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)

Read More

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.’ 



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).

More Info
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.

More Info
feature-nationalcentreNational Centre Logo

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.

More Info

Latest News

A Wonderful 70th Anniversary Gala Dinner

Everyone had a wonderful time at 70th Anniversary Gala Dinner at Claridges, held in support of The Mulberry Bush. The dining room looked beautiful, the food was delicious, the guests look glamorous and glittery and they were fantastically generous!   Drinks in the twinkly mirrored ante-room were followed by dinner, a short film, a wonderful short speech more »

Ofsted OUTSTANDING report for The Mulberry Bush as a Children’s Home

We are very pleased to report that at the latest inspection of The Mulberry Bush School, for the first time as a Children’s Home due to our new 52-week facility ‘The Burrow’, we were judged to be ‘Outstanding’. This is down to all the hard work and fastidious attention to detail by all staff in more »

Christmas Cards For Sale

We have six lovely designs of Christmas cards this year, available to buy online for £3.25 per pack of ten (plus p&p). We have limited availability so please order early to avoid disappointment! Click here to buy yours now