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Austerity, psychological help and challenging neoliberalism

 

Huge cuts to benefits and services are about to hit millions of Britons which will exacerbate the troubled and troubling times we are living in.  In the UK in the last 35 years the social fabric has dramatically changed,  the Bevanite settlement and welfare state has been profoundly (possibly irreversibly) pulled apart. Since the end of the cold war we have seen the seemingly relentless march of neoliberalism and untamed capitalism, the spread of  globalisation, and of  rising inequality. The world many grew up in and expected to continue is on the retreat and many in the helping professions such as psychotherapists feel the need to find a response which articulates our core beliefs and hopes. This is maybe all the more urgent as attempts are made to co-opt psychotherapy into neoliberal agendas with worrying implications. We have seen a spate of protests about the ways in which the government treats  those who need to claim what we used to call social security and is now derisorily called ‘welfare’  Mental health workers have staged protests against attempts to integrate mental health clinics with jobcentres,  and groups such as the alliance for psychotherapy and counselling are increasingly making their opposition  heard.

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The fiver challenge, primary school kids as Alan Sugar acolytes?

 School kids as young as 5 are to be encouraged to become entrepreneurs in a new government initiative announced last week, spearheaded by Lord Young and publicly backed by  David Cameron. Much about this worries me, even if we do need to encourage entrepreneurial spirits and there is a certain logic to the plan. While not a Faustian pact, such initiatives give a very clear message about what we as a society value and maybe more importantly, research shows that encouraging business and money oriented attitudes create a likelihood that children's more prosocial and generous character traits will be toned right down as self-interest and more instrumental motives become stronger.  

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Raising driven immoral kids?

 

A version of this appeared in the Telegraph recently, and can be accessed here 

Are results obsessed, league-table crazed state schools churning out pupils who are less moral than their posh public school counterparts, as headmaster Richard Walden recently claimed.? As so often with misconceived hyperbole, his statement contains a kernel of truth, and indeed raises fundamental questions that need answering.  After all, don’t we all want a more moral society, and to raise our kids to be well-rounded human beings who are not only caring of others, embrace and live by cultural and ethical values and are motivated by more than achievement, status and money?

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After the giving and receiving. Materialism and happiness and tough lives

This year in some circles we have seem a backlash against materialism. Typical is a new book by Robert Wolman called Stuffocation [1], arguing that stuff does not make us happy, but rather it is experiences and relationships which do. Much research bears this out and such analyses can make important points, but maybe leave out what might be propelling people to consume. 

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Invisibilty, and doing the right thing

This week the BBC’s moral maze  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/moralmaze)  provocatively asked about the role of individual conscience and whether people act less morally when they are unseen,  This came  on the back of scientists possibly having invented a Harry Potterish  ‘invisibility cloak’ capacity to become invisible by bending light etc. The program raised crucial matters relevant to issues currently in the news,  such as the banking scandals and what the likes of Bob Diamond  felt they should be able to ‘get away with’, as well as the shocking behaviours in mid-Staffordhsire NHS trust and in care homes where elderly residents were  abused. The 2 key issues  being debated were whether we need more regulation (eg of banks or hospitals) or   should moral acts by led by individual conscience, because externally imposed ‘targets’ and expectations in fact make people less personally motivated to do the right thing. These are thorny issues.

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cooperating and helping others reduces stress and improves health

A couple of very interesting studies came out in the last few weeks which might surprise those who believe that monetary and material success is the best way to health and happiness. One huge new study is just published by the American Psychological Association. This was led by Lara Aknin [1] who has done a massive amount of research on altruism and wellbeing. Amazingly this found a positive relationship between personal well-being and spending on others in 120 of 136 countries covered in the 2006-2008 Gallup World Poll. The survey comprised 234,917 individuals, half of whom were male, with an average age of 38. The link between well-being and spending on others was significant in every region of the world, irrespective of factors like income, social support, perceived freedom and national corruption.

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