June 13, 2024

My friend and colleague Kate Robertson, who has died of pancreatic cancer aged 65, was a child and adolescent psychotherapist who became head of child psychotherapy at the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and chair of the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP). She was a passionate advocate for widening access to the child psychotherapy profession and helped to extend government funding for NHS child psychotherapy training.

Kate was born in Theydon Bois in Essex, the second daughter of Beryl (nee Jenkins), a secretary, and Bob Robertson, a company director. When she was 17 her mother died suddenly, and she went to live with her older sister, Hazel, who supported her while she continued her A-levels at Penwortham school in Preston, Lancashire. She went on to the University of Sussex, where she graduated with a degree in philosophy.

In the early 1980s Kate volunteered at the Wageless Women charity, campaigning to disaggregate women’s benefits from that of their partners. For the next 20 years she worked as a welfare benefits adviser and trainer at Advice Centre in the Blue, a London-based charity, and at the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead. She then helped to set up a programme to maximise the incomes of social care clients at the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

While taking a part-time course in psychoanalytic observation at the Tavistock Clinic in London in the late 90s, she became interested in training as a child psychotherapist and qualified at the Tavistock in 2007.

Over the following five years Kate worked in child and adolescent mental health services in London, before becoming head of child psychotherapy in Hammersmith and Fulham (2012-18) and chair of the ACP (2021-23).

She had an exceptional talent for engaging children, particularly those with challenging, confusing and provocative behaviour. Once she told me about working intensively for two years with a profoundly disabled seven-year-old boy in a special school. He repeatedly banged his head against floors, doors and walls, which Kate recognised as a way of communicating. She painstakingly tracked the shift in his interest from banging to singing, realising that he was responding to the rhythm of the sessions and building on the growing emotional understanding between them.

As well as being a fiercely independent thinker, Kate was an excellent talker with a considered, unhurried way of speaking, and a capacity for warmly attentive listening, much enjoyed in her relationships with women and men and in her many close friendships. Her dry, irreverent humour contributed to her readiness to acknowledge human complexity, including her own, with courage and determination.

She is survived by Hazel, her niece, Rebecca, her nephew, Matthew, and three great-nieces.

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