Obituary: Professor Sir Michael (Mike) Rutter


A personal reflection

In 1972, Mike published Maternal Deprivation Reviewed. It’s a thin volume, written in dry academic style, but it’s a tour de force. In the book, he examines John Bowlby’s theory of connectivity, particularly the impact on children of separation from their mothers, with his behavioral accuracy, and he concludes that some aspects of the theory, such as claim that only mothers can be connection numbers for young people. children, unable to stand. His interest in the topic may have been based on his own separation from his parents when he was deported from England to the United States at the start of the second world war. The unique feature of Mike’s book is his ability to analyze the evidence for and against Bowlby’s views. It is a symbol of all of Mike’s work; a forensic examination of empirical evidence is the root of everything he does. Bowlby, of course, remains the leading number in the field of connectivity, but he has come to the same conclusions as Mike on some specific issues. Maternal Deprivation Reviewed, and later Helping Troubled Children, are the books that inspired me as a young undergraduate to become a developmental psychologist. Not only do they present the study of children’s development as a useful endeavor, but they also provide insight into how a better understanding of children’s difficulties can lead to better solutions for their problems. psychologically. For many new psychologists in the past, these books were like a call to arms.

I first met Mike in the fall of 1976. Recently enrolled in the Master of child development course at the Institute of Education in London, I had just started studying children in lesbian mother families. It’s hard to describe how much anger there is against lesbian mothers these days. Divorced heterosexual mothers are subject to great prejudice and discrimination; Lesbian mothers are more than pale. In this social climate Mike is called upon to act as an expert witness in child custody cases involving lesbian mothers. With his constant looking at the evidence, or in this case, its lack, Mike argues that there is no good scientific reason to deny custody of homosexuals to their children because of their sexual orientation. He also believes that good empirical data is needed on what exactly happens to children with gay mothers, so when he heard about my recent study of children in gay mother families, I was called to meet him. A body of research has begun to change the way in which lesbian mothers are treated and viewed. Most child psychiatrists these days would not have touched on this controversial topic with a barge pole. For Mike, the issue is an empirical one. She does everything to support research on whether the outcomes for children with gay mothers are, as she puts it, ‘good, bad, or indifferent’, and to ensure that this research is conducted to the highest degree. possible patterns. Mike has been an iconoclast all along.

I won’t pretend it’s easy to work with Mike. He’s a strict supervisor, and we have misunderstandings based on generational differences, like whether the word gay should, or shouldn’t, have inverted commas. Mike supports the former. This is one of the few arguments I have won! But I learned more from him than anyone I had ever met in academic life. He was very generous with his time, sending 10-page memos familiar to those he worked with. Their arrival in the past has scared me, but I also know that the issues can make the research so much better. The end of such memos awaits me when I return to my office after the third Covid lockdown; it was a handwritten letter with his thoughts on my latest book.

I realized Mike enjoyed a good argument. When I learned to stand up for myself, there was a twinkle in his eye, and our conversations became more enjoyable. Mike’s interest in lesbian mothers is a little-known part of his many accomplishments, but this job isn’t very serious without his weight behind it. Mike has always been committed to social justice and the proper use of research, not only to improve people’s lives, but also to change social attitudes. She was a man before her time supporting gay mothers in the courts of law in the mid -1970s. More than 40 years ago, in 2019, we were both tickled to see that our early, and somewhat obscure, article about children in lesbian mother families was included in a selection of her papers to be republished. to celebrate the 60thth anniversary edition of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Some are more qualified than me to honor Mike’s intellectual achievements and unparalleled research contributions in the fields of child development, child psychiatry, and developmental psychopathology, for which he has been given numerous awards. His work on the etiology of child psychiatric disorders, the intergenerational transmission of psychiatric disorders, autism, childhood risk and resilience, social influences on child adaptation, and the interplay between genes and the environment – just to name in some of the areas he has influenced – is changing, and it has had a significant influence on policy and practice around the world. He has the capacity to identify the most important questions, and to never stop his search for answers. For Mike, identifying mechanisms is always key.

At a time when childhood and adolescent mental health problems are on the rise, Mike’s work is more important than ever. His contribution is immense, especially in its accuracy and integrity, and will continue to inform solutions to children’s problems for decades to come.

The post Obituary: Professor Sir Michael (Mike) Rutter first appeared in Child and Family Blog.



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