bigleyma is thinking…

The ‘Psychologising’ of Illness and The Sanctification of Work

with 10 comments

I’ve been away a little while (longer than I intended), partly because I’ve been working on an article for the International Green Socialist online magazine. It turned into a larger project than I intended, but I hope visitors here will give it a go because I think it exposes some deliberate processes that have been going on behind the scenes of the new ‘reforms’ of health related benefits, to the disadvantage of the sick and disabled in this country. Despite its length I still feel there is more to be said about this and I hope to be following it up with more in depth analyses in the near future.

Fill your boots (as my darling daughter would say) here:

Illness as ‘Deviance’, Work as Glittering Salvation and the ‘Psyching-up’ of the Medical Model: Strategies for Getting The Sick ‘Back To Work’.

(You might need more than one pair :D)

Update: Noticed that the above link is not presently working so a copy of the article can be found here:


10 Responses

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  1. I’ve not read your piece yet (I’m planning to set aside some time for a serious read – thank you), but stumbled upon this BBC article just after I started to read, and both seemed related to the compassionate and paternalistic imposition of poverty:

    Iain Duncan Smith has told the BBC a planned benefits cap is not “about punishing people”, and has said people are “not suffering” under his reforms.

    The work and pensions secretary said the cap was aimed at making lives better by reducing dependency.


    January 21, 2012 at 12:11 am

  2. I’ve noticed a strange tendency among these politicians to pepper their statements with qualifying words like “kind of” or “sort of”. There’s a similar vagueness in material put out by their academics/officials. Mansel Aylward, for instance is very fond of the word “some”, favouring its use over any actual statistics or data. It’s always “some women” (have menopause problems), “some capacity for some work”, “some degree of exaggeration may be much more common”. (“May” or indeed “May not” – so hardly a statement at all, really). All very vague and unscholarly. Though he apparently never feels the need to substantiate any of his statements, as evidently no-one ever challenges anything he says.

    Norman Fairclough attributed this vague-ifying of language in Tony Blair’s case to a deliberate attempt to appear like ‘a normal person’, one who was open and could be trusted. In that BBC report IDS says that, for some people, claiming benefits has “kind of trapped them”. I find this turn of phrase very odd, personally, because if someone was to use that in conversation with me I would assume that they didn’t have a great deal of confidence in what they’re saying. In light of the context, as a powerful politician attempting to justify the forced removal of welfare benefits from the vulnerable, it is a puzzling stance to adopt. If you’re being authoritarian the least you can do is ‘man up’ and admit it.


    January 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm

  3. I think that ‘vague-ifying’ is more likely to be due to the way this can allow the speaker to create a narrative does not need to be supported by the facts. In a similar way to a number of New Labour politicians, the psychosocial approach to illness sees beliefs as powerful guiding forces, regardless of their truth. Therefore, it can seem legitimate to promote beliefs which may not be true, but are thought to encourage ‘positive’ outcomes.

    People who believe they have more control over their own lives than they really do tend to be more ‘successful’ than those who are more realistic (there’s some evidence that a realistic sense of one’s locus of control is related to depression) – so this can be used as a justification for promoting positive distortions.

    There seems to be a real disinterest in the harm that can be done by promoting unrealistic views of reality though. It might be that a ‘positive’ attitude can improve some measures of outcomes for individuals, but it can also seriously distort the way in which society views and judges those who are in positions of weakness. Indeed, the promotion of ‘positivity’ seems to be playing in to one of the most widespread cognitive distortions which we already suffer from:

    This whole area seems really important, interesting and under-investigated. I feel pretty confident that in twenty years time, this approach to disability and cognitions will be looked back upon with a real sense of shame. Thanks for the work you have been doing in exploring and writing about these issues.


    January 22, 2012 at 11:34 pm

  4. One more point. I just read an earlier one of your posts in which someone suggested a document on CFS by Malcolm Hooper – I would be somewhat cautious about the claims made there, as there can be a problem with misleading quotations and inaccuracies.

    A piece on the positive spin that surrounded the recent PACE trial, and was well sourced and accurate is available here:,%202011.docx

    It does not go in to the philosophical issues so much, but as a solid examination of how data can be spun by those involved with the biopsychosocial approach, I think it’s very good.


    January 22, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    • Thanks for that, Hype 🙂 and for the link.
      I also have been imagining how this ‘approach’ will be looked back on, and feel it can only be viewed as a disgrace to the medical community/authorities as a whole in so many aspects. And as you say a public so conditioned to believe in the ‘just world’ theory that
      they are ready to believe that sickness/disability is somehow the individual’s own fault, through bad/feckless choices.
      Until, of course, it happens to them 😦


      January 24, 2012 at 2:43 am

    • I know this is rather old but I hope someone will find my comment.

      The link to the critique of the PACE trail is no longer there – does anyone have the link?

      I’m just another one with ME and trying to write about it.



      May 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      • It was a link to “Methodological Inconsistencies in the PACE trial for ME/CFS” by Tate Mitchell.

        A google search should lead to other copies.


        June 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm

  5. Thank you for such a fantastic web site. On what other blog could anyone get this kind of information written in such an insightful way? I have a presentation that I am just now working on, and I have been looking for such info.

    Upper back pain relief

    January 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm

  6. You’re welcome 😀
    Gratified to hear that it might be helpful in a practical way. Good luck with your presentation!


    January 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm

  7. Reblogged this on MrsMEnotNICE.


    March 2, 2012 at 1:14 am

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