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Tuesday 29 May 2012

Resources: TED Talks

This, I recognize, is old news. Ever since Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk went viral several years ago, most people have heard of TED. But few clinicians seem to use TED as a resource for clients. And they should.
A website worth spreading.

What is TED?

TED, for those who missed the bulletin, began as an annual conference in California. The acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The conference invites key speakers in a diverse array of fields to present, limiting their talks in most cases to 18 minutes. In order to squeeze big ideas into a small timespace, the presenters are forced to crystallize their ideas for maximum impact.

In recent years, spinoff TED conferences around the world have adopted a similar format. Top innovators, artists, scientists, and policymakers stand on the stage's red dot and describe their work and ideas.

The only question, of course, is what to do with the resulting videos of the individual presentations. TED organizers decided to post them for free download from their website. All of them.

So you can now go to and watch talks by Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, Maya Angelou, and hundreds of other brilliant speakers, innovators, and thinkers. You can surf and listen at random, or you can explore themes. Some of the conferences themes are:

  • Architecture
  • Africa
  • Green Issues
  • Food
  • The Mind
  • How We Learn
  • Evolution
  • Storytellers
  • Presentation Skills
  • Oceans
  • Media
  • Business Innovation
  • Cities
  • What Makes Us Happy?
  • ... and more.

How does this relate to mental health and clinical practice?

First, many people who seek psychological help are looking for inspiration. Some aren’t sure what they want to do with their lives, some have become discouraged by the lack of intellectual tone in public discourse, and some simply long to see that somewhere, someone is thinking larger thoughts about the world and the future.

As well, some of the themes are clearly related to clinical issues or social science. "What makes us happy?" is, obviously, concerned with life satisfaction and positive psychology. Other talks discuss prominent social issues, and some speakers describe their survival of fundamental life-changing events.

For therapists looking for informative and inspiring "homework" content for clients, TED can also be tremendously useful.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s viral talk is one that I have recommended to many clients. A neuroanatomist whose career involves the study of mental illness, she describes the experience of awakening one morning in the midst of having a stroke. Her harrowing description of the experience of trying to get help suddenly takes a sharp turn and becomes a meditation on mindfulness and transcendence, bearing a message about the constant availability of inner peace.

And: Let's face it, many of the activities involved in self-care have somewhat limited appeal, particularly when people are in a low mood. Housecleaning seems oppressive and boring, and even a pleasant walk can become an opportunity to engage in negative rumination. It can help to have something else on which to focus one's mind. TED talks generally work well as audio-only content, so people can download audio versions of the talks to iPod (or use the TED app available through iTunes) and play them while doing something that might otherwise be dull. I often play one or two while on a Stairmaster at the gym.

Access points

It's easy to get a taste of TED. Just go to the website at and start browsing. But there are now many hundreds of talks on the site, so it can be a bit overwhelming. Here are a few favourites:

There are many more. I think, though, that if the average mental health clinician watches these six, they will be hooked. The average nonclinician probably will be too.

Whatever your pet interests might be, there are probably talks on the subject from the world’s leaders in the field. TED is perhaps the best and most interesting convention on earth, and with the website you have an open invitation to view every talk that has ever been given. How can you lose?

I recommend TED to many clients who find the site to be engaging, inspiring, and yes, even a little bit antidepressant. Try it.

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