Sigmund Freud, right Dame Carol Black
Published: 8 December, 2016
I WONDER what the old man, that is Sigmund Freud, would have thought about the unemployed benefitting from a session with a shrink.
Freud’s former office and home in Hampstead – usually a centre for lectures on psycho-analysis and the traditions of the great thinker – drew a large crowd on Tuesday evening, many angry with a newly published government commissioned report by Professor Dame Carol Black aimed – they suspected – at using some form of psychotherapy to get job hunters back at work.
The report goes under the mind-numbing title of An independent review into the impact on employment outcomes of drug or alcohol addiction, and obesity, by Professor Dame Carol Black, a leading medical practitioner, and principal of Newnham College, Cambridge. She frequently advises the government on health matters.
The mood of the meeting at the Freud Museum didn’t seem quite at one with the theories and philosophy of the great man. At times I felt I was in a political rally. One woman, who worked with the unemployed, thought the use of psychotherapists or their equivalent, attached to job centres, was akin to the “privatisation of misery”. Sanctions against mentally unwell job-seekers could have disastrous results, she said, citing the example of a man who had committed suicide. Coincidentally, I noticed that the case of unemployed David Brown, who had killed himself in Redcar, surfaced in a question in the Commons yesterday (Wednesday).
Contributions from the audience followed the showing of a film about “psychocompulsion and workfare”.
In case anyone thought unemployment may be associated with a state of mind, Dick Blackwell, a psychotherapist, put things in context, arguing that modern economic policies followed by all governments – first propounded in the 1970s – shaped our lives. He put everything down to “neo-liberalism”, the bane of life today.
Not that Dame Carol Black isn’t a student of Freud. In a summary of her report she ends by quoting Freud on the very subject of Tuesday’s meeting. “No other technique for the conduct of life attaches the individual so firmly to reality as laying emphasis on work,” says Freud. “For work at least gives one a secure place in a portion of reality in the human community.”