ISP Newsletter Editorials – 2001


This newsletter is being produced in the context of important and difficult times for ISP, although as I write this, I am aware that some people will feel this more acutely than others. The fact that the founder of ISP, Brigidin Gorman, suddenly stopped working, as a result of the Board’s decision on the 11th December, is a major event, which has and will shake the organisation to its foundations. The period after a sudden loss is not necessarily the best time to evaluate the long-term implications, but in time one thing will become clear and that is to what extent the working practices, values and principles of ISP have been internalised by individuals and the organisation as a whole, and how much is reliant on the presence of the founder. Those organisations that put loyalty to a leader before a commitment to the primary task of the organisation don’t tend to survive in the long run. I guess that’s the struggle we are engaged in.


I recently flicked through some old notebooks and came across a poem which made a strong impression on me at the time.  I hope it says something to you.

In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself
By Wislawa Szymborska (Nobel Prize for Literature 1996)

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.
A jackal doesn’t understand remorse.
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they’re right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
In every way they’re light.

On this third planet of the sun,
Among the signs of bestiality
A clear conscience is Number One.

One of the things which gave me great pleasure recently was reading a paper by Monica Lanyado, “Daring to try again: The hope and pain of forming new attachments”.  Here are two paragraphs I would like to quote because I think she is describing dynamics which we experience within ISP.

“When listening to colleagues discussing their work in in-patient and other residential settings, I have often been struck by the anxiety that they express, that the whole organisation feels at times as if it is about to fall apart, or is only getting by, by the skin of its teeth. In writing this paper and trying to think specifically about the anxieties raised by children who are trying to form new attachments and who are scarred by terrible losses and separations in their lives, I have found myself wondering whether this anxiety that everything is about to collapse is, in part, a reflection of the precariousness of the structure of the secure base within the child, as it starts to grow. It is as if this secure base is a very tender seedling, at the mercy of the elements of further real and perceived rejections and cruelties. It is often just at the moment that one has begun to dare to hope and believe in a better life and future, that the fear of losing this possibility is most excruciating………

I have described this fear of new attachments and security ‘all going wrong’, because I think this plays an important part in the primitive fears of disintegration that can underlie many processes of splitting and acting out in organisational settings, as well as between professionals in out-patient clinics. For example one member of staff or a particular staff group might be blamed for not understanding the child or not managing the situation better. This would be an example of scape-goating within the staff group and the projection of feeling of professional inadequacy. Other members of staff may feel that it is the child who is at fault, and that by his or her difficult behaviour one child is de-stabilising the whole organisation. They may feel that the child doesn’t fit into the community, thus possibly acting out rejecting behaviour from the past. Other members of staff may feel that if only a certain member of staff hadn’t left or not been around at a crucial time, ‘it’ would all have been worked through. This is a form of reliance on a messianic leader. The underlying anxiety however is that everything feels very shaky and insecure, and this is an anxiety that runs deep in staff as well as children. When a child whose internalised secure base is still shaky and vulnerable this amplifies anxiety rather than containing it. The interconnectedness of these experiences must be recognised so that the vulnerable child is met by stability and understanding by the social structure that he lives within.”


The month of March has been eventful and productive. We have seen some experienced staff members leave, and we have survived! Actually it has been humbling to think that, however good we may think we are, we are all replaceable. An indication that ISP is essentially a positive and dynamic organisation is the speed with which people come forward to say, “I’d like to do that”.

March has also been a time when those carers who wished to leave ISP and join another or new organisation have declared their hand. One part of me wishes to be generous and say, “Good luck to you”, another part of me wants to say, “What a pity you are missing out on the quiet revolution that is occurring within ISP”.

I also wanted to say to those people who are clearly intent on leaving but not being straight forward about it, “Can you remember the time when Excell 2000 was merely a glint in a few people’s eyes? You were some of the most vociferous voices in ISP about the underhandedness of what was going on. How do you square that with what you have been doing in the last few months?”

What do I mean by the quiet revolution? Actually it is rather noisy if recent Programme Meetings are anything to go by. It is about banishing the “F” words from ISP, i.e., fear and favouritism. Many people have said, “Fear and favouritism have prevented ISP’s full potential from being harnessed”. It’s OK to speak out, to disagree, to question, to offer opinions, to praise, to appreciate, etc, etc. You will not be banished to the nether regions for it.

ISP subscribes to the Young Minds Magazine.  In the current issue there is an interesting article by Susan Keggereis entitled, “Working With Children: A New Deal For Training”.  I will quote a few extracts.

She argues, “….the need for those who work with children to be trained in an approach that enables them to understand more fully what is going on in the child’s mind and to think about the meaning of the impact that child has on them and their work setting.

….It can be overwhelming to face the sheer level of pain in those we are trying to help, and even worse to experience the acting-out and destructive refusal to be helped that is so often the hallmark of damaged children and adolescents.  One likely outcome is that to defend ourselves, we retreat into managing “the case” or following guidelines, rather than truly encountering the complexity of the child’s or young person’s situation.

….Children will unconsciously let us know how they are feeling in a variety of non-verbal ways, most powerfully by evoking feelings in us.  A child’s aggressive and contemptuous behaviour may serve several functions:  to export fear and helplessness into someone else, to provoke retaliation in order to make sense of persecuted feelings, or to get outside help when everything seems out of control.

….Although most professional training pays little attention to the dynamics of groups, the children with whom we work are deeply affected by the groups to which they belong.  Children’s success or failure in negotiating group dynamics has a huge impact on their overall functioning.

….If a worker can work out who is feeling what and for whom, and if they can think creatively about their own role and the way their organisation works, then the whole situation is enormously more ‘think-about-able’ than before.  They will be more likely to be able to contain both their own anxieties and those of their clients.”


At the end of March there was a memorial service for Dr Bill Allchin, who I knew for many years as a Consultant Psychiatrist to the Cotswold Community. He was a very quiet, unassuming sort of person and on first meeting you would never guess the interesting life he had lead. During the Second World War he was a Japanese prisoner of war in Thailand and Burma. He was the Psychiatrist in charge of Leigh House, an adolescent unit near Winchester. He was also the Labour Parliamentary Candidate in the area, a lost cause if ever there was one, bearing in mind the BMW’s per square mile!

He was also a writer and poet and I was given a booklet of this poems and prose. I would like to share some of this material with you.

White Coolies (Thailand 1943)
Dawn up in Thailand – the monsoon breaking
muddy and cold and damp.
Dripping of bamboos and tent flaps shaking,
and cholera in the camp/

“Fifty men for work this morning,”
turn out orderlies and cooks,
send the M.O. and the Padre.
take the C.O from his books.

Noon in the cutting, the chunkels clinking;
baskets and stones and sticks,
here comes the mukan*, it’s rice I’m thinking      (*food)
with watery soup to mix.
Knock off work and get your mess tin,
find a shelter from the rain,
stack those picks and shovels neatly,
you’ll be wanting them again.

Dusk near the railway and the work completed,
and the camp once more in sight,
and five damned Tamils on their haunches squatted
glum, in the fading light.
Five more men have died since morning,
several more are on the way.
Hurried supper with no extras,
fitful sleep until next day.

On The Bridge
I was working on the part of the bridge on which the sleepers would eventually be placed. There was only one Japanese soldier there, who seemed to be a middle-aged carpenter. I was attempting to hit a long iron bolt, to knock it into its appropriate hole, using a long-handled hammer. I missed the head of the bolt and the momentum of the blow overbalanced me so that I might have fallen to the ground many feet below had not the carpenter grabbed hold of me and so prevented me from falling off the bridge. He might, of course, have given me a surreptitious push and there would have been one less British soldier for the Japanese Army to deal with.

Contact When Canvassing (1974)
The small, lively boy ran up to me,
smiling, and stood on one of my feet.
I gently stepped on one of his, and we
began to understand each other.
The family dog, growling, looked askance
from the kitchen doorway, and father
spoke a little sharply to the boy for
bothering me. The friendly family
offered me a seat and a mug of tea,
and as I sat there, the boy came
over and sat on my lap. He seemed
surprised as he fingered my nose and
my greying moustache and beard.
“You are very old”, he said to me.
Of course, he was told off again
several times during my short
visit, but when he came to the front
door to say good-bye, our eyes met
for a moment.
Then, as I went down the path
I realised that I hadn’t found out
how anyone in the household
intended to vote.

I enjoy reading about sport, not just accounts of a particular game or event, but the psychology underlying team performance or individual success of failure. How was it that Lennox Lewis lost when he appeared to be so much the favourite? How was it that a few commentators saw it coming? They saw a danger in over confidence. There is an immediacy about sport which can produce some useful lessons for life.

A football team with very talented individuals may do badly because it is not gelling together. The manager may be changed or a new player acquired and the chemistry changes. The team starts winning. A loss of confidence disappears and now the team believes it will win rather than lose each game.

There was an interesting article in the Times a few weeks ago by Simon Barnes. The focus of the article was Andy Cole and the way he performs for England being so different to the way he plays for Manchester United. I will quote some extracts because I think there is a relevance for life in general.

“There was never an athlete born that was immune to terror.  Terror is the athlete’s most faithful companion.  Terror is never far away even in the quietest moments and at times when an athlete has greatest need of a quiet mind, terror comes in roaring.

Keeping wicket is a good way to observe terror in action. The village green is a billion miles away from test cricket but no one walks to take guard without a little trepidation.

Some hum tunelessly.  Some chat compulsively.  Some are stiff and silent, others elaborately devil may care.  Some are remote and stand-offish, others unnecessarily friendly.  Some fidget, some are rigid.  Some take especially elaborate guards, some are pointedly aggressive.

Multiply all that a billion or so and you might get an inkling of what it is like to play top level professional sport.  Terror is a career-long companion for them all.  It’s just that some manage to hide it.

….Great sport is about the attempt to narrow the gap between desire and performance.  With the truly great the most terrifying occasions provoke the athlete into the performance of a lifetime.  Many athletes are so terrified that they vomit before a big occasion.

….Terror can inspire but far more often terror inhibits.  Terror will shoehorn its way between desire and performance and force them wide apart.  This is precisely what happened to Andrew Cole on Saturday.  Caught like a cat in an adage between I dare no and I will.

…..At Newcastle he was the lone star; at Old Trafford he was just one element in a constellation.  The huge sum paid for him at the time (£7,000,000) might have been enough to inhibit him on its own but he also had to deal with the lip-curling Frenchman, Eric Cantona, who was always going to stay cock of his own walk.

And also the simple fact of being in the middle at the front of the biggest team in the land was a hard one to cope with.  All these things turned Cole from the most potent striker in England to a marksman who could not hit a barn from the inside.

But he had his second coming at Old Trafford when Cantona went and Dwight Yorke came and the atmosphere in the football became more congenial to him.  Where Cole had been clinging on with both hands, he now dances with ease.

….Scoring a goal is the hardest thing in football because of the cat in the adage situation.  It takes real moral courage to score a goal. How often do those watching talk about a player who misses, “When it would have been easier to score?”

It is always easier to miss than score, even when you are two yards in front of any empty net and the bigger the match and the bigger the team you play for the easier it is to screw impossibly wide, balloon the ball skywards, take an air shot.

It remains to be seen if Cole can conquer Cole, whether he can make his terror work for him rather than against, whether he can close that yawning gulf between performance and desire.”

I have quoted at length and I apologise to anyone who is totally bored with sport, because I can relate to this and feel for Andy Cole. In my own small way I know that I felt this when I moved from the Cotswold Community to ISP. The goals I scored at the Community dried up for a while. Who was my Eric Cantona? I feel different in the team now.


I recently did a course at the Institute of Directors about creating “Successful Meetings”.  The first requirement is to ask if we need to have a meeting at all and if so to be clear about its purpose.  One of the handouts highlighted the desire to have unnecessary meetings.


Work on your own?
Need someone to talk to?
Hate having to make decisions?
Then hold a Meeting!!

You can get to see other people
Offload decisions
Sleep in peace
Feel important and impress (or bore) your colleagues
And all in work time
Meetings – the practical alternative to work


At the end of June, Mandy Stevens and I went to Margaret Hunter’s book launch at the Maudsley Hospital.  Margaret introduced Mandy as the person who painstakingly typed the manuscript.  I was impressed to hear that Margaret had written the book in longhand without the use of a word processor.  Margaret generously acknowledges ISP’s support while writing the book and clearly some of the material arises from her work at ISP.  Here is a brief extract:

“Psychotherapy With Young People In Care. Lost And Found”, by Margaret Hunter.

“Psychotherapy needs a secluded time in which ideas can be talked out, played out, investigated, felt, thought over, visited from different angles, attacked, worried over, yelled at, defended against, projected out, introjected in.  It is a key aspect of this process that if it is to work and the child is to allow her or himself to venture into these dangerous emotional areas, that there should be no repercussions.   At least no external repercussions and certainly no tale-telling from the therapists back to mum or dad or the teacher.   With no repercussions, children in therapy begin to realise that this encounter is one where they can take chances.  They experience the emotional containment the therapist offers during the session and they experience a lack of external consequences for their behaviour or attitude within the session.  This leaves them more open to concentrate on the internal consequences.”


Earlier this month Chris Beedell died and his obituary appeared in the Guardian. I first got to know him in 1977 when I did the Advanced Course in Residential Child Care at Bristol University, which he ran. I kept in touch with him and after I became Principal of the Cotswold Community persuaded him to join its Managing Body, which largely consisted of County Councilors. He was a constant thorn in the side of Wiltshire County Council helping to thwart their desire to convert the Cotswold Community into a gravel pit. Although you didn’t know him he influenced the way child care developed and, therefore, your practice. I would like to quote extracts from his obituary.

“Christopher Beedell, who has died aged 76, was a child psychologist and a pioneer in the theory of residential child care whose book Residential Life with Children became a classic…….

During the Second World War he registered as a conscientious objector, and spent a short time in Wormwood Scrubs before going to Bangor University to study chemistry.

It was at this point that he picked up a library book, published in 1941, The Hawkspur Experiment by David Wills, about an experimental youth camp in Essex. Wills was a pioneer of residential therapeutic work, and Chris was so inspired by what he read about Hawkspur that by the end of 1944 he was working there himself as a student helper.

This experience made a significant impact on his understanding of what could make residential living valuable and, in today’s vocabulary, therapeutic………

In 1950 he moved to Bristol, starting work as a child psychologist at the child guidance clinic before his appointment as a lecturer at Bristol University. He stayed at Bristol until his retirement, when he was a senior lecturer in social work , in 1985.

In his early days at Bristol, one of his first tasks was to develop a course for senior staff working in the newly emerging field of what is now known as residential child care. It was to become the focus of his life’s work.

He was a great believer in the potential of children to grow and change: they needed to be understood and the conditions established in which they could discover their capacity. At the heart of his highly regarded book, Residential Life with Children (1970), is the notion that children need to be held, nurtured and so helped to develop and maintain personal integrity. The task for staff working with troubled and troublesome children was to create those conditions.

Chris made a major contribution to the theorising of residential practice. Others had written about their own work. But his book was the first to set out to capture the art and science of residential life: the creativity and the importance of practical detail, the “doing of good in minute particular”, to adapt one of his favourite quotations from William Blake. He described the environments in which children could prosper and the methods that staff could use.

Much more recently, in 1992, he submitted evidence to the Warner committee into the selection and recruitment of staff in children’s homes. He worked out some critical tests: Does the person like children? Can they play and be comfortably alongside children? Are they, at core, independent enough to withstand the batterings of children who are at the least adrift and may be very damaged and bewildered.

In addition he was a great educator. The Bristol course, as it became known, was one of only two established by the Home Office to provide leadership in residential care. The tasks he set for students were models of how to help people search for understanding of both children and their own practice. He did not let things go, pushing himself and others to understand. Students were expected to use events to understand the behavior of both children and staff, to understand themselves and to plan. Residential work consists of far more than reacting to children’s behavior.”


I have just returned from a three-day trip working in Ireland.  A Childcare Consultant, Damien McLellan, invited me.  I first met him 18 months ago when I gave a paper at a conference on Therapeutic Childcare in Kilkenny.  The conference was organised by St Bernard’s Group Homes (based at Fethard) to celebrate their 25th anniversary.  Damien has been their Consultant for about three years and he has introduced them to the principles of therapeutic childcare. When I visited there 18 months ago one of the four households had explicitly taken on a therapeutic approach.  They were working with the most unintegrated children and were drawing on the work of Winnicott and Dockar- Drysdale. 

When I went back there this time to work with all the staff together, from all the four households, it was because all the households were striving to practice therapeutic childcare.   It was exciting to see this progress.  Damien had successfully persuaded the powers that be (the Presentation Sisters and the South East Health Board) that a behaviourist approach was ineffective for children who are emotionally extremely fragile. Unless this fragility is addressed these young people are going to lead profoundly unsatisfactory lives, no matter how many GCSEs or other qualifications are acquired along the way.

It was odd to go to another country to use my experience in this field of work and at the same time realise that I hadn’t used this within ISP.

The small town of Fethard was an amazing place.  It was about as unpretty as you could get and yet had a vitality and charm that I won’t forget. I particularly like the feel of McCarthy’s, a bar in the centre of town, that had a wonderful atmosphere.  Everybody in the town seemed to be there at lunchtime.  Andrew Lloyd Webber lives three miles away and when he was writing the recent musical with Ben Elton about football, they were both regulars at McCarthy’s.

I then went to Dublin with Damien to work with the staff of two Children’s Homes for whom he is the Consultant.  It seemed to me that the main objective was to persuade the staff teams that a more therapeutic approach is necessary but difficult because the children are helped to bring to the surface the underlying problems and disturbance.  Unless this is done the problems will remain buried but continue to exert a profound influence on their lives.   These staff teams were struggling with the dilemma of encouraging the children to attach within the context of a shift system, which created much discontinuity.  If for no other reason, fostering now has a much stronger basis for encouraging children to attach as a result of being able to provide continuity of care.

Damien McLellan is an interesting man.  He worked in Kent for several years in the 70s and 80s at the Paddocks (now the Caldecott College) and then with his wife set up and ran a children’s home of their own.  He returned to Ireland about 15 years ago and ran a children’s home in Waterford for several years until it was unceremoniously closed by the Local Authority.  Very slowly his career took off again as an Independent Childcare Consultant as a result of his expertise working with children that no one else could cope with.  That is how he started as a Consultant at St Bernards.  The Presentation Sisters (the parent organisation for St Bernards) were completely baffled by their inability to cope with a 9 year old boy who clearly desperately needed help but was driving them to distraction with his wild, unpredictable and uncontrollable behaviour.  It was against their principles to get rid of him and yet they couldn’t standby and watch him take the children’s home apart.  Someone remembered Damien McLellan, who had been in a professional wilderness for a year or two after the Waterford home closed, and they asked for his help.  Straight away Damien realised that this boy was emotionally unintegrated and the usual rules did not apply.   It was no good adopting the carrot and  stick approach that had been St Barnards’ approach to childcare.  As well as supporting the staff team to think and work differently, he did some direct work with this boy and this had the effect of role modelling therapeutic work.  Over the next few months the transformation of this boy became the stuff of legends in the South Eastern Health Board and with the Presentation Sisters.  Since then his career has not looked back.

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