Reviews & endorsements
The psychology of COVID-19
Psychology in the Covid-19 Dreamland
This is an ambitious book, written in extraordinary times, that attempts to sketch out both the psychological consequences of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the multi-disciplinary nature of understanding required to confront it –from a practical point of view as well as a political, or indeed semantic one. As well as these aims, Vos sets out to embrace the possibilities open to us for creating a different kind of future than the one we have inhabited since before Covid-19 struck. The book is heavily referenced and the author has done an admiral job of keeping on top of an exponentially increasing body of non-normal research. Central to Vos’ s analysis is the uncertainty which sweeps through the fabric of all institutional efforts to grapple with the consequences of the virus. As he makes clear, some of these institutional players do not have our best interests at heart. Big Pharma, naturally comes in for criticism without denying that the actions of pharmaceutical companies will likely ultimately determine the length of time we are left swinging over the existential precipice, wherein we currently reside. Journalism too comes under the cross- hairs, with a concise survey of the biased, misinformed, intentionally misleading, and downright conspiratorial content that runs through established as well as digital media. In this section he talks of a “COVID-19 Life Syndrome” where “public consent is manufactured via the media, biopolitics and lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry.” (p.82). (…)
The pandemic has brought with it a tsunami that seemingly devours all traces of normality. Vos describes how Naomi Klein’s (2007) The Shock Doctrine provides an appropriate account for how the powerful and unscrupulous seize such moments to redraw the boundaries of economic and political consensus in favour of the previously unpalatable whims of the rich. Alongside this it is a means of creating a new psychological consensus. Thus, we find ourselves in the COVID-19 dream world, where nothing is as it seems and maybe never will be again. Vos keeps one eye on the future throughout this book – his aspirations being to lay the groundwork for a more resilient and democratic life, one that is more at home, individually, collectively and institutionally with uncertainty, danger and risk; an ‘existentially realist’ society that utilizes openness, vulnerability and critical thinking as platforms for self-defense, honesty, integrity and transparency. These will all be necessary if we are to negotiate, even moderately well, the dangers we now face. Globalism, neoliberalism, materialism and ecological collapse are the underwriters of our contemporary collective predicament. In the understandable admiration created by the achievements of biological science since the pandemic arrived, we must avoid the temptation to keep it locked away in a ‘scientifically detached’ box of its own. Science has never been more political than now. We owe it to ourselves and the future to reposition our knowledge enterprises not just as intellectually exciting, or even as necessary– economically or practically, but also as inescapably emotional and political. Science – and indeed art – are important parts of our collective investment in the future. Capitalism, as Vos remarks, is now at a crossroads. So too the nature of our future on this planet. Perhaps also our appreciation of knowledge and our emotional relationship to it.
Review in Journal of Constructivist Psychology
The economics of meaning in life
Joel Vos’s The Economics of Meaning in Life is the vanguard of revolutionary new approach to economics that finally removes that field from the domination of capitalist ideology and materialist reductionist views of human nature. Progressives in universities should insist that their own departments of economics hire at least one person who promotes this book and further develops the creative ideas that Vos presents.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun and Author of The Politics of Meaning and,most recently, Revolutionary Love: A Political Manifesto to Heal and Transform the World (University of California Press, 2019)
There seems to be an almost universal dread about in this modern world. Everywhere I travel, there is worry that life as we know it is tearing apart at the seams. People talk with me about inequality, scarcity, and corruption at the highest levels, environments plundered, homelands turned inhospitable, oceans filling with plastic and dwindling life, and changes to society, work, family, and culture coming so fast and frequent it feels impossible to keep up. Despite true passion, concern, fear, anger, or love, discussing these vital matters sometimes feels like trying to use our hands to waft away the towering columns of crimson smoke on our horizons. It is as if humanity has built itself inside of a colossal,
whirling centrifuge and forgot the ‘off’ switch outside it. In this ambitious book, Joel Vos works to assemble a blueprint for reconstructing this imposing machine of 21st century capitalism. He offers a vision of a Meaning-Oriented Economy, in which the fundamental currency and marker of progress is dignity, security, and a meaningful life. Using tools from history, social criticism, political science, psychology, economics, and philosophy, among others, Vos describes Capitalist Life Syndrome as a multifaceted perspective adopted by those of us who live
within a system that may be destructive to the values we hold dear, and yet about which we feel hopeful and obliged. The alternative—creating social systems that support and celebrate the highest human aspirations for meaningful life—is inspiring, and, as thousands of research studies show, not only practical, not only necessary, but also glorious.
Professor Michael Steger, Director of the Center for Meaning and Purpose, Colorado State University.
This book is an impassioned and well-reasoned plea to restore meaning at the heart of politics. In a society where people feel increasingly alienated and disenfranchised this is an important and necessary argument and enterprise.
Professor Emmy van Deurzen, Principal of the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, London
Joel Vos’s The Economics of Meaning is a brilliant analysis of both the ways in which capitalism colonizes and destroys not just any viable notion of economics but also the very spirit of humanity. How we live our lives far exceeds the dictates of a market and its pernicious values. Vos makes clear that the lived experiences, values, sense of social responsibility, and compassion are at the heart of what it means to live life meaningfully in a society that takes seriously the meaning of
Professor Henry Giroux, one of the founding theorists of critical pedagogy in the United States, with more than 68 books, 200 chapters, and 400 articles, including America on the Edge, Education under Siege and The Mouse that Roared.
Joel Vos is a brilliant scholar with an astonishing sweep of knowledge across economics, history, philosophy, psychology, and culture. He offers a compelling analysis of contemporary ills, crisply distilled as the Capitalist Life Syndrome enacted with its materialistic, hedonistic, and self-oriented values. These pursuits have not culminated in pervasive happiness and benevolent, well-functioning societies. Rather we see gaping inequalities and rampant mental health crises. In stark juxtaposition, Vos portrays an alternative: a meaning-oriented economy that is human, intuitive and existential; it is a place where individuals are both free and responsible to lead meaningful lives motivated by more than economic gain.
Despite the hard-hitting critique of functionalistic, neoliberal economics, his book is ultimately hopeful and utopian, not as fantasy, but as concrete steps toward building better societies anchored in meaning-oriented educational systems, community life, research, and mental health care. The book is a must read for reflective citizens who care. There is inspiration to be found in embracing its core idea—that leading a meaningful and fulfilling life is a basic human right.
Carol D. Ryff, Hilldale Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Joel Vos is a radical psychologist for our time. His subject is the global pandemic of mental anguish under neoliberal capitalism. His work on what he calls The Capitalist Life Syndrome fills a huge gap in our understanding of the compound crisis of a world system that is driving us to climate catastrophe, social breakdown, and mass despair. His is a powerful voice for radical transformation. Every activist should read this book.
Dr Neil Faulkner, historian and archaeologist, author of Creeping Fascism: Brexit, Trump, and the Rise of the Far Right, A Radical History of the World, and A People’s History of the Russian Revolution
Joel Vos has provided a challenge for us, individually and collectively, to examine what the mainstream of a capitalist economy has had upon, what we consider to be, the meaning of our lives. Basically, he has found that the system has established standards of what has worth that contains an important paradox. To whatever degrees we measure up to the markers of success, we find something missing when we consider what meaning we find in our lives. The economic system has left an imprint on our minds in which a disconnection from others and
our ecology leaves us feeling anxious and unresolved. As Vos points out, the impact has been so pervasive through culture that its place as a source of our psychological distress is typically out of view. The contribution of this well researched and highly readable book is to remove the veil. In it we find a way to remake our economic system in ways that allow us to appreciate the deeper reaches of our connection to life, to our communities, and to our habitat.
Marc Pilisuk, Professor Emeritus, The University of California;
Faculty, Saybrook University, author of The Hidden Structure of Violence: Who Benefits from Global Violence and War and Peace Movements Worldwide.
What a wonderful contribution to the study of meaning in all its varieties! For far too long meaning oriented scholars and practitioners have limited themselves to the personal or interpersonal domain. While this is of course a crucial focus, it’s not a complete analysis. The personal can’t be everything and Vos elegantly and clearly helps us think about the economic domain beyond capitalism ‘as a landscape’, but as an active constructor of experience and of meaning. In this book, Vos delineates the mechanisms whereby neoliberalism sculpts, allows, and disallows meaning and is both astute and persuasive, partly due to the diverse types of evidence drawn upon. He considers economic theory, phenomenology, social science, and case study. Because of this, the book will no doubt speak to a range of readers, whether they be economists trying to explore the meaning of their discipline, existentialists wanting to explore being-in-the-(capitalist)-world, or many an everyday reader noting and exploring the dissatisfaction that besets so many of us as we navigate contemporary life.
In the age of the corporation as individual and the billionaire classes wielding power, this is a timely, informative, and provocative read, nicely culminating in an exploration of what else is possible, what a meaning-oriented economics might actually look like.
Professor Martin Milton, Regent’s University London
A ground-breaking examination of the symbiotic relationship between our states of mind and the globally organised economy. It is also a look at where we need to be heading if we are to build a viable future. I thoroughly recommend it.
Ron Roberts, Author of Psychology and Capitalism, and The Off-Modern
Mental Health in Crisis
Fired up for change (…). Before reading this book, I thought the crisis in mental health was due to a lack of funding, lack of focus and a dogged dependence on cognitive behavioural therapy. The book did not dispel any of these thoughts. It simply placed them in a larger landscape surrounded by and connected to, a topography of mental health crises, significantly expanding my understanding of how far-reaching the issues are. For a small book, it packs quite a punch. The authors set out their research and explanations for two crises in mental health. Why two crises? The book presents a crisis in our mental health with a wide range of causes, and a crisis in the delivery of care to the people who need it. They argue that the ‘McDonaldisation’ of provision makes mental health a personal crisis for the population at large and those expected to meet commercial targets in the provision of care. Even the definition of typical and atypical mental health seems to have been distorted by commercial interest. (…)
Joel Vos offers his own thoughts in six of the ten main chapters, concluding with a glimmer of hope. The final chapter sets out Vos’s vision for the future of mental health care with a call for a more holistic approach. All we need now is a societal and political will for change. After finishing the book, I realised how little I had known about the macro issues of mental health. My new understanding of the scale, diagnosis and resolution of mental health issues has left me fired up for change. The impact of this book far exceeds its stature; I expect it to provoke debate and preferably action. The evidence is so compelling that I find myself asking, ‘What can we do about this and when will we start?’
Stuart Hillston, The Psychologist, British Psychological Society, January 2020
Mental Health in Crisis is an outstanding polemic against neoliberalism and its impact on mental health care. Vos offers a lucid and compelling analysis of how emotional wellbeing is conceptualised, medicalised and compromised in the United Kingdom. The book is essential reading.
Dr John Marsden, programme lead, Critical Approaches to Counselling and Psychotherapy, Edge Hill University
With considerable erudition and passion, this book explores the roots of the rising tide of mental health problems in the UK, citing the impact of government policies, the marketization of healthcare and the failure of the psychiatric diagnostic system. This is essential reading for all mental health practitioners and educators.
Rosemary Rizq, Professor of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, University of Roehampton
This book is an important and timely contribution to the field. The author presents clear, engaging and well-evidenced arguments, which demonstrate the various crises in mental health and our society. In contrast to many other texts, the book also ends with insightful and thought-provoking suggestions on how we might do things differently. This is a must-read for anyone involved or interested in mental health and wellbeing.’
Dr Laura Winter, HCPC Registered Counselling Psychologist and Lecturer in Education and Counselling Psychology at Manchester University
Meaning in Life: An evidence-based handbook for practitioners
This ground-breaking text draws together a range of historical, philosophical, and therapeutic sources to provide a uniquely detailed and comprehensive guide to meaning-centred practice. I am sure it will become the ‘go-to’ guide for counsellors, psychotherapists, and researchers in this field for many years to come. A remarkable achievement.
Mick Cooper, professor in Counselling Psychology at the University of Roehampton
This handbook on Meaning in Life is unique in the crowded field of existentially oriented therapies. Dr. Vos is able to integrate traditional approaches with the more recent evidence-based approaches of psychotherapy. He has made an important contribution.
Paul T. P. Wong, Professor in Psychology at Trinity Western University, President of the International Network on Personal Meaning
This book contains a ton of valuable information and practical resources in a single volume. Part One presents historical and contemporary approaches to meaning in life along with reviews of scientific research on relevant topics. Part Two covers meaning-centred assessment, interventions, and practical skills, as well as other relevant practitioner competencies in relational, phenomenological, experiential, mindfulness, and existential areas. Part Three is a treatment manual that structures and applies meaning-centred interventions.
Dr Daniel Coburn, University of Sydney