“I’ve had such a curious dream” said Alice

On Monday, I was presented with an award by Alistair Campbell, who himself was given an award in the same ceremony. As it was all over my Twitter feed for a few hours (and has attracted some light trolling), I might as well acknowledge it. At present, there is a banner photo at the top of the Royal College of Psychiatrists home page. There I am, between Wendy Burn and Kate Lovett, President and Dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists respectively, surrounded by other award recipients.

Award ceremonies are vulnerable to disdain from outsiders and those who are never nominated. “Orgy of self-congratulation” is a common criticism. Set against this, it is important that professions acknowledge excellence and highlight their common values in doing so. I imagine that anyone with any degree of self-awareness is likely to have imposter worries when they are given a Lifetime Achievement Award, and I am certainly no exception in this regard. Some very generous things were said about me on Monday, completely without the usual caveats such as “or so he tells me” and “talks too much”.

Prior to Monday, the public comment about me that had given me most pleasure was Duncan Double’s description “old-fashioned radical”, complete with its two-edged meaning. I thought the description was fair, bearing in mind rejection of post-modernism, a book about mental health and poverty and papers that have critical of the pharmaceutical industry, private psychiatry and the integration of spirituality into psychiatric practice.

 Psychiatry is often caricatured as uniformly biomedical and reductionist. Although the 2017 RCPsych Awards do celebrate neuroscience, they also recognised psychiatrists and teams that have devoted themselves to other fields of endeavour. Dr Sri Kalidindi was given the Psychiatrist of the Year Award. She is a distinguished rehabilitation psychiatrist. No one can practice rehabilitation psychiatry without a good understanding of the key importance of emotional factors and social context. It is the exemplar of social psychiatry. Leaving aside whether my award was deserved or not, I could not be accused of being a bio-fanatic. Psychiatry has been involved in some very bad things in the past, such as aversion therapy for homosexual orientation, but I am proud that we have the maturity to acknowledge this. No individual psychiatrist is perfect. A few are terrible. Overall, in my experience, British psychiatry is very different to the DSM-V toting straw man portrayed by some strident critics. If giving an Award to me reflects that, and I believe it does, then I am proud.