The 25 year history of the Solent Group

Once upon a time – in the late 1970s  – this story begins sadly with two deaths. The first was of Paul Burrell, who was a counsellor at Portsmouth Poly, before it was a University. He was in training at the BAP (British Association for Psychotherapy) and one night was running for his train to get home from London when he had a massive heart attack. He had been having psychotherapy with Dr Jock Wilson, who was on BAP’s Training Council and was also the counsellor for Bishop Otter College here in Chichester, before it was a University. (He had on his door at the college a little sign that said ‘Psychotherapists don’t grow old they just get Freud round the edges’.) Jock was devastated by his death. He had encouraged Paul to do the training and felt partly responsible.

I moved into this area in 1977 and a friend in London referred me a client so I had to find a supervisor and asked Jock. I very much wanted to train as a Psychotherapist so applied to BAP and started to have my own therapy with him. There were no other psychoanalytic psychotherapists in the area at that time. Jock encouraged me to apply, but BAP wrote, with Paul Burrell in mind, saying that I should live closer to London if I wanted to do the course. So then Jock decided to set up a course in Chichester and founded the ‘Chichester Society for Psychotherapy’. The students were 3 counsellors from Portsmouth Poly, a counsellor from Highbury College and myself. He roped in a local Psychiatrist, Dr Brian Vawdrey, as the person who would teach us the psychiatric basics. He discussed his ideas with the Guilford Society. Paul de Berker, their Chairperson, who had set up BAP and AGIP (the Association for Group and Individual Psychotherapy) offered to do some teaching and also run an experiential group based at his home in Guildford. Jock also involved a Tavistock psychoanalyst called Mary Twyman to do part of the teaching. He sorted out a syllabus and we started in the October term of 1983.  It seemed like a miracle to me.

But Jock died just before Christmas. He had been overworking and his heart gave out. It was such devastation.

We, the students from the course, decided to carry on meeting and studying – we were given Jock’s notes and syllabus to work from and we also went about 4 times through that year to Mary Twyman’s to try to work at our grief. It was really hard because we were so angry with Jock, not just because he’d gone, but because we had so much stuff to sort out about all the mixed up boundaries and we missed him so much.

Then in our studying together we decided to ask a lecturer from London to come and explain what we were struggling with. And Mary Wilson, Jock’s wife, offered her home as a place to meet in. Various other counsellors in the area were asked to come to help cover the costs and we all brought contributions for lunch and had time to get to know each other before the lecture began – just like we do now.

After a few years at Mary Wilson’s house we moved to Oaklands House just opposite Bishop Otter, now the University, and we set ourselves up more formerly with a committee and more people joined. We always felt strongly about the idea that we were a group even if the same people didn’t meet each time and that we were about helping ourselves to grow, not just intellectually but emotionally and as a community.

Twice more we tried to set up a training organisation in this area without success. The first time was in the  late 1980s when a lecturer called Alexander Newman came and he said he thought that we as a group were ready to set up our own psychotherapy training scheme. He had set up the Squiggle Group to study Winnicott’s work in London and had just moved to Bristol to work with the Severnside Training there. It was very exciting to try to get the project up and running and a group of us worked very hard, but sadly for various reasons it didn’t work out.

The Group next moved to meet in the Theological College for a few years and then in the early 1990s we moved into the Friends Meeting House where we still hold most of our sessions.  We also wrote ourselves a constitution. And several more psychotherapists moved into the area. So with the backing of the Committee I went to see them about whether they would be willing to get a training going. Mick Wilson, who had set up a counselling course at Portsmouth (now a University) , wanted to have the training as an MA course, an extra tier to his counselling course, but again there were various problems and complicated reasons why it didn’t get off the ground.

Since then quite a few of us have gone to London to be trained by the already existing Organisations.

The Solent Group goes on with its two meetings a term run by its life giving Committee with a chance for its members to meet over lunch so it fulfils both its CPD and networking aims. In the last few years there have been some new developments with its lecture every other year for a much wider therapy audience, putting the Solent Group on the local map. It also supports and makes possible an annual lecture run in conjunction with the local PCSR Group (Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility) and the Counselling Department at Portsmouth University aiming to make therapeutic ideas and insights more user friendly to local professional services especially those working with children and young people. It has a small library which would be grateful for any contributions and it has just launched a most useful website with a beautiful logo – bringing it into the 21st century!

So just to end I wanted to tell you about one workshop we had ages ago, an art therapy workshop. We put up a huge piece of paper on one wall and we all painted together, about 16 of us, and then we stood back. Some people had done their own thing – there was a huge black spiral, there were some dancing figures, lots of different little pictures and then some joining up colours inter-twining, and going round the whole and building off each other’s contributions and it was a whole rich fabulous picture. We had created something together, which we couldn’t have made separately – there was space to be separate, an awareness of each other’s differences but a joining together too. I think it’s a way of saying that we do need each other, which means taking care of each other and of the group.

And here’s to the next 25 years! Perhaps getting Freud round the edges together!