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Paul Wilkins remembers Pete Sanders

by LJ
Published on 17 February 2022

Paul Wilkins here remembers Pete Sanders.


Pete Sanders  1951-2022


My friend and collaborator Pete Sanders, champion of the Person-Centred Approach, Co-founder of PCCS Books, loving husband, father, step-father and grandfather, died suddenly at home on Saturday 5th February.  He was greatly liked, admired and loved and the news flashed around the world.  The counselling and psychotherapy community responded to the news with shock and dismay.  Pete was also well-known to and supportive of those who challenged conventional psychiatry.  They too reacted as did many others. There were many tributes on social media.  As you might expect, Pete’s friends, colleagues and collaborators shared their feelings of loss and their memories of him.  There were also tributes from people who knew him only from his books and in particular First Steps in Counselling and Next Steps in Counselling Practice.  These had helped them as they trained to become practitioners. Another large group of tributes started with something like ‘I only met Pete once but he answered my question helpfully and with warmth.’ These personal stories of what Pete had meant to them were moving and demonstrate just how important and influential he was.

It’s for Pete professional life that he will be most widely remembered.  He is known for the books he wrote or edited, the chapters he contributed to other books and his presentations.  As the co-founder (with Maggie Taylor-Sanders) of PCCS Books, he encouraged and supported others to write about aspects of person-centred theory and practice. Also, he saw to it that some of the pre-existing writing of the doyens of client-centred therapy were collected and re-published.  For example, Pete was particularly proud of ‘To Lead an Honorable Life’ a collection of the work of John Shlien (an early colleague of Carl Rogers) which he edited.  Pete told of how he spent weeks in John Shlien’s dusty cellar reading and collating old papers and eventually brought them together as a book. With Pete’s guidance, PCCS Books expanded its remit.  Now Person-Centred and Experiential Theory and Practice is only one of the twenty one categories under which the output of the company is listed.  Of these other categories perhaps ‘Service-user and Survivor Perspectives’ was one which Pete thought particularly significant.

Although it had always  been of importance to him, more recently Pete turned his attention to issues of social injustice, discrimination and the experience of disadvantaged groups.  He addressed these through writing, editing and supporting others (particularly those from marginalised groups) to write or collate content for publication.  He and Janet Tolan recently finished editing a book on demedicalising distress, People not Pathology: Demedicalised Counselling and Psychotherapy in Theory and Practice.  Also in preparation is a book on class in counselling edited (with Pete’s support) by Clare Slaney.  He was proactive in seeking to encourage and support as writers and editors people who are ‘different’ from the straight, male, white, middle class, well-educated group to which he (and I) belong. 

Of course there was much more to Pete than his work.  He was a great teller of stories. He loved to tell anyone who’d listen about Mother’s, a music venue in Birmingham where, in the late 60s, he saw many bands who went on to become world famous. He’d talk too of his pub quiz team The Seven Pillocks of Wisdom.  They rarely won but I got the impression that was part of the fun. He had so many stories and they were told many times but always entertainingly.  Pete really enjoyed growing fruit and vegetables.  More than once he told me that he’d rather be doing that than write or manage PCCS Books.  He was halfway to being serious. He was generous – with his time, his support, encouragement and (with Maggie) his hospitality.  He was also occasionally grumpy, opinionated, stubborn and a little too easily persuaded by what he read on Twitter (or so some us thought).  In other words, he was fully human.  Pete had no interest in fame.  He didn’t work to promote his own voice but to ensure the voices of others would be heard.  Ever since I was asked to write a tribute to Pete, the word that keeps popping into my head to describe him is ‘mensch’.   I’ve never knowingly used the word before but that’s what he was, an honest, decent, morally-principled person.

Many of us who knew him, as a friend or colleague, through his books, chapters or social media or who met him at a conference or at one of his many presentations were changed by the encounter.  Perhaps you met him through the books in the ‘Steps’ series, heard him talk about the importance of demedicalising distress or he responded to your question in his usual, warm, helpful and interested way.  However you knew Pete, it’s likely he had significance for you.  Pete neither expected nor wanted us to uncritically accept what he had to say. He would have liked each of us to think about what we’d heard or read and to find our own ways of making sense of what he said and to make use of it in our own way.

Pete Sanders is dead but his work, his passion and, most of all, his belief in the inherent worth of human beings live on.  Each and every one of us whose life he touched carries within us some part of him. 

Paul Wilkins, February 2022