Dr Ian C. Murphy 1936-2016

An appreciation from David Briggs, Nigel Hopkins and Caroline Lovelock.

We were extremely saddened by the loss of Ian Murphy who died on 6 September last, after a long-standing illness. During this time he was cared for with unwavering dedication and compassion by his wife Doreen.

Ian gained an honours degree in psychology from the University of Sheffield at the age of 22. His doctoral research explored psychophysiological stress responses in mentally abnormal offenders.  Ian’s first post as a clinical psychologist was at the Whitely Wood Clinic in Sheffield, then a unit for people diagnosed with the ‘neuroses’ and home of the university’s Psychiatry Department. Professor E. Stengel headed the clinic, under whose guidance Ian had previously written his undergraduate dissertation on suicide. At Whitely Wood Clinic Ian carried out behaviour therapies in those early days of applied behaviourism, and immediately after the first studies had been published.

Ian’s next post was at the Child Guidance Clinic in Sheffield where he worked for nine years. This provided him with the opportunity to learn psychotherapy along Jungian lines. Ian then returned to work for the NHS, initially at St John’s Hospital in Lincoln, transferring after a year to Shirle Hill Hospital in Sheffield where he stayed until his retirement, working with children with a range of serious and intractable mental health problems.

With an appetite for work, Ian always carried a large outpatient caseload, directly referred by local GPs, neurologists, psychiatrists and paediatricians, this in addition to his inpatient work.  For many years he also worked half a day a week in each of two GP surgeries consulting to adult clients.

One of Ian’s special interests for several years was group psychotherapy, running psychotherapy groups for adults in the evenings and for adolescents in the day. His ease of contact was a great therapeutic asset and it was accompanied by great interpersonal sensitivity. He would ensure no individual‘s efforts to be heard were missed. 

Ian had the ability to mask his shyness. Long before coming across researched techniques for managing social anxiety Ian had developed the skill of shifting attention away from himself by focusing on others in conversation. He was a wonderful listener.   

From the perspective on those of us who were his trainee clinical psychologists, and later as qualified clinical psychologists who worked with him, Ian was fastidious in his work with clients; his overarching approach was one which focused on, and indeed celebrated, individual differences. To a generation of trainee clinical psychologists he introduced the concept of collaborative formulation, secure in his frameworks for understanding psychopathology yet encouraging of the models and outlook of those emerging fresh from their undergraduate education. His style as mentor, supervisor, and coach was full of humour, tolerance and empathy. Ian worked best with colleagues who shared his view of what it meant to be a professional. He strongly believed in ‘managing’ his junior colleagues by discussing our issues, but we did not feel over-managed. It felt more as if we were ‘looked after’. This was in contrast to the mainstream management style at the time. For us those were golden days. 

Ian had little truck with bureaucratic fashions and the self-aggrandising behaviour of colleagues who had strayed away from keeping clients at the forefront of practice. A wonderful blend of mischief, stubbornness and compassion made him particularly effective when working in challenging and complex scenarios, none more so than in the family courts. Many children were given the opportunity to achieve their potential and now function as healthy adults thanks to Ian’s persistence, his preparedness to take a long-term perspective on change, and his willingness to go the extra mile

Reflecting on his clinical work, Ian had said, ‘Throughout my career, in the wide range of abnormalities and troubles, sexual abuse has always been there, even before the term was there.’ Always aiming to be a scientist practitioner, he became drawn into some of the legal controversies around ‘group’ cases of possible or actual false allegations.

Outside of work Ian had been a talented musician including church organist. In keeping with his modest manner, personal knowledge of him came slowly, but like a good novel he showed rather than told. We shall miss his counsel, his sense of the ridiculous, and his compassion.

David Briggs, Nigel Hopkins and Caroline Lovelock

Chartered Psychologists in private practice

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