Special Issue: The processes and context of innovation in mental healthcare: Oxfordshire as a case study

AHP readers may be interested in a special issue of History of Psychiatry dedicated to “The processes and context of innovation in mental healthcare: Oxfordshire as a case study.” Titles, authors, and abstracts below.

“The processes and context of innovation in mental healthcare: Oxfordshire as a case study,” John Hall, Neil Armstrong, Peter Agulnik, Craig Fees, David Kennard, Jonathan Leach, and David Millard. Abstract:

This article introduces the four following articles and the Classic Text. They describe the development of a sequence of innovative local mental health services in Oxfordshire, and explore the processes of innovation, led by the humane pragmatism practised by Dr Bertram Mandelbrote, who was Physician Superintendent at Littlemore Hospital in Oxford from 1959 to 1988. The articles describe emerging patterns of therapeutic community practice, and trace the events leading to a set of discrete service developments outside the hospital. Together, they suggest a positive role for chance in these developments, and a focus on the then prevailing national and local regulatory culture. The Classic Text by David Millard provides an overview of the origins of the therapeutic community movement.

“Innovation in mental health care: Bertram Mandelbrote, the Phoenix Unit and the therapeutic community approach,” David Millard, Peter Agulnik, Neil Armstrong, Craig Fees, John Hall, David Kennard, and Jonathan Leach. Abstract:

Bertram Mandelbrote was Physician Superintendent and Consultant Psychiatrist at Littlemore Hospital in Oxford from 1959 to 1988. A humane pragmatist rather than theoretician, Mandelbrote was known for his facilitating style of leadership and working across organisational boundaries. He created the Phoenix Unit, an innovative admission unit run on therapeutic community lines which became a hub for community outreach. Material drawn from oral histories and witness seminars reflects the remarkably unstructured style of working on the Phoenix Unit and the enduring influence of Mandelbrote and fellow consultant Benn Pomryn’s styles of leadership. Practices initiated at Littlemore led to a number of innovative services in Oxfordshire. These innovations place Mandelbrote as a pioneer in social psychiatry and the therapeutic community approach.

“The development of supported mental health accommodation and community psychiatric nursing in Oxfordshire,” John Hall. Open access. Abstract:

Overcrowding in British mental hospitals was a major service and political concern when the NHS was introduced in 1948. From 1959, a number of projects were initiated locally in Oxfordshire, based from Littlemore Hospital Oxford, to provide alternative accommodation, primarily for long-stay residents. Two NHS hostels were opened and a network of group homes was developed from 1963. These were administered through the hospital League of Friends and supported by the community psychiatric nursing service led by Helmut Leopoldt. From 1977 a separate local charity, Oxfordshire Mind, also provided supported housing for younger patients. These developments can be seen as an early local case study of the provision of non-hospital (supported) accommodation and other forms of support for people with long-term mental health problems.

“The development of a creative work rehabilitation organisation,” Jonathan Leach, Peter Agulnik, and Neil Armstrong. Abstract:

Work as therapy has a place in mental healthcare, but there is disagreement about how and why it might be helpful, and how best to conceptualise or represent those benefits. Over the last 50 years, occupational and industrial therapy sheltered workshops have been key elements in the provision of work activities in psychiatric settings, and community-based horticultural activities and creative craft work have offered additional approaches. Using archival material, interviews, witness seminars and personal reflections, this article charts the birth and initial growth of Restore, a charity providing creative work-based services in Oxfordshire between 1977 and 1988. Although Restore might be understood as a response to national trends in mental healthcare policy and research, its trajectory reflects local contingencies.

“Happenstance and regulatory culture: the evolution of innovative community mental health services in Oxfordshire in the late twentieth century,” Neil Armstrong and Peter Agulnik. Open access. Abstract:

This paper uses co-produced historical material to explore the evolution of two innovative mental healthcare institutions that emerged in Oxfordshire in the 1960s. We highlight how the trajectories of both institutions were driven by chance events occurring within social environments, rather than emerging out of evidence or policy initiatives. Both institutions found a role for spontaneity and an openness to chance in the way they worked. We argue that this kind of institutional history would be unlikely today; the paper develops and uses the concept of regulatory culture to explain why. We suggest that the role of regulatory culture has been neglected in the history of psychiatry.

“Classic Text No. 133: ‘Maxwell Jones and the Therapeutic Community’, by David Millard (1996),” Craig Fees. Open access. Abstract:

This text was David Millard’s departing gift to a field to which he had contributed for 30 years, as practitioner and later as Lecturer in Applied Social Studies and editor of the International Journal of Therapeutic Communities. Charting the chronology of Maxwell Jones’s career as a world-renowned psychiatrist and therapeutic community pioneer, Millard contrasts Jones’s contribution at Mill Hill with Tom Main’s at Northfield. Jones’s most distinctive contribution was allowing patients to become auxiliary therapists and freeing nurses from the nursing hierarchy. Focusing on a subset of therapeutic communities in adult psychiatry, Millard’s paper is not an academic history of therapeutic communities as such. The roles of happenstance and positive deviance are demonstrated in the way change occurs in therapeutic communities. The ‘charisma question’ is briefly explored.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.