Helen Davis obituary

Other lives: Pioneer of the UK’s modern psychotherapy profession who, in the 1970s, co-founded the first integrative training centre

Helen Davis, my mother, who has died aged 80, was an inspirational psychotherapist and educator, and a key figure in the development of the modern psychotherapy profession in Britain.

Born in Johannesburg, to Sonny Aronsohn, a lawyer, and Elsie (nee Plotkin), Helen left school at 17 without qualifications and moved to the UK to study at the Rambert Ballet School. A foot problem ended her dance ambitions early.

After marriage in 1964 to Neville Davis, two children and separation (she divorced later, in 1976), she looked around for a new career, and began taking courses in the emerging psychotherapy profession of the 1970s. Much of the training took place in Quaesitor, a humanist therapy centre in north London, and Helen also attended workshops in the US.

Her own private practice developed, and she quickly became more immersed in the sector. In 1978, with Hymie Wyse and John Gravelle, she set up the Minster Centre at our family home in Cricklewood, north London. The centre was the first to offer integrative training programmes in the UK, seeking to combine humanistic and psychoanalytic schools of psychotherapy.

The centre flourished and expanded, eventually moving into larger premises in west London. Helen continued to innovate, introducing new approaches and practices into the training. She was centrally involved in setting up the sector’s professional body, the UK Standing Conference for Psychotherapy (now the UK Council for Psychotherapy), in 1988. She became widely known and was regularly invited to teach, advise and develop new programmes across the UK and abroad, in Germany, Japan, Iceland, the US and elsewhere.

She was also a courageous campaigner with strong political values of equality and social justice. As a teenager in South Africa, she was very involved in the anti-apartheid movement, and was threatened by the police. Under her guidance, the Minster Centre fiercely advocated for minority rights, and initiated several charitable projects working with refugees, prisoners and victims of domestic violence.

Helen was always generous with her time and money. She worked long hours to sustain the centre, its staff and students, regularly supporting good causes and struggling friends. She never gave up on people she believed in, even when they themselves had. Many a time the centre (and our house) became a temporary home for those in need, or Helen would spontaneously throw together a wonderful dinner for tired staff.

Helen was also a keen gardener and designer, and a great lover of the arts. Many of her friends were artists, musicians and writers. Her rooms were mini treasure troves, full of art works and fascinating objects collected on her travels, with thousands of books and CDs lining the walls.

She developed early-onset dementia and had to retire in 2002, spending many years in poor health. She is survived by her children, Keaton and me, her grandchildren, Hannah, Miriam, Kezia and Fin, and her sisters, Joan and Judy.


Aeron Davis

The GuardianTramp

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