in Psychiatry Bites

Psychiatry bites February 13 2009

IoP Supremo Professor Robin Murray is giving a lecture at Gresham Collge, Holborn this coming Wednesday 18th entitled Are normal people sane?  I’ve heard Professor Murray talk a few times and he’s a very good orator.  This is part of a series of psychiatry lectures, previous ones of which have been streamed.  Worth a look is Professor Simon Wessely’s lecture Shock or Cowardice: The Case of Harry Farr


In the past I’ve read and enjoyed several of Alain de Botton’s books.  For those of you that haven’t heard of him he’s a sort of peddler of lightweight intellectual self help.  But I found myself perusing his website today and unfortuntely he’s dived in my estimations.  With some like minded people de Botton has set up a institution called the School of Life, which offers courses on interesting things.  So far, so good, but they’ve also got a psychotherapy division about which they have to say:

For the normally reserved British, it [School of Life] must be a first to have an institution that offers therapy from an ordinary high street location and moreover, treats the idea of having therapy as no more or less strange than having a haircut or pedicure, and perhaps a good deal more useful.

The idea that seeking professional psychotherapeutic help for any and all of life’s ills is so oft repeated that is has an empirical force.  But imagine for a moment that instead of reading about the UK you were reading about a strange and foreign land where whenever a tribesperson has a difficulty of any sort they paid hundreds of hard to come by shiny pebbles in order to talk to a stranger for one hour, once a week.

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  1. I don’t think it’s too dissimilar to the role of witch doctors or religious leaders, both of which are fortunately on the decline in Britain. Although of course many therapists and other types base their practice on equivalent standards of reason and evidence, thus giving their whole endeavour a bit of a bad name.

    People have always needed to consult with others who are somewhat removed from the situation, and where the consequences of full disclosure are not alienation and ridicule (many people use their GP; others their hairdresser; others confession). The problem is with the name ‘therapy’. ‘Consultation’ might be better.

    I think a secular equivalent of the church is not necessarily a bad thing. A sort of organisation where people can come with questions and leave with either answers or more questions. Not necessarily leaving feeling better, but at least thinking more clearly about the issues. The rise of de Botton and other popular philosophers (e.g., Julian Baggini) is in part, I reckon, one response to the growing secularisation of society, the creep of postmodernism, dissatisfaction with the x-factor culture and a lot of uncertainty over how we ought to live our lives.

    Of course there’s a debate to be had about who we think ought to offer such a service. Personally, I think philosophers are pretty good candidates. Shame about the name though – ‘school of life’? Mmm.

  2. Postscript: the lecture by Murray is looking good. For someone who (I think) has always been quite critical of people who are critical of the schizophrenia concept, this is quite a turn around. Looks like he’s with the Van Os & Richard Bentall camp now! What will the Americans think of us?