Why the Tavistock had to fall

Aug 1, 2022 by

By Kathleen Stock, unherd:

For years, the seeds of the Tavistock’s downfall have been hiding in plain sight, as a picture has slowly emerged of its clinicians doling out harmful drugs to gender-confused youth as if they were sweets. At the same time, though, a more subtle clue to the clinic’s endemic dysfunction has been contained in the generic communications that followed each new crisis.

“Thoughtful” is a self-description that crops up repeatedly. In response to critical reporting from Newsnight in 2019, the clinic’s Gender Identity Development Service insisted that it was “a thoughtful and safe service”. When Keira Bell and others took their case to the High Court a year later, arguing that under-16s could not give informed consent to puberty blockers, a GIDS spokesperson replied obstinately that theirs was “a safe and thoughtful service”. And when the Care Quality Commission rated the service as “inadequate”, the Tavistock’s ensuing statement defensively began: “The first thing to say is that GIDS has a long track record of thoughtful and high quality care.”

[…] This intellectual focus upon the fluidity and construction of meaning, and upon the power of narrative to create more stable personalities, is also heavily present in the published work of Bernadette Wren, Head of Psychology for 25 years at what insiders tweely call the “Tavi”. By her own description, she was “deeply involved” with the GIDS team for much of that time. Alongside psychoanalysis, she adds post-structuralist philosophy to her formative influences, citing figures such as Richard Rorty and Michel Foucault as important in her thinking.

True to the relativism of these philosophers, in Wren’s intellectual vision there are no objective truths but only a series of subjective narratives.

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