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Britney Spears: Toxic psychological impact of conservatorship

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Published on 28 June 2021

Britney Spears
Britney Spears

Pop star Britney Spears has been making headlines across the world after launching a blistering attack on the "abusive" conservatorship that has controlled her life for 13 years.

The singer, 39, told a Los Angeles court she had been denied the right to have more children and was put on the psychiatric drug lithium against her wishes.

While debates continue over how to best protect the star, University of Sunderland psychologist Dr Amy Pearson discusses the psychological impact of a conservatorship and examines just how Britney must be feeling.

Dr Pearson said: “A conservatorship strips an individual of their rights and ability to make their choices as they see fit and places those choices within the hands of a guardian.

“In addition to being a fundamental issue of basic human rights, being under conservatorship can impact on a person’s self-determination and mental wellbeing.

“Despite conservatorships existing as a means to prevent exploitation from others, they can be exploited by guardians themselves who do not always act in their wards best interests.”

Dr Pearson believes the fact Spears attained fame at such a young age will have impacted on her psychological wellbeing.

She said: “Growing up the public eye can have an incredibly negative effect if care is not taken. A lack of privacy, public scrutiny and a lack of time to engage with peers can have a negative impact on mental health at an incredibly young age.

“There is also a higher risk of Adverse Childhood Experiences from the kinds of environments that child stars are often places in, i.e. exposure to substance misuse, or experience of abuse.”

Spears’ father was granted control over her affairs by court order in 2008.

The order was agreed to after the star was put in hospital amid concerns over her mental health, and it has been extended for more than a decade since.

Dr Pearson added: “Having your choices controlled by someone else is an act we often consider abusive. Supported decision making with a kind and compassionate advocate is different to the reality that those living under conservatorships often face. 

“Britney Spears is unable to take what many of us would consider to be basic choices, i.e. whether to go out and buy ourselves a coffee.

“Many of us do not always make choices that others would consider in our best interests (i.e. one too many glasses of wine on a Friday night), but we are free to make those choices and the consequences that come with them.

“This freedom is all too often denied for people considered to be lacking ‘capacity’, and places restrictions on a person’s autonomy and independence.”