Speech at IAFP 25th Anniversary Conference

April, 2016 –  Estela V. Welldon.

It is a very great pleasure to be with you today, celebrating this very important twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy.

As I think back over our many annual conferences, beginning with our first at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, and over our many gatherings since, I take pleasure in our serious exchanges of learning and scholarship but, also, in our joy, and in our laughter at being with one another.

The journey of one’s professional life – if one has chosen the right profession for oneself – can be so deeply fulfilling. And working in forensic psychotherapy gives us all the opportunity of being together, because it is such a team effort. Forensic psychotherapeutic work is not the heroic action of only one psychotherapist but, rather, the joint efforts of many people working in great harmony. Our work allows us to enjoy our agreements and our disagreements within the multi-professional team. In those contexts, we not only engage in listening and in respect, but we also learn from what other workers in our field have to teach us.

Each patient brings a very particular history, full of pain and trauma; and we as forensic psychotherapists have the privilege of sharing those most intimate experiences. I describe our work as a “privilege” because although we have to deal with some of the most shocking and disturbing events in people’s lives – the stuff that horrifies many – we also have the opportunity to interact with people in extremis; and we have the chance to observe the human condition in all of his rich colours: not only the very dark but also the light. That, for me, is a great honour.

Our work is never insipid or vanilla-flavoured; but nor is it water-coloured. It always concerns the drama of the human condition. My aim, as many of you will know, is not only to work hard but, also, to play hard. This helps us to manage the multiple colours to which we become exposed. It may be difficult for first-time attendees at our conferences to discover that we have the capacity to share our professional predicaments in such a frank and blunt way – predicaments which we may never have exposed before – and that we can express these in an open climate of mutual trust. As a result, bonhomie develops, as does laughter and joy at the sharing and the being together, which are quite unique.

Over the decades, I have had the privilege of learning from some of the best: wonderful mentors such as Horacio Etchegoyen, Karl Menninger, Maurice Carstairs, Maxwell Jones, and many others. Those who teach us live on in our hearts.

But I have also learned from all of you. We, as colleagues, always learn from one another. So much of our learning comes from this sharing of experience. That is why this organisation – the I.A.F.P. – is so very precious.

It is always important to remember our roots. How did this international organisation come into existence in the first place? It all started back in the early 1980s when, following a meeting in Oxford, we held a European Symposium on psychoanalysis and forensic matters at the Portman Clinic evry year for a decade. Then, I developed the first-ever course on forensic psychotherapy, created in 1990. So many of the alumni from that training course became, and remain, active members within the I.A.F.P., and many have even become President! The wonderful ex-students from the diploma course have held a great responsibility for keeping the organisation creative and fortified. Many of these ex-students have gone on to write books and have devoted their lives to working in this extremely rewarding profession, each in his or her own individual way.

But the I.A.F.P. really began in earnest in 1991, while I attended an international congress on the law and psychiatry in Leuven, here in Belgium. So it is perhaps quite fitting that we have returned to Belgium a quarter of a century later.

Back then, many of my colleagues and I had to endure a great deal of frustration. In those days, we would often travel to far-flung places; but as psychotherapists, we often received only minimal spaces in which to present our work at international conferences. Sometimes we would want to tear out our hair in fury that we would be pushed to the margins of psychiatric conventions. I remember so well telling my colleagues, “Either we create our own organisation or I will murder the convenors and then you will all have to come to my defence.”

I was very lucky at that time, as I had a man in my life who was very well connected: an ambassador, in fact, of Scottish origin. Once he said to me, “You will never be happy trying to reform that outfit. You have to found a new association.” Actually, I think that he told me this because he had probably got sick of me burning his ears in bed about my frustrations!

Happily, at the gathering in Leuven, a group of colleagues and I discussed how we could foster an understanding of what psychotherapy had to offer to the forensic field. We reach agreement with colleagues from the Netherlands, from Switzerland, and from the United Kingdom that we would create our own group, namely, the International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy.

With encouragement from my Scottish partner, we started the new organisation with a Scottish secretary and with an account in a Scottish bank. My Scottish ambassador had oiled the wheels and I relied on his good connections to get the thing off the ground. Happily, you might all agree that we took the right route and that the creation of the I.A.F.P. was not just some mad Estela venture. Some of you in this room had been my co-conspirators. And some, such as Frank Beyeart, Murray Cox, Bart de Smith, Patrick Gallwey, and Tim Scannell, are no longer with us, although they remain in our hearts.

Out of our ambition for a space of our own in which we could work in our own special way, something great emerged; and we did this together. We have all contributed to the building of this wonderful association. Looking back, it has been a very proud part of my life. And now that we have just received the award of charitable status – only a few months ago – I feel that we now have proper forensic evidence of our legitimacy and of our worth.

And here we are celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary in Ghent, the very country where the I.A.F.P. was born.

And now it is our turn to honour those who were with us from its start as our patrons, such as Lord John Alderdice, Baroness Helena Kennedy, Professor Sir Michael Peckham, and Sir Matthew Thorpe.

I think that most of you will know that you are all more than colleagues and friends to me. You are my family.

I came to the United Kingdom and married, and I have a wonderful son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter. But I was widowed at a young age. And my professional life has sustained me in more ways than I can count. I have loved it beyond measure. But a large part of that joy has come from my professional family: from all of you.

So, I toast you. I salute you. Together, we have all made something truly wonderful. And it is right and proper that we should celebrate.