Isobel Urquhart

I began my working life as a teacher, most of which was with children with learning difficulties in mainstream comprehensive schools, and then I became a teacher-trainer, and then a teacher of Educational Psychology at a faculty of education at a university. Throughout that time, I lived for preference in the working class communities where I taught, and came to know well and to respect the economic and emotional struggles of the families and children I taught.

As I taught, I understood more and more acutely how what seemed to be ‘difficult’ parents and ‘problem’ children were the result of a more complex web of personal and social difficulties and that often people ended up in worse and worse situations as a result of the labelling and punitive systems that were put in operation. Many of the students I worked with were not so much young people with learning difficulties – although I wouldn’t deny those exist or that adults do have to take personal responsibilities for the harm they did their children sometimes – as young people who brought to their schooling the hurt, confusion and damage that impacted on them and their families through intergenerational effects of an unfair society. No wonder I thought that the mirroring oppressions of schooling had so little benevolent effect.

We started to ask the young people to tell us stories. We wrote these out and made them into books for them to read, as an educational practice. But we soon realised that these stories – whether fantasies or autobiographical – were what was really on our young students’ minds. And I very soon realised that I wanted to go on hearing and engaging with those stories and the real yearning desires and the terrible hurts and desperations they revealed.

So I became a psychotherapist with the specific determination that the psychotherapeutic process that had been profoundly healing for me should serve my radical politics and serve the people who are so often excluded from access to it. I found a training that was radical in that it was student led and which made decisions collectively. It was set up in direct defiance of the institutional and establishment traditions of psychoanalysis which excluded both potential clients (too poor) and potential therapists (too poor) and which rarely critically examined its own complacency and class assumptions. In addition, I hold that psychotherapy should not pathologise individuals further – to blame them for their own immiseration by society – but should have at its heart an emancipatory principle, as Freire and others had had for education.

My politics are revolutionary and impacted how and why I was a teacher; they impact now on how and why I am a psychotherapist. I have worked with student activists, and with individuals who have refugee or asylum seeker status. I have a special commitment to offering a therapeutic but politically aware process of healing for those who are suffering from the effects of their political activism or the effects of politics on their lives, as is the case with any asylum seeker. I spent what time I could at Occupy St Paul’s with other members of the Welfare team there, and was excited to find others who thought on similar lines and who offered a way to put my principles of accessing psychotherapy to everyone into practice.

I currently work for a college of higher education, at the refugee therapy centre and have a private practice.   I am trained as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist but my whole orientation has been against using theory to create yet another exclusivity to oppress clients further or to limit my own intuitive and empathic engagement with the people I meet. I am proud to be part of this network.