The best books on how to recognise the therapeutic turn in education

Who am I?

Writing articles for the education press I became aware of how children and young people were presented as vulnerable, as potential victims. Sometimes they also saw themselves in this way as weak, unable to cope, and lacking in the ability to take control of their lives. This seemed to me to be damaging and needed challenging. But writing about the therapeutic turn was not enough. What had to be challenged was the fear of freedom and speech and debate that were essential to beginning to take control of your life. In response I set up Academics For Academic Freedom, the leading campaign group for free speech, no ifs, no buts. 


I wrote...

The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education

By Dennis Hayes, Kathryn Ecclestone,

Book cover of The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education

What is my book about?

My co-authored book proceeds through example after example to expose the therapeutic turn in all sectors of education. From the nursery to the university, we show that through a myriad of policies and initiatives that emotions are being emphasised over the intellect. This creates young people and adults who are seen, and sometimes see themselves, as vulnerable human beings. Our book was recently updated as a ‘classic’ and we took the opportunity to look more closely at what we call the ‘Therapeutic University’. 

Some students, teachers, and academics do not recognise the therapeutic turn. They are blind to two decades of concerns with self-esteem, emotional literacy, well-being, happiness, and mental health. These have fundamentally changed education. Don’t believe us? Our challenge is to look and see!

The books I picked & why

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What’s Happened To The University? A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilisation

By Frank Furedi,

Book cover of What’s Happened To The University? A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilisation

Why this book?

Frank Furedi is one of the world’s leading intellectuals. He has written on a wide range of issues from parenting, reading, education, therapy culture, risk, and on philosophical topics. I think this book brings together his many sociological books and papers with a concrete focus on one institution, the university. It provides a wider and more detailed discussion of the therapeutic university than Kathryn Ecclestone and I could in our book. He covers issues such as ‘safe spaces,’ ‘micro-aggressions,’ and ‘trigger warnings’ that suggest the university is dangerous place for vulnerable young minds. The tragedy of the contemporary university for Furedi, and me, is that it has become just a ‘big school’ in which students are treated like children. 

What’s Happened To The University? A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilisation

By Frank Furedi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What’s Happened To The University? A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilisation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The radical transformation that universities are undergoing today is no less far-reaching than the upheavals that it experienced in the 1960s. However today, when almost 50 per cent of young people participate in higher education, what occurs in universities matters directly to the whole of society.

On both sides of the Atlantic curious and disturbing events on campuses has become a matter of concern not just for academics but also for the general public. What is one to make of the growing trend of banning speakers? What's the meaning of trigger warnings, cultural appropriation, micro-aggression or safe spaces? And why…


Surviving Identity: Vulnerability and the Psychology of Recognition

By Kenneth McLaughlin,

Book cover of Surviving Identity: Vulnerability and the Psychology of Recognition

Why this book?

Ken McLaughlin approaches vulnerability and victim culture from what I think is a new perspective. The idea of victimhood culture and people seeing themselves as vulnerable was commonplace when he was writing his book. Looking at victims as ‘survivors’ he reveals how the victims may see themselves. McLaughlin looks at examples from social work and elsewhere to show that in therapy culture, the constant need for recognition and respect for vulnerable identities is both empowering and yet socially isolating. People may celebrate the fact that their victim status has been respected and they have ‘survived,’ but this leaves them unable to form any connection with others. A set of victims cannot be a community as it requires constant external validation.

Surviving Identity: Vulnerability and the Psychology of Recognition

By Kenneth McLaughlin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Surviving Identity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Today, political claims are increasingly made on the basis of experienced trauma and inherent vulnerability, as evidenced in the growing number of people who identify as a "survivor" of one thing or another, and also in the way in which much political discourse and social policy assumes the vulnerability of the population. This book discusses these developments in relation to the changing focus of social movements, from concerns with economic redistribution, towards campaigns for cultural recognition. As a result of this, the experience of trauma and psychological vulnerability has become a dominant paradigm within which both personal and political grievances…


'I Still Find That Offensive!'

By Claire Fox,

Book cover of 'I Still Find That Offensive!'

Why this book?

Claire Fox is the founder of the Academy of Ideas, a think tank that has produced the annual Battle of Ideas Festival for over a decade and a half. Fox is passionate about freedom and speech and debate. This short polemical book begins and ends with how young people have adapted to victim culture. It begins with an example of how genuinely hurt young people are when hearing views that they found offensive. This book is said to have been responsible for the introduction of the concept of the ’snowflake generation’ into the UK. But Fox is nuanced in her approach, and she ends her book with a ‘Letter to the Snowflake Generation’ and a ‘Letter to the Anti-Snowflake Generation’. Her book should be mandatory reading for anyone beginning university.

'I Still Find That Offensive!'

By Claire Fox,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 'I Still Find That Offensive!' as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW AND UPDATED EDITION OF THE BOOK THAT INTRODUCED THE TERM `SNOWFLAKE'

When you hear that now ubiquitous phrase `I find that offensive', you know you're being told to shut up. While the terrible murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists demonstrated that those who offend can face the most brutal form of censorship, it also served to intensify the pre-existing climate that dictates we all have to walk on eggshells to avoid saying anything offensive - or else.
Indeed, competitive offence-claiming is ratcheting up well beyond religious sensibilities. So, while Islamists and feminists may seem to have little in common,…


How Woke Won: The Elitist Movement that Threatens Democracy, Tolerance and Reason

By Joanna Williams,

Book cover of How Woke Won: The Elitist Movement that Threatens Democracy, Tolerance and Reason

Why this book?

For Williams, ‘woke’ is a contested concept but a useful one. It captures an elite ideology that dares not name itself but that is intolerant of any criticism. It attempts to dominate our attitudes toward children, education, sex, and politics. At the heart of woke is what she calls the ‘weaponisation of victimhood’. Woke attitudes are only possible in a culture that valorises individual fragility. Being ‘woke’ means that you see the world through the idea of human vulnerability. Children, women, and minority groups are all seen as vulnerable and in need of protection. Williams believes that despite its current victory, woke is weak and fearful of debating its ideas and of collective democratic action. The first step forward, she argues in her conclusion, is for people to step forward and speak up.

How Woke Won: The Elitist Movement that Threatens Democracy, Tolerance and Reason

By Joanna Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Woke Won as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Wokeness has conquered our institutions. The worlds of politics, academia and even corporate capitalism now bend the knee to the new orthodoxies around gender, racism and identity. How Woke Won explores the intellectual roots of wokeness and how this movement, which poses as radical and left-wing, came to be embraced by some of the most privileged people imaginable. In this powerful critique, Joanna Williams argues that anyone interested in building a truly free, egalitarian and democratic society needs to tackle wokeness head-on.



The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud

By Philip Rieff,

Book cover of The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud

Why this book?

Rieff wrote this book in 1966. It is prescient in seeing the coming of what we now call ‘therapy culture’. It must be read to understand the profundity of the changes that we face over fifty years since it first appeared. He describes the collapse of traditional values and beliefs but sees nothing positive that could take their place. He warns of a fundamental shift in the entire continuity of our culture that is probably irreparable: ‘That a sense of well-being has become the end, rather that a by-product of striving after some superior communal end, announces a fundamental change of focus in the entire cast of our culture…’.  Rieff also warns that those who seek therapy cannot move on. They seek more therapeutic recognition of their diminished state. To understand our culture today you must start here.

The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud

By Philip Rieff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Triumph of the Therapeutic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its publication in 1966, The Triumph of the Therapeutic has been hailed as a work of genuine brilliance, one of those books whose insights uncannily anticipate cultural developments and whose richness of argumentation reorients entire fields of inquiry. This special fortieth-anniversary edition of Philip Rieff's masterpiece, the first volume in ISI Books' new Background series, includes an introduction by Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn and essays on the text by historians Eugene McCarraher and Wilfred McClay and philosopher Stephen Gardner.


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