Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

The James Nayler Foundation


The James Nayler Foundation was a Quaker inspired charity, born out of the publicity surrounding Bob Johnson's work with those suffering the most extreme forms of Personality Disorder; the violently dangerous men in a special unit in Parkhurst Prison. His work with this group of people was widely reported in the papers and on television, and gave hope that understanding and treatment was possible. It was named after James Nayler, the early Quaker who spoke movingly on his deathbed about the spirit in us all.

The Foundation worked with people suffering emotional distress.  This is often described or diagnosed as Personality or Conduct Disorder.  Many were in prison, or in secure hospitals. Others were in the community where despite recent increases in talking therapies, there is still a lack of compassion and understanding.  Families, friends and sufferers are often in despair about what to do and where to turn.

The Foundation sought to maintain a positive approach to the potential in each person to change. It took for granted that Personality Disorders and Conduct Disorders relate to earlier traumatic experiences. The model was simple -- children growing up require a sound parental attachment. Where this attachment is robust, damage from childhood trauma is ephemeral -- where it is not, there are long-term effects. The individual becomes 'frozen' at an infantile stage - survival strategies painfully and deeply learnt in infancy continue into adult life. Adult reasoning and adult survival strategies need to be developed.

The Foundation had an unshakable belief that everyone is born ‘Lovable, Sociable and Non-Violent’ and that through ‘Truth, Trust and Consent’ solutions are always possible.  Their experience was that no one is beyond understanding and help.  They never gave up. These values reflected Quaker values of ‘that of God in everyone’.

The Foundation was started in June 1997 as a non-profit making company. It became a charity in April 1999. As a consequence of the setting up of the Foundation, many hundreds of individuals, professionals and organisations wrote in, giving financial and moral support to enable work for Personality Disordered people to continue to be developed.

The aims of the Foundation were
  1. To advance the education of the public in the causes and treatment of Personality and Conduct Disorders.
  2. To relieve the need, hardship or distress of persons suffering from Personality and Conduct Disorders, their family and friends and others affected by the behaviour of such persons.

The work of the Foundation led to questioning the role of Compulsory Treatment Orders, Compulsory detention, and imprisonment, in particular of the ill, children and mothers, and of the role of medication within psychiatry.  The Foundation’s conferences provided a forum for people’s voices to be heard.  Sufferers and recoverers addressed the conferences as well as professionals who questioned current thinking and outlined new ways of working.  All conference proceedings were recorded and published, and have served to create more optimism and hope in this much misunderstood area.

Questioning orthodoxy is not easy or comfortable.  The Foundation’s work with emotional distress shed new light on many areas of social concern – mental health, homelessness, civil liberties, torture, peace, justice, prisons.  It believes that fear is toxic to community.

This challenge to orthodox practice reflects a history of Quaker work with mental health issues stretching back to the Retreat and William Tuke’s inspirational leadership in changing accepted brutal dehumanising processes. The James Nayler Foundation represented all that is hopeful in Quaker values in seeking the good in each person and realising the possibility of transformation through truth, trust and consent.

The Foundation established an Emotion Support Centre on the Isle of Wight,  to develop training, conduct research and provide emotion support.  This will build on previous experience of developing and running an Emotion Support Centre on the.  it successfully developed innovative means of support both face to face and using new communication technologies. 


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