Peter Lang

(1943-2016) founded the Kensington Consultation Centre

(1943-2016) founded the Kensington Consultation Centre – the KCC Foundation which he led along with Susan Lang and Martin Little. He grew up in Zambia and came to England at the age of 18, studied theology and was ordained as a priest in 1969.  His initial psychotherapy training was at the Tavistock Institute where he was supervised by and argued with John Bowlby and after encountering systemic approaches, particularly the Milan School he set up KCC. Under his influence KCC became an important training institute in London and with major input from John Burnham established training at every level. KCC closed in 2010 for financial reasons but its innovative training to Doctoral level continued under the direction of Gail Simon. now based at University of Bedfordshire.

Peter Stratton and Helga Hanks: Peter Lang was a strikingly original thinker who was able to harness the range and depth of his understanding in the service of becoming a highly effective trainer, compassionate therapist and organizational consultant. In 2016 he received the Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Family Therapy and Systemic Practice from EFTA.

Three years after we established  the Leeds Family Therapy and Research Centre in 1979 Peter invited us to his Oxford conference for ‘advanced FT clinics’. A bit flattering because we were just beginners then. There we met Luigi Boscolo and Gianfranco Cecchin for the first time and we became instant converts to Milan. Throughout his career Peter brought leading figures who valued their association with him, to the UK. So we were able to get to know Vernon Cronen and Barnett Pearce, who were regular visitors bringing their theory of Coordinated Management of Meaning, along with Humberto Maturana, Kenneth Gergen, Sheila McNamee, Michael White, Imelda McCarthy and the unforgettable workshops with Tom Andersen and John Shotter. But his relationship with Gianfranco and Luigi was a constant. Once while we were joining the team in KCC Peter suddenly announced “I feel a posi-con coming on”  and dashed off into the therapy room to offer it.

By the early 1980s KCC had moved to set up as a training institute in less glamorous Southwark in South London but typically, because he knew words matter, Peter kept Kensington in its title. We had a close association with KCC from this time and became external examiners on its courses. We found ourselves trying to bridge between the constantly evolving creativity of KCC and the standard processes of the University of East London. Peter persuaded UEL into appreciating his approaches. Peter and Susan were generous hosts and the serious work was leavened by Peter’s unfailing good humour and, especially when we were joined as examiners by Imelda McCarthy, much laughter. Though once we heard Peter characteristically attributing last evening’s heated discussion to “too much red wine and bad temper. About which the less said the better”.

At one Summer school we decided to create a journal: Human Systems: The Journal of Systemic Consultation and Management. With Peter Stratton as Editor and Peter, Barnett Pearce, Helga Hanks and Martin Little as the Editorial Board.  Peter felt that ‘therapy’ was too narrow and ‘systemic consultation’  had much wider application. As an example of his thinking, one of the first papers the journal published was the still highly influential application of the concept of Domains drawing on Aristotle and Maturana “for activities such as investigative work, receiving children into care, diagnostic work, prescribing drugs, psychological testing, advice giving, and therapy or consultations to be seen and performed in a consistent manner within a Post Milan Systemic framework” (Lang, Little & Cronen, 1990, P.39). Peter’s many strengths did not include financial planning and he insisted that the journal be jointly published by KCC and LFTRC so that the profits would go to our institutes rather than to a publisher. But like so many of Peter’s initiatives it was widely admired but never became lucratively mainstream.

Peter also worked for many years with Elspeth McAdam to create ways of making an impact in schools, in Child Protection and with juvenile sexual offenders. Typical of his work with Elspeth was their concept of ‘future dreaming’, and  the metaphor of the first therapeutic meeting as blind dating. During the war in Kosovo, Peter wrote a  training course for the women who had been raped. When asked what they wanted most badly they said “clean knickers“. Peter always totally respected people’s definition of their needs, and organized Marie Stopes to get a consignment sent out which had great symbolic as well as practical significance for the women.

Peter’s work, including extensively in Sweden, Bogota and several African countries, continued through many years despite his intensifying Parkinson’s Disease. His unique coordination of influences into compassionate effectiveness was exemplified by protecting his audiences from worrying about his progressively uncontrollable physical difficulties by calling Parkinson’s  “a park in the sun” where a ‘small friendly elf’ would come and make his arms and legs wave around as if he was a small child.Peter Lang is still greatly missed but lives on in our hearts and in the Friends of KCC which is open to all who value his legacy


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