Psychologist and academic who founded the Refugee Therapy Centre in London
The psychologist and psychotherapist Josephine Klein, who has died aged 92, had a passionate concern for social justice. It underpinned a variety of her initiatives as a researcher, writer and practitioner. Two books came out of a period in the research section of the National Association of Boys’ Clubs in the late 1940s and a subsequent doctorate: The Study of Groups (1956) and Working With Groups: The Social Psychology of Discussion and Decision (1961). They pioneered a theoretical foundation by drawing critically on what was being done elsewhere in sociology, psychology and psychoanalysis, and offered guidance on interventions in a variety of settings – therapeutic, youth and community work.
In her book Samples from
English Cultures (1965), Josephine documented social change and noted who was missing out. She explored what binds and divides social structures, for example class and religion. Her analysis of child-rearing practices informed the development of interventions in schools, with parents and in youth work.
In the mid-1960s, Josephine put theory into practice when she and others set up the Archway venture in Brighton, East Sussex, initially for the mods, rockers and flower people drawn to the seaside town. Some local people viewed them with hostility, but Archway addressed their vulnerability and need for support. It offered coffee, someone to talk to and a place to sleep, and marked a new kind of youth work, which also extended to children escaping physical and sexual abuse.
This experience convinced Josephine of the need for better training, so in 1970 she founded a groundbreaking youth and community work course at Goldsmiths’ College (now Goldsmiths, University of London). There and elsewhere she displayed an extraordinary ability to appear non-judgmental, while having clear standards and values concerning how people should treat each other. She also retained an independence of thought in the face of orthodoxy and resistance to change.
In the early 70s she trained as an analytic psychotherapist, and out of this work came her books Our Need for Others and Its Roots in Infancy (1987); Doubts and Certainties in the Practice of Psychotherapy (1995) and Jacob’s Ladder (2003), a consideration of mysticism.
They drew on approaches seen as incompatible, synthesising them into new ways of working with patients and assessing what psychotherapists needed to understand. Josephine broke conventions as to who was taught, what and how they were taught, in both youth and community work and psychotherapy.
As a child she had been a refugee, and in 1999 she founded the Refugee Therapy Centre in London, with Aida Alayarian and others. There they established a course to enable refugees to become counsellors, in line with Josephine’s conception that therapists and counsellors should share language, culture and experience with their patients and help them better to contribute to society.
Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, Josephine was the daughter of
Simon Klein, a salesman, and his Dutch wife Marie (nee Norden). The family were of Jewish origin but largely secular. They were living in Amsterdam at the time of the
Nazi invasion in May 1940, and fled shortly afterwards, in an open boat. After six days at sea with little fresh water, they were picked up by the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Malcolm, and Josephine never forgot the warmth of the captain and crew. Many of her relatives who did not flee did not survive.
The family moved to Chester in the hope of travelling to the US by ship from Liverpool, but were unable to do so. Josephine did well at the Queen’s school, Chester, which, together with some local people, provided the support necessary for her to go to university. In four years, she gained two degrees, simultaneously, a BA in French at University College London and a first in sociology at LSE.
After her period in youth work, Josephine was a lecturer in social studies at Birmingham University (1949-62), then had three years as a research fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, and went on to Sussex University, as reader in social relations (1965-70). For the next four years she was director of the course at Goldsmiths’, and then undertook 30 years’ private practice as a psychotherapist. Even after that she continued to supervise trainee psychotherapists.
Friends and colleagues valued her wisdom and warmth on walks and at concerts, sharing highs and lows in other people’s lives and helping them overcome adversity.
She is survived by two nieces and a nephew.
John Eversley and Geoff Filkin
Klein explored what binds and divides social structures, for example class and religion