Who was Hamish Canham?
Hamish Canham was an outstandingly gifted child psychotherapist. In his clinical work with severely disturbed children, in his role as a teacher here at the Tavistock and Portman, and in the originality of his research and writing, he made a valuable contribution to the development of our profession.
Hamish grew up in
Highgate, north London. When his family moved to a farm in east Sussex, he went
as a boarder to Gordonstoun school in Scotland. He had an unusually wide range
of interests, including literature, pottery and country pursuits, such as
shooting, which he later gave up. After considering a variety of careers, he
opted to read psychology at Manchester University.
His ideas about what mattered in the subject were rather different from those taught to undergraduates, but he found his way through with characteristic determination. Unusually, he decided to train as a child psychotherapist before graduating, and I met him when he came to the Tavistock clinic for a discussion. I was struck by this very tall, highly educated young man who imagined himself working with troubled young people.
While working in residential care homes in Brent and Westminster in the 1980s, Canham demonstrated a natural talent for observing and reflecting on the details of everyday interactions. He showed remarkable patience, imagination and unsentimental accuracy in trying to understand the young people, his colleagues and his own reactions to the distress and chaos he encountered, and was able to use his grasp of the fundamental anxieties that disturbed the children to influence practice.
Managers listened to him because he spoke clearly and convincingly about how the children might be better helped, and the mostly untrained staff supported.
During his six-year training as a child psychotherapist, his clinical skills blossomed in individual and group work with children and adolescents. When he qualified in 1994, he was immediately offered teaching work by the Tavistock, and soon became a sought-after lecturer and clinical superviser. He became joint course tutor, co-running the biggest child psychotherapy training in Britain.
His clarity of exposition, delicacy of feeling and robust conviction in the relevance of child psychotherapy was infectious. He was not afraid to make and stick by unpopular judgments. Though always kind, he had a strong sense of what doing things properly entailed.
His interest in writing grew, and in 2001 he became co-editor of the Journal of Child Psychotherapy, a task he enormously enjoyed. He wrote important papers on the wider application of psychoanalytic ideas, and on difficult technical matters in child psychotherapy. He had a special commitment to work with children who had suffered early deprivation and loss, and who were often living in foster or adoptive families.
In therapy, such children often express themselves in extreme behaviour and are very difficult to tolerate, as they convey some of the confusion, horror and despair lodged in their inner worlds. Hamish wrote about the experience of being with such children in ways that helped others to understand more about what is being communicated, and how this knowledge can be used to help children to digest and recover from early trauma.
His love of literature, pottery and the visual arts remained important throughout his life. With the poet Carole Satyamurti, he edited a book about psychoanalysis and poetry, Acquainted With The Night: Psychoanalysis And The Poetic Imagination. His chapter on Seamus Heaney is an exceptional example of psychoanalytic literary criticism. He is also the inspiration for another Hamish Canham Prize – that of the Poetry Society. Read about the Poetry Society's Hamish Canham Prize.
His rather private, but passionate, personality found expression in his writing as it did in his work with his patients. At the Tavistock, he found a context in which he could combine his love of psychoanalysis and commitment to public service in the NHS with his explorations of the cross-fertilisation of psychoanalysis and the arts.
Current and former students of M7, M9, M16, M33 & M34, and alumni are invited to submit a non-clinical paper or essay for The Hamish Canham...
To inspire you, below are the abstracts from past winners.