Mad Studies

An Introduction to Philosophical, Social, and Cultural Perspectives on Madness


This series of seven online webinars will introduce participants to mad studies, an emerging, interdisciplinary field encompassing a variety of philosophical, social, and cultural perspectives on what we consider "madness." As a discipline, mad studies seeks to challenge dominant understandings of "mental illness," rejecting the notion that the biomedical model of psychiatry is an accurate interpretation of human mental and emotional states. Mad studies offers a variety of alternative conceptualizations and approaches that point to the socially constructed nature of "mental illness" and elevate the voices of people with lived experience.

In this series, participants will be exposed to a variety of perspectives within the mad studies field, including Mad Pride, which embraces and celebrates the traits and states categorized as madness, as well as neurodiversity, which views mental and neurological differences as forms of human diversity, rather than disorders that need to be cured. Participants will learn how they can incorporate the ideas of mad studies into their practice as mental health providers.

Note: This series does not currently provide continuing education credit.


Note: All webinars will be recorded and available for viewing any time after the live event.

An Introduction to Mad Pride - July 6, 2018

Presented by Ginger A. Hoffman, PhD, PhD

2:30pm Eastern, 11:30am Pacific

Philosopher Ginger Hoffman will present two types of arguments defending the legitimacy of Mad Pride, along with possible implications such arguments have for psychiatry. The first type provides reasons to reject the illness model of mental differences, even given ample neuroscientific research (seemingly) to the contrary. The second type – more palatable to those who favor the illness model – contends that even if mental differences are illnesses, pride in them is nevertheless warranted.

Learning Objectives:

1) To describe the Mad Pride paradigm as an alternate way of responding to what are usually regarded as “mental illnesses” (hereafter “mental differences”)

2) To demonstrate how Mad Pride can enhance clinical practice by: a) giving voice to a marginalized subset of clients, b) reducing stigma and sanism, and c) in some cases, strengthening the therapist/client relationship.

3) To assess the validity of an argument for the legitimacy of Mad Pride: one that proceeds by contending that, whether or not mental differences are illnesses, pride in them is nevertheless warranted (drawing from work in Disability Studies).

4) To explain that individuals may value their mental differences because they can increase creativity, empathy, flexibility towards different viewpoints, and sensitivity to spirituality.

Mad Activism and Mental Health Practice - August 6, 2018

Presented by Mohammed Rashed, MD, PhD

1:30pm Eastern, 10:30am Pacific

Contemporary developments in mental health activism pose a radical challenge to psychiatric and societal understandings of madness. Mad Pride and mad-positive activism rejects the language of mental illness and mental disorder, and seeks social change in the way madness is viewed. This seminar discusses the origins and claims of Mad activism, responds to some of the objections that have been raised to it, and explores the possibility for the mental health encounter to be informed by the ideas of Mad activism.

Learning Objectives:

1) To recite that the Mad Pride paradigm is an alternate way of responding to what are usually regarded as “mental illnesses”

2) To identify ways in which Mad Pride can enhance clinical practice by: a) giving voice to a marginalized subset of clients, b) reducing stigma and sanism, and c) in some cases, strengthening the therapist/client relationship.

3) To discuss the way in which neuroscientific and/or genetic findings alone are unlikely to prove that mental differences are illnesses.

4) To explain that individuals may value their mental differences because they can increase creativity, empathy, flexibility towards different viewpoints, and sensitivity to spirituality.

Leading Mad Lives - September 7, 2018

Presented by Luke Kudryashov, Kate DeWolfe, and Jess Stohlmann-Rainey

1:00pm Eastern, 10:00am Pacific

Three people who identify as Mad and/or who have lived experience of extreme states, emotional distress, or trauma will discuss how they have incorporated perspectives within the field of mad studies into their identities and self-understandings. They will describe their activism and introduce participants to ongoing efforts that promote the human rights of Mad people.

This webinar did not offer continuing education credit.

The Construction of Mental Illness and Its Legal, Social, and Political Implications - October 5, 2018

Presented by David Cohen, PhD and Tomi Gomory, PhD

2:30pm Eastern, 11:30am Pacific

In this webinar, social work professors David Cohen and Tomi Gomory will deconstruct the concept of mental illness and underlying assumptions of the medical model of mental health. They will make the case that the key claims of modern American psychiatry rest on misconceived claims, flawed science, and society’s need to control non-criminal but unwanted behavior outside the means of routine police power. Participants will gain a working knowledge of how unsupported claims about mental illness-as-brain disease are used to justify coercion and human rights abuses, while reliance on these special forms of coercion preserves flawed science.

Learning Objectives:

1) To discuss the history, accomplishments, and research on the concept of mental illness and its synonyms

2) To explain how mental illness relates to concepts such as “dangerousness” and the application of coercion

3) To identify important socio-cultural consequences (e.g., medicalization, pharmacracy, palatable scapegoating) of living with a widely accepted concept of mental illness

4) To demonstrate a working knowledge of how unsupported claims about mental illness-as-brain disease are used to justify coercion and human rights abuses, while reliance on these special forms of coercion preserves flawed science.

A Mad Studies Approach to Suicide - November 6, 2018

Presented by Lzz Johnk, MA and Kira Dallaire, MA

5:30pm Eastern, 2:30pm Pacific

In this course, we will discuss suicide as a psychospiritual, individual/collective, and sociocultural phenomenon, as well as how it manifests thematically in scholarship-activism. Using an intersectional and interdisciplinary framework informed by critical disability studies, Mad Studies, decolonial studies, and feminisms of colour, we will interrogate whitestream/sanestream conceptions of suicide as always already 'bad.' Course participants will contribute to critical dialogue on what it means to hold space for the strong feelings of those who position themselves as 'against suicide' while also supporting the sovereignty of Mad, disabled, and neurodivergent bodyminds, especially bodyminds of colour.

This webinar did not offer continuing education credit.

Getting a Handle on Antipsychiatry - December 6, 2018

Presented by Bonnie Burstow, PhD

2:30pm Eastern, 11:30am Pacific

The webinar “Getting a Handle on Antipsychiatry” will be focused on antipsychiatry as both a theoretic position and a mode of activism. Issues dealt with in the webinar will include: What exactly is antipsychiatry? What is the grounding? What makes the analysis and the mandate at once defensible, formidable, and urgently necessary? What is antipsychiatry’s relationship to Mad Studies? There will be a quick overview of theorists like Szasz, Foucault, and Laing. We will discuss briefly what we can learn from actual antipsychiatry activist groups. Correspondingly, the attrition model of psychiatry abolition, what makes it useful and how it might be employed effectively by antipsychiatry activists will be teased out in depth. In line with Audre Lorde’s compelling statement, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” not only activism per se but more micro issues like the use of words will likewise be discussed. And an attempt will be made to dispel myths about antipsychiatry—myths largely invented by the psychiatric regime of rule and which in the long run serve no one but the psy industry.

Learning Objectives:

1) Develop an understanding of what antipsychiatry is and what it isn’t

2) Describe the difference between antipsychiatry and traditional psychiatric concepts and assumptions

3) Identify the leading theorists and writers who have contributed to the antipsychiatry movement

4) Describe practices in traditional psychiatry that represent the dehumanizing aspects of the underlying assumptions

5) Identify cases in their own practice where antipsychiatry concepts would prove useful and effective

A Practical Approach to Madness: Finding the Balance Between Romanticizing and Awfulizing - January 7, 2019

Presented by Ron Unger, LCSW

2:30pm Eastern, 11:30am Pacific

When people start talking about something of value to be found in “mad” or “psychotic” or “extreme” experiences, they are often accused by those in mainstream psychiatry of “romanticizing an illness,” and overlooking how disruptive and distressing these states can be. But when only the negatives about mad experiences are noticed, the focus goes exclusively to attempts at suppression, despite increasing evidence that this strategy contributes to long term dysfunction.

This webinar will explore a middle ground approach, which balances an awareness of the hazards of mad experiences with a willingness to notice what might be positive about them. Starting with more of an open mind, it becomes possible to help people explore and eventually understand their experiences in life promoting ways, rather than either avoiding or being overwhelmed by them. Methods of applying this approach to improving clinical interactions with “mad” people will be discussed.

Learning Objectives:

1) Describe different conceptions of psychosis and extreme states

2) List ways in which disability can have both positive and negative effects on a person

3) Discuss the key meanings of Mad Pride

4) Analyze ways in which the current mental health system over-values sanity and stability

5) Identify personal strengths that can result from experiences with disability

Accommodations for the Differently Abled

Mad in America Continuing Education webinars are handicap accessible. Individuals needing special accommodations, please contact Bob Nikkel at [email protected] or (503) 929-9346

Who should view this series

This series is open to mental health professionals, people with lived experience, family members, and the general public.

Grievance Policy

Commonwealth Educational Seminars (CES) seeks to ensure equitable treatment of every person and to make every attempt to resolve grievances in a fair manner. Please submit a written grievance to: Bob Nikkel, [email protected], Phone: (503) 929-9346.Grievances would receive, to the best of our ability, corrective action in order to prevent further problems.

Your Instructors

July 6, 2018

Ginger A. Hoffman, Ph.D., Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Saint Joseph's University. Her research brings advances in philosophy to bear on unsettled debates in psychiatry and neuroscience. In particular, she examines philosophical defenses of Mad Pride, and explores how novel philosophical relational models of the self and mind can lead to more liberatory conceptions of mental differences (synonymous with the term “mental disorders” but intentionally neutral between competing models of such differences – including, for example, the illness model and the neurodiversity model). She possesses backgrounds in both philosophy (her Ph.D. in philosophy is from MIT) and neuroscience (her Ph.D. in neuroscience is from Yale University, where she explored the basic biology underlying antidepressant and antipsychotic mechanisms).

She has articles published or forthcoming in several journals including: Synthese, The Journal of Social Philosophy, Philosophy Compass, Philosophical Psychology, Neuroethics, Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology, and The International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, as well as in several edited volumes. In addition to serving on the Executive Council of the Association for the Advancement of Philosophy and Psychiatry, she has participated in numerous mental diversity advocacy initiatives, and has worked with mentally different individuals in a variety of volunteer contexts.

August 6, 2018

Mohammed Abouelleil Rashed, MD, PhD is a Wellcome Trust ISSF Research Fellow in philosophy and psychiatry at Birkbeck College, University of London. His most recent work examines the philosophy and politics of identity, culture, and recognition in light of contemporary mental health activism such as Mad Pride. This research is coming out in his book Madness and the Demand for Recognition (Oxford University Press). He also researches alternative cultural constructions of mental health phenomena, and has conducted ethnographic studies of spirit possession, magic, and healing in the Western desert of Egypt. Before moving on to full-time research, Mohammed studied medicine at Cairo university and trained in psychiatry in London.

September 7, 2018

Luke Kudryashov is a PhD student in English and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. His research interests include Mad Studies, Disability Studies, Crip/Queer/Trans Studies, Critical Race Theory, Affect Theory, Digital and New Media, and Theater and Performance. He received his BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania.

Kate DeWolfe is the Communications Coordinator for Vermont Psychiatric Survivors, an independent, statewide mutual support and civil rights advocacy organization run by and for psychiatric survivors. They’re a genderqueer, mad, neurodivergent, frazzled parent just doing their best. Kate is also a writer and editor for Radical Abolitionist, a Cognitive Liberty Blogspace. Curating stories from the front lines of resistance to medical paternalism, psychiatric coercion, and force.

Jess Stohlmann-Rainey, MA is a researcher, trainer, and advocate serving as the Director of Program Development for Colorado's statewide crisis and peer support lines at Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners. She has focused her career on creating pathways to intersectional, justice-based, emotional support for marginalized communities. Jess centers her lived expertise as an ex-patient and suicide attempt survivor in her work.

October 5, 2018

David Cohen, LCSW, PhD is Professor of Social Welfare and Associate Dean of Research at the Luskin School of Public Affairs, UCLA. He researches involuntary interventions, medicalization, iatrogenesis, social pharmacology, drug regulation, and psychotropic drug action and discontinuation. He received awards for excellence in research, writing, teaching, mentoring, and advocacy, and the Tocqueville-Fulbright Chair to France. He counseled clients who sought to discontinue from their psychiatric medications and worked with service user organizations around the world on this issue. Author or co-author of 120 articles and chapters, his books include Challenging the Therapeutic State (1990), Your Drug May Be Your Problem (1999, 2007), Critical New Perspectives on ADHD (2004), and Mad Science (2013)

Tomi Gomory, PhD is an Associate Professor and Fulbright Scholar at Florida State University’s College of Social Work. He worked for 10 years as a mental health clinician and administrator including being the director of the first adult homeless shelter operated in Brooklyn NY and also was the San Francisco director of the National Homeless Families National Demonstration Project co-funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Federal government. For the last 20 years he has been an academic teaching, writing, and researching mental health treatment, policy and education at Florida State University. His particular professional foci are evaluation of clinical practice, psychiatric coercion, “evidence-based practice,” homelessness and alternate approaches to our current medically informed mental health treatments. He has published many articles and chapters on these topics. He is the co-author of Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis and Drugs (Transaction Publishers, 2013).

November 6, 2018

Lzz Johnk, MA is a queer agender Mad PhD student in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. Their research interests include critical disability studies, Mad Studies, Indigenous feminisms, Queer of Color Critique, and decolonial methodologies and pedagogies. Their current research focuses on Madness, Mad community, and Mad identity and their imbrication with race, class, nationality, and other intersectional components of identity/embodiment.

Kira Dallaire, MA holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education and a Master of Arts in special education with a focus on learning disabilities. Currently Kira is working on her second MA in women’s and gender studies at Eastern Michigan University. Kira has spent the past four years writing and presenting on Mad/Disability Studies at national and international conferences. Her work has focused on resilience in Native American communities in the Midwest United States, culturally responsive teaching practices, social epistemology, disability and labor, autoethnography of trauma, and research through the Mad lens. Outside of academia Kira has been involved in a variety of activist projects including the development of a zine workshop at the local women’s prison, city ordinance development for affordable and accessible housing, and she is currently in the process of developing a community space where Mad and Disabled people and allies can come together to share experiences and work on consciousness-raising. Kira lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan with her partner Hunter and her spunky cat Frank.

December 6, 2018

Bonnie Burstow, PhD is a professor in Adult Education and Community Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. Correspondingly, she a long time antipsychiatry activist, a philosopher, a counterhegemonic feminist psychotherapist, and a prolific author. Examples or relevant books of hers are: The Other Mrs. Smith, Psychiatry and the Business of Madness, Psychiatry Interrogated, Psychiatry Disrupted, and Shrink-Resistant. She recently endowed at University of Toronto the world’s very first scholarship in antipsychiatry.

January 7, 2019

Ron Unger, LCSW is a therapist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for psychosis, a hearing voices group facilitator, and an activist for choice and human rights in the mental health system. He has taken as special interest in the intersection of trauma, dissociation, psychosis, and spirituality, drawing on his own experiences as well as other sources to develop new perspectives on these topics. Ron teaches continuing education seminars on these topics, where he offers practical and humanistic ways of working with difficulties that too often are framed as simply biological defects or as not understandable. He is also chairperson of the education committee for the US Chapter of the International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches for Psychosis (ISPS), and is a blogger at, as well as

Date: TBA

Sara M. Acevedo, PhD is an autistic mestiza, educator, and disability justice advocate born and raised in Colombia. Her background is in linguistics, disability studies, and activist anthropology. Sara is adjunct faculty in interdisciplinary studies and recently received her PhD in Anthropology and Social Change from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco.

Sara has recently collaborated with U.S. grassroots leaders in the Mental Health movement, The Mad Pride Movement, and the Neurodiversity Movement in order to potentialize cross- movement solidarity and coalition building. This collaboration emphasizes shared political and educational aims while honoring the multiplicity of lived experiences that each bring to the table.

Sara is co-founder of the Spanish blog "Autismo, Liberación y Orgullo" (, alongside co-author Mónica Vidal Gutiérrez, another autistic Colombian woman and mother to an autistic son. The blog is a political, educational, and informational response to the lack of literature, resources, grassroots materials and activist narratives authored by Spanish-speaking autistics and otherwise neurodivergent people in Spanish speaking countries, where the primacy of the medical and the charity models of disability is still strong.

Robin Roscigno, MA, MSEd is a neurodivergent scholar-activist and disability justice advocate. She is a PhD student at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education, concentrating in Theory, Organization and Policy.Robin is a former special education teacher, and currently works as a free-lance consultant and program evaluator. Her research interests include critical disability studies and the politics of education. As an activist, Robin has spoken all over her home state of New Jersey on eliminating restraint and seclusion in schools, including the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network. Robin is an autistic parent of an autistic child and a committed disability justice activist and educator.

Course Curriculum

  Mad Activism and Mental Health Practice - August 6, 2018 (1:30pm Eastern)
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  Leading Mad Lives - September 7, 2018 (1:00pm Eastern)
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  The Construction of Mental Illness - October 5 (2:30pm Eastern)
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  A Mad Studies Approach to Suicide - November 6, 2018 (5:30pm Eastern)
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  Getting a Handle on Antipsychiatry - December 6, 2018 (2:30pm Eastern)
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  A Practical Approach to Madness - January 7, 2019 (2:30pm Eastern)
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