Sylvia Christine Dillon 1943-2017

03 July 2017

Sylvia was born in Bickerstaffe, Lancashire; she was the middle child with four brothers. Growing up in a male dominated household with clearly defined male and female roles led Sylvia’s determination to show that women were equal with men. As a child she was always curious and wanting to learn, sensing an affinity with the natural world. Sylvia’s academic achievements and her personal philosophy were reflected in her life-long commitment to working with people and her strong respect for their viewpoint.

Sylvia left school in 1959 at the age of 16 and worked as an audit clerk, an accountancy clerk and then as a self-employed book-keeper. Whilst working in the Finance Office at the University of Liverpool, she met her future husband Geoff whom she married in 1965. They went on to have five children, one of whom sadly died at birth. Sylvia always said that one of her greatest achievements was her family and one of her recent great pleasures was spending time with her grandchild Keziah. Sylvia looked after Geoff when he became ill until his death in 2013.

Undertaking an Open University course, Sylvia initially hoped to work as a Geography teacher. A chance meeting at a University open day led her to study psychology as a mature student at the University of Liverpool, qualifying in 1984. She then worked in a number of psychology related jobs, whilst studying part time towards a doctorate which she received from the University of Liverpool in 1991, for a thesis on computer assisted learning for adults with learning disabilities.

She was a very unique person who has made a distinctive and exemplary contribution to psychological knowledge across three applied disciplines, namely clinical, counselling and clinical neuropsychology. What was unique about Dr Dillon was her commitment to and passion about the projects in which she was involved and the inspiration and encouragement which she always offered to others.

In the 1980s, she trained as a clinical psychologist on the Lancashire course. As her career developed, she rapidly rose to a series of leadership roles beginning with an appointment as Head of Older Adult Clinical Psychology in Chorley and South Ribble District NHS Trust in 1997. Her leadership and innovatory skills have been expressed through a variety of achievements. She established a psychology service for older adults within the Lancashire Care NHS Trust and provided group supervision for multi-disciplinary staff, neuropsychological assessment, individual therapy and consultancy work. She and Geoff moved to Herefordshire in 2000-2004 where she was responsible for the design, development and delivery of a comprehensive, highly specialised psychology service for older people, their relatives and carers for the Herefordshire NHS primary Care Trust. In this work she developed her expertise in neuropsychological assessment for people with early onset dementia. She also established a counselling service for older people and contributed to the creation of a Counselling and Psychological Forum for all statutory, independent and voluntary therapists in Herefordshire.

As an academic and applied psychologist, Sylvia’s approach was much valued by counselling psychologists in the UK overall, and particularly in the northwest, where she was instrumental in setting up the Division of Counselling Psychology North West Branch, in the last seven years. Her enthusiasm and encouragement helped to grow members from ten to over a hundred in a short space of time.

She had been recently active with the University of the Third Age (U3A), developing a U3A Memory Course which has since been taught to numerous U3A groups across the country. From this she developed a course on Memory Lifestyle for the broader populace and was most recently involved in research on evaluating the impact of this course in collaboration with Ian Fletcher at Lancaster University. She took a very active role in the Faculty for the Psychology of Older people (FPOP), attending and presenting at their conferences, editing papers and taking a full part in the work of the Faculty at a local and national level. Over the years she contributed to clinical training courses in a variety of universities including Liverpool, Manchester, Bangor and Warwick and a series of NHS Trusts including Lancashire Care, Chorley and Ribble, Aintree University Hospitals and Positive Care Partnership, Merseyside. She acted as tutor, lecturer, co-ordinator, placement provider, examiner, supervisor, researcher and consultant, at all times showing insight, a constructive approach and willingness to take on responsibility. She developed a series of initiatives in the development of services for older adults in the North West of England and was the person whose advice was sought by others when they need help and support.

She was an active member of the Society and chair of a working party on neuropsychological supervision; she was part of a working party with Peter Kinderman and others who were developing a Core Programme for training courses across different psychological specialties. She convened a symposium at the 2011 BPS annual conference on “Neuropsychology and counselling psychology: complementing in clinical practice” and presented an individual paper. The fact that she was a full member of three Divisions of the Society is not insignificant. In an age where specialism is emphasised, Sylvia was innovative across the range of psychological interests and methodologies; she enjoyed fathoming out the inter-relationships between the neuro-bio-psycho-social aspects of a person, creatively supporting them to make the best of their lives. She was both a neuroscientist and a clinician with interests that range from progressive cognitive impairment and dementia to attachment, bereavement and loss. She has been innovative in the development of service provision and displayed qualities of leadership across a range of organizations.

Sylvia died of a heart attack on 22 April. At the time of her death she was not retired but actively engaged in private clinical practice and was researching into the links between childbirth and Asperger’s disease. She was also co-writing a book on Attachment and Older People with Cath Burley. Her thorough and questioning approach to any subject made her a wonderful person with whom to work. The various tributes from colleagues describe her as encouraging, supportive, cheerful, inspirational, tenacious, political, loyal,a think and do person, but also stubborn. Her children described her as having a sunny disposition, energetic and very determined and knowing her own mind. Many people remember her for her boundless energy, enthusiasm and ready laugh. Sylvia’s friendly, out-going disposition was shown throughout her life, both with family and friends and in her professional life. She leaves an amazing legacy of love and laughter and will be so much missed by family, friends, clients and colleagues.

Cath Burley, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Independent Practitioner

Pam James, Professor of Counselling Psychology, Independent Practitioner

Ray Woolfe, Counselling Psychologist