London South Bank condemned for hosting 'magical living' workshop. Phil Baty reports
London South Bank University has been criticised for hiring a self-styled "psychic" to run a staff wellbeing workshop based on "cosmic ordering" - a new-age belief that a person can achieve whatever he or she wants by simply asking the cosmos.
As part of a gender-equality event, the university last week held a workshop led by Lisa Turner, a former lecturer who left academe to set up business as a psychic after she claimed to have experienced a series of "spiritual events".
Her business, Psycademy, offers sessions in cosmic ordering and hypnotherapy, which allows clients to explore their "past lives". Her website reports that one client, while in a trance, said that she was previously "Pedro de Castillo", an officer of the Spanish Inquisition who had been "tortured until he died a slow and painful death".
Dr Turner, who holds a PhD in engineering from Southampton University, previously lectured at Oxford Brookes University.
She was hired by London South Bank as part of a wider day dedicated to "mind, body and soul" that was organised by the university's gender-equality network, Gendernet. The event also included a "life-coaching" session and "body-image training" to "help you use your appearance and body language to aid self-esteem, confidence and personal impact".
The university's publicity material says: "Lisa Turner will help you improve your energy levels and increase happiness through cosmic ordering."
Dr Turner confirmed that she had held two one-hour workshops - abbreviated versions of her daylong course, which is subtitled "magical living". In her publicity material for this, she says: "Have you ever wondered how some people seem to be able to magically manifest anything they want? Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be so lucky? Well, they just know the magical laws of manifesting. Imagine being able to manifest anything your heart desires anytime. Imagine knowing what you need to do to make any problem you have disappear."
She claims to have a scientific backing for her business, which was previously called the "psychic university".
June Purvis, professor of women's and gender history at Portsmouth University, said: "The session sounds like an opiate to dull the pain of reality and not an appropriate way to deal with staff stress and wellbeing."
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that although it was commendable to try to improve staff wellbeing, she was concerned by universities running events that could be seen by staff as "largely tokenistic" or even "ill-advised".
"Universities need to make sure that they are working on real improvements to value and reward staff, not just tick boxes."
Sharon Parker, director of Sheffield University's Institute of Work Psychology, said she was "really concerned" to see universities providing such initiatives.
"Establishing an expectation in women that they can, and should, solve gender problems themselves by engaging in magical thinking is not only unhelpful, it could also be damaging. In most cases of gender inequality, it is the workplace that needs to change, not the woman."
Dr Turner told The Times Higher that more than half of those who came to the daylong gender-equality event attended her workshop, which was only one of three workshops available.
"Most therapists agree that you cannot change anyone else, you can only change your own behaviour and that, when you do, others around you will change theirs. For many people, this is much more empowering... if Emily Pankhurst (and others) hadn't taken action, I wonder if women would have the vote."
Dr Turner said that most of what she taught in her workshop was simple and "well-researched" psychology, but she conceded that claims on her website about a client reliving a former life was largely "marketing" because past-life regression was her "biggest money earner". She said it would be commercially foolish for her to say that past lives do not exist, and said she was happy to use whatever language her clients chose to describe their concerns. "Maybe we live past lives, maybe we don't," she said.
London South Bank declined to comment.
'It's based on scientific principles'
Psycademy's Lisa Turner explains the workshop she led at London South Bank
"The workshop focused on developing an understanding of one's personal spirituality for empowerment and on how spiritual principles can cause material outcomes.
"Cosmic ordering was one of the techniques taught. For some it seems a bit unbelievable; you could just as easily call it effective goal-setting. The technique for making it work is simply the application of neurolinguistic programming.
"All my trainings are based on sound scientific principles from quantum theory, philosophy and psychology. Psycademy ( www.psycademy.co.uk ) is known for respecting people's beliefs - spiritual, religious and personal. We don't tell anyone what to believe; rather, we focus on the techniques and methodologies that enable personal empowerment.
"The participants were a mixture of academics and support staff, male and female, and from a variety of disciplines. The workshop was very well received, with so many questions afterwards that we overran by 30 minutes and could have gone on much longer.
"I am used to controversy, but usually it comes from psychics who say I am taking the magic away by bringing in science. Scientists love what I do, and many of my students are businesspeople.
"Before people understand what I do, my work does attract debate; but when people come on the training sessions and see for themselves they realise what a difference this novel way of thinking can make to their lives."