70 years of the Mulberry Bush School: showing the way in therapeutic child care. (2018) editor John Diamond

Available from https://mulberrybush.org.uk/buy-the-book-70-years-of-the-mulberry-bush-school/

Just 3 months before his death, Winnicott delivered the David Wills Lecture in which he summarised why residential care is an essential component of child mental health services:

“[It] is not just something that becomes necessary because there are not enough people properly trained to treat individuals. The therapy of residential care comes into being because there are children who lack one or both of two features essential for individual therapy. One is that the only setting that can deal with them adequately as individuals is the residential establishment; and the other is that they bring with them a low quantity… of good-enough environmental provision which has become incorporated…”.[1]

Winnicott forged a strong relationship and collaboration with Barbara Dockar Drysdale, a pioneer in the field who established the Mulberry Bush School in 1948. They met for monthly discussion for the last 17 years of his life. Her 1990 book The Provision of Primary Experience: Winnicottian work with children and adolescents [2] describes the approach she developed and applied both at the Mulberry Bush and as a consultant to other specialist care settings. Central to her formulation is that emotional and relational health arises when Maturational Processes operate in conjunction with a sufficiently-adapted environment without inducing defensive processes which limit or disrupt functioning and development. Developing in this integrated (and integrating) way contrasts with the ‘unintegrating’ effect when the demands of living overwhelm the personal resources of the child and the ability of the those caring for her to adapt and protect them. This has been recently formulated for the present time by Christine Bradley.[3]Tamara Bibby’s [4] recent book is another essential contribution which ensures consideration of the educational environment as a core component of the child’s life.

The residential care and planned environment therapy movement has not fared well in the child welfare and education culture, policy and economic framework which emerged in the U.K. in the latter part of the 20th century. Many respected institutions are no more. But, thankfully, the Mulberry Bush has survived to present us with this anniversary book.

The introductory section gives us something of its initial emergence and establishment while the majority of it provides us with an overview of its present-day structure and functioning, including its outreach work. It demonstrates the contribution of the variety of disciplines involved alongside each other in the care of the children and in managing the relationships with the outside world to ensure that what emerges for the children is an integrated and developmentally integrating experience. I want to highlight Chapter 9 “Watching the house work” (Staines) as an exemplar of the detail of observation and reflection which is fundamental to any psychodynamic work – this is the form of evidence which is required to truly appreciate the life of the child and the lives of those living with them: somehow we need to ensure that it takes its proper place alongside those other forms of evidence more usually associated with the term i.e. ‘practice-based evidence’ as the foundation for “evidence-based practice”.

A major achievement of the book is in providing an unusually detailed prospectus for anyone who wants to find help for children who have experienced profound failures of care and protection and who present severe challenges to those caring for them. It will also provide an excellent resource for practitioners and anyone interested in training and practising in the field. Rather than “70 years of the Mulberry Bush School” it is “The Mulberry Bush School 70 years on”. ‘The Bush” has survived and an enormous amount can be learned and made available for the future by studying how this has been possible. We now need the assistance of the historians of the Planned Environment Therapy movement to build on this.

 Adrian Sutton

January 2019

[1] Winnicott, DW (1970) Residential care as therapy in Winnicott C., Shepherd R. & Davis, M., (1985) Deprivation and delinquency London and New York. Tavistock Publications

[2] Dockar Drysdale, Barbara (1990) The provision of primary experience. London: Free Association Books

[3]  Bradley, Christine (2018) Revealing the inner world of traumatised children.http://squiggle-foundation.org/resources/books-book-reviews/revealing-the-inner-world-of-traumatised-children-and-young-people/

[4] Bibby, Tamara (2018) The creative self: psychoanalysis, teaching and learning in the classroom. http://squiggle-foundation.org/resources/books-book-reviews/tamara-bibby-2018-the-creative-self-psychoanalysis-teaching-and-learning-in-the-classroom-london-new-york-routledge-169-pages/