Dr Sid Bindemann: an appreciation

THE Reverend Dr Sidney (‘Sid’) Bindemann, who has died aged 87, is rightly regarded as a founding figure within the field of psycho-oncology.

When in the 1970s he was appointed Principal Clinical Psychologist to the Department of Clinical Oncology within the University of Glasgow, it was the first full-time appointment of its kind in the UK. Cancer Research UK described his research activities of those days as “innovative and pioneering”.

Aside from being a founding member of several European and UK-based societies focused on psycho-oncology he was Hon. Senior Lecturer in Glasgow University’s Oncology Department, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Beatson Oncology Centre, and director and founder of the Scottish cancer charity, the Phoenix Cancer Foundation.

Paying tribute, Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “The Department of Oncology was established at the University of Glasgow in 1974. It was an exciting time in caring for cancer patients as new procedures and treatments were just being developed.

“But central to the work of the Department was to recognise that patients, and their families, had significant experience of cancer and that we could learn from them how things could be improved.

“Sid Bindemann was an essential part of this process by finding out just how useful this knowledge could be and using this to improve patient care and quality of life. His own background in psychology was particularly helpful and he had an important role in this process.

“This was pioneering work in which Sid had an important role, and improved the lives of patients with cancer, not just in Glasgow but beyond.”

Sid operated with great skill, compassion and sensitivity. He had the ability to know what to say and when. Perhaps more importantly, he also knew when to be silent and to just listen. Whether caring for a patient nearing the end of life, or a relative or friend, or a fellow healthcare worker who was experiencing difficulties, his ability to support was something to behold.

His innovative and pioneering coping techniques and strategies were often transformational and helped many to cope during the most challenging of circumstances. Even in 2020, when he was in frail health but still determined to positively contribute to the wellbeing of cancer patients and their relatives, he published a book (available via Amazon) he had written some years before, entitled “Living and Coping with Cancer…..Help and Support Through Letters from a Friend”.

In the words of Professor of Cancer Medicine at Oxford University, Professor David Kerr, “This book will contribute to improving the quality of life and mental health of cancer patients around the globe”.

Born in Peterborough in 1933, Sid was the youngest of six children. Leaving school with no qualifications, he joined the Salvation Army and was posted as Corps Officer in Stonehouse, Lanarkshire. Feeling somewhat unfulfilled, he attended the Congregational Church College and associated faculty at Edinburgh University.

He was ordained into the Christian ministry at School Wynd Congregational Church, Paisley, in 1959. It was here that he met his wife, Christine whom he married in 1961. Having served as a minister for several years he felt there was more he could and should be doing. Cancer, and cancer care, became his burning passion and, coupled with a strong interest in psychology, he changed direction.

In the mid-1960s he gained a place at Cardiff University, obtaining a Batchelor’s degree in Psychology, prior to a Master’s Degree at Strathclyde University in 1974, followed by his PhD at Glasgow University in 1980.

The Christian ministry and the life of faith, however, remained central to his life. He returned to the ministry in 1984, alongside his clinical practice, as Minister for Broomhill Trinity Congregational Church, Glasgow. He remained a leading figure in both the ministry and as a clinical psychologist in the Greater Glasgow area until his retirement in 1999.

Most importantly, he was husband to Christine and dad to Karl, Neil and Martin. His family were his refuge from the stresses of his professional life. He was happiest and at his most relaxed with his family.

He was a guide, a mentor, a confidant and a friend. He was determined to provide for his family. He was a grafter, someone who could turn his hand to most things, often due to necessity.

Once, when renovating the family home in the Clyde Valley, he was Sid the bricklayer, the plasterer, the joiner, the electrician and the excavator, digging for sand, 6ft down in the back garden.

He has set a wonderful example. Through his own experiences, Sid demonstrated that life’s setbacks are just that; and not failures that define you. To somehow extract the impossible positive from the almost overwhelming negative. That each experience is all ‘grist to the mill’ and that as one door closes, another will undoubtedly open; and that this door may lead to exciting new opportunities that you never dreamed possible.

‘To let life unfold’ ‘....be guided by events’, ‘live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself’ are sayings that he inherited from his own father and that have left an indelible mark on his three sons. He will be greatly missed.