Dr Orkideh Behrouzan reports on ‘Beyond Trauma‘, a Wellcome Trust supported interdisciplinary workshop which took place on September 27th at Goodenough College and aimed carve out a space for a critical approach to mental well-being in the Middle East.
What was the most important achievement of our event? I think first and foremost, an unprecedented inter-disciplinary dialogue that stretched the width and breadth of interdisciplinary work as we know it. Not just that, but an invitation, on everyone’s part, for others to challenge their conceptual and empirical assumptions; and a willingness to face conditions that are beyond our grasp; all this, in a manner that was frank, respectful, rich and analytical. By the end of the workshop, a shared language had emerged, built on deep and mutual care and concerns. What brought our participants together was simple: a deep concern for people, for children, for well-being.
I am humbled and pleased; I learnt a lot. The idea of this workshop had come, over the past two years, from a pressing need to rethink the psycho-politics of wellbeing in the Middle East, and to engage in an epistemological, ethical, and pedagogical examination of what we assume we know. The idea also came out of, frankly, frustration, with the extent to which communication across disciplines and areas of expertise remains blocked and limited: While we all agree that interdisciplinary work matters, we are yet to overcome hierarchies of expertise and power struggles between disciplines and intellectual territories. Yet, I have also always believed that interdisciplinary work is additionally blocked for a very practical reason: not making our conceptual frameworks and analyses accessible [and jargon-free] to each other across disciplines. So the idea was to illustrate why and how art, literature, cultural studies or history are relevant in mental healthcare policy and why psychiatry cannot deliver divorced from politics and memory-studies; in other words, a call to re-think pedagogies and ethics of psychiatry as well as mental health care. There was also this deep frustration with the representational politics of a region that repeatedly gets reduced, misunderstood, demonized, intervened upon, and misrepresented; worse, it often becomes equated with ‘conflict’. What do we even mean by the so-called Middle East? How much do we know about its healthcare infrastructures? What can we learn from those very healthcare systems that were destroyed as a result of military interventions, say, in Iraq? While the region, in its various representations, occupies the imagination of the world, we know very little about diverse ways in which mental health and well-being is understood, practiced, and conceptualized in its different cultural contexts. The third piece of this frustrating puzzle had been particular conceptual paradigms, both in social sciences and in psy-sciences, that have outlived their usefulness, and yet remain institutionally and structurally central to mental healthcare practice and policy-making [or lack thereof]. So, I thought perhaps it was time, if not overdue, to start a conversation. And that is what this workshop really was: a first step towards a new dialogue.
In the coming days, and as we continue to think about the next steps, we will brief the highlights of the day on this website. We will also post updates as we make new decisions. It is my hope that from now on we will contribute to this website as a group; and that we also grow, in numbers, as we reach out to more scholars, practitioners, PhD students and researchers, policymakers and others who share our concern and are interested in the above. Meanwhile, I would like to thank everyone who helped me bring these amazing people together. None of this would have worked if it weren’t for the hard work of our wonderful professional staff Lucy Brown and Paola Bello, as well as the help of our brilliant PhD student Guntars Ermansons. I owe a huge thank you to our amazing participants for their rich and compelling scholarly work and for their dedicated participation: Thank you Hanna Kienzler, Veena Das, Omar Dewachi, Nadje Al-Ali, Lamia Moghnieh, Sa’ed Adel Atshan Zuzanna Olszewska, Rita Giacaman. I am most grateful to our distinguished keynote speaker Professor Jennifer Leaning. I’d also like to thank Professor Nikolas Rose, the Head of the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine (SSHM) for his very insightful welcome address. We had a most wonderful audience with us including, but not limited to, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists, physicians, PhD students, artists, writers, academics, and aid workers. Thank you to everyone who registered and joined us; you made the discussions and the day rich with your presence. I’d also like to thank those colleagues in the department of Social Science, Health, and Medicine at King’s College London who have helped me think through various stages of this initiative. Last but not least, I am grateful to our sponsors, as well as to the professional work of the events office at Goodenough College.
Stay tuned here for briefings, updates and future plans. If you would like to know more contact the workshop organiser: email@example.com