The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education: 10 years on

Saturday 13 October, 10:0011:30, Level G StudioBook Club Salons

In association with:

The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education was published in 2008, assessing trends from the early Nineties, in which the education system was required to address myriad psychological and emotional problems. Amid a series of crises, from bullying to low self-esteem and now mental health, academics, psychologists and policy makers promulgated the belief that young people lacked resilience and needed a growing array of therapeutic interventions. A huge industry of life coaches, counsellors, mindfulness facilitators, mental-toughness trainers, bully mediators and nurture groups had taken root across the education system.

Ten years on, the book has been chosen to appear in a prestigious Routledge Education Classic Editions series celebrating Routledge’s commitment to excellent scholarship, teaching and learning by bringing ‘these important books to the attention of a new generation of education students, professionals and academics’. This gives us an opportunity to assess whether these therapeutic activities have helped.

It seems not. Today we are told that a whole range of technological and personal challenges of twenty-first-century life cause lasting emotional damage to children and young people; that we have a serious mental health crisis in schools and colleges. According to the Prince’s Trust Youth Index Report 2018, young people are less happy across every single area of their lives than they were since the Index first appeared in 2009 – fearful for their emotional health and reporting anxiety and depression about their future. Meanwhile the so-called ‘snowflake generation’ have entered university; in some universities as many as one in four students are receiving or waiting for counselling. Growing numbers report that that ideas they find offensive ‘trigger’ psychic harm, while advocacy groups are calling for a ‘mental health-friendly curriculum’.

Do such trends reflect the uniquely difficult reality of young people’s lives today, or have they learned to pathologise normal feelings associated with starting out in life? Will they grow out of their anxieties or will they become anxious adults? Why has the therapeutic turn in education seemingly led to escalating psychological problems? Or are there other explanations? Have self-esteem, resilience, happiness, and mental well-being become the foremost objectives of education? Has the battle for academic rather than therapeutic education has been lost? Or is this a false opposition between the two? A decade after its publication, the insights and solutions in The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education seems more urgent than ever. Its two authors discuss whether the therapeutic turn in education is unstoppable and what its implications are.