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Cash crisis forces closure of renowned Holloway women’s therapy centre

World-renowned feminist and psychotherapist Susie Orbach, who co-founded the centre in 1976, has called the planned closure 'outrageous'

15 March, 2019 — By Emily Finch

World-renowned feminist and psychotherapist Susie Orbach

A PIONEERING women’s therapy centre which supports survivors of domestic abuse and war is closing its doors at the end of the month because of a lack in funding.

World-renowned feminist and psychotherapist Susie Orbach, who co-founded the centre in 1976, has called the planned closure “outrageous”.

The Women’s Therapy Centre, based in Manor Gardens, Holloway, has helped thousands of vulnerable women suffering from mental health issues. Its model has been replicated throughout the world.

The centre also provides specialist therapy services in Somali for women who have been traumatised by the civil war.

Press release for the Women’s Therapy Centre when it first opened in the 70s

Acting chair of trustees Christine Smith, who took over the top role recently, said the decision was “very sad and painful”. “It’s disappointing we have not been supported financially to continue the vital work for women,” she added.

The centre has seven therapists, but Ms Smith said the trustees had “no choice” but to close it after “a significant period during which income has been falling”.

Residents can self-refer or are sent to the centre through a GP, but Islington Clinical Commissioning Group – the NHS body headed by local GPs which plans and buys healthcare for the borough – slashed funding from £26,000 last year to £15,000 this year.

Patients are charged £1 per £1,000 of income for each session with a therapist.

Ms Smith said: “The women we have worked with recently are probably the most marginalised in society. They come to us with very complex needs after they are trafficked or are refugees. Some have suffered gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation or domestic violence.”

She said the centre had “always been dedicated to helping women lift themselves from complex emotional trauma” while therapy helps them “gain the confidence to stand up for themselves”.

The centre mainly relied on grants from charities, but Ms Smith said it had been “getting less each year”.

She added: “Over the years funding has shrunk and shrunk and has been a problem for many years.”

Renowned psychoanalyst Ms Orbach, who founded the centre with Luise Eichenbaum, told the Tribune this week: “It’s absolutely terrible. I’ve been outside of an official role [at the centre] but I’ve put a lot of time intermittently into trying to secure funding. I’m very, very sad about it. I guess it’s the times, but it’s outrageous.”

Adam Weatherhead, managing director of charity Nafsiyat, where women are offered therapeutic support, said: “Having one of our partners close down is very, very sad. This is hopefully a wake-up call to those who hold the purse strings.”

Mr Weatherhead’s organisation is the lead provider at the Accept Consortium – the name of the four leading psychotherapy centres in the borough – which includes the Women’s Therapy Centre.

Women’s Therapy Centre officers in the Beaux Arts block 

He said: “We have demonstrated to the NHS and the council that, given the demand for these services, our commissioned numbers, particularly in the BMER [black, minority, ethnic, refugee] stream, is woefully inadequate.”

Therapy centres in the consortium are commis- sioned to see only 96 people a year who are from a BMER background or have suffered abuse.

“The actual demand is over double what we are commissioned to see and so every quarter we close our waiting lists and turn clients away,” he added. “On top of this, there was a reduction in the size of the funding envelope of the contract when it was re-tendered in 2016.”

Despite numerous emails and three phone calls, the Tribune was unable to get a comment from Islington CCG on the reason funding for the centre had been cut.

An Islington Council spokesman said: “We are sorry to have learned of the issues facing the centre and are reviewing what support can be offered to them.”

The pioneering centre which shifted treatment for women

THE Women’s Therapy Centre was the first in its field when it was established by Susie Orbach and Luise Eichenbaum in 1976.

Ms Orbach announced the launch of the centre, then in Hartham Road, Holloway, in the pages of the Camden Journal, the predecessor of our sister paper, Camden New Journal.

She told the Tribune this week that they wanted “to provide therapy services from the perspective of women, not from the theory around then which really didn’t understand women”.

Ms Orbach shared how she set up the trailblazing centre with the British Library’s oral history project, Sisterhood and After.

She said in an interview available on the library’s website: “So Luise and I literally wrote a leaflet saying we need mental health services for women, something like that. Women need to speak in their own way and be understood in their own terms and we’re opening a women’s therapy centre and there’ll be groups around women’s role and women’s eating and women’s body and jealousy and anger and all sorts of themes and individual therapy available.”

“My brother said to us: write a press release – we had no idea what that was – and put ‘embargoed’ on it. So you, know, we put ‘embargoed’ until a certain date and then we posted it to all these places at the Chalk Farm letterbox a week before we were going to open the Women’s Therapy Centre.

“And then we moved in and we painted, got chairs and a phone line and, lo and behold, we got massive publicity.”

Ms Orbach’s groundbreaking book, Fat is a Feminist Issue, was published two years after the launch of the centre. It is still widely respected and read in feminist circles.

She went on to create a similar women’s therapy centre in New York in 1981.

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