disability. Non-ordinary mental states and traits can also be understood through psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, existential/humanist, family, social/political, creative, spiritual, and integrative models, to name a few.

Of these many models, some tend to be pathologizing and others tend to be generative. Pathologizing models are organized around the frames of science and rationality in the service of treatment and cure of human deficit. As a group we can call these approaches mad science. They tend to be at the heart of mainstream mental health care. Generative models, on the other hand, are organized around the frame of human sensitivity and yearning. They see psychic difference as a positive attribute to be developed, cared for, and nurtured. As a group we can call these approaches mad pride. These more generative models tend to be at the heart of mad pride organizing. 

This course will use an interdisciplinary mad studies approach to develop a critical understanding of the many models of madness: both pathological and generative. We will also consider the role of language and narrative theory for navigating and narrating the many options.

Topics include:

  • Historical conceptions and models of mental health
  • The influence of language and narrative in our current understanding of mental difference
  • Narrative Theory and its clinical applications
  • History of the Mad Pride Movement
  • Generative vs. Pathologizing models

Human Rights & Systems of Power

October 10th 2017
Alisha Ali, PhD. and Emily Allan

The mental health system and those who enter it cannot be separated from the interrelated systems that both contribute to the development of and perpetuate suffering. Poverty, oppression, immigration, discrimination, and trauma have all been demonstrated to give rise to mental health crises, as well as criminal justice involvement and homelessness. Conversely, having a mental health crisis and experiencing hospitalization may itself lead to economic hardship, oppression, discrimination, loss of employment, and/or homelessness. The class will cover the importance of addressing the basic human needs of those in our care and understanding how these systems interrelate.

Topics include:

  • Other institutions as pipleline to and/or from mental health services - prisons, homeless shelters and housing, education, labor and economic injustice, legal, immigration, food inequality, etc.
  • Discrimination based on many kinds of oppressions (race, disability, gender, etc.)
  • Access and lack of access, marginalization, sustainability in our movement

Media, Marketing, & Meds

October 17th 2017
Jonah Bossewitch PhD., and Brad Lewis, MD, PhD.

Adopting a cultural diversity, or mad studies, approach to mental difference underscores the importance of cultural context and cultural plasticity for understanding mental difference. Cultural plasticity, in particular, has become the springboard for global pharmaceutical efforts to transform mental difference into profits. More than providing simple “medical cures,” pharmaceutical business plans create a cultural climate of medical models and medication intervention as the main interpretive frame of mental difference.

The monopolistic doctor-spinning and cultural change skills that have emerged are tremendous. Around the world diverse approaches to mental difference are converging into a single disease model. Psychiatry has been transformed into a biomedically oriented discipline that emphasizes broken brains and pharmaceutical treatments. And more and more of us are taking medically prescribed drugs that effect the way we think and feel. This class will introduce students to the cultural change skills of big pharma, the psychoactive effects of the drugs they promote, and some of the democratic resistance strategies people are adopting.   

Topics include:

  • Uses of medication and other mind-altering substances
  • Subjective experiences of psychopharmacology
  • Research practices, data, interpretation, dissemination, etc.
  • Technology and the future of psychiatry
  • The mad underground and the psychiatric resistance

Holistic Health & Psychopharmacology

October 24th 2017
Jazmine Russell and Peter Stastny MD

This course will review the research and principles around holistic and creative therapies as well as their value for mental and emotional wellness. Holistic health practices have become popularized in recent years by those seeking support in addition to or beyond talk-therapy and medication. Not only are people turning to diet and exercise to make shifts in their mental and emotional well-being but holistic principles have entered the psychotherapeutic realm to invite new and inventive practices including: Somatic Experiencing and Mindfulness practices. These practices propose that healing does not only occur in the mind but must also include the body, especially when it comes to those suffering from traumatic experiences. This course will review the research and principles around holistic approaches as alternatives to psychopharmacology. In addition, the presenters will draw on their experience in recovery-oriented psychopharmacology and harm reduction and provide an introduction to these concepts in relation to holistic medical practices.

Topics include:

  • Holistic medicine, recovery-oriented psychopharmacology
  • How to establish a relationship between holistic medicine and psychopharmacology: Possible joint strategies and antagonisms
  • Examples of holistic interventions and their neurobiological correlates: Mind-Body connection, movement and creative therapies, herbalism and somatic therapies
  • Self and community care

Alternative Practices

November 7th 2017
Ed Altwies, PsyD., Cindy Peterson-Dana, LMHC, and guests

This seminar serves as an overview of evidence-based innovative and alternative mental health practices. These include:  Soteria, a residential alternative to acute hospitalization and instant pharmacotherapy, dialogical practices such as Open Dialogue and Need Adapted Treatment, and peer-led respites and warmlines which have been introduced in a variety of places in the US and are being heralded as important alternatives to institutionalization.

Topics include:

  • Principles of Open Dialogue, Soteria, Intentional Peer Support
  • Crisis services: Parachute mobile teams, peer warmline
  • Obstacles to implementation
  • Peer specialist work
  • Cooptation and the future of alternatives