Gwen Adshead is a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who completed the Master's in MBCT in 2012.Below she discusses how the course encouraged her to explore new professional pathways, whilst also supporting her own personal understanding of mental health.
I am grateful for a chance to say 'hello' to those who are interested in the Oxford MBCT course; and to say "thank you" to those wonderful teachers and fellow trainees in the class of 2012. What I'll try and do is explain how I came to do the course and what I learned from it: bearing in mind that I have limited word count!
I'm a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist, who works with people who have committed crimes of violence when they were mentally ill or distressed. I therefore work in prisons and secure mental health services, with people who suffered high levels of chronic depression and hopelessness. I looked at John Teasdale's original research and Mark Williams' trials of MBCT in chronic depression; and I thought this intervention might have potential for helping the people whose problems I know best.
I had two other reasons for studying MBCT. I was involved with a friend in a discussion about how cognitions are different, or change, between states of well-being and states of sadness. We wondered if these incompatible cognitive states of mind mirror incompatible states in quantum physics; I know nothing about quantum physics but I thought I could learn more about depressive cognitions, which might help his work.
Finally, I could have been a subject in the MBCT treatment trials. Postnatally, I had developed a relapsing depression which had responded to antidepressants but had also come back three times. I was intrigued about what I could learn personally about mood regulation as well as professionally.
So, what happened? Well, I obviously learned an enormous amount about the clinical value of MBCT. I went back to work and set up mindfulness practice groups for staff and patients: and we got a good response from those who could engage. Engagement was a serious problem though for forensic patients, possibly because of their repeated experience of trauma in childhood and adulthood. Still the program was successful for those who could engage, and so it remains to be seen whether and how forensic patients can learn mindfulness: work in progress.
However, I have to say that the most important outcome of the course was its impact on me personally. I found the practice painful and difficult at the start, but the compassion practices helped me to take psychological pain seriously, mine and other people's. I haven't had a relapse of my depression since 2012: and I've got a better understanding of how avoidance of pain is a major contributor to psychopathology. I got interested in how health care professionals manage the pain of others’ distress, and with two other marvelous colleagues (both of whom are experienced mindfulness practitioners), I set up a series of retreats for doctors who want to learn about self-care and resilience in their practice. I've now been to Ammerdown many times, with deep joy and thankfulness.
So, the course changed me in many ways; life changing is not too strong a phrase. It helped me professionally and personally: and set me off on new clinical paths and new ways of thinking of about psychological therapies. I can't thank the teachers enough, and they feature in my practices regularly. And I learned enough to help Roger get his paper published in a quantum physics journal; but don't ask me to explain it to you!