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Oliver James (psychologist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Oliver James
Academic work
Sub-disciplineRelational Psychoanalyst
WebsiteAuthor website

Oliver James is a British psychologist, author, journalist, television producer and broadcaster.


Following a degree in Social Anthropology at University of Cambridge, he trained as a child clinical psychologist at the University of Nottingham and worked for six years at the NHS Cassel Hospital in Richmond, London, in a clinical psychologist post.

He has written columns for The Sun, The Sunday Telegraph, the Sunday Express, The Independent, The Observer magazine and The Guardian Family section. He also contributes regularly to the Comment page of The Guardian, as well as occasional articles for the other broadsheets. He currently writes a column in The Financial Times Wealth magazine.[citation needed]

Speaking on Channel 4's 2013 "Psychopath Night", James described the credit crunch as a "mass outbreak of corporate psychopathy which resulted in something that very nearly crashed the whole world economy".[1]


In 1982, James made his first television series, for Granada for the ITV network, about childcare (Under Fives). He made two further educational series, one for Channel 4 (Sex With Paula, 1987) and one for ITV (Men On Violence, 1988, for LWT). He originated and was associate producer of the ITV documentary "The Man who shot John Lennon".[citation needed]

He was the interviewer and producer of the 44 interviews in Room 113 for the two series of the BAFTA-award-winning Network 7 youth programme on Channel 4. The interviews in Room 113 were described by Chris Dunckley in the Financial Times as "The most frank since John Freeman's Face-to-Face in the Fifties".[citation needed]

In 1990 he produced a documentary for Channel 4 about the Mail on Sunday and in 1992 he contributed three films, two as Producer and one as Producer-Presenter, to the BBC 2 Crime and Punishment season. Rape, for 40 Minutes, recorded the meeting of a rapist and a rape victim. Prisoner XYY/334422, also for 40 Minutes, was about the psychology of an imprisoned psychopath.

Wot U Looking At?, for the science programme Horizon, presented his influential[citation needed] explanation (from his monograph "Juvenile Violence in a Winner-Loser Culture") for why the poor are more violent than the rich and why, at the time, violence had been rocketing since 1987 in the UK.

In 1995 he produced, directed and presented a forty-minute Late Show documentary for BBC2, Prozac Diary, in which artists took the drug to see how it affected their work. In 1997, he produced and presented The Chair, a 7-part interview series for BBC2, including one in which Peter Mandelson MP shed a tear.[citation needed]

In 1998 he was the presenter of a 2-part series about his book, New Britain on the Couch, for Channel 4, followed in 2000 by presenting a one-off documentary about infidelity, Affairs of the Heart. In each of 2004, 2005 and 2006 he has presented a series of programmes about childcare for This Morning, titled Through the Eyes of the Child.


His 2002 book, They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life, has sold over 150,000 copies, as did his book Affluenza (2007).

His 2009 book, Contented Dementia, has sold over 100,000 copies in the UK and is widely used by professionals and relatives in managing people with the illness, despite the extreme hostility displayed to the method by the Alzheimer's Society.

In his 2012 book, Love Bombing - Reset your child's emotional thermostat, he describes a technique for parents to help improve relationships between parents and children which is widely used.

In his 2013 book, Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks, he identifies each of the three dark triadic personality traits (narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy) as being common amongst senior managers.

In his 2014 book, How to Develop Emotional Health, he cites five key elements of good emotional health - insightfulness, living in the present, fluid 'two-way' relationships, authenticity and playfulness.[2] He emphasises that although it is rare for a person to develop very high levels of emotional health, his book intends to indicate how it can be incrementally improved over time.

His book Not In Your Genes (2016) argued that no genes have been found which significantly explain our individual psychology, such as intelligence or mental health, and claimed that nurture is extremely important, explaining why siblings are different and why traits run in family.[citation needed] Also published in 2016, his book Upping Your Ziggy - How David Bowie Faced His Childhood Demons and How You Can Face Yours analyses how Bowie used his lyrics and stage personas to deal with his fear of madness, resulting from his family background. It explores the environmental causes of schizophrenia.

Reception of work

During his career in psychology, James has attracted controversy with his views on the nature versus nurture debate.[3]

Stuart Ritchie, a psychologist at the University of Edinburgh, wrote a strongly critical review of James's book Not In Your Genes. He described the book as a "straw man made flesh", "a compendium of psychological myths and legends", and "bending over backwards to avoid awkward conclusions". Ritchie wrote, "Few books risk such damage to the public understanding of science as those by Oliver James", and accused James of "scientific illiteracy".

Ritchie described the book's thesis as "children are born with brains of soft clay, their mental makeup unaffected by genes and infinitely mouldable by their parents", and that "DNA has no effect on the mind or mental health, whereas parenting reigns supreme". Ritchie described a variety of evidence which contradicts this view.[4]

Ritchie also responded to a letter from James in The Psychologist magazine,[5] following which James and Prof Richard Bentall of the University of Liverpool engaged him in argument.[6]

James responded to Ritchie's criticisms in an article in The Guardian in March 2016.[7]


  • James, Oliver (1995). Juvenile Violence in a Winner-Loser Culture. Free Association Books. ISBN 1853433020.
  • James, Oliver (1998). Britain on the Couch – Why We’re Unhappier Compared with 1950 Despite Being Richer. Arrow Books. ISBN 0-09-924402-0.
  • James, Oliver (2002). They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life. Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-8478-8.
  • James, Oliver (2012). Love Bombing - Reset your child's emotional thermostat. Karnac Books.
  • James, Oliver (January 2014). How To Develop Emotional Health. School of Life/Pan Macmillan. ISBN 9780230771710.
  • James, Oliver (March 2016). Not In Your Genes: The Real Reasons Children Are Like Their Parents. Vermilion. ISBN 9780091947668.
  • James, Oliver (2016), Upping Your Ziggy: How David Bowie Faced His Childhood Demons - and How You Can Face Yours, Karnac Books, ISBN 1782204903

See also


  1. ^ Psychopath Night, Channel 4 (2013).
  2. ^ "BOOK REVIEW: How To Develop Emotional Health by Oliver James". 20 March 2017. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  3. ^ Orr, Deborah (12 March 2016). "Oliver James is wrong to blame parents for their children's mental illness". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  4. ^ Stuart Ritchie (8 March 2016). "On genetics Oliver James is on a different planet to the rest of us". Spectator Health ( Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  5. ^ "Not in your genes | The Psychologist". 28 December 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  6. ^ "Jump the gun and you will be shot down". Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  7. ^ Oliver James (30 March 2016). "Sorry, but you can't blame your children's genes". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 April 2017.

External links

This page was last edited on 16 June 2021, at 10:27
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