In November 2005, we were saddened by the death of Max Paterson, founder member and good friend of the Institute.
Max Paterson was born in 1924 and educated at Hutcheson’s Academy in Glasgow. His university studies were curtailed by his call-up papers during the Second World War and, as a conscientious objector, he was directed to work at Lennox Castle, an institution for adults and children deemed to be “mentally defective” in the parlance of the time. There he forged the first of the many creative working partnerships which characterised his career. With his friend and colleague David Irwin he transformed the school from a regimented and punitive place to one of learning through play and painting. Learning was made enjoyable and satisfying and this was reflected in the gains made by these multiply deprived children, only some of whom had the cognitive disabilities attributed to them.
Despite the fact that he was still only in his teens, some of the themes interwoven in his later work appeared at this stage: a profound belief in the importance of the arts and of play in the development of children and their sense of self-worth; an identification with marginalised populations; a keen eye for spotting the potential in people who doubted their abilities; and a capacity for turning the existing order on its head.
He returned to university to complete an Honours Degree in Psychology and during this time was employed as a Clinical Clerk at Hartwood Hospital. His experiences there, building on those at Lennox Castle, sparked off a curiosity about the dynamics of institutions and their impact on the individual which became an abiding interest. He was also introduced to psychodynamic thinking, based on the theory and practice of psychoanalysis, and in particular to the work of the Scottish psychoanalyst, W.R.D. Fairbairn.
After completing his degree he trained as a Clinical Psychologist while retaining an interest in psychotherapy. No formal training in psychotherapy was available in Scotland at that time and he pursued his learning by whatever means he could find, complementing reading and personal analysis by working at the Davidson and Notre Dame Clinics in Glasgow. From 1952 to 1962, he worked as a psychotherapist with a wide range of clients.
In 1962 he joined a small group of psychologists, including Janet Hassan and Bob Vallance, who were developing a psychological service for the Approved (later List D) schools under the aegis of the Scottish Education Department, and pursued the application of knowledge and theory about child development to practice in the schools. He promoted the provision of opportunities for personal growth and the enhancement of self-worth in all spheres of children’s lives, embracing a therapeutic focus but not confined to it. He also encouraged the introduction of art as a subject in the schools.
He had a passionate commitment to the welfare of children and an extraordinary ability to communicate with them and to convey their experience to others. He recognised also the importance of supporting those who cared for them and made a strong investment in staff training and development. He laid stress on experiential learning, encouraging staff to reflect on their experience, values and attitudes. His “Deanston” weekends were legendary in their time and always ended up with a rousing ceilidh. Arousing the next morning was a test of how much it mattered. It was usually passed.
In the late 60s and early 70s the psychologists, by then an expanded group, influenced the implementation of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 which introduced both Social Work Departments and the Children’s Hearing System, and revolutionised the experience of troubled children in Scotland. The psychologists were involved in advising on the principles and practice of assessment, and in the training of early Panel Members.
Alongside his day job (which frequently stretched into the evening) he was interested in grassroots developments and in finding ways of supporting them. Outstanding amongst those were the Scottish Pre-School Playgroups Association and Growing Up in Scotland.
Jenny Overton credits Max Paterson with a significant part in the development of the Scottish Pre-School Playgroups Association from grass roots beginnings to a national movement with confident leadership. While playgroup members were pioneers in recognising not only the crucial importance of play to young children but also the value of parents being involved, it was Max’s observations which illuminated the value of the new developments. The collaboration between Jenny Neilson from Social Work Services group and Max as a psychologist, gave a particularly useful form of support to the playgroups’ leaders who began to realise the potential value for Scottish society. There were many others who contributed their thinking to the development of the Association, but Max’s crucial role was to hold a vision of what might be possible, and create a sense of confidence that it could be achieved.
He was involved in an approach to training which aimed to help members of the Association to develop both a sense of personal authority in their roles as parents and workers, and an understanding of group and organisational dynamics. A substantial number of them went on to occupy senior positions in other organisations. Max was a memorable speaker and many will recall the eloquence with which he spoke of play as a medium for the emotional, social and intellectual development of children. It is a matter of regret that he did not publish more. In the latter years of his involvement he was President of the Association.
In the mid 1970s he and a group of colleagues established a network organisation, Growing Up in Scotland, aiming to enable people to articulate their experience of growing up in Scotland. In a series of meetings the “planned for” were joined by the “planners” in an attempt to allow the realities of peoples lives to be taken more fully into account in developing services. The organisation metamorphosed into Growing Up in Fife, under the chairship of Chris Miles, where its emphasis shifted to a collaboration with the Open University in the provision of certificated courses in child development for parents from areas of deprivation - “a magnificent vehicle for self-realisation”. These events took place long before consultation became commonplace, empowerment an objective of mainstream services, and partnership with parents enshrined in policy.
His appointment to the Approved Schools Psychological Service coincided with the opening of Loaningdale School where new methods of working with juvenile offenders were to be pioneered. He made an important contribution to its development, influencing and being influenced by its Head, John L. Wilson, who together with his wife became close family friends. When in 1973 he became Head at Wellington School he took with him his experiences of Loaningdale, added to and expanded by his own thinking. Elspeth Wight, a Member of SIHR who was a student at Wellington during her training as a psychologist, speaks of learning about the importance of trying to be alongside the young people in working with them, about the impact of staff dynamics on the dynamics of the resident group, and vice versa, and about the pressures of the outside world on the institution. “What Max brought to all these levels of thinking, was the space and the ability to reflect - this ran through the school to the boys themselves.” Despite the furore surrounding the managers’ decision not to renew his appointment after two years in post, many of the “dangerously” radical policies he introduced became common practice within a relatively short time. It was nevertheless a stressful period of his career which left its mark on him.
Max continued to work as a psychologist and organisational consultant and to be involved in teaching and training. He organised many training events for residential child care and other social workers, all with his characteristic emphasis on the understanding of group and organisational dynamics and the development of personal authority. He took part as a teacher and supervisor in a counselling course which attempted to marry different theoretical approaches, and when an Art Therapy course began in Edinburgh he was amongst its first lecturers. His work as an organisational consultant ranged over a diversity of settings, linked by a continuing interest in marginalised populations, such as young adults with drug-related problems at the Church of Scotland’s Spectrum House, and women working in the sex industry through SHIVA and Scotpep. An awareness of the position of inmates and staff in prisons was frequently in his mind. He had a long association with the art therapist, Joyce Laing, and through her, made a connection with the Special Unit at Barlinnie Prison.
He resumed practice as a psychotherapist for a number of years and latterly was engaged in supervision and consultancy. Judith Fewell, a long-term supervisee, and his professional executor, comments on his openness to new ideas, his consistency and reliability as a supervisor, his respect for the capacities of those he worked with and his remarkable abilities as a teacher.
Max was a founder member of the Scottish Institute of Human Relations, led its Group Relations Project in the early years of its existence, and continued to contribute to this area of its work throughout his career. In recent years he was actively involved in encouraging the Institute to widen the scope of its activities and examine its relevance to Scottish society. The current chair of SIHR, Eileen Francis, writes: “The community development perspective was never far away from Max’s psychodynamic understanding and he was able to connect person, organisation and system in a way that was significant for my concept of the role of SIHR in Scotland”.
Max continued to work part-time until shortly before his death and so did not provide the opportunity for a retirement event to be held at which people from the many layers of his professional life could have had a sense of grasping the whole and been able to express their gratitude to him. A small group of his long-term colleagues proposed the idea of having a party any way. He was touched by the thought, at first shy of it, and then increasingly enthusiastic. Sadly his failing health prevented this plan from reaching fruition.
Max was a maverick in the best sense of that term - a determined individualist who kept on questioning the current order and spurring others on to move beyond it. He was a radical and rigorous thinker who kept on surprising you with the new areas of interest he moved into and the originality of his thinking. It could be quite alarming to be at the receiving end of this, but that was offset by his many acts of kindness and his generosity with his time and skills. He made a powerful personal engagement with people he worked with which was both challenging and supportive. He was skilled at identifying the potential in people and had a gift for helping them to realise it. I think that he would have wished for no better professional legacy than that the spirit of his working life should continue in those he influenced.
Max’s family have said that his work was his hobby, but he did find time for other interests - in gardening, sport (especially rugby and cricket), music (especially jazz), art-collecting in a modest way, travel (with a special love of France), the creation of good food and the sampling of fine whiskies.
Max was sustained in all of his activities by his family: his wife Jean, daughter Lesley, late son-in-law Clark, son David, daughter in law Marie and four grandchildren whose development gave him great delight.