History of Psychodynamic Organisational Practice
Many of our founding members were trained at the Cassel Hospital, at the Tavistock Clinic, or at Thornby Hall, Peper Harow. These trainings share a common tradition in the therapeutic community movement, and in the development of group relations thinking. This tradition grew out of the need to treat and understand the impact of trauma in the aftermath of war.
The First World War produced thousands of psychiatric casualties. Traumatised soldiers suffering from ‘shell-shock’ were often seen as cowards or deserters. Dr. Arthur Hurst was one of several psychiatrists attempting to work with compassion and understanding. He provided a revolutionary treatment, at the military hospital in Seale Hayne, Devon, consisting of occupational therapy – supporting soldiers in working in the fields – interspersed with intensive individual therapy.
The Cassel Hospital was founded by Sir Ernest Cassel in 1921. Impressed by the treatment of shell shocked soldiers in Seale Hayne Military Hospital, he sought to provide a place for civilians with similar difficulties of deep unhappiness, disturbed relationships and unusually severe problems in daily functioning whether at home, work or in leisure pursuits.
In 1940, Wilfred Bion, a psychiatrist at the Tavistock Clinic, and later a psychoanalyst, was placed in charge of the military training and rehabilitation wing of Northfield Hospital, where he and his colleagues pioneered a way of working with psychiatric casualties of the Second World War, using the exploration of group dynamics. This method was further developed by S.H. Foulkes, John Rickman and Harold Bridger, who later founded the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. Their ideas formed the basis for the therapeutic community model developed at the Cassel Hospital by Tom Main in the 1940s, and for the study of group relations. You can learn more about Group Relations from the website GroupRelations.com.
Many therapeutic communities designed and developed in-house trainings for their staff. Examples include the Cassel Hospital, the Mulberry Bush School and Thornby Hall, Northamptonshire.
At Thornby Hall from 1990 – 2011 Jenny Sprince, a Tavistock-trained child psychotherapist and organisational consultant, together with Alan Worthington (the founding director) and his successors, worked to develop the programme of experiential learning for staff, building on the existing tradition already in place at Peper Harow. In time, this evolved into a formal in-house training. She was later supported by Dr. John Byng-Hall, child psychiatrist and family therapist.
For a description of the characteristics and development of an experiential training in residential environments see the article “Developing Containment” in the Journal of Child Psychotherapy available at: