Alongside the emergence of Freud’s ideas in the 1910s experimental psychologists began measuring and mapping human behaviour. The idea of an inner life gained increasing vogue particularly after the Great War when doctors treating shell-shock discovered that the ‘talking cure’ greatly ameliorated the well-being of their patients.   Psychological assessment based on understanding the causes of behavioural disturbances, and thus treatability,  increasingly challenged notions that behaviours were genetically determined. These were new ideas, perhaps not widely accepted and liable to marginalisation. In Western Australian the state’s first Psychological Clinic was opened on 1 July 1926 after a period of lobbying and discussion among senior mental health officials and government ministers. Despite its success the Clinic was closed down after a change of government in 1930, ministers pleading the need to cut expenditure in this year that the Depression hit – a saving of about fifteen hundred pounds a year. It was expedient, perhaps. The clinic was a minor part of the state’s mental health provision. Perhaps there were gender issues. The clinic was headed by the State Psychologist, Ethel Turner Stoneman. In the end,protracted lobbying especially by women’s organisations, resulted in the clinic’s reopening in 1937.

Ethel Stoneman, born in 1890, attended Claremont Teachers College in Perth from 1909. Upon the opening of the University of Western Australia in 1913 she had enrolled in the first course in experimental psychology developed by Professor Philip Le Couteur upon his arrival from Bonn in 1913. In 1924 Stoneman completed postgraduate study specialising in special needs children , to use today’s parlance, at Stanford University before returning to Australia in 1925 and setting about lobbying the Western Australian Government to set up a psychology clinic. In its first year, according to The West Australian newspaper published on 8 August 1927, 214 parents, relatives or guardians of children were interviewed. 350 people were treated; medical examinations were provided for 83 and 60 people were  referred for psychiatric care. A nurse-social worker was appointed to see clinic patients and conduct home visits. Liaison with the Education Department resulted in 567 state school children being assessed by clinic personnel.Referrals came from doctors, schools, the Children’s Court, the Supreme Court and from prisons.

‘I had a splendid time in Perth’. Ethel Stoneman told Journalist Keith Newman in 1936. ‘We were pioneering something new to the state, and something in which we firmly believed’. The team consisted of a doctor specialising in children’s ailments, RH Crisp; Dr Donald McKenzie who worked with adults – comprising two-thirds of the caseload by the time the clinic closed in 1930; a pathologist and specialist in mental diseases. But the annual budget was spare – only three thousand pounds per year for the entire state. Not much even for a state as sparsely populated as Western Australia.

The Clinic, set up in the old Observatory Buildings in Perth, contained an ‘Analysis Room’ furnished with comfortable chairs, a couch and table. Standard for the time, the Analysis Room also contained a cupboard in which the galvanometer was kept. This machine  monitored physiological changes in patients as they spoke, or freely associated to words given by the practitioner. A second  ‘Interview Room’ was more sparsely furnished. This was a space in which children together with their families could be interviewed,Ethel Stoneman wrote. Interviews, rather than being fact-finding enterprises, could be utilised to explore ways in which troubled relationships could be ameliorated.  Ethel Stoneman also regretted calling her organisation a ‘clinic’. ” It is highly important to avoid the hospital atmosphere,” she said. It was inhumane. The word ‘clinic’ is a ‘hospital term’.

The Clinic’s closure was the subject of immediate protest. On 27 November 1930, shortly after the announcement that the clinic was to be closed down the Western Mail noted that ‘a deputation claiming to represent 10,000 women’ had waited on the Minister for Health to request reconsideration. At a joint meeting of the Women’s Justices Association and the Women’s Services Guild on 2 December 1930 a motion was carried deploring the closure of the clinic as a faulty way of cutting costs.  Proceedings were published in the West Australian on 3 December 1930.

The report of the Women Justices’ Association stated at the outset that, in the majority of cases, the cause of juvenile delinquency could be removed if the necessary steps were taken at the right time. At present, there was no modern Children’s Court in Western Australia, based on sound psychological investigation and treatment, and the procedure at the existing institution was not altogether calculated to obtain the best results for the child. There was absolute necessity for evolving some better method of dealing with the young delinquent before he had time and opportunity to harden into an habitual criminal. nal. Under the present system, the community was saddled with the huge expense of courts, officers, gaols, warders, maintenance of prisoners, and so on, and no return was received for this expenditure, either in hard cash or in the reformation of criminals.Experts agreed, the report proceeded, that delinquency was a symptom of mal adjustment to environment, and the first duty of a court should be, not as hitherto, to punish wrongdoing, but to find out why it took place, to endeavour to remove the cause, and to indicate the steps which must be taken in order to prevent a repetition of the trouble.

During the next five years lobbying continued, from women’s’ organisations, from religious and ‘missionary’ based organisations. Increasingly central was the notion that behaviour, determined by environment – not genetics – could be understood and treated. Combing through the National Library of Australia’s Newspaper archive one discovers  Press reports of the to-ing and fro-ing of young men and women travelling abroad to study – amongst them specialists in work with children. Alongside these are reports of doings and developments in child psychology and treatment in Europe, – including the work of August Aichhorn, one of Freud’s followers, who had opened one of the first child guidance clinics in Vienna. Australian people were, potentially, well informed about psychology. There was also news of developments in psychoanalysis. During Dr Kathleen Costello’s return to Sydney from London in 1930. Costello, who had qualified as a children’s specialist at London’s major hospitals spoke of the work of Frau [Melanie Klein whose work was to become central to psychoanalytic theory and the subject of considerable controversy in the next decade.

Wonderful child psychology works are being done in England,’ she said. ‘Everyone is particularly interested in the original methods of one doctor, Frau Klein, who works on a system of her own. ‘She lets the children play in a huge play ground in her own house, and watches them at their games, sometimes giving them set games to play. She then treats them according to their behaviour. She has had remarkable results, especially with intractable children. She’ does not beat about the bush, with parents, either.’ 

Reports such as this went no further even as others encouraged consideration of the impact of environmental issues on the internal life of the child. During a stop-over in Western Australia in February 1933 H J C Forster, then president of the Young Mens Christian Association pointed out that the lack of psychological services was out of step with developments in other parts of Australia. Indeed relationships within the family were critical to the well being of young people.Forster expressed regret that State Psychological Clinic in Western Australia had been discontinued.The West Australian reported:

A well organised child guidance clinic, he said, was an essential part of all effective social welfare activities and it was to be hoped that the Government would ‘before long re-establish this work. He referred to the good which was being accomplished along these lines in Victoria by the recently formed Victorian Council of Mental Hygiene, which had grown out of the neurological section of the British Medical Association and included representatives of the Education Department,- social welfare organisations, children’s courts and other bodies. At the present time it was conducting a child guidance clinic, investi gating and treating cases brought under its notice. The whole success of such activities, however, depended upon the ‘follow up’ work of the social worker or probation officer after the potentialities of a child had been determined and his development begun on a higher plane. 

After the closure of the clinic Ethel Stoneman travelled to the United Kingdom to complete her doctorate in child psychology. She returned to Perth in 1934 to continued agitation to re -open the clinic. It was not re opened until 1937 by which time she had moved on to the eastern states to work as a consultant.