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Peter Fonagy awarded the British Academy’s prestigious Wiley Prize in Psychology

The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families' Chief Executive, Professor Peter Fonagy, has been awarded the Wiley Prize for lifetime achievement in Psychology.

He is being recognised for ground-breaking work that has had a major impact on social policy on early childcare, adoption and fostering.

The British Academy awards the prize every two years to an outstanding international scholar. It has never before been awarded to a British academic.

Professor Fonagy’s research demonstrated that having a secure attachment to a parent or caregiver helps children to develop the ability to understand their own and others’ thoughts and feelings. This capacity, which he termed ‘mentalization’, is uniquely characteristic of humans but individual differences have been shown to influence personality development and mental health in both the short and longer term. He has shown that these abilities are passed from caregiver to child, not genetically but via the quality of childcare.

His research into mentalization has also been extended to psychotherapy for patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This group, characterised by difficulties with emotion regulation and impulse control, and unstable relationships and self-image, were previously often seen as ‘untreatable’.

With Anthony Bateman, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at St Anne’s Hospital, London, Professor Fonagy developed and evaluated mentalization-based treatment (MBT), which has had a major impact on clinical practice for the treatment of patients with BPD in the UK (NICE CG 78) and internationally. It has also been used with other common mental health problems, including eating disorders and substance misuse, and in a range of clinical settings.

The Honourable Michael Samuel, Chair of Trustees of the Centre said: “We are delighted that Peter has received this recognition. He has been an energetic and exceptionally successful academic leader of the Centre and has overseen its growth from a local mental health provider to a national centre for child mental health”. 

Professor Fonagy said: “Naturally, I feel deeply honoured to receive this award which I feel recognizes my many collaborators over nearly four decades of research whose contribution I am delighted to join in celebrating.”

Read a one to one with Peter Fonagy.