Sunday, 12 July 2015

Asylum Reconsidered, by Dr Stephen Woodhams

Review of: 
RD Laing 50 @ Kingsley Hall, 12th June 2015

Asylum by Peter Robinson is not set in Kingsley Hall, yet it was in keeping with the anniversary that this screening should take place there. The anniversary is that of the 'social experiment' begin at the Hall in 1965, which gave rise to the Philadelphia and Arbour Associations' community houses. Continuity from Bow up to Archway and elsewhere, was made possible when Joseph Berke Leon Redler and others carried forward their belief in asylum where deeply distressing experiences could be lived through without pressure to 'recover' or be inoculated by chemicals. The word asylum carries long held meanings referring to a safe place, a sanctuary, haven. Each term may convey the sense of protection from immediate external pressure, where by agreed respect for shared space, a person may do as they need to go through their experience.

 The film emanated from one of the community houses in Archway. Shot in 1971, Asylum attempts an anthropological recording, where the makers seek to be part of the household. The aim was to capture a lived experience of a therapeutic community where divisions of practitioner and patient were minimised, and governance arrived at by the will of those in the house. The use of a naturalist form for the film may of course be contended. The house as depicted, contained features recognisable as part of many households, together with scenes clearly belonging to this specific group of people.

Discussion after the film was chaired by Rebecca Greenslade of the RD Laing reading group that had been meeting with the support of the Claremont Project in North London. Over the previous year four of Laing's works had been read, and the screening of Asylum was the culmination of the venture. On stage three figures represented different relations to the film, which is should be stressed only featured Laing in passing. One reason for this, was Morton Shatzman who had been a regular psychiatrist at the house, and who on
the evening, conveyed intimately the atmosphere, daily life and success of the community. Offering a different experience was Francis Gillett who having previously been at Kingsley Hall, had been one of the longest resident participants. His account of another occupant, who had been significant in the film, conveyed the difficult balance between a person living out their experience of distress, and respecting the shared presence of others. Finally was Adrian Laing, who has recently completed a biography of his father. Perhaps not surprisingly for a Kingsley Hall audience, power in the house, and as portrayed on film, was the topic of several contributions as explanation for the ascription, nature and exercise of authority was offered and contested.

It was an evening where through the medium of film, experience and thoughts could be exchanged. Asylum offers insight in to how a therapeutic community can and does provide space where distress, disturbing to sufferer and others, can be lived through.

Kingsley Hall offered its own contribution as the ghost of the original 'social experiment' once more awoke. If that ghost were given voice, it might tell many things, and even a rhetorical question. It has always been easy to demand that 'alternative' approaches to psychological distress answer questions, yet were the pharmaceutical industry placed in the dock, what evidence can it provide for the claims made for the drugs it persuades psychiatrist they should use? At least Laing and others can truthfully say they would not have cost the NHS billions. Our ghost might add, if a fraction of that finance had been made available for asylums where love was the primary treatment, perhaps, as we saw and heard this evening, care may have been a richer experience.

Rebecca Greenslade, Chair RD Laing Reading Group, Nat Fonnesu, Friends of East London Loonies (F.E.E.L.) and the Kingsley Hall commitee.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you FEEL for posting this review from Dr Stephen Woodhalm of the evening showing Asylum in the main room of Kingsley Hall. I was present at the event and raised a question about Joan Cunnold (one of the founder members of the Philadelphia Association and - according to Mary Barnes - who gave up her job as nurse to look after Mary in Kingsley Hall).

    I am very impressed with FEEL and will be going to their meeting this evening to learn ,more about its activities and hopefully have some collaboration with FEEL on some of my projects which include some planned events at Kingsley Hall

    Rosemary Moore
    living in Surrey