Psychologists Criticized For Roles In Forcing “Psycho-interventions” On The Unemployed


An article in The Conversation states, “Curing unemployment is a growth market for psychologists. Job Centres are becoming medical centres, claimants are becoming patients, and unemployment is being redefined as a psychological disorder.”

“Made-up ailments such as ‘psychological resistance to work’ and ‘entrenched worklessness’ feature in ministerial speeches and lucrative Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contracts, without attracting a murmur of protest from professional psychologists,” continue the UK-based authors. They then explore the expanding business of forcing unemployed people through batteries of psychological tests and “attitude adjustment” programs.

The authors note that the UK Conservative government ignited protest when they suggested that welfare claimants who refused a recommended psychiatric treatment could have their benefits reduced. “This attempt to co-opt medical professionals as state enforcers is what led to the first protest by psychologists,” the authors write. “However, while campaigns such as Psychologists Against Austerity have focused on the psychological impact of welfare reform, there has been little mention of psychology’s central role in disciplining and punishing people claiming benefits, or of the ethics of psychological conditionality.”

The authors particularly criticize the British Psychological Society (BPS). “Far from addressing the validity or ethics of assessing claimants for ‘psychological resistance to work’, BPS put out a press release noting that tests should be undertaken by qualified staff.”

Facing psychological coercion and manipulation has become a daily part of claiming benefits (The Conversation, June 8, 2015)


  1. This is a thoughtful article about a very important topic. I was a signatory to an open letter to the UK’s Independent newspaper raising concern about the same issue: (‘Tories Undermine Patient Consent’).

    It’s also worth noting that the British Psychological Society’s new presidential team has issued a more strongly worded statement expressing concern about this development:

    The statement begins:

    “The British Psychological Society’s Presidential team has expressed concern at research suggesting that people claiming unemployment benefit are being coerced into undertaking psychological interventions. The research by Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn is published in the June 2015 issue of Medical Humanities. Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, President of the British Psychological Society, said: “We are concerned at what the paper has revealed, particularly the issue of coercion to undertake psychological interventions. “Friedli and Stearn suggest that unemployment is being rebranded as a psychological disorder, with an increasing range of interventions being introduced to promote a ‘positive’ psychological outlook or leave claimants to face sanctions.” “

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  2. This kind of predation on the weak is common in human nature. A person need not be personally weak to stoke the anger of the bullies amongst us. Arbeit macht frei was the taunt of the Nazis against the people who they expelled from college, fired from their jobs in civil service and boycotted their businesses. It was not the fault of the Jew that they were ruined.

    People who are unattractive to employers for being older or out of work longer are being discriminated in the market place. This causes psychological damage to them. If there is a genuine desire to help these people it would come in the form of assistance to find work or a better monthly stipend than they get on the dole. Increasing the social stigma they face and using the old conservative taunts against them are unproductive.

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  3. Those who push such questionable practices should be sanctioned. Revoking licenses would work. See how their psychological state holds in the unemployment line when they are on the receiving end. They would be able to critique a program they helped creates.
    Yet, sadly, this is just one story of many about a profession exploiting the vulnerable for gain.

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  4. Pretty much how it went for me in NSW Australia. The job agency wouldn’t just help me look for work, they get money if they can have you on the books as someone with major mental illnesses. So of course when I refused to go along I didn’t just get nothing, I actually got calls from indian accented debt collectors saying I owed back payments.

    Real classy.

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