Trevor Butt 1947-2015

'he was thinking about human experience right up until the end'…

We were extremely sad to lose our dear friend and colleague Dr Trevor Butt. He was diagnosed with cancer last autumn and died in April. His death is a great loss both for psychology and for the many close friends and family who he left behind.

Trevor was originally a clinical psychologist who worked in a psychiatric unit in Bradford in the 1970s, but he soon realised that clinical work wasn’t for him and shifted into academic psychology as a teacher and researcher at what later became the University of Huddersfield. He remained at Huddersfield until his retirement as Emeritus Reader in 2007, whereupon he took on a role as Visiting Fellow at City University. It was at Huddersfield that he produced an impressive body of work and cultivated many great friendships with people with whom he also wrote and researched, including Viv Burr, Jeff Hearn, Nigel King and Darren Langdridge. Trevor was Chair of the Psychotherapy Section of the BPS (2000-2001) and was centrally involved in the History & Philosophy Section, as Secretary from 2005 to 2008 and organising a number of their annual conferences.

Trevor’s great theoretical fascination was with personal construct psychology (PCP). He wrote many books and papers on PCP as well as organising the 2003 annual conference, and was co-editor of the journal Personal Construct Theory and Practice. Meg John recalls picking up Viv Burr and Trevor’s book Invitation to Personal Construct Psychology in the late 1990s and finding it a life-changing introduction to constructionist and constructivist perspectives. Not only was the book an accessible introduction to these theoretical perspectives in - and on - psychology, but it was also a call to live differently by questioning the taken-for-granted assumptions that structure our self-perceptions, our understandings of the world, and our relationships. This was an approach that continued throughout Trevor’s immensely engaging and entertaining teaching, in the revision of this book (Butt & Burr, 2004) and his own Understanding People (Butt, 2004) and George Kelly and the Psychology of Personal Constructs (Butt, 2008).

Beyond the theoretical interest in personal construct theory, Trevor focused a great deal of his academic attention on researching and writing about sexualities. It was through this work, alongside a shared interest in phenomenology, that the relationship with Darren Langdridge was forged. Trevor was a passionate advocate of sexual equality and fought against the pathologisation of minority sexualities. He was also passionately opposed to corporal punishment and was centrally involved in the STOPP campaign group that sought the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. Both of these themes were represented in his research, with him writing about the sexualisation of corporal punishment and the construction of consensual sadomasochistic practice (e.g. Butt & Hearn, 1998; Langdridge & Butt, 2004). And though Darren and Trevor never agreed on theory, they found a common interest in social justice more than enough to bring them together as academic collaborators and wonderful friends.

At his funeral back in April one of his closest friends read out a short piece that Trevor had written for the occasion, for as he himself said ‘he couldn’t resist a lecture, even from the grave’. In this, he told us that in the last few months of his life he had come to know a deeper intimacy than ever previously with his wife, June, and daughter, Claire. It was typical of Trevor that he was thinking about human experience right up until the end, and that he wanted to share that hopeful knowledge with the rest of us. He will be very sorely missed.

- Dr Meg John Barker and Prof Darren Langdridge (The Open University). Read a longer piece about Meg John’s memories of Trevor and his work


Butt, T. W. (2008) George Kelly and the psychology of personal constructs Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Butt, T. W. (2004). Understanding people. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Butt, T. W. & Burr, V. (2004). Invitation to personal construct psychology. London: Whurr.

Butt, T. W.  & Hearn, J. (1998) The sexualization of corporal punishment: the construction of sexual meaning. Sexualities, 1 (2), 181-205.

Langdridge, D. & Butt, T. W. (2004) A hermeneutic phenomenological investigation of the construction of sadomasochistic identities. Sexualities, 7 (1), 31-53.




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