How Dangerous is Therapeutic Education?

About 15 years ago, as the sun was setting on the New Labour administration, several educationalists complained about what they called the ‘dangerous rise of therapeutic education’. Defining this as ‘any activity that focuses on perceived emotional problems and which aims to make educational content and learning processes more “emotionally engaging”’, Ecclestone and Hayes (2008) for example claimed that students had become increasingly fragile, uncertain, and emotionally damaged. In The Therapy of Education, Smeyers, Smith and Standish (2007) argued that a narcissistic obsession with the self and identity detracted from rethinking the function of education. Although the coalition government subsequently eliminated many New Labour initiatives and re-asserted the centrality of the subject curriculum, the generic student’s affective, social, and cognitive experiences nevertheless became increasingly positioned as key HE policy drivers, most notably in the Teaching Excellence Framework, introduced from 2017. But what would the ‘father of client-centred counselling’, Carl Rogers, have made of therapeutic education? In 1958, Rogers argued that psychotherapy and education share the same core conditions for success, namely, Congruence, Acceptance, and Empathy. As Rogers’s students enthusiastically confirmed, meeting these core conditions generated radical consequences for learning. I conclude this presentation by arguing that educators would benefit from revisiting Rogers’s revolutionary ideas today.

The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education . Kathryn Ecclestone and Dennis Hayes. London and New York, Routledge , 2008 .

The Therapy of Education: Philosophy, Happiness and Personal Growth . Paul Smeyers, Richard Smith and Paul Standish. Hampshire and New York, Palgrave Macmillan , 2007 .