bigleyma is thinking…

Regarding Professor Wessely’s Reply

with 5 comments

I am honoured to find that my humble blog has had a visit from the esteemed Professor Wessely. I had been going to comment on his comment, but found myself wishing to elaborate further so I shall address what he said in this post.

His comment:

always flattering to be the subject of a blog, even though it is wrong in almost every detail. However, am honoured to be quoted in the blog as barbara ehrenreich, one of my heroines for many years. Anyone who knows me or has heard me speak will know very well that i am sceptical, to put it mildly, of the current vogue for positive psychology. On the other hand, you are correct, i have long been of the view that it is better for your mental health to be in work than out of work.

best wishes

Simon Wessely

My response:

Thank-you for your comment Simon. It must have been surprising indeed for you, as a longtime fan of Barbara’s writing to see your own work compared so unfavourably to hers. I believe however that the most significant indicator of a person’s influence on society has to be the outcomes that result, the effects that are wrought upon everyday people. Those in a position of influence or power bear a greater burden of responsibility in that sense.

In Barbara’s case she is so furiously on the side of the disadvantaged in society, the sick, the low-paid and abused that I think she would be outraged at what is happening to people in this country as a result of welfare reforms that at least part of your work has contributed to, however indirectly.

I am aware that you yourself are no proponent of Positive Psychology, but you have certainly associated with those who are. You favour its more respectable cousin Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I think? I am unable to view that particular treatment strategy as anything other than a form of mind control which seeks to change ‘negative’ patterns of thinking into more positive ones.

What marks the difference between your approach and that of Ms Ehrenreich’s is that she believes society is in great need of change in order that a more equal and fair society can be constructed, whereas your discipline seeks to mould the individual to fit into what she and I consider to be a currently inhumane system.

Ideas from psychology filter through into the mainstream (especially when given a little push by rich corporations who are positioning themselves to benefit from them). Some of the ideas that have been released from your neck of the woods have influenced how people now consider the relationship between ill-health and work (to the detriment of the sick or disabled). I used to respect psychology until the moment that it lost its independence in service of the agendas of corporate sector profits, or in justification for the state’s cutting of welfare expenses. Not something Barbara would be pleased with at all.

Your ending remark really requires a post of its own, and I hope to address it at a later date. But unqualified terms such as ‘Work’ and ‘Mental Health’ are abstract variables until given meaning by specific reference to real world situations, and the many and complex ways in which they manifest and are given meaning. It is like saying ‘Food’ is always a good thing, without taking into account volume or quality, or frequency of ingestion. Same thing with ‘Work’.


Written by bigleyma

October 18, 2011 at 5:02 pm

5 Responses

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  1. It is a shame he didn’t go in to any detail… does he see any similarities between positive psychology and the ‘reassurance’ of patients, for instance? One may be opposed to the label ‘positive psychology’, but still supportive of the very things which are problematic about positive psychology.


    November 2, 2011 at 11:03 pm

  2. I don’t think people in high status positions are willing to engage in any dialogue about their work with laymen. It might appear too much like an attempt to justify their position to someone of a lower order, and that has never happened historically.
    From what my traffic meter tells me he did come back btw, so I’m sure he read my response. And that in itself is revealing, and just confirms my statement above :/

    To my mind it is never the topic itself: Positive Psychology, CBT, whatever, that is the problem. It is the uses to which it is put, the ideologies that they serve, which determines the effects on others/individuals/the masses. Just about everything is a double-edged sword that can be put to beneficial or malevolent use, in order to either progress or impede social justice. It’s important to visualise their effects ‘further down the river’ and not ‘cop out’ of the responsibility for that. The precautionary principle seems an alien concept to a lot of these ‘theorists’ behind modern social policy, or intellectuals who lend their expertise to that end. I have never been able to figure out whether they know exactly what they are doing, and just don’t care, or whether they are in fact deluded. It is a burning question for me.


    November 3, 2011 at 6:49 pm

  3. re the precautionary principle: I expect that it starts out with an unfounded confidence that they know what is best for other people. It’s easy to feel superior to the weak. Wessely once wrote in a piece on collusion and paternalism for Unum: “I sometimes tell our students that I am paternalistic towards my children, which doesn’t mean that I don’t love them, but it falls on deaf ears.”

    He really doesn’t seem to understand the moral problems with paternalism.

    Thanks for the blog.


    November 6, 2011 at 5:52 pm

  4. Thank you for writing a couple of posts on Simon Wessely and his war on ME science and patients. He is a sociopath- extremely clever in the ways he is able to create a situation in which he can carry out his abuse of the disabled in plain sight without being substantially questioned by those in power. And thank you for your mention of Margaret Williams wonderful work, found at Take care!

    Justin Reilly, esq.

    January 23, 2012 at 1:39 am

    • You’re welcome, Justin! I hope that all the recent activity against these new ‘reforms’ by disabled people will drag all the ME stuff back into the spotlight. It was, as many have said, the testing ground, and has been a scandalous history of abuse of very sick people. You take care, too!


      January 24, 2012 at 2:51 am

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