Obituary: Carol Jeffrey

FEW AUTHORS publish their first book at the age of 98; fewer still would take as its title the nickname her teachers gave her as a schoolgirl. But Carol Jeffrey was unusual in all that she did in her life. Her book That Why Child was published in 1996, two years after her retirement in 1994. It won widespread acclaim in the psychoanalytic and educational press, and in 1997 received the Gradiva Award for best book in the Childhood Related section from the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis in the United States.

That Why Child contains the distilled essence of Carol Jeffrey's experience and practice. She started a career as a teacher but, following the then custom, had to give it up when she had her own children. However, she refused to give up the work altogether, started teaching at home (she had been educated at home herself, by her mother, until she was 15), and became particularly interested in children with emotional difficulties.

This led to training in psychology and work in the pioneering Child Guidance Service in Kent in the 1940s. In 1949 she began a prolonged psychoanalysis with Michael Fordham, a colleague of Carl Jung, whose writings she studied in depth and with whom she also entered into correspondence.

In 1952 Jeffrey came into contact with Dr Graham Howe and, with Dr R.D. Laing, Dr Tom Farewell and others, they founded the Open Way - a centre in west London dedicated to study, research and training for people dealing with the mental and emotional problems of human life. As the name indicates, the Open Way was limited by no particular dogma or therapeutic approach - attracting as a result a good deal of hostility from "establishment" institutions - but did have medically and psychologically qualified staff. In due course a psychotherapeutic clinic was established at 37 Queen Anne Street which continued in practice, with Jeffrey as a leading consultant, until the early 1970s.

The Open Way held an uninterrupted programme of public lectures until it was merged into the Guild of Pastoral Psychology early in 1998. Jeffrey moved to rooms in New Cavendish Street when the clinic closed and continued in private practice until her retirement in 1994. She gave her last lecture at the Open Way in June 1997.

Throughout her life, Jeffrey retained the qualities that gave rise to her childhood nickname. As the staff at her school put it, she always wanted to know about "causes and purposes - the why and what for of things". Her father, Robert Cowley, who had worked as a designer with William Morris and later as a manager at Liberty's in Regent Street, gave up that career to take on his parents' farm in Worcestershire, a primitive smallholding of some 20 acres with orchards and streams. There were a few sheep, two cows, two pigs, two horses and assorted poultry.

Here Carol Jeffrey was brought up; a childhood spent close to the land and the animals; a frugal existence of fetching water from the well, bringing in wood for fires, milking cows, curing bacon, making butter and cheese and bread - the classic pattern of a poor yet educated family wresting a living from the land. This early experience, to which she constantly referred, developed in Jeffrey a deep awareness of the instinctive life and the rhythms of nature and laid the foundations for her profound understanding of the human psyche which she went on developing until she died.

Carol Jeffrey was an "original" in the best sense of the word. She never peddled second-hand dogma; all her insights were her own and she was always ready to challenge accepted orthodoxies if they did not accord with her own experience. She remained wide open to new ideas and retained her passion for learning well into her hundredth year. Such people sit uncomfortably with established schools and groups who think they have the "right" answers, and she was no exception, often taking issue with one or other of the versions of Jungian psychology that have proliferated since his death.

As a therapist, her main guide was her own insight and experience, founded on long analysis and deep study. She was willing to admit ignorance and simply wait for enlightenment rather than rush in with off-the-shelf answers. This innate attitude of not knowing, of sharing a journey of discovery with her clients, made her a wonderfully effective therapist and endeared her to many hundreds of child and adult patients. She quickly won their trust and opened their eyes to their own psychological workings.

Underlying all her work and thought was a deep faith in the evolutionary process - not in a Darwinian sense, but in terms of the individual psyche evolving towards total awareness of itself and of its deep connection with humanity and the world. Those who knew her well felt that Carol Jeffrey had herself achieved that awareness to an exceptional breadth and depth.

Editha Caroline Cowley, teacher and psychotherapist: born White Hall, Worcestershire 31 October 1898; married 1925 Tom Jeffrey (died 1984; two sons, one daughter); died Charing, Kent 6 November 1998.

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