Is Boris’s gay conversion therapy ban enough?

Gay conversion therapy has been heading for a ban for a few years now, with Boris Johnson repeatedly pledging to stop the ‘absolutely abhorrent’ practice. The government is working on the details of such a ban, which is not without its problems, particularly when it comes to therapy for transgender people. But it would be the first time the government has got at all involved in the world of therapy and counselling, which is not currently subject to statutory regulation. Ministers’ current position is that government regulation of the sector would not be ‘proportionate or effective’. It may well be that the current network of organisations with which counsellors and

Taking pride in household chores really can ease depression

There are many books about what it’s like to live with mental illness and the aftermath of child sexual abuse. Most of them, though, fall into that deeply off-putting category of ‘misery memoir’: greyscale covers and cloying titles such as ‘The Child Who Everyone Hurt’ and ‘When the Darkness Never Lifts’. You’re unlikely to want to read 300-odd pages of pain porn when healthy, let alone find yourself looking forward to the next page if, like me, you end up reading the book when you’re depressed too. I Never Said I Loved You isn’t like that. It’s funny. It’s not egregious: every time Rhik Samadder tells us more of the

Real life | 2 May 2019

A leaflet came through my door from the NHS inviting me to take part (if that is the right term) in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. What a kind offer, I thought. They must know I’m stressed. Fine, so I didn’t think that. I thought: what a blasted cheek! This leaflet is a mailshot, clearly, and has been distributed to every home in my area at a cost of goodness knows how much. I looked at the glossy thing in all its impudence and presumption and decided to chase after the postman. He was three doors down when I caught up with him and he wore a cheery smile as usual. ‘Can

The Spectator Podcast: The digital inquisition

On this week’s episode, we examine Twitter’s mob mentality, get to the heart of PTSD, and look at how Russia is preparing for this year’s World Cup. First up: At the end of 2017 it would’ve be hard to guess that the name of everyone’s lips during the sunrise days of the new year would be Toby Young. But thanks to a government appointment and a series of ill-advised tweets, his brief stint at the Office for Students has dominated the news cycle. In the magazine this week, Lara Prendergast writes about how our digital footprints could come back to bite us, whilst Rod Liddle laments the rise of trial

When therapy does more harm than good

In the churchyard by the church near my grandmother’s house, there’s a tombstone with an inscription that’s haunted me since I was a child. It marks the grave of a woman called Elizabeth who died, as I remember, in the 1920s. Elizabeth married young, had five babies in five years, then died well before she reached 30. The epitaph on her stone: ‘She did her duty.’ I often find myself thinking about Elizabeth and how different her cold and stoic age was to ours. I thought of her late last year as a slew of research revealed that an astonishing number of women, more than one in ten, screen positive

The wisdom of weirdos

It was World Mental Health Day this week — and it drove me mad. I don’t have ‘mental illness’. I have bipolar disorder, and I feel as possessive about my diagnosis as Gollum did his precious ring. One term. One label. To lump the manifold terrors of the mind together under the monolithic ‘mental illness’ is an offence against the person. Failing to differentiate shifts the stigma like a bubble under a carpet. So I was horrified to discover, in my latest stint in a psychiatric hospital, that others experience exactly the same as me. Others use the same ‘maladapted coping mechanisms’. They are also their own worst critic; they

The fearful forties

In an early chapter of All Grown Up, the narrator Andrea says to her therapist: ‘Why is being single the only thing people think of when they think of me? I’m other things, too.’ ‘Tell me who you are, then,’ says the therapist. And so Andrea tells her that she’s a woman, a New Yorker, that she works in advertising as a designer, that she’s a daughter, a sister and an aunt. In her head, she adds: ‘I’m alone. I’m a drinker. I’m a former artist. I’m a shrieker in bed. I’m the captain of the sinking ship that is my flesh.’ We meet Andrea when she’s 39, asking herself,

A legend in her own time

I usually dread the final 15 minutes of a celebrity interview: the awkward section during which the writer must steer the conversation away from the polite, mutually enjoyable discussion of whatever the star is currently promoting toward the juicy personal details that your readers really want to know and your subject really (and justifiably) wants to keep private. You sit in the consciously impersonal atmosphere of an upmarket hotel room with a total stranger, and broach topics you might spend decades dancing around with friends and family. I still have nightmares in which I blurt out lines worthy of Alan Partridge: Yes, the bass line on that track is terrifically

Horrible diseases are being ‘edited out’ of the human body

Some exciting news about the future of medicine was announced today. Unfortunately, you really need a degree in biochemistry – which I certainly don’t have – to understand it. But we’d better get used to that, because the eradication of nasty diseases is increasingly a project for geneticists whose findings are difficult to grasp (but easy to misunderstand). Editas, described as a ‘leading genome editing company’, has announced the highlights of the 18th annual meeting of the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT) in New Orleans. Here’s just one of them: Gene conversion of the hemoglobin locus: Several CRISPR/Cas9 construct variants were evaluated in vitro to target the

New gene therapy for heart disease and diabetes: how will hypochondriacs react?

The drugs giant AstraZeneca (AZ) has signed a deal with heart researchers in Canada which pushes forward the project to prevent – and even reverse – heart disease and diabetes by identifying the genes that put people at risk. There’s been a lot of talk about ‘personalised medicine’ that offers us our own therapy tailored to our own weaknesses – specifically, the genetic time-bombs lurking our DNA. Until now, GPs have looked at our family history of heart disease, cancer, diabetes etc and (at least inwardly) shrugged. There’s only so much they can do. The AZ deal with the Montreal Heart Institute will produce one of the largest genetic screenings to date. To quote

Forgive me, Father

For non-Catholics, the most luridly fascinating aspect of Catholicism is confession. Telling your inmost sins — and we know what they are — to a male cleric, eh? In a darkened booth. How medieval is that? Well, the fantasies that people who never go to confession nurse about it are about to be shored up by a new book on the subject by the Catholic author John Cornwell. It’s called The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession. On the cover is a scary-looking picture of a confessional — not somewhere you’d take the children, frankly, but right at home in a Hitchcock movie. John Cornwell is a friend, and

Do Manet’s asparagus remind you of your struggling long-term relationship?

In calling their book Art as Therapy Alain de Botton and John Armstrong have taken the direct route. They’re not waiting for us to interpret their motive: their title tells us everything. Art, the theory goes, can help us improve our psychological state in a way that’s progressive and cumulative. It can assist our relationships, our careers, our money concerns. Art is a tool which ‘compensates us for certain inborn weaknesses, in this case of the mind rather than the body’. It is a ‘therapeutic medium’, and it should be treated as such. This means that galleries, instead of arranging works by period or style, should place art in emotive

Dear Mary: How do I empty a chamberpot without my hosts noticing?

Q. One of our daughter’s godmothers has given very generous presents but never with any regularity. She was unable to attend the recent 18th birthday party but said on the telephone she hoped our daughter would like the present she was sending. No present has arrived. What is the protocol re thanking for something which has not turned up but may have been lost in the proverbial post? Or indeed, the absent-minded godmother may have forgotten to buy or post? — Name and address withheld A. Ring the godmother up shrieking with excitement. ‘The most marvellous bracelet has arrived in the post but with no card attached. Is it from

Don Paterson interview

Don Paterson was born in 1963 in Dundee. He moved to London in 1984 to work as a jazz musician, and eventually began to write poetry. In 1993, Faber published his debut collection, Nil Nil, which won the Forward prize. In total, he’s published seven collections and three books of aphorisms. Paterson has won the prestigious T.S. Eliot prize for poetry twice. Other awards include: the Whitbread prize, and The Geoffrey Faber memorial prize. He received an OBE in 2008, and teaches poetry at the University of St Andrews.  His recently published Selected Poems, covers a remarkable career that spans twenty years, ranging from the half-dead Scottish towns and deserted