I’m excited to announce a new series of Mad in America Continuing Education webinars for 2019. They focus on what I believe is a central issue—what does a true informed consent process look like for the prescription of psychiatric drugs? This is a leverage point for changing the paradigm of care by starting with how people are informed about what psychiatric drugs do.
I believe that righting this ship is largely going to be up to non-medical mental health professionals and persons with experience in having been through a system that fails miserably to provide real informed consent. Since we are a continuing education program, our courses are designed primarily for the first group: psychologists, social workers, nurses, licensed professional counselors, and marriage/family therapists. We will continue to apply for continuing education credits (CEs) and at some point recruit more interest from physicians so it would be worthwhile to apply for the more expensive continuing medical education credits (CMEs).
We recognize that our webinars are attended by three main groups—not just clinicians but also persons with lived experience and, increasingly, family members who have become discouraged with the poor progress their loved ones make over time in the era of long-term prescriptions and polypharmacy. And they are more and more frustrated with too much of their advocacy movement having been tainted by corporate influence. We definitely need peers and family members to participate, because change in clinical practice will not take place without the urgency and pressures initiated by those with personal knowledge of the current problems with poorly constructed informed consent processes.
I know from my experience as a state mental health commissioner that making these kinds of system changes requires a combination of great ideas, partnership, and taking advantage of opportunities. Reforming the process of real informed consent is one of those opportunities that we can bring to the horizon sooner rather than later if we have a much clearer product, i.e., a solid idea of what the provision of truthful, unbiased research-based information about psychiatric medications should look like. This upcoming series of webinars will take a meaningful step forward.
We have planned the series starting on January 22 with a panel of four people who have had personal experience in being informed or not when prescribed drugs. They will discuss their experiences: good, bad and indifferent. All of the presenters are also engaged in peer-delivered services and advocacy so their perspectives will be shaped by both kinds of roles. They will also conduct the concluding webinar in June in which they will reflect on what they heard in the four intervening sessions to further refine ideas and to stimulate more interest and advocacy efforts for change.
The second session will be taught by one of the leading conceptual experts on this issue, UCLA’s Dr. David Cohen, who will present his views on the concept and history of informed consent processes. This webinar will be on February 19.
Next, Dr. Sandra Steingard, medical director of a community mental health center in Vermont, will describe what a well-constructed informed consent process looks like in a real life mental health program—she will address challenges, perceived risks and benefits. She will add to her several well-received webinars on psychiatric drug withdrawal in our previous courses on this important and obviously very closely connected topic. Her webinar is scheduled for March 19.
On April 16, Erin Barnett, a child/adolescent psychologist with Dartmouth, will discuss the issues of informed consent in working with children and youth. Much of this process focuses on the information that must be provided to parents and, where necessary, to legal guardians or others who are responsible for approving or not approving the use of psychiatric drugs.
The last of the presenters, James Toews, will discuss issues on a topic that we have not really touched on enough: that of what informed consent must look like when a person who is being prescribed these drugs has extremely limited cognitive capacity, such as people with developmental or other intellectual disabilities and seniors who are increasingly prescribed more and more medications. Mr. Toews is a longtime colleague who most recently served as a highly respected national consultant, and before that for more than two decades as a powerful advocate and director of senior and developmental disabilities at a state level.
You can register for the entire series here.
The fee for the six-webinar course is $75, with an “Early Bird” registration discounted to $40 for those who register by DECEMBER 1. We also provide a limited number of scholarships to all our courses for those in financial need.
We look forward to your participation.
Robert Nikkel, MSW, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Public Psychiatry Training Program at Oregon Health and Science University. He was the State of Oregon’s commissioner for both mental health and addictions from 2003-2008. He is the director of the Mad in America Continuing Education project and a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care.