Athol Hughes obituary

Avi Shmueli

The psychoanalyst Athol Hughes, who has died aged 98, worked with both adults and children, teaching and supervising in Britain and abroad.

One of three daughters of Mona (nee Murray) and Herman Hughes, Athol was born and brought up in Toronto, where her father worked in the family business, having recently returned from first world war service. Athol and her sisters went to Branksome Hall school, then she went to Toronto University, where she obtained a BA and master’s in psychology.

When she left in 1943, she joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service. As a lieutenant in the operational intelligence service, she was involved in the interception of Enigma-encoded radio messages subsequently decoded at Bletchley Park.

After the war, as a clinical psychologist in the Montreal children’s hospital, she was dissatisfied with the inadequate quality of psychotherapy available and was keen to develop it further. Athol was supported in this pursuit by the psychoanalyst Clifford Scott, who encouraged her to travel to London. She arrived in 1959 and qualified as an analyst for adults at the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1963. She was a distinguished member of the society, of which I am the honorary secretary, until her death.

Almost immediately, she started training for work with children and also registered at University College London for a PhD, basing her research on the changes in cognitive thinking during adolescence. Graduating in 1966 and under supervision from Lois Monroe, Donald Meltzer and Hanna Segal, Athol qualified as a child psychoanalyst in 1968.

While practising as a psychoanalyst, Athol continued to work as a psychologist at Brunel University – and, from 1977 to 1989, she travelled regularly to Turin to supervise child therapists from Friday evening until Monday morning, when she returned to London to continue her analytic work.

Aged 68, she stopped working in Italy, and helped Shirley and Brian Truckle start a child psychotherapy course in Birmingham. She consequently gave lectures and seminars at the Birmingham Trust for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, which continues to this day.

She continued to supervise until, aged 88, her failing hearing and eyesight made it impossible. Nevertheless, she remained remarkably cheerful and had a wide circle of friends. Interviewed in 2014, she was asked about retaining her Canadian accent after 45 years in the UK. “I don’t mind,” she said, “as long as they don’t ask me what state I’m from.”

A large number of therapists and analysts benefited from her teaching and her many papers. She also edited a book on Joan Riviere, a close colleague of Melanie Klein.

Athol is survived by her nephews and nieces.