The Origins and Purpose of the Cambridge Psychotherapy Assistance Trust

For those who do not know of the Cambridge Psychotherapy Assistance Trust (or even our existence!) our Management Committee thought it might be useful to provide a short review, or introduction to our work. Very simply, we aim to provide financial help to people who need therapy or who have already started in therapy but do not have the funds to continue. We were registered as a Charity in 1989 and have continued ever since, assisting approximately between 10-12 applicants a year.

Our first applicant was a homeless man who had been released from his temporary, poorly-paid job in a college kitchen. At the same time we received a considerable donation from a kind member of the college who wished to remain anonymous, so that this man could have some very much needed therapy. We were soon aware of several other clients who were unable to continue their treatment because of their very difficult financial circumstances, such as having been recently bereaved, laid off from work, or on benefit. This was our shaky beginning. A few of us, who were broadly psychoanalytically trained, and who knew many of the practitioners of this type of therapy in Cambridge, were concerned to offer help both to those who were seeking this type of therapy, or to those who had already begun their therapy but could not continue because of lack of funds. This need has become even more pressing in our financially-straitened times, when almost no long-term or in-depth talking therapy is available in the NHS.

We knew (and know) that it can disturb the therapy both for patient and therapist alike if the therapist lowers his or her fees beyond a certain point. This is then seen as a bountiful ‘gift’ from the therapist to the patient, who is then constrained to be grateful, or to feel beholden. For the therapist, too, as well as the loss of income entailed, there is the knowledge of this ‘gift’ and the implied wish that the patient would be duly grateful. These often unconscious dynamics can hinder or even destroy the therapy. With these thoughts in mind, Liebe Klug and Margaret Farrell started to think about setting up a fund which would be independent of these dynamics — a neutral fund to which patients/potential patients could apply. We were given several donations, including the one above, to start us off. We had to consider seriously the accusation from a well-known therapist that this could be seen as simply lining the pockets of therapists. Therefore, quite quickly, as the Fund was being established, we included in our guidelines that the therapists who received money from the Fund would need to charge less than their normal fees — a procedure which we have always followed. We also acknowledged that our funds would be limited, and would need to be applied to a small geographical area.

After most of the original issues were thrashed out we applied for charitable status. This was generously helped by a solicitor, Timothy Pearce Higgins, who drafted a suitably generally-phrased constitution. This has been the legal document behind our work. We do, of course, abide by the rules and suggestions of the Charity Commission and submit appropriate reports to them every year.

Since we were trained in psychoanalytic therapy, and knew many of the practitioners in this field in Cambridge, we felt that with only small funds it was best to stick to what and whom we knew — or at least those trained with recognisable qualifications in that field. Eventually we broadened to include work with children and group work — but both still practised by practitioners with qualifications which we/ the public recognised. We are well aware that there are other types of psychotherapy equally valuable but we have found over the years that the amount we receive in donations more or less covers our limited brief, and thus we are validated in maintaining it.

We have sought donations in a number of ways. Every year we approach local therapists (limited to qualifications as mentioned above) and ask them to ‘register’ with us for a fee of approximately one session’s charge. Every applicant must either be a patient of those on our list or, if not, we approach the applicant’s therapist and ask them to register. We have also raised funds through various local events ranging from village-hall teas to concerts, book sales to, recently, a quiz evening. We have also approached local businesses and charitable trusts who have occasionally given us larger sums.

It is our hope that those of you who read this review may either register with us, if you are an appropriately-trained therapist, or, if you are sympathetic to our aims and way of working, may wish to donate to our funds.