Politicisation of therapy

Battle of Ideas festival 2023, Sunday 29 October, Church House, London


The world of psychotherapy has been, traditionally, a broad church of theories and practices, made possible by the therapeutic principles of empathy, active listening and unconditional positive regard for the other. Historically, therapists have been taught to ‘bracket’ their own personal opinions when it comes to the client sitting opposite to them in the therapy room. However, there are growing concerns that psychotherapy is being used as a vehicle to push social-justice theory on already vulnerable individuals, with practitioners viewing themselves first and foremost as activists.

For example, therapists are being disciplined by regulatory bodies or expelled from training courses for daring to suggest that men cannot become women. Foundational theories of psychotherapy are being disregarded on the basis that they were formulated by a bunch of ‘old, white men’. Clients are being told by their therapists that they are inherently ‘privileged’ based on immutable characteristics, essentially ceasing to exist as a unique individual. Therapists, in the name of ideology, have been accused of offering bad advice – with serious long-term consequences – to children struggling with gender dysphoria.

When therapists view their role as primarily one of social activism and moral re-education, what risk does this pose to the profession as a whole, and the clients they purport to serve?

Dr Jennifer Cunningham
retired community paediatrician

James Esses
barrister; social commentator; co-founder, Thoughtful Therapists

Amy Gallagher
psychiatric nurse and psychotherapist

Dr Carole Sherwood
clinical psychologist; co-director, Critical Therapy Antidote; co-author Cynical Therapies and The Politicisation of Clinical Psychology Training Courses in the UK

Jason Crowley
integrative therapist