Iñigo Tolosa- Obituary

McLoughlin, J., Bell, B., 2015. Iñigo Tolosa- Obituary. Reformulation, Winter, pp.36-8.

The tragic death of Iñigo Tolosa earlier this year shocked and saddened people in the CAT community and beyond. Iñigo died on 10th March 2015, aged 46.

Jeanette McLoughlin and Bill Bell from the Midlands branch of the Association of Cognitive Analytic Therapy have written an obituary, a Goodbye Letter to Iñigo and collated a number of comments and reflections from colleagues, MCAT and from Iñigo’s memorial service in May.

Obituary - Iñigo Tolosa
Iñigo was from the Basque region of Spain and initially trained in medicine for three years before changing his focus to psychology. He graduated from the Clinical Psychology Doctorate programme at Birmingham University in 1998. Iñigo had an interest in health psychology and after initially working in Dudley, he was appointed as a Senior Clinical Psychologist for the Cancer Service based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham in 2002 by Professor David J de L Horne. Under Iñigo’s leadership, the service at the QE flourished and in recent years, he became the Acting Head of Clinical Health Psychology for Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. Iñigo was one of the leading figures in the UK in the psychological aspects of cancer care through his work with the British Psychosocial Oncology Society and the Division of Clinical Psychology’s Special Interest Group for Oncology and Palliative Care. He made a significant contribution to the document, ‘National Improving Outcomes Guidance for Psychological Care in Oncology’, guidelines that set standards for services across the NHS. Dr Ray Owen, who was a peer of Iñigo, has noted that this document made a huge difference to the quality of care of thousands of people. Locally, Iñigo’s achievements were honoured in 2013 when he was awarded University Hospitals Trust, ‘Dignity In Care’ section of the Best in Care awards.

Iñigo was a talented therapist and he was accredited in both CBT and CAT. He was a valued supervisor for clinical psychology trainees and he also taught regularly on the Birmingham Clinical Psychology Doctorate course. Iñigo led other training courses for psychological practitioners and medical staff.

Iñigo had a passionate interest in CAT. He was a CAT Psychotherapist, an accredited supervisor, and he played a major role in the establishment of the West Midlands CAT Practitioner training in 2009. He was the secretary of the Midlands Branch of the Association of Cognitive Analytic Therapy (MCAT) for over 10 years. From 2008, he also made a valuable contribution to the International Cognitive Analytic Therapy Association (ICATA) and he was the treasurer for several years. Iñigo also collaborated with colleagues to help develop CAT in Spain and he organised the successful ICATA conference in Malaga in 2013. As Steve Potter recalls, Iñigo attended all the annual general meetings and telephone conferences, and had greetings for everyone across all time zones with the right language and the right time of day.

Iñigo had many professional achievements. However, he was also deeply devoted to family life; his wife Egus and their sons, Alex and Daniel.

Iñigo was a talented, engaging, generous and energising soul who touched the lives of many colleagues, peers, clients and his family and friends. He will be sadly missed by many including us in the CAT community.

Reflections & Comments
“He would always greet you with such warmth and was genuinely pleased to see you; you were always acknowledged.”

“Inigo was vibrant, enthusiastic, larger than life, kind, thoughtful, compassionate, energetic, welcoming, hopeful, supportive, selfless, full of life, a great academic and clinician, a real gentleman.”

“If you hear me say something with conviction it’s because I absolutely believe it, not because I’m right!” That was typical of his style – facilitative, interested and supportive, never the ‘expert’.

“You will be overwhelmed I am sure with the huge number of tributes and reluctant “goodbyes”, if you could read them. I wish you could have known and felt how much you were valued and loved and wish this could have sustained you, even at the darkest hour you had when life didn’t seem worth living.”

“Inigo was someone who stood out from the crowd.”

“Inigo seemed to have that special quality in a supervisor (and I would add as a therapist) where he was able to challenge and push his supervisees whilst keeping them contained. This influenced their learning greatly.”

“I was applying for a clinical psychology post in physical health and contacted him by email for any pointers on using CAT in that setting. He responded immediately and very helpfully and I was struck by his generosity of spirit, professionalism, and kindness in equal measure.”

“Inigo was singular in his warmth as well as his intellect. There aren’t too many colleagues who sign off their feedback to three professional collaborators with ‘Big hugs’. I know I am one of many who will miss him.”

“Humble, warm, friendly, human, compassionate, honest, genuine, full of integrity, enthusiastic, dynamic, generous, kind, a smile that could light up a room full of people, such a presence.”

Goodbye Letter
We hope that the CAT community and the readership of Reformulation will recognise that whilst we have tried in this letter to capture the views of many people, inevitably our goodbye letter is a reflection of our personal grief.

Dear Iñigo,
This is a goodbye letter from two of your colleagues and friends on behalf of MCAT. Inigo, as we are writing this letter we are aware that the people reading it will range from those who knew you very well and have been deeply touched by your death to others that may be reading your name for the first time.

We are writing as colleagues who knew and worked with you for many years. However, we are grieving too for your loss and we have come to this letter from a particular place within our own hearts. We have also found ourselves in a dilemma; on the one hand wanting to protect you from the speculation about your death that has felt so intrusive and on the other our commitment to the core values of CAT of openness and integrity to the truth as we know it. We now know from the inquest that you took your own life. This leaves many unanswered questions and a deep sense of bewilderment and shock. We have chosen in our letter to focus on what we know of you Iñigo as our colleague and friend; to acknowledge your extraordinary life and the unique and generous person that we knew. And so we move to your life Iñigo: who you were as a person and your relationship with CAT and the CAT community. You were a CAT Psychotherapist, an accredited supervisor and an experienced trainer. Never doing things by half , you shuttled between Birmingham and Guys Hospital in London for your psychotherapy training at a time when teaching, seminars and sometimes even therapy were part of the very long training days. Your dissertation, focusing on CAT and working with people with cancer, brought together two areas in which you were to excel.

In the Midlands CAT (MCAT) world, you were one of a keen group that started out in the 2000s as a practitioner trainee under the supervision of Val Crowley and Brian Kiely: kittens into CATs, as we sometimes say. You became secretary for MCAT for over a decade and, along with colleagues, saw CAT flourish in the region. You always brought your infectious enthusiasm, and gave your time willingly and with a generous spirit. We now have more people trained in the region than before and you were an integral part of these developments.

In thinking about you and about CAT, we reflected on what might have drawn you to this approach. Words like interpersonal, integrative, inclusive, flexible and relational describe core themes in CAT but they also have a clear connection with both your personality and your professional practice. It would have been easy for you to have excelled in any model and so your attachment to CAT tells us that alongside your drive and achievements, you had integrity. You were willing to invest in an approach that was less well established than other models, because you believed in it passionately.

In CAT, we believe that to be a therapist, and to “do” therapy with people, it’s important to have been a client too. It is a tribute to your openness and humility that you embraced this process. It was your ability to skilfully weave yourself as a human being into your work that made you such a special therapist and supervisor. You were ‘real’ with people whilst gently holding your professional ‘frame’. We knew you as someone with an incisive intellect and as a dedicated professional psychologist. However, you also let people see the ‘human’ sides. We smile when we remember the piles of papers and cups in your office or you arriving in full cycling lycra for our peer supervision or an important meeting!

Many people have talked about how you related to others. Although you were an expert in CAT, you were modest, encouraging and valuing of other people, regardless of whether they were just starting out or experienced peers. You could bring energy and playfulness into a room and people would be invited to share in your passion and optimism. You were enormously compassionate and kind, and made others feel cared for and supported. These personal qualities will be familiar to anyone who knew and worked with you. They make us think about reciprocal roles like ‘energising to inspired’ and ‘respecting to valued’. Together with your professional achievements the way that you related to people contributed to why you were held in such high esteem.

It is so difficult to know what to make of your death. We know from our own feelings and talking to others that there are many responses: disbelief, sadness, anger, and confusion. These feelings are painfully magnified by the tragic way in which we lost you: you were just 46 when you died. We will each come to your death with our knowledge of you, our own feelings and our own relationship with loss. Your passing will have a unique resonance for each of us.

But perhaps what we will share is being reminded in your death of our shared humanity and vulnerability. It is easy to forget the vulnerability of those who we see shining, and who are held in high esteem by so many colleagues and clients.

And what of the future? Well we might take a leaf from your book Iñigo. You described the observing eye we might help our clients to develop as the “kindest and wisest”. Perhaps we might all embrace this in how we make our own personal sense of your death, in how we remember you and in how we help ourselves in the painful process of grieving the loss of a very dear colleague and friend. Many of us heard you speak with enormous pride about your family; your wife Egus and your sons Alex and Daniel. In living our lives, we might remember Egus’s wish expressed at the memorial service that “we will all hold onto our own personal memories of Iñigo, but if you can, please just remember one thing- he lived his life with such joy and with one thought always in mind……….CARPE DIEM”

Dear Iñigo, we miss you terribly but we will also cherish and celebrate what you gave to us as your colleagues and friends.


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Full Reference

McLoughlin, J., Bell, B., 2015. Iñigo Tolosa- Obituary. Reformulation, Winter, pp.36-8.

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