Steve Onyett (1961-2015)

Dave Pilgrim with an appreciation.

Steve Onyett died suddenly of a heart attack on 28 September. He qualified as a clinical psychologist in 1985 and completed his PhD on community mental health teams in England in 1999. His clinical training was in Plymouth but most of his career was in the south of England and in South Wales.  

Throughout his working life Steve constantly moved his attention between philosophy, theory and practice. In the latter regard his emphasis was on interdisciplinary team work and its enhancement using solution-focused approaches to mutual support and change. During the 1980s, after qualifying, he worked in the NHS before dipping his toe in academic life between 1989 and 1992, when he became a Lecturer in Mental Health in the Tizard Centre at the University of Kent, where he helped to set up an MA for service managers and offered consultancy.

An indication of him stretching his reach beyond the silo of his core profession was that he led a successful bid at the time from CCETSW to create a training package on partnership and care management. More boundary spanning became apparent in his next job in the mid-1990s, when he became the project manager for teamwork in the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health in London, while retaining a Consultant Clinical Psychology role in the NHS in North Kent.

Steve’s academic trajectory then continued when he became Head of Research at the Centre for Mental Health Services Development at King’s College, London. His projects included working with GPs and the mental health of prisoners (in Leicester). At this time Steve’s particular focus on Community Mental Health Teams came to the fore. This work then became the basis of his PhD, which he completed under my supervision at the University of Liverpool. He was already such an expert about his topic, that in truth little or no supervision was really required. The challenge of professionals both looking inwards to their own tribal group and being expected to work collaboratively with others in the interests of shared clients in complex organisational systems then became Steve’s personal challenge, as a facilitator of cooperation and change.

In 2000 Steve was ‘head hunted’ into a specialist role recruiting and leading a multi-disciplinary team to support the implementation of the National Service Framework for Mental Health (the first ‘NSF’ under New Labour). This service development work kept him busy until 2012 when he moved full time into running his own business (Onyett Entero Ltd), while retaining honorary academic roles at the Universities of Exeter, Central Lancashire and the West of England. His personally created traditions about appreciative enquiry, team work and problem solving, in and for groups within organisations, continued at a pace.

Right up until the day of his death, Steve remained committed to pacifism and Green activism. His heart stopped during the exertion of a charity bike ride for the Medical Aid for Palestinians. His sudden death at 54 left his family and friends in shock and the world of applied psychology much the poorer. 

David Pilgrim


Inspiring Beyond Boundaries: A Celebration of the life and legacy of Steve Onyett will take place at the University of Exeter, on Friday 1st September 2017. Click here for further information.

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