Lecture by Paul Atkinson: Heart and soul in the grip of neoliberalism.
Can we psychotherapists take responsibility for our contribution to the slow death of the welfare state and the post-war social contract? In 1981, in a Sunday Times interview with Ronald Butt, Margaret Thatcher captured the spirit of the emergent zeitgeist when she said: ‘Economics are the method: the object is to change the soul’. We are now in the fourth decade of a period in which markets, and in particular financial markets, are supposed to mediate social, psychological and relational values – the kind of values we therapists profess. Significantly, psychological life and mental health are growing concerns for the management of neoliberal market economies, as we have seen in the marriage of state therapy and cognitive behavioural psychology. With workfare replacing welfare, IAPT teams co-locating in Job Centres, and the psycho-compulsion of benefit claimants with mental health problems becoming a norm, groups of therapists, mental health activists and benefits campaigners have begun to campaign together to oppose the collusion of the psy professions and mental health charities with punitive DWP policies. I will talk about how these campaigns have been developing, and ask the audience for their own thoughts and experience of psychotherapy’s contribution to the neoliberal project.
Paul Atkinson has worked as a psychotherapist for more than thirty years, mainly in private practice in London. He was a political activist during the 1970s and made a passage to psychoanalysis though Jung’s concept of the Self. He has chaired two psychoanalytic training organisations. In recent years, he has returned to campaigning politics – opposing state regulation of psychotherapy and counselling, supporting activists and organising psypolitical events at Occupy St Paul’s, campaigning for the NHS in East London, running men’s therapy groups, and working with mental health activists against psycho-compulsion through DWP ‘work cure’ policies. He is a founder member of the Free Psychotherapy Network, and a member of the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and Psychotherapy and Counselling for Social Responsibility.