This open letter by Richard Bentall, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Liverpool University is a response to Stephan Fry’s recent programme on exploration of manic depression, which is part of the current BBC series on mental health, ‘In the Mind’.

Professor Bentall challenges the reductionistic view that mental illness is all about genetics and therefore mostly outside of peoples’ ability to influence. It is possible for most people with every type of problem to be able to influence and shape their experience to different degrees, whether the problem is inherited (genetic) or learned. Any degree of self- influence is empowering and generates hope.

By emphasising context rather than causation Professor Bentall pays attention to the person with the problem and how they are managing it, rather than just attending to the presenting symptoms. This was summed up beautifully in his quote by Eleanor Longden, “they almost always ask you what was wrong with you and hardly ever ask what happened to you”.

Professor Bentall’s letter is a reminder that we are letting people down if we do not support them in talking through their stories and concerns and we must always remember just how transformative and healing it is to talk. Trying to fix people (remove symptoms) rather than provide time for them to feel and talk about what they are going through often robs them of their own participation in getting well and creates a premature closure on underlying problems that most often transform having seen the light of day. This premature closure can limit healing and generate new and unnecessary layers of stress. Human growth is an expansive and inclusive process and it has its own pace and time. Time to heal is often in direct conflict with social pressures to be productive. This conflict of time in my opinion is a major driving force in creating a culture of over prescribing. It is a pressure we should all deeply question and resist. We need to take care that the hurry, hurry society in which we live doesn’t leave behind its most important asset – people. You can download the paper from

Terry Cooper
Psychotherapist UKCP
Founder Director Spectrum Therapy