Based at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in north London, where she took over leading the Under Fives Services in 2000, Louise developed their pre-existing psychoanalytic model of short-term work offering sessions with under-fives and their parents, and exported it around the world, helping to set up similarly successful models in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Ireland, Australia and her native South Africa.
She had a formidable energy and her work brought acclaim to the Tavistock. The children she worked with at home and abroad had suffered trauma, such as abuse or the death of a sibling, or were troubled by ordinary behavioural problems such as bed-wetting and sleep difficulties. Louise’s capacity to make sense of behaviour helped relieve these children of their anxieties and find more adaptive modes of coping, thereby supporting emotional growth in the family. She later set up a “brief intervention model”, which used standardised testing to measure the efficacy of this early intervention.
In the late 1980s, work with infants and their parents was largely undeveloped, with little focus on understanding the child’s inner world. In this context the Tavistock’s early intervention model was groundbreaking.
Louise was able to make swift connections with children and she wrote about the importance of this in a chapter of the book she co-edited with Elizabeth Bradley, What Can the Matter Be? (2008), called A Slow Unfolding at Double Speed. For therapeutic interventions to be effective, she said, the therapist had to combine patience with close attention to the moment.
What Can the Matter Be? distilled her and Bradley’s under-fives model and is still widely used. Her book Understanding Your Three-Year-Old was published in 2004 as part of the Tavistock’s Understanding Your Child series.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, she was the third of four children of Abraham Berkowitz, a chemical engineer, and his wife, Valerie (nee Levy), a primary school teacher. Louise did a BA in English and French at the University of Witwatersrand (1973) and a postgraduate diploma in higher education (1975) before becoming an English teacher at King Edward VII school, Johannesburg, where former pupils remember her as “inspirational”.
In 1981, she emigrated to London where, within a week, she met her future husband, Ricky Emanuel, who had just finished his training as a child and adolescent psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic, as it was then known. They married in 1982, settling in Crouch End, north London, where they had two sons, Alex and Adrian.
Fascinated by her husband’s work, Louise switched career and, after doing pre-clinical training with under-fives from deprived backgrounds at Langtry Young Family centre in Camden, did her clinical training at the Tavistock, qualifying in 1992.
She was a passionate traveller and hiker, an insatiable reader and consumer of culture – theatre, film and art – as well as a poet. In recent years, she used her therapeutic skills in work with a South African charity, Siya Phula Phula (“We listen”), to help households sometimes headed by children as young as 12, as a consequence of the death of their parent from Aids, and she trained mental health workers to support them.
This year, the Association for Infant Mental Health UK will award a Louise Emanuel prize for a significant contribution to the field of infant mental health.
Louise is survived by Ricky, by Alex and Adrian, by her mother, Valerie, and by her three brothers, Ivor, Frank and Dan.
Louise Emanuel, child psychotherapist, born 10 December 1953; died 7 May 2017