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Madness, childhood adversity and narrative psychiatry: caring and the moral imagination
  1. Philip Thomas1,
  2. Eleanor Longden2
  1. 1Department of Social Science and Humanities, University of Bradford, Bradford, UK
  2. 2Faculty of Medicine and Health, Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Philip Thomas, Department of Social Science and Humanities, University of Bradford, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD7 1DP, UK; philipfthomas{at}


The dominance of technological paradigms within psychiatry creates moral and ethical tensions over how to engage with the interpersonal narratives of those experiencing mental distress. This paper argues that such paradigms are poorly suited for fostering principled responses to human suffering, and proposes an alternative approach that considers a view of relationships based in feminist theories about the nature of caring. Four primary characteristics are presented which distinguish caring from technological paradigms: (1) a concern with the particular nature of contexts, (2) embodied practice, (3) the dialogical basis of caring and (4) the existential basis of caring. From this we explore the role of the moral imagination and our ability, through narrative, to acknowledge, engage with and bear witness to the injustices that shape the lives of those who suffer. This, we argue, is at the heart of caring. Clinical implications are discussed, including an exposition of the importance of narrative in recovery from trauma and distress. Narrative Psychiatry, The Sanctuary Model of care, and Soteria, are outlined as examples of this type of practice.

  • Caring
  • Childhood Abuse
  • Existentialism
  • Feminist Ethics
  • Narrative Psychiatry
  • Psychosis
  • Recovery

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