‘Therapeutic mechanisms of the “work cure”: The hollow gardener and other case studies’

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Dr Jennifer Laws

Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University

‘Therapeutic mechanisms of the “work cure”: The hollow gardener and other case studies’

(Introduced by: Prof Jenny Butler, Health and Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University)

[18min; no slides]


Paper presented to the International Research Symposium:

"Therapy and Empowerment – Coercion and Punishment:

Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Labour and Occupational Therapy"

26–27 June 2013,  St Anne’s College, Oxford


Abstract: On the 200th anniversary of Samuel Tuke’s iconic Description of The Retreat near York in which work was declared as the ‘most efficacious’ mode through which to treat the madman, current mental healthcare policy in Britain continues to position work and employment as the ‘primary route’ through which to return the mentally ill to wellbeing (Department of Work and Pensions, 2013). Drawing on historical data and qualitative research with contemporary mental health service users, this paper looks at the alternative therapeutic mechanisms through which work has been considered to deliver health benefits to people with mental health difficulties – from rhythm and routine to rehabilitation, to physical exercise, character development, spiritual enlightenment and social inclusion. In one line of questioning, the lingering notion of ‘vitalism’ is considered – that is, does it make sense to consider work as something immaterially and uniquely essential to human well-being (and if so, can contemporary ‘back to work’ practices be seen to retain any of such richly therapeutic belief system?).  In a second, Tuke’s haunting case of the ‘hollow gardener’ is revisited, with a view to exploring some of the more affective and vitalist dimensions of our therapeutic adventures with work, past and present.



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