Ecclestone, K & Hayes, D (2008) The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education.  Routledge.  London. 

Book Review by Gary Winship

Impetus to the book

The need to ensure value for money in the education system is apparent, and Ecclestone & Hayes draw attention to financial stakes especially the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) announcement of £60 million for 25 pilot projects to introduce therapeutic interventions in schools for children at risk of mental ill health" (p.xii).  While this might seem like a fair amount of financial investment, it should be said that these costs are dwarfed by the costs of health and social care where early intervention is a missed opportunity, especially when it comes to the rising costs  in the widespread use of pharmaceuticals in 'treating' children and young people.  It is pretty clear quickly that Ecclestone and Hayes are against spending money on therapeutic interventions in school.  They amass an attack on what they refer to as the "the emotional well-being industry"(p.xiii) derived mostly from counselling and psychotherapy practice.  

The book itself

Ecclestone & Hayes's model of 'therapeutic education' is any learning activity that focuses on both emotional problems as well as 'emotionally engaging educational content'  (p x).  Emotionality, and all things associated with the word 'emotional' thereafter are attacked.  The emotional terrain is, they say, full with; "Interchangeable, ill-defined terms…emotional literacy, emotional intelligence, emotional well-being, self esteem and mental ill-health, together with a proliferating list of disorders and syndromes" (p8).  However, having problematized the idea of emotionality, the authors do nothing to clarify any of these terms.

Three years ago, when Ecclestone & Hayes were presenting their ideas at a conference, someone pointed out to them then, that their ideas were "out of date" (p157) when it came to understanding counselling and psychotherapy.  Ecclestone & Hayes admit to this (p156), but it would seem that in the interim of writing the book, this shortfall in knowledge has not been addressed.  It is just not clear what sort of psychotherapist, psychoanalyst or counsellor they are talking about.  They draw their argument from an "eclectic mix of cognitive behaviour therapy, neuro-science, Freudian or Jungian analysis, transactional analysis or Rogerian counselling" (p9).  They assert that the 'therapeutic culture' they are talking about began in 1997 with the death of Diana and they manage to leap from Oprah Winfrey to Ulrika Johnson's 'sex addiction' to the Social & Emotional Learning (SEAL) agenda in schools.  All in all their version of therapy is more derived from television celebrity, popular but asinine.  There is an indiscriminate scatter-fire assault on the subject of therapy that compresses bland generalisations with too much time spent researching day-time television. 

The "dangerous enemy" of psychotherapy we see is a mish-mash of therapeutic caricatures oscillating somewhere between Suzy Orbach, Pamela Stephenson and Paul Mckenna, with some alignment of 'beauty therapy' along the way.  The argument amounts to a prickly faux-academic rant against therapists that, without any critical balance, ends up as little more than a work of imagination.  It's a shame because there are some assertions not so disagreeable, like their criticism of the over determined notion of self-esteem in the public sphere (p72; p100), and even an endorsement for the regulation of the professions of counselling and psychotherapy (p94).  And I share some of the concerns about the way in which the health education agenda, especially drug prevention, is being clumsily targeted in schools. 

I also agree with their criticisms of positive psychology, and their slant on any counselling that stands to be a self-actualising quasi-religious affirmation of self-esteem lacking the crunch of criticality (p100).  But most counsellors and therapists know that therapeutic change is wrenched from the process of encountering and overcoming conflict, that progressive therapy (post-Freud, post Frankfurt) has been conflict rather than solution focused.  Even CBT therapists will tell you how hard it is to get clients to engage in the therapeutic programmes that they say are good for them (even if this is contentious).  The real enemy may be the sham of positive stroking psychology which needs to be de-coupled from the European diaspora of psychotherapies that derive from critical theory.  Ecclestone and Hayes's idea that there has been an "insertion of a powerful therapeutic ethos" (p45) is as clumsily applied by them, as it might have been in practice.  They merely add to this discourse of the uninformed.   

There are several vignettes of good practice to my mind, such as circle time, group discussion, (eg p37 & p49) where 'everyday emotional well-being' has been nurtured by thoughtful teachers.  However, Ecclestone & Hayes refer to these as examples of "molly coddling" (p87) among other things.  No distinction is drawn between normal emotional development and the bite of emotional problems.  With an indiscriminate dismissal of anything that with an emotional agenda, Ecclestone & Hayes ditch sensible claims, for instance the one by the DfES (2005) that students who are in emotional turmoil struggle to learn (p17).  As it is with the nature of with polemical debate, a false dichotomy installed, that intellect can exist independently of emotion.  They finally assert that; "the university is a home of reason and the more it embraces the emotional, the less it is a university" (p99).  They haven't looked at Keith Hawton's work researching highly attaining students at Oxford University who have been more at risk of suicide than any other higher education student in the UK.  Without emotional management and guidance, albeit preferably natural and unobtrusive, pupils and students suffer.  Even from the perspective of learning, education must be about fostering a passionate engagement with a topic, where practical and morale applications of knowledge co-exist in a suitably charged emotional milieu.  Surely, without emotion, intellect is blind and without passion learning is inconsequential.   

There is a final case anecdote 'Alex' (p163) which is worth mentioning.  I'm not sure whether Alex is fictional or not but she is presented as an emotional oasis of voracious learning, the epitome of what Ecclestone & Hayes see as the rational potential of knowledge acquisition.  Even if we were to overlook in the first place Alex's apparent vulnerability by dint of a time when her ambition wanes or stalls (and given Hawton's warnings about Oxford high achievers where Alex is heading there should be some cause for hesitation) it is Ecclestone & Hayes extolling the virtues of an education system that turns out pupils who admire Margaret Thatcher that is most worrying.  It's been an effort to invigorate the notion that there is such a thing as society with a public sphere where people and pupils are entitled, intellectually, emotionally and socially.  It is as if Ecclestone & Hayes dislocate the family from Alex's attainment, the suggestion is that the working class uneducated parents have a brightly burning genius that is a product of the school system, and nothing to do with the family, neighbourhood or community.  It seems a socially irresponsible proposition.  Its not about social coddling, as Ecclestone & Hayes have it, rather it is about fostering a child centred sphere where emotional sophistication can emerge across the board.  Human services are challenged with the task of emotional labour as a nub of practice, so family, citizenship and therefore education must be vitalised by emotional literacy.  Post-Clumbie, the cultural and policy agenda has shifted in regard to meeting the needs of the next generation, and it seems to be the underlying anxiety of Ecclestone & Hayes that they are not (and nor is the teaching profession) emotionally able enough to manage the task at hand.  They wish to revert to a conservative simplicity that avoids the complexity of the new world of rightly emotionally attuned educationalists.        


Rieff, P (1966)   Triumph of the Therapeutic - Uses of Faith After Freud.  University of Chicago Press.  1987.  


It is short of the required number of words (it should be 2,000 words, plus or minus 100 words).  The context to the book could have been elaborated perhaps with some more reference to previous research or associated policies about well-being in schools.  Terms like 'Post-Freud', and 'post-Frankfurt' are mentioned but there are no references.  A few references would enlighten the reader to the discourse that is being considered.  The account of the book itself is reasonably rendered, there are some key quotations and page numbers are cited.  There is some evidence of knowledge of the field of counselling and psychotherapy.  The tone of the review might appear defensive, and overly critical, but to be fair, the severity of attack from Ecclestone & Hayes perhaps merits rigorous and robust defence.  However, there is a danger that one might say polemic meets polemic.  The essay does convey the quality of engaging in an important debate.  The book is well chosen for review, and the topic is relevant and pertinent.  I would have liked to have seen a final rounding off section which considered implications for the book and the practice of counselling and psychotherapy.   Overall mark: what would you give it?  MARK YOUR TUTORS BOOK REVIEW!!!           

Here are the notes/summary from our joint reading of the book reviews.  This is not a definitive list, but rather a brief guide of some of the common characteristics of book reviews that we noted: