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Hellmut Karle 1932-2023

A personal tribute from Carla Stevens.

29 February 2024

I first met Hellmut Karle in 1969 after graduating with an Honours Degree in Psychology from Bristol University. The result of my first meeting with him was the creation of a new post for me, as an assistant to the team of Educational Psychologists spread around the whole county of East Sussex. Hellmut trained me in testing techniques and report writing, and for one week a month I was based in Lewes working with him; I learned so much about working as a local authority educational psychologist from my time with him, and I got to visit almost every primary and secondary school in the county! It was a truly wonderful experience for my personal and professional life and I remain extremely grateful to Hellmut for taking me under his (regular pipe smoking!) wing. I know that all his clients benefitted hugely from their interactions with him, indeed, many of his patients kept in touch with him over the years, even after he retired, expressing huge gratitude for the help and support he had given them. 

He was innovative and unconventional in his approach professionally. For example, he persuaded the East Sussex LEA to buy a Talking Typewriter (a very early and large computer devised to assist pupils struggling with dyslexia) which we used together in the Lewes primary school where it was housed. It was quite an achievement at the time to persuade the LEA to invest in such a controversial device and, of course, it proved highly successful!

Hellmut left the East Sussex LEA to become Senior Clinical Psychologist at Guys Hospital where he worked for several years, eventually becoming head of the Child Psychology services. Always innovative, he used a range of different therapies including a version of hypnotherapy which he developed himself and which proved very effective. Sadly, and much to my regret, I declined an invitation to participate in one of his sessions! As well as being a great innovator at a time when clinical psychology was becoming more widely established in the NHS, Hellmut also wrote several books based on his life experience; one such book, the Handbook of Hypnotherapy is still selling well after 35 years.

Although very much an individual (idiosyncratic some might say) in his approach, Hellmut was always modest, determined and professional and highly respected by all his colleagues. During the 1970s we regularly met for lunch and discussed his latest projects and plans, including his dream to buy a house somewhere in rural France, which he could renovate (he was an accomplished and creative DIY expert). After he retired, he did indeed move to France, and we kept in regular contact by letter; his were always long and detailed, creating a vivid picture of the successes and hardships of his and his new wife Jennie’s home improvement plans.

Meanwhile, I worked as a teacher, finding, as Hellmut often suggested, that I was applying psychology every day in the classroom, far more than when I had been IQ bashing! We reconnected many years later when my husband and I passed very near where Hellmut and Jennie lived, while walking the Camino de Santiago from Le Puy en Velais. We always kept in touch and visited them several times since.  

What a wonderful man Hellmut was; professional, always kind and helpful, with a wry smile and great charm which was useful in persuading people to get his own way! Hellmut was a wise and sensitive mentor, and I am eternally grateful for his love and friendship.