Confronting well-being and mental health in the ‘therapeutic university’: implications for educators, students and the curriculum

Rawdin, Clare and Dhillon, Sunny (2024). Confronting well-being and mental health in the ‘therapeutic university’: implications for educators, students and the curriculum. Studies in Higher Education (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2024.2337805

Abstract

This is a conceptual paper that examines the emergence of the ‘therapeutic university’ and considers its potential implications for policy and practice in Higher Education (HE). Concern over the well-being and mental health of university students both in the United Kingdom (UK) and internationally has recently intensified in media, academic and political spheres, to the extent that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are increasingly offering a diverse range of ad-hoc initiatives and practices based on the language and techniques of an equally diverse popular psychology. An emotionally oriented ‘therapeutic university’ (TU) is emerging from a complex intertwining of policies of social liberalism, specifically widening participation, and policies of economic liberalism which seek to cultivate the higher education (HE) sector as a competitive marketplace. While the TU might appear to offer the potential to alleviate mental health conditions, these therapeutic practices are frequently conceived as self-evidently good and rarely subjected to any critical scrutiny. This article explores three inter-related sets of concerns regarding the implications of the TU for educators, students and the curriculum and, through an exploratory account, illustrates these trends from our own lived experiences of working within a TU. Framed by insights from critical pedagogy, we critically analyse the current well-being agenda in the British HE sector and how this positions educators as ‘agents of well-being’ rather than ‘agents of criticality’.

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