Safe Spaces for Suffering & Joy 1 Apri 2019, Kingsley Hall, London

View and download the full day and evening programme for 1 April 2019 [PDF 1mb], including workshop information, venue details and more…

Safe Spaces for Suffering & Joy is our sixth Compassionate Mental Health gathering, and our first to be held in London. As with our previous events, we are bringing together a wide cross section of people with a shared interest in transforming the way we live and work with mental health crises and distress.

Safe Spaces for Suffering & Joy takes place on Monday 1 April 2019 at Kingsley Hall in Bromley-by-Bow, London.

This one-day gathering is an opportunity to explore alternative approaches for living and working with mental distress. We’ll look together at how we can create spaces for people to experience suffering and joy – spaces that are safe, compassionate and balance open-hearted, non-hierarchical relationships with wise boundaries.

We’ll explore the importance of providing people with a safe and non-judgmental space to explore extreme states, and discover meaning in difficult experiences. We’ll consider how to rethink the way we treat severe mental and emotional distress, and ask is it time to move beyond the one size fits all concept of mental illness as disorder for life?

As with all Compassionate Mental Health events, we are calling for a more compassionate, trauma informed approach to mental distress. Ultimately we hope to work with others to inspire a new more wholesome psychiatry, with safe, healing mental health services that people want to use when they are in crisis.

A key message of all Compassionate Mental Health events is choice not coercion – compassion not control, and the understanding that a mental health crisis can become a meaningful turning point and catalyst for change. Along with many other critical voices – we are calling for a radical shift in the way we understand mental health, changing the script, challenging stigma and raising expectations.

Speakers and facilitators include:

Will Hall, mental health advocate, counsellor, writer, and trainer; Dr Joseph H. Berke – psychotherapist and pioneer of the medication free therapeutic community; and Akiko Hart 

Our new Speakers are joined by core Compassionate Mental Health team members, Malcolm SternAndy Bradley and Brigid Bowen. All believe that with the right support recovery from mental illness can happen and a mental health crisis can be a transformative process.


Each gathering has been held in a venue that is therapeutic in its own way. Kingsley Hall has a radical 90 year history as a centre of peace activitism, progressive ideas, social justice and community engagement, and in 1965 became the home of RD Laing’s famous and controversial anti psychiatry experiment, using the Hall as an alternative community for treating people affected by mental health crisis. The aim was to create a model for non-restraining, non-drug therapies for those people seriously affected by schizophrenia. The idea of starting this type of community was an initiative suggested by Mary Barnes a former nurse and first resident as patient.

Scottish psychiatrist, Laing, had a huge influence on the psychiatric survivor movement, and was a cultural icon, although not one without personal controversy.  Joseph Berke moved from the United States to join Laing at Kingsley Hall, where he became famous for his work with Mary Barnes.

Many believe we are yet to fully build on the legacy of Laing’s work – to meet people in extreme states as equals, and help them discover meaning in their madness and a way back out again.

Will Hall says:

“For Laing the point is not to adjust people to a society that has normalised violence, but to help them to understand where their response and madness has come from and help them move through it…”

Listen to Will Hall’s podcast on Madness Radio about the Legacy of RD Laing

And watch this video on the life of Joseph Berke.

What it isn’t 

This isn’t an anti-psychiatry event, or one that proposes a right way to recovery, self management or service improvement. But – along with many other critical voices – we are calling for a radical shift in the way people understand and approach mental health issues.

Our goal is to be part of the global call for better, safer mental health services for all. We hope to do this by building bridges and growing understanding that people in crisis need more than just medicine. Feeling connected, finding meaning in crisis, and sharing tools for stability are all vital for a whole person approach.

There needs to be better funding for mental health services in all settings, and there will be opportunities during the day to share ideas for the future.  Our hope is that we can all move forward together into a more collaborative, compassionate chapter.

Mental health is everyone’s business

Mental illness is one of the biggest challenges of our age. The Mental Health Foundation says that one in four adults and one in ten children are likely to have a mental health problem in any year, and the economic cost to the UK is estimated at an annual 70 to 100 billion pounds.

The mental health system is struggling to cope with growing demand for services, and by 2020 mental ill health related problems will be second to heart disease as the leading contributor to the global burden of disease . Despite this, public spending is focused almost entirely on crisis, with not enough funding for prevention or resilience building. It’s time to look beyond the one in four statistic, and start thinking about mental distress as something that can happen to us all.

“There’s ‘Them’ and there’s ‘Us’. We are well, happy and safe. They are mentally ill and dangerous. Is this really true? Or is the uncomfortable truth that there’s a continuum, a scale along which we all slide back and forth during our lives. When we separate ourselves we hurt those labelled as sick, ill, even mad, but we also hurt ourselves…” Only Us Campaign 

What people say 

“We all experience problems with our mental health at points in our lives. What we often want most at those times is to be met with a compassionate response. Unfortunately that isn’t always what happens in our mental health services. Conferences like this are badly needed to explore why that is and to inspire change so that our services become places of compassion, comfort and hope in dark times.” Anne Cooke, Consultant Clinical Psychologist.


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