2015 CONFERENCE INFORMATION
BRIEF SYNOPSIS OF THE WORKSHOP
We believe that Esalen is the perfect setting for the next R. D. Laing Symposium and Workshop. Esalen’s relationship with Laing is of historic importance due to Laing’s visits there from the mid-1960s toward the end of the 1980s. In 1968 Richard Price and Michael Murphy convened a summer-long series of symposia under the title, The Value of Psychotic Experience, that was designed to explore the meaning of sanity and madness, altered states of consciousness, and humane alternatives to conventional psychiatric treatment of those suffering from extreme states. Participants included Laing, Aldous Huxley, Gregory Bateson, Abraham Maslow, Fritz Perls, John Perry, Stan Grof, Julian Silverman, Alan Watts and many others who shared their respective experiences and thoughts about psychotic states and altered states of consciousness. It was on this occasion that Laing first shared his ground-breaking work at Kingsley Hall in London. Laing’s experiences at Kingsley Hall helped inspire Julian Silverman to initiate the Agnews Project in San Jose, out of which evolved Loren Mosher’s project at Soteria House that was explicitly modeled on Kingsley Hall. A few years later John Perry and Howard Levine initiated a similar project, Diabasis, in San Francisco. Esalen’s role in bringing all of these extraordinary thinkers together for the first time was instrumental in creating opportunities for alternative treatment modalities to flourish all over America for a period of some twenty years before the backlash against the counterculture sadly brought these experiments to an end.
The theme for our Laing Esalen Symposium Workshop was one of Laing’s favorite subjects: “What is Sanity? What is Madness?” We see this workshop as an opportunity to revisit the 1968 Esalen summer-long symposium in order to assess the current state of alternatives to psychiatric practices and to further explore amongst ourselves who is sane, if anyone, and who is crazy, if anyone, and what do these distinctions really mean outside of a medicalized psychodiagnostic context?
We want to explore and debate a series of relevant questions, including:
1) If we encounter someone who appears to be crazy and suffering beyond his or her ability to cope, how can we help that person become less crazed, but in a manner that doesn’t violate one’s fundamental right of possession of one’s body and mind?Like the Wagner College symposium, our week-long Esalen Symposium Workshop will feature teachers who worked personally with Laing and who are currently involved with furthering his legacy. Invited speakers include some who presented at the Wagner College Symposium, such as Fritjof Capra, Andrew Pickering, Steven Gans, Peter Mezan, Edie Irwin, Douglas Kirsner, Michael Guy Thompson, and new speakers, including Nita Gage, Matthew Morrissey, Stephen Ticktin, Thomas Bartlett, Douglas Gill, William Stranger, Rita Gayford, Haya Oakley, Alma Menn, and others, all of whom worked personally with Laing or were profoundly influenced by his work. We will also feature a number of speakers who never met Laing but share similar interests and goals and are actively involved in the Alternative to Psychiatry movement that has been proliferating all over America in recent years, including Robert Whitaker, Will Hall, Michael Cornwall, Daniel Mackler, Yana Jacobs, and others. Our principal mission is to provide a forum where we are able to come together and share our views about what it means to be sane, and how to best facilitate its presence in our lives without encroaching on ourselves or each other.
2) Are each of us, perhaps, a bit crazy, and to the degree that we are, how have we managed to contain or channel our craziness into acceptable, perhaps productive, even creative endeavors?
3) How can we work together to create places of sanctuary, like Kingsley Hall, Soteria House, or Diabasis, for those in society who are no longer able to hold it together, and who need the time and the help to pull it together?
4) How might revisioning conventional notions about sanity and madness help our society to better grasp this ongoing tragedy and inspire more support, both private and public, to alleviate this problem?
Kingsley Hall, Soteria House, and Diabasis were famous for providing alternatives to medicating and incarcerating those who were diagnosed as schizophrenic or psychotic. Today, there is no facility in the United States that features such a simple, common sense alternative. We want to determine why this is so, despite the obvious need for such places. Some of us are actively exploring setting up such places on the East Coast and in the Bay Area, and we see this workshop as a gathering place for those who support this endeavor and wish to join forces with us. We hope to bring the fruit of Laing’s work forward at a time when many are looking for alternatives to treating mental illness by conventional, oftentimes cruel, methods.
Join us in this groundbreaking event and share your experiences with us.
We plan to accommodate fifty or more participants in this week-long event.
Esalen will offer CEUs to all eligible participants.