images of couples from 1940s and today

Evolution of a psychotherapuetic institution over 70 years

As we celebrate our seventh decade of couple therapy, training and research, we reflect on how our couple work has evolved to meet the changing needs of couples and relationships.

Kate Thompson 200x200

Kate Thompson

The pleasures and pressures that affect British couples and families have changed exponentially over the past 70 years. 

Couples and families have lived through the advent of the National Health Service, the decline of the influence of the church, sexual equality, a loosening of the idea of  the meaning of ‘family’, a move towards racial equality, women entering the workplace, advances in contraception and legalisation of abortion, innovation in fertility treatments, the absence of another world war, legalisation of same sex relationships, huge leaps in technology, the invention of the internet, increasing emphasis on the individual, the pressure to be youthful, the spread of gambling, sexual, drug and alcohol addictions, along with a gradual widening of our understanding of mental health… the list is infinite.

The last 70 years has also been the lifespan to date of Tavistock Relationships, which has remained an international centre for excellence in psychotherapeutic treatment and research into adult intimate relationships throughout the lifespan, working with couples of all ethnicities, age, socioeconomic backgrounds and sexual orientations. 

Set up after so many lives were emotionally shattered by the ravages of World War II and its aftermath, with a psychoanalytic theoretical bedrock as its core, Tavistock Relationships, akin to the couples and families it seeks to help, has had to evolve and change over the last 70 years. With a vigour in providing evidence as to the efficacy of its work, and a widely respected training arm, Tavistock Relationships has undertaken ground-breaking research and expanded its practice to encompass a plurality of approaches and an ever increasing range of modalities within its repertoire. 

These new therapeutic directions include: services that deliver mentalization-based therapy for couples; an integrated behavioural, systemic and psychodynamic model to work with mental health conditions affecting the couple relationship; video work to allow couples to witness their relational patterns of behaviour; developments into the digital delivery of couple therapy; short-term psychotherapy and brief four-session treatments for those approaching retirement. All have been offered in the last 70 years, often with support from the government and charitable funds. 

Projects interrogating and evaluating work to improve the lives of couples coping with a diagnosis of dementia and other long-term illnesses, including depression; have also been exciting new innovations over the past 10 years. 

Psychosexual therapy, peri- and post-natal support for couples, a distinct divorce and separation unit for those who wish to separate without damaging their children, parenting groups, therapy for couples who are struggling to manage an adoptive child or where there is violence and abuse between a couple – all are new advances that have been absorbed into this unique charitable institution over the past seven decades as it works to improve the lives of couples and families in distress and contribute to the nation’s thinking in health and social care throughout the lifespan, from cradle to grave.

This landmark birthday is being marked by a conference that includes exciting speakers including Louis Theroux, Lisa Appignanese, Susanna and Margaret Rustin and Stanley Ruszczysnki.

We also have launched two new books, capping off a busy year of writing. We have published a Tavistock Relationships volume of papers celebrating our 70th Anniversary, Engaging Couples: New Directions in Therapeutic work with Families edited by Andrew Balfour, Christopher Clulow and Kate Thompson. Also, this special 12 months has witnessed the longawaited work by Mary Morgan, distilling the essentials of clinical technique in object-relations couple psychoanalysis, A Couple State of Mind: Psychoanalysis of Couples, which at time of press is No.4 on the Karnac Books best seller list.