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Seven recordings of the proceedings posted on the Internet by the British Psychoanalytic Council.
Engineering Happiness
eIpnosis REVIEW

eIpnosis has taken an interest in the November 2007 Savoy Conference since it first emerged in the summer. We have penned several pieces more or less at a distance from the event, since we and many other people were unable to attend (it was fully booked by mid-September).

Back in September it seemed intuitively obvious that this conference represented an inflection point in the evolution of psychopractice in the UK. Industrialization was one response, Janet Low’s The Impossible Dream, subsequently published in Therapy Today, was another. We gave attention to The New Savoy Declaration which promised to echo the ludicrously scientized assertions of the Strasbourg Declaration of a previous decade. The mainstream accrediting bodies committee who assembled this pathetically collusive, and as a conference participant described it, ‘lifeless’ document, were unresponsive to requests from us for a copy, so eIpnosis wrote and recorded our own version of it, a video of The Sav**oy Declaration being presented. Here too is our New Savoy Declaration 2007, version 1.01 and an article, also from Janet Low, which addresses its remarkable context, the Old (1658) Savoy Declaration.

However intuition is notoriously unreliable, and eIpnosis is very wary of getting locked into some version of a voice that slips from ‘undoing the folded lie,’ into mere quixotic whingeing1. Handily The British Psychoanalytic Council, a very solid, if quixotic2 organization recently posted on the internet 7 hours of recordings of the Savoy conference. All the key presentations appear to be there but without slides3 and the second day’s debate master class and seminars are missing.

The recordings we have seen are more than enough to confirm the accuracy of the eIpnosis intuition that this event represented a watershed in UK psychopractice. With some richly evocative local exceptions, the conference could have been mistaken for the corporate launch of a major new national fast food chain. A notion which eIpnosis has previously explored in the Hamburgerization of Personal Development. It’s not an exaggeration. It fits.

The conference, the IAPT initiative it celebrated, and the use throughout it of the word science, were all deeply flawed. Engineers use science in the design and construction of bridges but they don’t see themselves as doing science. If the clinical psychologists that dominated this conference4 were doing science rather than social engineering, the mêtis outcome evidence of the thousands of practitioners over the last 50 years who have helped innumerable people move through survival and recovery, towards flourishing would have shared the foreground with ‘evidence-based practice’. But no, what these recordings demonstrate is the engineering of happiness as a religion, with science as god and NICE as the biblical authority.

A first tasting of the recordings showed Richard Layard ‘fathering’ the event. His familial presence appears to dominate each day, and maybe even the genesis of the event itself and its timing. Were HealthcareEvents, the organizers, merely lucky to have placed this huge conference a few weeks after the government announcement of its support for IAPT? Might the DoH funding announcement have been timed to support the conference?

It goes without saying that the conference was an Us-to-You platform of speechifiers facing rows of seats, ensuring that interaction between participants would be confined to the breaks. An archaic social structure that in itself speaks volumes about the oppressive culture of both the event and its content. In the tapes we have seen, ‘debate’ generally took the form of a small number of speeches from the floor. A ‘power over’5 culture of a transparent, if commonplace kind.

While downloading and viewing the recordings is highly recommended, for a quick taste of the contradictions of the event, eIpnopsis suggests the following transcript from Part 5 day two in which Richard Layard details the social engineering of his IAPT initiative and what it means for the NHS and by implication for the non-scientific counselling, psychotherapy and psychoanalytic communities.

In this transcript of an item from Part 2, day two, David Crepaz-Keay of the Mental Health Foundation6, and a long term user of mental health services, very eloquently confronts the collusive surface of the event. This was by far the most alive of the conference contributions that eIpnosis has seen.

After these two short items. What else of these recordings is worth the attention and techno-effort of viewing?

The series of statements from the panel of the opening session which is contained on Part 1 gives a ‘good enough’ flavour of the series of recordings. The panel had three voices, a service user, Allison Faulkner, and two academic/ practitioners, Peter Hobson and Susie Orbach, who didn’t seem to be committed believers in the evidence-based religiosity of the event. Hobson very eloquently held open a corner for the importance of relationships and early attachment, and Susie Orbach kept attention on the demanding variety of people she works with, with some special pleading for psychoanalysis. Her contribution appeared to be the sum total of the UKCP platform input to the event, a telling indicator of the UKCP’s status in this psychopractice marketplace. Both she and Peter Hobson seemed a little in retreat from the evidence-based fundamentalism that surrounded them, defensive in the sense of how we might speak if we know that the listeners are from another planet that doesn’t have air and water.

After this, if you can still find the oxygen, you might look at: the all-out liturgies of the evidence-based practice fraternity, from Michael, ‘people can have their say, but not their way’ Rawlings, Chair of NICE, Part 5, 40 mins in; Glenys Parry, Part 3, who details her random controlled trial and numerous other methodologies that, several years after IAPT has been introduced nationwide, and long after the present funding has been spent, will be able to confirm or deny that IAPT does what it says on the packet; David Clarke whose corporate smoothness and preoccupation with numerical precision might be thought to merit a place on the board of M&S; and Barbara Milrod Part 4, who appears to have developed a manualised way of doing psychoanalysis. A better example of therapy abuse would be hard to find; lastly, from Andrew Cooper, Part 5, a muted, nuanced professorial skepticism about the culture of the event and the elephants in the room that, with the exception of David Crepaz-Keah, other participants seemed too polite to mention. Of Peter Fonaghy’s restlessly embarrassed gathering of the conference, Part 7 ‘What have we learnt, and what do we still not know’, the less said the better.

The initial eIpnosis view was that the Savoy Conference business plan anticipated a feeding frenzy for training businesses seeking commissions to supply IAPT training, and these tapes strongly support this view. They provide also a window into a toxic dystopia, the universe according to professors of clinical psychology, ie an engineering psychology stripped of love, relationship, pre-and perinatal formation, attachment and politics7; a technocratic religion that has succeeded in seducing the state into endorsing its righteousness. Perhaps after all the DoH does know what it is doing and that IAPT is intended to upstage displace/derail the other, literally toxic healthcare dystopia, so eloquently detailed by David Crepaz-Keay, and which was otherwise missing from this event, psychiatry. One of the several elephants in the room, as Andrew Cooper, Part 5 put it.


1 A 1999 article about state regulation by Yvonne Bates, ‘Still Whingeing’ continues to be a deservedly popular and prescient page on eIpnosis

2 Quixotic. It takes one to know one. I am writing this piece on a day when perhaps for the first time, the British Psychoanalytic Council has a meeting with Marc Seale of the HPC. Mainstream Psychoanalysts tilting at the HPC windmill, this must have been quite a spectacle!

3 All the speakers’ slides are missing from the recordings, presumably as a way of supporting the £50 fee that the conference organizers ask for a copy of them.

4 Clinical psychology dominated the list of speakers.

5 ‘Power over’culture. eIpnosis has repeatedly pointed out the ethical incongruity of 'power over' social structuring of institutions and events such as this, where cascades of dominance whether of status, expertise or room layout are unquestioned, and yet the content is ostensibly about helping people flourish. As though it was no part of the conference culture to be aware of the interpersonal processes that are shaping what can be said (and thought).

6 Mental Health Foundation

7 Politics in the sense of shared awareness and negotiation of power relations.

eIpnosis is edited, maintained and © Denis Postle 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007
The Savoy Conference: The Psychological Therapies in the NHS Science, Practice and Policy, November 2007