Obituary: Douglas Haldane MBE, psychiatrist

Share this article
Have your say

BORN: 13 March, 1926, in Annan, Dumfriesshire. Died: 19 July, 2012, in St Andrews, aged 86

Douglas Haldane was an influential doctor and organisational genius who played a crucial role in the development of psychiatric services for children in Scotland.

He introduced an era that catered for both youngsters and their families, bringing the two together to pioneer the UK’s first department of Child and Family Psychiatry.

He later helped to found the Association for Family Therapy, became involved in the Children’s Panel, chaired the Scottish Marriage Council and was a respected lecturer and author.

Born in Annan, Dumfriesshire, he was educated locally before attending Dumbarton and Dumfries Academies. He went up to Edinburgh University in 1943, graduating MB ChB in 1948, among the first class of medics to qualify after the inception of the National Health Service.

A range of posts followed, including stints as obstetric house surgeon at Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion in Edinburgh and Cresswell Maternity Hospital, Dumfries, before his two years’ national service as a surgeon lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

The 1950s were spent as a registrar at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, lecturer in psychiatry for the Royal College of Nursing and as a consultant psychiatrist and depute physician superintendent at Stratheden Hospital, Cupar in Fife.

And in 1960 he established the department of Child and Family Psychiatry, based at Playfield House there, where consultant and treatment services were developed for children, adolescents and their parents in a variety of clinic, domestic and educational settings. His vision was to bring the family into the field of treatment and he eventually persuaded Fife Health Board to create two new purpose-built residential units which opened in 1975. At Playfield he introduced every kind of therapy, including drama, and worked with art therapist Joyce Laing, renowned for her revolutionary work at Barlinnie Prison’s Special Unit. He also established a marital therapy clinic.

During his time at Playfield he was appointed honorary lecturer in psychiatry at Edinburgh University and contributed to the wellbeing of children through a range of local and national appointments. They included roles as a member of the Scottish Education Department’s working party on maladjusted children and of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Council on Childcare; honorary president of the Association of Psychiatric Social Workers’ Scottish branch and chairman of Fife’s Children’s Panel Advisory Council. He was also honorary secretary and chairman of the child psychiatry section and a member of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association’s Scottish executive committee.

He was also one of those responsible for bringing back to Scotland the former medical director of the mental health clinic, the Tavistock in London, Jock Sutherland. He, Haldane and a number of other colleagues then set up the Scottish Institute of Human Relations.

By 1976 Haldane had moved to the North-east as senior lecturer in the department of mental health at Aberdeen University, where he organised and developed a number of lecture programmes, including the Malcolm Millar lectures, and was honorary consultant psychiatrist to Grampian Health Board.

He also continued his interest in promoting practice and training in marital and family therapy and was a founder member of the Association for Family Therapy, establishing its Grampian branch in 1978.

In addition, he was vice-president of the Scottish Pre-School Playgroups Association and helped to introduce the concept of play into children’s hospital wards. He was the author and co-author of numerous books and papers, and his publications include Models for Psychotherapy: A Primer; Marriage Now and the work A Celebration of Marriage? – looking at 50 years of marriage in Scotland from 1931 to 1981 and the implications for marital counselling and therapy.

He chaired the Scottish Marriage Council from 1984 to 1986 and was later involved in Marriage Counselling Scotland in the 1990s.

Renowned UK-wide in the field, as a member of the Tavistock Institute of Marital Studies’ advisory panel, he was elected an honorary member of the 
Society of Psychoanalytical Marital Psychotherapists in 1994 and the following year was made an MBE for his services to marriage counselling and family services in Fife.

A straight-talker who did not pull any punches, he was not only a gifted organiser but a generous educator, always happy to help others gain an understanding of his field. He had the clinical intuition twinned with professional skill plus an ability to look into the future and build great teams, particularly working inter-departmentally, creating bodies of expertise that continue to influence today.

Predeceased by his wife Kathleen, whom he married in Leith in 1951, he is survived by his sons Colin, Graham and Alistair.