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Jonathan Freedland discusses madness, music and mental health with Carrie Cracknell, Jonathan Biss, Tom Burns and Richard Bentall.

Tom burns discusses madness music and mental health on bbc radio 4s start the week

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Music and Madness: Start the Week, BBC Radio 4, Monday, May 13th

This Start the Week focused on psychiatric versus psychological approaches to mental illness bracketed by an examination of madness in an opera (Alban Berg’s ‘Wozzeck’, after Georg Büchner’s play ‘Woyzeck’) and the relevance of Robert Schumann’s mental illness to his music. Tom Burns from the department of Psychiatry in Oxford argued for the value of diagnosis as the organizing principle in modern mental health care. The psychologist Richard Bentall countered that diagnoses were not only useless, but led to us ignoring the meaning of patients’ symptoms. Burns insisted that diagnoses were essentially pragmatic tools, needed to match disorders to treatments, and Bentall repeated his claim that they were no more accurate than star signs.  Burns outlined the evolution of modern psychiatry with two intertwined traditions – the more medical classification arising from asylums and the more psychotherapeutic which had arisen from an attempt to understand of irrational and unconscious processes. He argued that the last 30 years have witnessed an unusually long dominance of the medical model and suggested that this is likely to soften in the near future. There was no real meeting of minds, but the music was wonderful. (TB)