Obituary: Dr Murray Cox

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The Independent Online
Murray Cox was the consultant psychotherapist at Broadmoor high security hospital from 1970 until his death.

He helped to transform the treatment of patients as well as staff training and support, and was, in the words of a colleague there, "an immensely civilising and humane influence on the culture of the hospital". During the time in Broadmoor, he became a leading authority on forensic psychotherapy and wrote widely influential books which helped shape the young sub-discipline. He edited (with Christopher Cordess) a basic two-volume textbook, Forensic Psychotherapy: Crime, Psychodynamics and the Offender Patient (1996) and played a formative role in the International Association in Forensic Psychotherapy - he himself was especially influential in Scandinavia.

How can the story of 25 years in Broadmoor be told? The title of one of his articles was a quotation from a patient: "I took a life because I needed one". His writings are shot through with such quotations from "therapeutic space": "The knife speaks for itself", "We come here to find a struggle that replaces our earlier struggles", "I have met people who walk off the edge of language - and then they DO THINGS."

They point to the astonishing simplicity at the heart of Cox's practice: he listened, took patients at their word, and really noticed what they said - not just in words, but in emphasis, expression and gesture. Perhaps the most distinctive thing about him was his respect for the dignity of patients who had been doubly written off as "mad and bad". He risked disappointment again and again and had said once about his Broadmoor work: "There is nobody I can't have hope about".

If that was the simplicity, the complexity of what he brought to bear on his therapy was dazzling. He was superbly well-read in his own field and many others, had intensive friendships with a wide range of people, loved music, and was a Christian who knew much of the Bible by heart and had a profound, well- considered theology.

The most striking of his therapeutic resources was Shakespeare. Not that he just "used" Shakespeare. Rather he revelled in those dramas, knew large parts of them by heart, lectured on them and savoured their "paraclinical precision" about the sorts of extremes of evil, madness, horror and death with which he dealt daily. He was an honorary research fellow of The Shakespeare Institute in Birmingham University, and from 1989 an adviser to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

With the director Mark Rylance, he began an extraordinary tradition of having RSC productions performed in Broadmoor, and later edited Shake- speare Comes to Broadmoor (1992), describing the effects on patients, staff and actors.

"What seest thou else?" was a favourite quotation, and he excelled at seeing more, deeper, wider, from new angles. His Danish co-author of two books on therapy, Mutative Metaphors in Psychotherapy (1987) and Shakespeare as Prompter (1994), the psychologist Alice Theilgaard, has used the Danish word "musisk" of him, meaning "a man of all the muses". It was this multifaceted, imaginative profundity, energised by huge enthusiasm, which let him constantly make new connections, cross boundaries, explore the many layers of a good metaphor, and improvise gloriously in conversation, lecturing or at the piano. The eyes twinkled, the humour danced and played with words, and the timing was always superb.

Cox was born in Birmingham in 1931. He was educated at Kingswood School and St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and began his training as a doctor at the London Hospital. He spent ten years in general practice before becoming a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. His interest in forensic psychotherapy began at Pentonville Prison, before his appointment to Broadmoor in 1970.

There were two other vital dimensions to his life which were somewhat less visible. The first was his Christian faith. In his 1990 Foulkes Lecture he requested for his desert island one luxury: a serious debate between those representing theology and the world of psychotherapy. Recently he helped initiate a series of conferences between psychotherapy, spirituality and literature. Among the last things he wrote was an article called "A Good Enough God? Some Psychology-Theology Crossing Places", and when he died he was working on a collaborative book on "the secret self" in theology, psychology and psychotherapy.

The second dimension was his close family life with children, grandchildren and above all his wife Caroline (Baroness Cox). He had a heart bypass operation 14 years ago, and he and Caroline saw the time since then as a gift of "golden years", culminating in the celebration for family and friends for his 65th birthday - suitably called a "Festsprach". At the heart of those years were weekends in their Dorset home, where there was time to catch up on two very busy lives and walk through the countryside, where his ashes have now been scattered.

David F. Ford

Murray Newell Cox, psychotherapist: born Birmingham 22 July 1931; married 1959 Caroline McNeill Love (two sons, one daughter); died 28 June 1997.