Social and sexual abuse and the long-stay bins

Matilda Windsor is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin (Inspired Quill). Reviewed by Charlotte Green.

In this book, Anne Goodwin draws on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career. It’s the story of Matty, a woman with delusions of grandeur who’s lived for 50 years in a psychiatric hospital scheduled for closure. Most psychologists working today are probably too young to remember these ‘long-stay bins’. I went to several during my training and afterwards – they were truly dreadful. In some, like Leavesden and St. Lawrence’s, many of the residents living in the upper storeys never got to go outside at all. 

In these days of Community Care, with all the problems of cuts, it is worth remembering that if there are problems now, previously they were probably worse. At least it is no longer possible for people who find someone inconvenient to get rid of them by committing them to a bin. This used to happen to many, including unmarried mothers and their children. This reason for admission is a major theme in the plot and characterisation of Matilda Windsor, though it may seem astonishing to younger psychologists. It also highlights how important it is to assess people in their own social context. Matty (Matilda) is from a higher social class than her carers/nursing assistants, and sex education and sexual abuse were not discussed. She was sent away, but so was her dear little brother, Henry, to a boarding prep school. 

However, there is more to a novel than what can be learnt from it. Readers may enjoy the gentle mockery of multidisciplinary teams, of the novice professional (we all start as novices), and the insights into how people close to clients can be affected by what happens to them. And for me – I worked in learning disabilities which was the first area where Health & Social Services worked in a single team – the involvement of the Council rang some bells. I have not forgotten being asked to depart in my assessments from standard definitions to one cooked up by Social Services which would limit access to services!

I enjoyed and I recommend this book.

-- Reviewed by Charlotte Green, Retired clinical psychologist

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