Mike Startup 1950-2015

It was with great sadness that we received news that Mike Startup, Professor of Clinical Psychology and former Joint Editor of the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, died on 18 August 2015 in Maitland Hospital, Newcastle, Australia, aged 65 years.

Mike combined a creative and curious mind with a rigorous empirical approach to his subject, and he had a strong track record of high quality research in several distinct areas of theoretical and applied clinical psychology. Epitomising the ‘Columbo style’, Mike drew thoughtfully on his clinical experiences to inform his theoretical ideas – he was a true scientist practitioner.

After a false start with a degree in English Literature, he dropped out in his early twenties (1971) in favour of a more alternative lifestyle exploring spirituality and astrology. Characteristically, he brought a rigorous and enquiring approach to astrology, clarifying and developing the astronomical accuracy of the planetary types, and engaging actively with the scientific scrutiny of the subject. This led him to return to university to study for a psychology degree at Goldsmiths, and then a PhD, inspired by the work of Michel Gauqelin, who found empirical evidence for astrological effects in the careers of eminent people. Mike undertook a substantial reanalysis of the Gauqelin data, and a replication in the normal population, using the exam results of an entire annual cohort of UK students. Impressively, he rejected his own astrological hypotheses on the basis of his findings, and his interests moved on to the psychology of belief in the paranormal, and eventually to the psychosis continuum and the understanding and treatment of psychosis. Along the way he followed his PhD with clinical training on the Surrey programme, and was then appointed as a research clinical psychologist at the MRC/ESRC Social & Applied Psychology Unit, The University, Sheffield where he worked with the Second Sheffield Psychotherapy Project led by David Shapiro (1988-1991), and published in the areas of measurement of treatment fidelity in different therapy modes, and the evaluation of treatment outcomes. He took the expertise he developed in these areas into the newly developing programme of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for psychosis research, when he moved to Bangor North Wales, to a joint university / NHS appointment (1991).

In this role he introduced process skills training on the local clinical psychology programme, and he developed a graduate programme in psychosocial Interventions for psychosis in North Wales mental health services. He conducted one of the pioneering randomised controlled trials (RCT) for CBT for psychosis (with MJ), and from this came a series of theoretical themes around awareness of illness, dissociation and delusions of reference, as well as the development of adherence measurement in CBT for psychosis, which he continued to work on and refine in his more recent role at the University of Newcastle, Australia, from 2002. During his time in Wales, he also became an associate editor of the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, learned to sail, developed a love of hillwalking in Snowdonia, and played in a successful jazz band. He even played at Glastonbury!

Mike took up a joint professorial position between The University of Newcastle and the Hunter Area Health Service, Australia where he re-shaped the clinical psychology training programme. Along with other team members, he developed a Masters in Clinical Psychology, Masters in Health Psychology, PhD degrees in both, and a 3 year Professional Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. During this time, he also led the development and refurbishment of a successful psychology clinic based in the grounds of the University. During his time in Australia, Mike was awarded, as chief investigator, a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant to conduct an RCT of CBT to prevent transition to psychosis in ultra high risk youth. The trial was conducted across urban and rural locations, bringing psychological services of this type to rural areas for the first time in Australia. Mike started to become ill during the trial. He was stoic during this period and somehow managed attending hospital appointments with running the trial, supervising research assistants, trial therapists and a host of postgraduate students. Mike progressively became unwell, to the point where he found it difficult to work at full capacity, and retired from his position a few years ago.

Mike had many novel ideas about psychotic experiences. He had interesting ideas about the factors that contribute to the development of delusions of reference in particular and he conducted important trials in psychological treatments targeting psychotic experiences.

Outside of work, Mike was an avid music enthusiast, and an accomplished guitarist and flautist. He was a formidable player of the ancient Chinese strategy game of Go, and a respected member of a distinguished Go circle. In recent years he was considering returning to ‘Ole Blightey’ but sadly ill health prevented him. He is survived by his wife, Sue Startup.

Dr Mike Jackson, Research Director, North Wales Clinical Psychology Programme, University of Bangor

Professor Amanda Baker, NHMRC Senior Research Fellow,School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle

Dr Sandra Bucci, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, University of Manchester

Professor Michael Barkham, Director, Centre for Psychological Services Research, University of Sheffield

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I was shocked and greatly saddened to read of Mike's passing. As a new lecturer at Goldsmiths', I accepted Mike as a PhD student and was impressed by his determination to follow his research. As the obituary says, he was scientific enough to reject his own astrological hypotheses on the basis of evidence. At his viva voce exam I managed to secure the services of Hans Eysenck as the Internal Examiner since the Institute of Psychiatry was part of the University of London, as was Goldsmiths'. Mike was the first PhD student to graduate from Goldsmiths' Psychology Department, fulfilling the promise he had shown from the start. We hadn't kept in touch apart from the occasional email so I had no idea about his illness. I send my sincere condolences to his wife.