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Obituary: Ellen Noonan

Founder of Birkbeck's counselling courses

Staff in the Faculty of Lifelong Learning were saddened to hear of the death of Ellen Noonan on 23 October 2007. Ellen's relationship with Birkbeck goes back to 1972, when she set up the Certificate in Student Counselling at what was then the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, University of London. Her aim was to take psychoanalytic ideas out of the consulting room and into the workplace by training those in the 'people business', such as teachers, personnel managers, social workers and nurses.

This very successful course laid the foundation for the MSc in Psychodynamic Counselling, set up in 1994, which has now moved to the School of Psychology. Counselling courses continue to be taught in the Faculty of Lifelong Learning, attracting around 400 students each year.

Ellen helped establish the Birkbeck Counselling Association, which runs annual conferences and a monthly forum, and publishes the highly successful journal Psychodynamic Practice (Routledge). She became consultant editor and was a pivotal member of the editorial team.

Ellen could be called a charismatic leader, in that her drive, vision and determination were vital in establishing and sustaining the counselling courses which she founded. However, reflecting something about the culture of Birkbeck, she was not the kind of inspiring figure who demanded that her colleagues and students think like she did. On the contrary, she took great pleasure in helping others to develop their own ways of thinking. Characteristically, her own highly influential and sharply observed book, Counselling Young People, was not required reading for her students. She was much more interested in helping her students, and teaching colleagues, free themselves from their own inhibitions and fear of learning rather than indoctrinating them with her own ideas.

Ellen retired from Birkbeck in 1999. She continued private consultancy, her work for the journal, developed new interests and activities, and played an active part in the life of the Birkbeck Counselling Association. She will be greatly missed by her colleagues and students.