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The Founders of Metanoia Institute

Remembered for Pride Jubilee - the 50th Anniversary of LGBT+ Pride


For the last three years, Metanoia Institute has taken part in the London Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride March. As the organiser of this group, I knew we were taking part to demonstrate our support for LGBTQ+ counsellors, psychotherapists and, most importantly, clients, but I was less aware of the significant role that the late Petrūska Clarkson, Sue Fish and Dr Brian Dobson, founders of Metanoia Psychotherapy Training Institute had played in LGBTQ History.

Metanoia Psychotherapy Training Institute was founded in London on 4th May 1984 as a humanistic psychotherapy and counselling school. The term “metanoia” means transformation, in this context of someone’s life through therapy. However, the arrival of Metanoia (written originally without a capital letter) in the world of psychotherapy training provision was also something of a transformation. Metanoia regarded itself as the major alternative to the psychoanalytic counselling and psychotherapy training: the dominant approach in the 1980s. At that time, it was still commonplace for people who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual to be refused admission to psychoanalytic training programmes. [1] metanoia specialised in integrating psychotherapeutic approaches, and teaching humanistic theories, with respected courses in Gestalt, Transactional Analysis and Person-Centred therapy, and courses for “lay-people” on topics such as sexuality through an “Education for Living Programme”. [2]



The three founders were themselves all of diverse sexualities, with Petrūska Clarkson and Sue Fish being partners for 15 years. There are no Wikipedia pages or extensive internet documentation about the lives of these three individuals, so I am using this space to share information gathered from scrapbooks, obituaries, journal articles, and conversations with those who knew them, to keep the memory of their significant contributions as LGBTQ historical figures alive in this digital age.



Dr Petrūska Clarkson (1947-2006)




Petrūska Clarkson is the most well known of the three founders, having written extensively about Integrative, Transactional analysis and Gestalt psychotherapy, and, perhaps most famously, the “five modalities of the therapeutic relationship” [3] which is used as a framework for many Integrative psychotherapy training programmes today.

Petrūska was born in South Africa, and from an early age she had a dream of being able to “find a way to cut out the part of the brain that makes people cruel or sad”. [4] She worked as a psychotherapist and psychologist, and became the first accredited Transactional Analysis teacher in South Africa.

She moved to the UK in 1977 with her partner, Sue Fish. In 1979, she worked as a group work consultant / group therapist for the London Borough of Hounslow and worked in private practice as a therapist and trainer, including running therapy groups from their flat in Queensway, and then Ealing. Together they worked on projects for social change, including on issues such as race in South Africa, survivors of Hiroshima and providing bursaries and reduced fees for psychotherapy.

Petrūska then worked with her partner, Sue Fish, and friend, Brian Dobson, to set up Metanoia, as the driving inspiration to create an environment where change was possible.



Petrūska was an inspirational trainer, supervisor, therapist and writer during her time at Metanoia, until her personal relationship ended with Sue Fish in 1991, and then Metanoia Psychotherapy Training Institute was sold to the Artemis Trust in 1993, before becoming independently run, as Metanoia Institute.

Petrūska wrote about 150 articles and chapters in her lifetime, and 15 books, many on Transactional Analysis, Gestalt, and Integrative Psychotherapy. Stephanie Holland, facilities manager at Metanoia Institute, described memories of arriving at work at 13 North Common Road when Petrūska was living there, with the sound of opera drifting down the road. Petrūska would have already been up for hours writing.

Petrūska was also involved in many professional bodies, including being one of the original members of the Rugby Conference, which later became UKCP, a fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS), and the chairperson of the then BAC’s Personal, Sexual, Family and Marital Division. Creating high standards for this emerging profession was important to her and she campaigned passionately for professional regulation within the field of psychotherapy.

She was a high achieving and internationally recognised academic, with three doctorates, three charterships (clinical psychology, counselling psychology and management consultancy), an honorary professorship from Roehampton Institute and a visiting professorship from the University of Westminster.

In the 1980s, Petrūska described about how she did not agree with the prevailing view in psychoanalytic circles that homosexuality was a pathology that could be cured, and said she referred potential clients who wanted their homosexuality to be cured, to colleagues who held different views on this, offering the client “choice” [5]. It is only recently, in 2015, that the main membership bodies for psychotherapists and counsellors signed up to a “memorandum of understanding” that acknowledged that homosexuality is not a pathology, but a natural variation of human sexuality, and committed to ending the practice of “conversion therapy” in the UK.

Drawing on her own experience as a trainee at Metanoia Institute, “out” TA psychotherapist, writer and trainer, Carole Shadbolt described how Petrūska “gently accepted” her dreams of becoming a psychoanalyst, whilst also informing her of the “homophobia rife within the profession” which she knew Petrūska had also experienced. [6]

 After leaving Metanoia Institute in 1993, Petrūska established another psychotherapy training organisation, Physis, in the building next door to Metanoia Institute, and later, in Harley Street, central London. She also delivered workshops and coaching to help people achieve better sex lives particularly through understanding how women respond sexually, achieving a media profile for this work. During this time she married and later divorced Vincent Keter.

 On 21 May 2006, Petrūska ended her own life in a hotel room in Amsterdam. She had become unwell and estranged from many of the people who loved her. In her suicide note [7] she makes reference to her work on gay rights as one of her key life achievements. She was described by colleagues as both an “inspirational” and “challenging” force in her obituary. [8]



Cutting included in Sue Fish’s Photo Scrapbook (1994), about her relationship with Petrūska 


Sue Fish (1946-2001)




Sue Fish was born in London in 1946 and moved to Johannesburg age two, where she grew up.

She initially trained as a teacher, and worked as a governess. She took two degrees at the same time in Cape Town, one in psychology and one in drama (later combining the two through psychodrama). She worked in Johannesburg in a special needs primary school, and met Petrūska when she invited her to give a talk at the Behavioural Science group she organised, on Humanistic Psychology.

Sue and Petrūska began a relationship, left South Africa to travelled around Europe for three months living off $10 per day. They then arrived in the UK in April 1977 with “£200 and unlimited hope!”. [9] Sue found a job as a teacher of teenagers with behavioural problems who had been excluded, in Oxford - a job that she later lost because she was suspected of being a lesbian. [10] After that they moved to London and Sue trained to be a psychotherapist, qualifying in the Gestalt, Transactional analysis and NLP approaches. Sue continued to work with young people and developed an interest in psychodrama.

She worked with Petrūska and other colleagues to establish and deliver the training courses at metanoia. Professor Charlotte Sills said: “Sue was the person who made things happen. Petrūska would have an idea – for example to find a building big enough to house the institute and also home the family (four of them and Maria’s son) – and within days, Sue would make it a reality.”

Sue shared an insight from astrologer, Derby Costello, about her relationship with Petrūska, in the photo scrapbook she compiled: “This union is deeply passionate, and will either be amazingly creative and productive or terrifyingly volcanic.” [11] Although perhaps the truth was not an either/or polarity, but a more human: both.




The split with Petrūska was a difficult time for Sue and for Metanoia Institute. Sue continued to teach at the institute and also to run therapy groups. She wrote three introductory books on TA, Gestalt and Integrative Psychotherapy with Phil Lapworth and Charlotte Sills.

She started a new relationship with Ann David. They moved to Devon in 1996 to be closer to nature and to run residential therapeutic courses. Sue also worked with training institutions in London, including helping develop the new Working Psychotherapeutically with Children Masters programme at the Institute of Arts in Therapy and Education.

In 1998 Sue was diagnosed as having leukaemia, and despite going through challenging treatment and having two periods of remission, she died on 23rd June 2001.


Dr Brian Dobson (1950-1988)



Brian Dobson was a qualified medical doctor, and had worked as a physician and surgeon at a hospital for black people in Johannesburg and also as a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Tara Mental Hospital, along with Petrūska Clarkson. He met Petrūska at a ten-day encounter group in South Africa, both of them sobbing “under a blanket” [12].

Brian moved to London in 1978 and joined Sue and Petrūska’s household, and together they bought a house in West Ealing. Brian continued to work full-time as a child and adolescent psychiatrist in St Bartholomew’s Hospital, the Tavistock Clinic, Westminster Children’s Hospital, Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School and Earl’s Court Guidance Unit. Brian is said to have had a “remarkable aptitude with children” and “achieved outstanding results in some cases where medicine and psychiatry had failed.” [13]. Once the three established Metanoia, he became the first medical director of the organisation. He also directed the counselling diploma training programme from 1986-88.

Brian lived in the room at 13 North Common Road that is now called “Dobson” in his honour. He died on 29th October 1988 at the London Lighthouse in the loving company of his partner Phil Lapworth, and Petrūska and Sue. At the unveiling of the memorial plaque to the three founders, Phil said “In the creation and development of Metanoia Institute, if Petrūska was the intelligent and vibrant mind and Sue the lively and creative spirit, then Brian was the energetic and reliable heart that beat in the background - sometimes very quietly, sometimes so ferociously the palpitations could be heard throughout West London.”

In the spirit of curiosity that made him the extraordinary person that he was in his life, he described his impending death as “another kind of journey altogether.” [14]



The legacy


Metanoia, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was an exciting place, full of creativity, exploration, individuality, house parties, shared meals, pets, radical approaches to paying for courses through hairdressing and dog grooming, love, loss and challenges to the status quo in the fields of psychotherapy, sexuality and identity. 

Whilst that time is now past, the legacy of the three founders lives on today in many manifestations – in their writing; in Metanoia Institute itself as it continues to grow and move towards university status; and in the memories, lives and souls of all of their clients, trainees, supervisees, colleagues, lovers and friends, many of whom they supported to become more accepting of their own sexual identity.

Phil Lapworth (psychotherapist and former Director of Clinical Services at Metanoia Institute) said: “Their diverse and fluid sexualities provided a safe, open and accepting place for LGTB people to train in psychotherapy in the 1980s - a time when homosexuality (then Sexual Orientation Disturbance) was still classified as a mental disorder in the DSM and ICD and when openly LGTB people were refused psychoanalytic training.”

I am told by others who knew them that they were ahead of their time in their rejection of labels, particularly Petrūska for whom labels represented restricting the objects of our desire, which was against much of her philosophical outlook to her teachings and work. Although their sexual identities were not always explicitly defined, their very presence gave other people of diverse sexualities the implicit and explicit permission to be themselves and, in some cases, to exist.

Katherine Murphy (psychotherapist, trainer and former Director of the Counselling Training Programme at Metanoia Institute after Brian Dobson’s death) told me that: “The strongest memory I have is more of a general permission to enjoy our desires, excitements and bodies and to live passionately in all areas of our lives, and the specific subjects of our sexual desires was less relevant.”

On a recent training day for Metanoia Institute examiners, Sue Eusden, reminded those present that every time we are in 13 North Common Road we are part of the transference of the history that has been handed down to us from the start of Metanoia Institute. It is present in the field when we are in that building, but that history has not been consciously known to those of us who were not around in those days.

Next time I think of us marching through central London for LGBTQ+ Pride with the Metanoia Institute banner, I will be more aware of the weight of the past we carry with us (I now understand what Carole Shadbolt meant when she described us as “walking with ghosts” [15]) and the significant, but unsung, role that Metanoia Institute and its founders have played in our LGBTQ history.




1. Newbigin, J. (2015) Rethinking our approach to sexualities. sexualities | British Psychoanalytic Council. [online] Bpc.org.uk. Available at: https://www.bpc.org.uk/rethinking-our-approach-sexualities [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019] 

2. Murphy, K. (1991). Origins, History, People and Courses. Self & Society, 19(3), pp.12-17.

3. Clarkson, P. (1992) ‘A multiplicity of therapeutic relationships as a principle of integration’, in P. Clarkson Transactional analysis an integrated approach. London: Whurr, pp. 293-310.

4. Fish, S. (1994) A History of Metanoia. Photo Scrapbook. Self Published.

5. Clarkson, P. (2005) The Transpersonal Relationship in Psychotherapy. London: Wiley

6. Shadbolt, C. and Watt, L. (2016) Overview of Metanoia Institute in Pride in London 2016 | Metanoia Institute. [online] www.metanoia.ac.uk. Available at: http://www.metanoia.ac.uk/cpds-events/overview-of-metanoia-institute-at-pride-london/ [Accessed 28 Feb. 2019].

7. Nuttall, J. (2006) Petruska’s Last Letter | Petruska Clarkson. [online] https://petruskaclarkson.blogspot.com/. Available at: http://petruskaclarkson.blogspot.com/2006/07/#115259829061694093 [Accessed 20 Feb. 2019].

8. Murphy, K and Sills, C. (2006) In Memoriam. Petrūska Clarkson, 1947-2006, The Script. 35(5), p. 8.

9. Fish, S. (1994) A History of Metanoia. Photo Scrapbook. Self Published.

10. British Gestalt Journal. (2001) Sue Fish 1946 – 2001, British Gestalt Journal, 10(2), p. 78.

11. Fish, S. (1994) A History of Metanoia. Photo Scrapbook. Self Published.

12. Murphy, K. (1991) Origins, History, People and Courses, Self & Society, 19:3, 12-17

13. Self and Society. (1989) Dr. Brian Dobson, Self & Society, 17(2), p. 65.

14. Self and Society. (1989) Dr. Brian Dobson, Self & Society, 17(2), p. 65.

15. Shadbolt, C. and Watt, L. (2016) Overview of Metanoia Institute in Pride in London 2016 | Metanoia Institute. [online] www.metanoia.ac.uk. Available at: http://www.metanoia.ac.uk/cpds-events/overview-of-metanoia-institute-at-pride-london/ [Accessed 28 Feb. 2019].


Author: Lucy Watt


Lucy Watt is a graduate from the Humanistic Counselling programme at Metanoia Institute, and now works in Private Practice in Hackney, East London. She returns to Metanoia as an examiner on the Humanistic Counselling programme, and as a member of the Equality and Diversity Committee.