Learning to live, living to learn
For referrals email Angus Burnett or call 01865 300202

Our History

Therapy in child care:
the foundation of therapeutic work at the school

During World War 2 Barbara Dockar-Drysdale and her family shared the original farmhouse with children placed with them during the national evacuation campaign. She soon experienced the challenging behaviour of a number of them. After the war via monthly clinical consultations with Donald Winnicott, and a psychoanalytic training, she developed the residential treatment
methodology that she later named “the provision of primary experience” (1990). Across the
1950’s and 1960’s she conceptualised this work, and later published it in her books ‘Therapy in Child Care’ (1968) and ‘Consultation in Child Care’ (1973).


Core concept: ‘the provision of primary experience

‘Dockar-Drysdale’s primary experience seems to be an amalgam of the Winnicott concepts of ‘primary home experiences’ and ‘primary maternal preoccupation’. The term encapsulates what Dockar-Drysdale came to see as the essential element in therapy for children who had missed out on that early maternal provision….her view of primary provision could be summed up by saying that it was a matter of the caring adult having to feel and act like a mother with her new born baby, and with the same preoccupation and sense of vulnerability. (Reeves, 2002)

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Within this concept of “the provision of primary experience” Dockar-Drysdale defined different syndromes of deprivation, and formulated treatment approaches to these:


“Dockar-Drysdale has done her most important work in seeking to explain the nature and needs of the ‘frozen’ or psychopathic child. The emotionally deprived child is seen as ‘pre-neurotic’ since the child has to exist as an individual before neurotic defences can form. The extent to which there has been traumatic interruption of the ‘primary experience’ decides the form of the disturbance. A child separated at this primitive stage is therefore, in a perpetual state of defence against the hostile ‘outer world’ into which he has been jettisoned inadequately prepared.” (Bridgeland, M. 1971)


In the early therapeutic milieu staff provided ‘close in’ experiences of containing and nurturing routines, and robust behaviour management. Close dependency on an adult was supported, and in the case of the ‘frozen child’ a localised regression to the ‘point of failure’ was therapeutically managed. Sometimes a symbolic adaptation, termed a ‘special thing,’ was introduced. This allowed the child an experience of primary adaptation to need, an experience of close bonding with a primary carer:This symbolic adaptation would often take the form of the child’s ‘focal therapist’ providing a food with a primary connotation being chosen by the child e.g. a rusk with warm milk.


They found that the provision improved the child’s sense of security, reduced delinquency (stealing as self- provision to ‘fill up’), and the localised time seemed to help children cope with their feelings of envy when having to share with others in the group care setting.


This ‘attachment’ model of meeting need, with attention to symbolic communication, still underpins our work. In Dockar-Drysdale’s view, for chaotic ‘unintegrated’ children the traditional ‘psychoanalytic hour’ was not enough, they required a total environment
in which therapeutic interactions could take place within the daily routines of
child care
she did not place the primacy of therapy as being outside of daily child care routines, hence the development of the concept and methods now known as ‘therapeutic child care.’ 





Showing the way in therapeutic child care


Providing hope and positive outcomes for troubled children who are looking for a way to learn and live again.

feature-school The Mulberry Bush Outreach

Behaviour Support for Schools and Professionals helping those who help others. National Specialist Outreach for Social Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties (SEMHD).

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feature-mboxThe Mulberry Bush School

By improving the life chances and social inclusion of traumatised children and young people, we create long-term benefits to society by reducing anti-social behaviour and its impact on families, schools and communities.

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Our free alliance whose aim is to share knowledge about therapeutic care for children and young people, and to support the use of reflective practice and research, in order to improve service quality and ensure excellent outcomes.

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Latest News

Mulberry Bush Outreach Summer Newsletter

We have just published our Mulberry Bush Outreach Summer Newsletter, which provides information about our courses, a case study on a child causing concern, OFSTED advice, an update on SEN and EHC Plans by the DfE and an article about our work in developing nurturing practice in schools. You can read the Outreach newsletter here.  

‘Leadership for an Emotionally Aware Environment’ course

We are now taking bookings for our new ‘Leadership for an Emotionally Aware Environment’ course which is suitable for current and aspiring leaders from education and care settings, who work with children and young people experiencing social, emotional and mental health difficulties. The course will be led by Dawn Davidson and Andy Lole from The more »

A Foundation Degree in Therapeutic Work With Children and Young People

We are taking applications now for this three-year course for child-care professionals working in education, care and health services. The degree is accredited through the University of West of England. The closing date is 6th June. You can find full details about the course here.