Rethinking Therapy Culture: changing the subject?

Saturday 31 October, 5.15pm until 6.30pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Keynote Controversies

According to the latest British Social Attitudes survey, fears that Britain has become a ‘therapy culture’ are completely unfounded. Its research found that although more adults and young people like to talk about their emotions compared to the past, and think this is a good thing, there is no evidence that they are using higher levels of therapeutic support. The survey therefore concludes that fears of a ‘therapy culture’ are unfounded.

Arguably, however, this misses the point about what a therapy culture is. If ‘therapy culture’ does not stand out as a distinct aspect of contemporary society, perhaps this is because it has become internalised in all areas of life. In Britain and America, therapeutic assumptions permeate lifestyle magazines, television and popular literature, with therapeutic ‘problem-solving courts’ in the US, interventions to develop emotional well-being and resolve conflict in schools, colleges and universities, parenting and anger management classes, courses in emotional literacy and well-being. Counselling is even touted as a suitable response to rising unemployment in the face of recession. Meanwhile, therapeutic assumptions and practices are embedded in aid interventions, truth and reconciliation commissions, reconstruction programmes in war-torn countries and rehabilitation programmes for soldiers.

There is very little criticism of these developments, or even recognition that they represent a distinct cultural trend. Are people simply becoming more empowered and responsible for their emotional well-being? What are the positive benefits of interventions for emotional well-being here and abroad? Is attention to emotional well-being a progressive sign of social justice? Or does it undermine our capacity to cope with life without official support?

This session is co-sponsored by the ESRC with Oxford Brookes University and the University of Birmingham.

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[NB: Poor quality audio from 00:50 to 2:10. Opening speeches from 08:15]
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Nicola Barden
head of counselling, University of Portsmouth; former chair, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

Kathryn Ecclestone
professor of education, University of Sheffield; author, Governing Vulnerable Subjects in a Therapeutic Age (forthcoming)

Professor James L Nolan
professor of sociology; chair of department of anthropology and sociology, Williams College; author, The Therapeutic State: justifying government at century's end

Professor Andrew Samuels
professor, analytical psychology, University of Essex; training analyst, Society of Analytical Psychology

Professor Dennis Hayes
professor of education, University of Derby

Produced by
Kathryn Ecclestone professor of education, University of Sheffield; author, Governing Vulnerable Subjects in a Therapeutic Age (forthcoming)
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