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Critical and psychosocial approaches to mental health

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This group is committed to contributing to better and more progressive understandings of the world of mental health and illness.  In order to do this, we seek to promote research that is:

  • ‘critical’ in the sense that there are many important criticisms that need to be made of our current approaches to issues to mental health, and acknowledges that the experiences of mental distress are very real problems that need to be addressed.
  • ‘psychosocial’ in that we also believe that our states of mind are very often intrinsically connected to the social and cultural world around us.
  • able to utilise research methodologies that centre the lived experience of mental distress. 

We value diverse theoretical perspectives that include discursive, critical psychiatry critical psychology, psychoanalytic, cultural and historical analyses.

We believe that this perspective is both important and relatively unique.  We are offering perspectives that are not simply a sociological critique of psychiatry/psychology but offer a better understanding of the widespread experiences of mental distress.

Topics addressed within the group

  • Studies of innovative residential care of young children
  • Studies of space and sound in institutional settings
  • Autoethnographies of mental illness
  • The borderline between issues of mental health and the criminal justice system
  • Conceptual and historical studies of ‘personality disorders’
  • Studies of families’ experiences of mental illness
  • Community responses to distress

Staff involved in the group

Dr Tanya Beetham

Tanya is a Lecturer in Psychology and Counselling in the School of Psychology and Counselling. She joined the OU in 2020 as an Associate Lecturer, and joined as a central academic in 2022. Tanya is a chartered psychologist and a counsellor and psychotherapist. Her interests include trauma, social justice and inequalities, gender-based violence, narrative and feminist approaches, the interconnectedness of methodology and epistemology, and eating disorders/eating distress.

Dr Simon Clarke

Simon is a HCPC registered clinical psychologist who gained his PhD from the University of Nottingham in 2020. With the thesis  'Madhouse and the whole thing there: Authenticity, autoethnography and psychiatry'. This explored autoethnographic methods to investigate different experiences of madness and using mental health services.

Simon is interested in the use of dialogical, narrative and autoethnographic methods to explore service user, staff and carer experiences of mental health difficulties. Simon is also interested in theoretical and historical issues in psychology and psychiatry, and how theory can be applied to understanding practice. Simon has also published research in clinical health psychology, including long-term conditions, chronic pain, cancer and osteoarthritis.

Sharon Frazer

Sharon is an Occupational Psychologist and Psychodynamic Psychotherapist currently progressing a doctorate in clinical practice and research at Exeter University.  Sharon’s research thesis is entitled: Race, Identity & The Psychotherapy Profession: Exploring the Lived Experience of Black British Psychotherapists in the UK. Her wider research interests revolve around, practitioner training, societal power structures and psychosocial stress, neuropsychoanalysis, transgenerational trauma transmission, embodied trauma and help-seeking behaviour. 

Dr David W Jones

David  has long standing interests in using cross disciplinary psychosocial perspectives to understand the world of ‘mental health’ and psychiatry. He is particularly interested in using historical methods and published on the history of psychiatric approaches and on the development of the ‘personality disorder’ diagnoses.

He has considerable interest in the wide overlap between matters of mental health and the criminal justice system and has been using psychosocial perspectives to understand criminal behaviour – particularly violence. He is also particularly keen to promote work that is concerned with the lived experience of mental health.

Dr David Kaposi

David is presently interested in the relationship between psychotherapy and the social sciences/psychology, looking into both the former's possible contribution to understanding psychosocial phenomena and the latter's elucidation of therapeutic outcome and process.

He also carries out funded research into Stanley Milgram's (in)famous obedience experiments; a mixed-methods re-examination of original tapes of the Milgram experiments, and the concept accounting for its results: implicit violence. Challenging 60 years of scholarship, this is not the violence of the ‘order’ or the explicit statement, but of the silence, the body, or what resides between explicit utterances.

Dr Helena King

Helena is a Lecturer in Management and Health in the Department for Public Leadership and Social Enterprise. Broadly her interdisciplinary research explores the socio-environmental determinants of biopsychosocial health. Helena is especially interested in the concept of health stigma, concealment practices, and the implications of these on health and wellbeing. Her work also considers alternative healthcare provision for marginalised groups such as peer-led and third sector approaches.

Dr Laura McGrath

Laura's research concentrates on the role of the environment in experiences of mental distress, care and recovery. Her work is interdisciplinary, drawing on social, community and critical psychology, as well as human geography and social theory, to explore psychosocial and material aspects of mental health experiences. This work lead Laura to co-edit the recent volume 'Handbook of Mental Health and Space: Community and Clinical Applications' with Professor Paula Reavey.

Laura is a founder member of the national network 'Psychologists for Social Change', which aims to encourage psychologists to engage with the political context of their work, and organise social and political action. She was lead author of the PSC briefing paper: The Psychological Impact of Austerity.

Dr Heather Price

Heather has long standing interest in using psychosocial and psychoanalytic theory and methods most particularly in the areas of children and young people. She has used innovative observational methods to study young children in school and residential settings.  

PhD students associated with the group

Nina Fellows: The Cultural Emergence and Social Construction Of Self-Harm in the 1990's

This ESRC funded project is an exploration of the era in which self-harm became a more recognised and common problem throughout the 1990s. It will build on previous historical scholarship on self-harm that has examined previous eras, by focusing on people’s experience of self-harm in this crucial historical period.

Deepti Ramaswamy: Identity Based Trauma and Engagement with Extremism: How does trauma shape identity and engagement with extremism

This ESRC funded research project involves in depth study of people who been involved in extremist activity. It examines the psychological mechanisms that underpin the development of an extremist state of mind, in particular their connections with the impact of trauma on identity.

Katy Woodger: Experiences of mental health service users: From self-management and self-governance to user-led services

This ESRC funded project takes an ethnographic approach to understand how user- led approaches within mental health service provision can function to ensure access and support to service users. This study examines how user-led organisations conceptualise mental health and how service users understand and experience their own mental health.