Graduate School Hosts Mental Health Conference


Dozens of students, alumni, and area professionals attended the Graduate School's symposium on mental health on November 17, 2012, and organizers are already planning future iterations of the event.

Career counselor Diane Spizziro, who organized the event with Graduate School Dean Marie Ribarich and Assistant Dean Wendi Vescio DiNolfo, estimated that between 140 and 160 took part in the conference, called Innovative Practices in Mental Wellness.

"Everybody who attended felt it was really needed," Spizziro said. "Really great mental health professionals shared their research in very interactive workshops."

The 16 breakout sessions included talks about neurofeedback, working with suicide survivors and returning service members, and new therapies for mental health disorders.

"We definitely intend to do this event next year," Spizziro said. The fact that the event ran smoothly in its first year was a big plus.

The keynote speaker was Daniel Smith, who holds the Mary Ellen Donnelly Critchlow Endowed Chair in English and has written two books that address mental health issues: “Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Borders of Sanity,” and “Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety.”

Smith said the well-attended event was "impressive both in terms of numbers and the intelligence, curiosity, and experience of the participants." He added, "I met some wonderful, hard-working clinicians and students, people who are doing admirable and important work. I was truly honored to be a part of it all."

In his talk, Smith offered insight into anxiety via the word "solipsism." He says he uses the word to refer to "that peculiar and obviously problematic psychological state in which you can only focus on yourself. You can only see yourself. Nothing outside truly registers on the mind, and certainly doesn’t register with nearly the same force as whatever is going on in here, in that mysterious and powerful place between your two ears."

Smith said solipsism was also a trap he sought to avoid in writing the book. He talked about using humor to convey his personal experiences without becoming too self-involved.

Smith even described the anxiety he was feeling up on stage, along with the exercises he does to help it subside, ending his talk on a positive note.

"I can feel myself emerging from the basement of anxious thoughts into the light of reality — which is to say, the world," he said. "I can feel myself choosing the world. And I intend to keep choosing. Every day. Forever. Anything else would be solipsistic."

(Photo: Conference participants listen to the keynote address by Professor Daniel Smith.)