History of the organisation

The Society started in 1980 and arose out of discussions about how people might best be educated for the work of psychotherapy. These conversations put the notion of training itself into question and this has remained a constant concern of the Society. Discussion revolved around the following questions:

  • What are the qualities needed in a psychotherapist and how can they best be developed?
  • Why do people often feel that it is only after training that their real development begins?
  • If a training relies on the transmission and reproduction of certain knowledge and assured technique what happens to qualities such as imagination, courage, curiosity and individual responsiveness?
  • Does training provide genuine access to the knowledge of the past and the experience of the present or does it encourage passivity, anxiety or grandiosity?

We think of the Society as a learning community rather than a course. We do not have the usual demarcations of teachers and taught and we talk about the education and development of the individual rather than training. We call our qualified members ‘ordinary members’ and those who are learning ‘student members’. We are interested in individual change and progress and emphasise the growth of imagination and individual responsibility rather than the reproduction of received knowledge and technique. Our primary focus is on understanding the complexities and difficulties of relationships rather than on the acquisition of skills. The development of the capacity to be rather than the ability to do is seen as central. We encourage a personal and critical response to the riches and influences of the past, seeking inspiration both in and beyond psychoanalysis.

Initially the Society set up minimal structures to foster these aims. Individual therapy, access to people with experience, discussions of psychotherapy, suggestions for intellectual and personal exploration of the literature and ideas, help with finding patients and supervision were what was considered necessary. Within this, people were expected to create their own path, arriving at a point of transition from student to ordinary member through work and discussion with others. These principles remain true but over the years the Society has grown. Size in itself has led to more formal structures and demands, although many of these are unconventional and we work hard to develop structures that fit our principles.

Early on we acquired a formal name-on-notepaper: The Cambridge Society for Psychotherapy. More commonly we have always been known, affectionately, as the ‘Outfit’. Originally coined, somewhat jokingly, as an in-house anti-name, this escaped into general usage. In 1990 the decision was taken to apply for membership of UKCP. The benefits of being part of a national body, giving our members the security and status of registration and being able to influence (even in a small way) national policies, were felt to outweigh the inevitable encroachments and compromises that would follow. Finding authentic ways to match centrally conceptualised standards has been difficult and time-consuming. We have had to work very hard to remain flexible, innovative and true to our intentions. This will be apparent in our responses to the categories offered on these pages where the ordinary vocabulary of training organisations – ‘curriculum’, ‘training committee’, ‘policy’ ‘requirements’ etc – sits uncomfortably with our approach and practice.

The Society continues to offer an unusual way of becoming a psychotherapist. It is not an easy path. It eschews certainty, demands a deep commitment and requires a particular kind of strength. Those who undertake this value it and feel it offers a uniquely appropriate preparation for the work.