Haringey mental health conference opens up a dialogue

Date: 02 November 2018

Around 120 people attended a conference on Open Dialogue approaches to family therapy and support organised today by Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust.  

Open Dialogue in mental health services emphasizes listening and responding to the whole person rather than simply treating his or her symptoms. It also involves relatives and friends coming together in a social network to support the service user and take part in discussions with professionals. 

Dr Mary Olson, an international authority on Open Dialogue and dialogic practice from the University of Massachusetts, told participants that the approach offers a response to “the crisis of connection” in modern life. That crisis increases levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness, she said. 

 “Those conditions lead to increased problems around drug addition, suicide and mass violence. They are aggravated by ever-growing inequality in housing, income, healthcare and education, Dr Olson continued.” 

The key elements of the approach include: 

  • Family and network participation
  • Social network participation
  • Creating a context for listening
  • Involving the individual service user in all discussions and meetings. 

Around 30 mental health professionals working for BEH Trust in Haringey have been trained in the approach over the last three years. Several of the service users who have experienced the approach – and their family and friends – attended today’s event. 

Steven Livingstone, a clinical psychologist and interim service manager for community services in Haringey, said his colleagues are excited to be part of an innovative approach that responds to the individual and those that support them. The Haringey service will form part of a national research project next year to test the impact on service users, their social networks and demand for services. 

Dr Olson told the conference: “The mental health response has to change from the biomedical model that has dominated our mental health services. We are trying to restore what is missing in the social fabric. Open Dialogue aims to reduce isolation by building social networks and collaboration. 

“The network team provides the organising clinical framework and organises medication options and individual therapy,” she said. 

Dr Olson outlined research showing that services following the Open Dialogue approach saw higher staff morale and high satisfaction levels amongst individuals and families. People had fewer symptoms and lower rates of hospital admission. 

She concluded: “Humans are inherently beings who need relationships and we are born with a voice to communicate with others and with a desire to live in relationships. Human survival and flourishing depends on communication but we are living in a culture that does not support that basic need. Open Dialogue provides an opportunity to repair that because of the emphasis it puts on relationships and dialogue.” 

Dr Olson said she had accepted the chance to speak in Haringey to support local progress in implementing the approach.

  • Summary:

    Around 120 people attended a conference on Open Dialogue approaches to family therapy and support organised today by Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust. 

    Open Dialogue in mental health services emphasizes listening and responding to the whole person rather than simply treating his or her symptoms. It also involves relatives and friends coming together in a social network to support the service user and take part in discussions with professionals.