Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Duncan Law: “It all started with Hull”

Dr Duncan Law (BSc Psychology, 1987) is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Anna Freud Centre, the international child mental health charity. He has over 25 years experience working across the NHS, Higher Education, and the third sector. He is currently Clinical Lead for the London & South East Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme, (CYP IAPT) and is an Honorary Senior Lecturer at University College London. 

In addition he is a board member of the Association for Child and Adult Mental Health, (ACAMH), a founder member of the Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC), and was a project executive of the MindEd learning e-portal and former Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology’s Faculty for children, young people and their families.He has a particular interest in improving mental health services for children & young people, through better evidence-based and collaborative practice, and by helping professionals understand and deal with children’s mental health problems.  His Daughter Maggie starts a BSc Sport Rehabilitation at Hull later this year. Join Dr Law on Twitter at @drduncanlaw

Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Duncan Law, (BSc Psychology, 1987)

My career has all been a bit of an accident. At least, nothing was planned. I’m not one of those people who had a five year plan, and yet I’ve done alright. In fact I’ve achieved more than I ever thought I could, far outreaching the low expectations of my pre-Hull self. I have worked as a psychologist across the NHS, Universities and the voluntary sector, managed services, invented measures, written books and advised governments, led faculties in the British Psychological Society and led policy implementation for the Department of Health and NHS England. It all started with Hull.


Well, it nearly all started with Hull. In fact it started just before with the ‘decision’ that led me into a career in psychology. I say ‘decision’ as it was more an act of ‘oppositional defiance’ or at least ‘assertive resistance’ that led me into psychology.  It’s 1982 in a small suburb of Rotherham at a big comprehensive school, and a sixteen year old me is called into the Deputy Head’s office. I don’t remember her name but I do remember the room (hot, intimidating) and her horn-rimmed glasses.  It was an interview to justify my choice of A-levels, and she wasn’t happy.

Version 2
A portrait of the clinical psychologist as a young man


“So Law…..” (she uses my surname to keep an authoritative distance)  “So Law, tell me about your A level choices”


I reply “maths, biology, geography”


“No!” (Harsh!) “You can’t do those. There is nothing you can do with that combination! You will never have a job or a career with those A Levels. Why do you want to do them?”


“They are the subjects that interest me….” (And there it was, the guiding rule throughout my career. Not a five-year plan, but a plan to do what interests me).

She gave me a week to find something I could do with my chosen subjects. I spent hours in the library (the internet wasn’t even an idea back then). Hours and hours until I found ‘BSc Psychology’ (or it found me) in a pristine University of Hull Prospectus circa 1981. I had no idea what psychology was. It seemed to be about people, (interesting….) behaviour, thinking, (wait, people study thinking?) The A-level requirements were a good fit. I had my prize.

So I applied to study psychology. But why Hull? It interested me.

I visited; the people were friendly. The Union bar was the coolest place I’d ever been.  And the course? I had no idea what it was, but it turned out to be fantastic.


A BSc in Psychology taught me empiricism, the importance of evidence, rigour, and it taught me how to think.  Most importantly of all it engendered a curiosity in me about how we are and what we can be. It taught me to argue, to shape my views. It turned me from an oppositional kid from a very small part of the world into a questioning grown-up with an enthusiasm to learn and explore. It showed me a bigger world in which to adventure.


So then, I get my degree (1987), I meet the love of my life and I move to London.

A few months working in a market research telephone interviewing room (I needed the money and met some really interesting people – mostly actors and models – following their dreams). I was offered a job as a marketing exec but resigned on my first day to follow my dream of a career in psychology. A few years followed as a research assistant at what was then the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster). I started a PhD but I never finished it (it didn’t interest me) but did get invited to do more and more teaching, applying psychology to the business studies courses.

I wrote the first ever Psychology for Business module for the BA Business Studies, which is now a full MSc course. I was asked to teach at the European Business School and Birkbeck, which was wonderful. But I was restless.

I felt I would be more fulfilled applying psychology to other areas, but which? So I got married (Catherine Mills, BA European Studies, 1986) and took 6 months travelling India and East Africa, calling in on and working for ‘Health Projects Abroad’ a Tanzanian charity.


Back in the UK I took a job at St Clement’s hospital as a nursing assistant and then Assistant Psychologist. Next stop: UCL for my Clinical Psychology training and a doctorate in the bag.

I took the most interesting job I could find working across inpatient and outpatient services for children and young people with mental health difficulties in Hertfordshire.

I thought I would work for two years there but ended up being there 17, working across all areas of child mental health and with fantastic people who shared my interest in trying to improve things. We invented the Choice and Partnership Approach (CAPA).

CORCAfter this, a group of clinicians got together to set up the Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC), and I developed a tool to measure children and young people’s progress to their therapy goals: the Goals Based Outcome (GBO) tool.

I took on the role of the Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology’s ‘Children, young people and their families faculty’, which led to working with the Department of Health to develop the biggest transformation of child mental health services ever seen: Children and Young Peoples’ Improving Access to Psychological therapies (CYP IAPT).

ACAMHAlong the way I became a Trustee of children’s charity Young Minds, a board member of ACAMH, (the Association for Child and Adult Mental Health), and throughout all this had the privilege to work with some fantastic colleagues and equally fantastic children, young people and families.


All of this followed the curiosity and wish to apply psychological theory to real world problems that Hull had instilled in me, and by doing what interested me.


af-logo-green-newRight now I am a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Anna Freud Centre and Clinical Lead for Children and Young Peoples’ Improving Access to Psychological therapies (CYP IAPT) across London and the South East.

But where next? Well, for me I will wait and see what takes my interest. For my daughter Maggie however, her next step is fixed: she will be starting a Degree in Sports Rehabilitation at Hull in September 2016.

I hope it will be the start of as big an adventure for her as it has been for me…

©Dr Duncan Law, BSc Psychology 1986


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