Working 50 years for babies and families: Child Psychotherapist Dilys Daws legacy interview
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Dilys Daws’ contribution to the field of child mental health and child psychotherapy has been immense. Spanning over five decades, her career as a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist is notable in many respects as a clinician and shaping public opinion and government policy about the importance of infant mental health.
In the 1980’s Dilys began speaking to the public and government about the work of child psychotherapists with their patients, raising awareness of the profession and the difficulties babies and parents experience in a way that had never been done before.
Her books, such as Through the Night, which focus on the difficulties infants and parents experience , have become classics for therapists and new parents alike. Their popularity is perhaps due to the fact that they are based on fifty years of careful observation of babies and their families, many of them spent in the same baby clinic.
Dilys Daws’ writings and activities in promoting child psychotherapy are significant. In 1996 she set up the Association for Infant Mental Health UK, an interdisciplinary, not-for-profit organization, promoting understanding about infant mental health. https://aimh.uk/
It is Dilys’ ability to influence government policy and collaborate with different child professions, as well as her extraordinary clinical work which is really quite remarkable which mark her out as one of the most important child psychotherapists of her generation. Because since 1976, Dilys has been transforming the lives of children and parents in what might be to some an unconventional setting for psychotherapeutic work. Each week she has been going to the James Wigg GP Practice, in Kentish Town, London to stand by the weighing scales, observing what takes place as parents bring in their babies to be checked. In this interview with Jane O’Rourke, hear Dilys discuss:
|3’00||Parent-infant work in the community setting of a baby clinic|
|5’00||The importance of child therapists being brave in their clinical work|
|7’40||How experiencing difficulty herself, as a young mother, led Dilys to work in a baby clinic|
|13’05||How Dilys broke the taboo of child psychotherapists speaking to the media about child mental health in the early 1980’s|
|13’55||The importance of acknowledging the emotional turmoil which having a new baby can provoke in parents.|
|17’00||The discoveries parents can make by observing their babies|
|18’00||The importance of helping new fathers who are struggling|
|21’13||Ghosts in the nursery: connections between a baby’s problems and their parents’ childhood traumas|
|24’25||The taboos of breastfeeding, such as the sensuality of it|
|30’00||A child psychotherapist’s advice for others after nearly 60 years of clinical work|
Dilys co-founded the Child Psychotherapy Trust in 1989 and had a significant role in developing awareness of child psychotherapy in the UK among the public and the government. Following this, the training for child psychotherapy was negotiated by the Association for Child Psychotherapy within the NHS. It was during this time under her tenure in the early 1990’s, that she encouraged fellow child psychotherapists to speak to the media about child mental health and the difficulties their patients were experiencing – and perhaps broke a taboo that had existed until then.
In 1979 she wrote what was to become a classic for professionals and new parents called Through the Night. This was recently updated with the help of Sarah Sutton in 2020 and is now published as Parent-Infant Psychotherapy for Sleep Problems: Through the Night. Finding your Way with Your Baby, written in 2015 with Alexandra de Rementeria, won the British Medical Association Prize for best popular medicine book.
These books are clearly psychoanalytically informed, sharing some key theories with parents to help them better understand their babies, as well as themselves, during what can be a tumultuous period of time. Perhaps what distinguishes them both from other parenting books, is Dilys’ encouragement to parents to acknowledge the negative as well as positive feelings aroused in them by their babies.
In 1985, the Child Guidance Training Centre, where she worked, merged with the Tavistock Clinic. Dilys and colleague Juliet Hopkins [watch Juliet’s interview with MINDinMIND here] joined the Infant Mental Health Workshop at the Tavistock Clinic in London and later led it. It was one of the first forums in the UK where parent-infant psychotherapy could be thought about in-depth and has become central to the training of child psychotherapists at the Tavistock.
‘Dilys Daws has quietly been a unique pioneer in child psychotherapy, so often ahead of her time, spearheading new developments, in particular in Infant Mental Health, as well as politically fighting for child psychotherapy. Her calm exterior hides an incisive mind, passionate heart and a determination to ensure the right thing gets done. Child psychotherapy would not be the same without her.’ Graham Music, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist
‘Dilys has been an inspiration to me in her steadfast commitment to the wellbeing of babies and their parents, and her support for practitioners who work with them. I just love Dilys’ humility alongside her wisdom and courage in speaking out loud on issues of importance. And with it all, she brings a little smile and chuckle. Thank you, Dilys.’ Tessa Baradon, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist
‘Dilys and I entered the infancy world running a course on infant mental health at the Tavistock clinic at a time when few people took much interest in babies. She has a way of communicating her knowledge and understanding that is not threatening to other professionals whose work with infants has been helped enormously by her. One of her greatest strengths is her patience. She does not need to have an immediate understanding; she has the capacity to wait and not to have to look for an end in her work which I greatly admire as colleague and friend.’ Juliet Hopkins, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist
Interview recorded November 2018
If you are interested in finding out more about the Association of Infant Mental Health UK (AiMH) which Dilys founded, please visit their website: https://aimh.uk/
AIMH is an interdisciplinary, not-for-profit organization, promoting understanding about infant mental health, ie how well a child develops socially and emotionally from birth to three.
AiMH’s primary function is to support the UK community of infant mental health (IMH) practitioners to come together and learn from each other, and to contribute to the raising of standards of IMH practice.
AiMH UK Hubs provide members with the opportunity to share knowledge and skills with their local multi-disciplinary network of IMH practitioners. Online and face-to-face, the Hubs offer CPD events, share resources, and enable practitioners to engage in discussion on local issues, including using the AiMH UK website forums.