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The Culture of British Psychoanalysis and Related Essays on Character and Morality and on The Psychodynamics of Psychoanalytic Organizations


Robert M. Young

The Culture of British Psychoanalysis

In these three extended and very timely essays Robert Young reflects on the moral, cultural, social and ideological community of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy in Britain.

In 'The Culture of British Psychoanalysis' he provides an overview of the culture and community of psychoanalysis, broadly conceived, and makes careful criticisms of its shortcomings, based on his wide experience as teacher, editor, publisher, therapist, supervisor and observer of the scene.

In 'Character and Morality' he analyses the history and rationale for excluding these concepts from the human sciences and argues for their re-admission. Using the example of the current debates between the United Kingdom Conference on Psychotherapy (UKCP) and the British Confederation of Psychotherapists (BCP), he dissects the problem of clinical versus political legitimacy. He highlights the need for much greater care in guaranteeing rights when powerful issues of patronage and qualifications are concerned.

In 'The Psychodynamics of Psychoanalytic Organizations', he adopts a group relations approach to the dynamics of organizations and couples this analysis with a forthright critique of the interests served by the elitists in psychoanalysis who seek to retain and solidify a caste system in the psychoanalytic world.

Robert M. Young, PhD. holds the first professorship in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy and Psychoanalytic Studies in Britain, at the Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies, University of Sheffield. He is also a psychotherapist in private practice, editor of the quarterly journal, Free Associations, and Managing Director of Process Press. Much of his work has been concerned with the ideological and analytic study of intellectual traditions, and of academic and clinical groups, institutions and subcultures. He is the author of Mind, Brain and Adaptation (Oxford, 1970, 1990); Darwin's Metaphor: Nature's Place in Victorian Culture (Cambridge, 1985); Mental Space (Process Press, 1994); and Whatever Happened to Human Nature? (in press).

Robert M. Young grew up in Texas and studied Philosophy at Yale, where he was a Scholar of the House. He then studied Natural Sciences and entered medical school at the University of Rochester, intending to become a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Before completing his training he migrated to England on a U. S. Public Health Service Fellowship and studied History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge. His doctoral dissertation was on the history of ideas about brain function, was published as Mind, Brain and Adaptation in the Nineteenth Century (Clarendon Press, 1970; reprinted Oxford, 1990) and has been called a classic. He remained at Cambridge and lectured in the History of ideas in Biology, Psychology and Psychoanalysis and was a Fellow and Graduate Tutor of King's College, a Wellcome Senior Research Fellow and the first Director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine. He taught a Special Subject in the History Tripos on the Science and Public Debate in the Nineteenth Century on Darwin and 'Man's Place in Nature'. His Darwinian essays were published as Darwin's Metaphor: Nature's Place in Victorian Culture (Cambridge, 1985).

He resigned from Cambridge to devote full time to cultural politics and writing. With others, he founded the Radical Science Journal, the Radical Publications Group and the Publications Distribution Co-Operative. He was active in the development of a labour process perspective on science, technology, medicine and other forms of expertise. He then became Chief Consultant to a series of Channel Four television documentaries, 'Crucible: Science in Society' and editor of the associated Pan Books series. He founded Free Association Books and the quarterly journals, Free Associations: Psychoanalysis, Groups, Politics, Culture and Science as Culture, both of which he continues to edit. He is also Managing Director of Process Press.

He entered psychoanalysis and undertook training as a psychotherapist at St. Bernard's Hospital and the Lincoln Centre and Institute for Psychotherapy, of which he is a Full Member. He was Visiting Professor at the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Kent and is now Professor of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalytic Studies at the Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies, University of Sheffield. He is Associate Editor of Psychoanalytic Studies and Co-Editor of Human Relations, Authority and Justice, both of which are electronic and print journals. He moderates a number of email forums and is on the board of a number of other academic journals. He is also Director of the Institute of Human Relations in Sofia, Bulgaria.

He has written widely in the history of ideas of human nature, psychology, evolutionary theory, theory of ideology, psychoanalysis, group relations and cultural studies. His most recent books are Mental Space (Process Press, 1994) and Whatever Happened to Human Nature? (in press).

This book is dedicated
to the memory of
Abraham Lincoln
and to
Nelson Mandela
both of whom understood
the depressive position
as well as the difference
between right and wrong
and who carried on
in spite of
what passed for realism
in their settings and times


British psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy are arguably the best in the world, both clinically and theoretically. People come from all over the world for analysis, training, supervision and postgraduate studies. I am thinking not only of the Institute of Psycho-Analysis and the Tavistock Clinic but also of a number of other training bodies with world class reputations, e.g., The British Association of Psychotherapists, The Lincoln Centre and Institute for Psychotherapy, The London Centre for Psychotherapy, The Guild of Psychotherapists, The Philadelphia Association, The Arbours Association, The Scottish Institute of Human Relations The Institute of Group Analysis. The psychoanalytically-based programmes in Human Relations at the University of East London are the largest programme of its kind in the world, as is the range of postgraduate programmes at the Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies at the University of Sheffield (others will have a different or longer list, and a number of new programmes are rapidly developing outside London). The Portman Clinic is a leading institution for the study and treatment of sexual disorders. London is also the leading centre for work in the Group Relations tradition founded by Bion. The academic discipline Psychoanalytic Studies was founded in Britain, and there are now a dozen MA and doctoral trainings in the British Isles. If one sets out to compile a list of psychoanalytic writers based in Britain, the first dozen or so names which come to mind would be difficult to equal in any other country: Melanie Klein, Anna Freud, Michael Balint, Ronald Fairbairn, Wilfred Bion, Harry Guntrip, S. H. Foulkes, John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott, R. D. Laing, Herbert Rosenfeld, Hanna Segal, Isabel Menzies Lyth, Donald Meltzer. (Once again, others will have a different or partially different pantheon, e.g., Paula Heimann, Pierre Turquet, Tom Main, Marion Milner, Betty Joseph, Roger Money-Kyrle, Masud Khan, Henrķ Rey)

And yet the intra-institutional and inter-institutional relations within psychoanalysis and between psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy (not to mention the relations between these two groupings and the rest of the therapy world) leave much to be desired. I have heard it said that the system of tripartite representation (with a Freudian, a Kleinian and an Independent in key roles and holding the presidency in rotation) which held the British Psycho-Analytical Society together when it was in danger of splitting apart is a partial explanation of the theoretical riches which have flowed from that institution. I would venture the opinion that the relationship between that society and the rest of the broad psychoanalytic culture is also an important reason why the list I have offered above contains only names of members of that society (not, for example, Frances Tustin, D. H. Malan, Anthony Ryle, Joseph Berke). By that I mean that the relationship between the British Psycho-Analytical Society and the rest of the psychoanalytic culture, broadly conceived, has had important inhibiting as well as undeniably enabling effects in terms of productivity and prestige.

What I am offering here is three extended, ruminative essays on the moral, intellectual and psychodynamic bases for a better psychoanalytic community. Better in the sense of more considerate, collegial, mutually respectful, socially responsible, enabling. Nicer. I do not advocate any of these desiderata at the expense of standards. Indeed, I wrote them on behalf of standards, and it has been my experience that some people who speak a lot in the name of standards do not always exemplify them in their personal and professional relations.

It will become apparent that these essays have been around for some time and frequently revised. This is partly because they touch, in varying degrees, on unfolding events. It is more importantly because they have continued to gestate. I have delivered them again, sent them to friends, asked for comments from people with whom I agree and others with whom I disagree, sought and received international comments, put them on the internet (where there are about forty million potential readers). In particular, I have sent various versions to people in the very thick of the controversial matters which I use to illustrate my main arguments and which, to some extent, set me thinking. I believe passionately in public debate. Indeed, it was when I learned that leading figures on both sides of the debate over psychoanalytic organizations in Britain were unwilling to take part in public discussion of the issues that I decided to publish the essays, believing (without much conviction) that the broader psychoanalytic community may well welcome some relatively textured accounts of the issues, whether or not they accept my particular rendition of them or of particular events. However partisan you may find what I have written, my real and fundamental goal is to foster democracy, to take part in creating a space where people, including me, can speak in their own voices without fear of threatening their qualifications or livelihoods. I say this, because I know that the apparatchiks trade on fear of disapproval on the part of most ordinary analysts and therapists.

I can claim some considerable qualifications for writing in the vein I have. Much of my work over forty years, from my first published writings, has been concerned with the ideological and dynamic analysis of intellectual traditions, academic and clinical groups, institutions, subcultures and interest groups. That is what I do. If it is objected that I do it in a way which is not disinterested, I will point you to my role in the literature in the history and philosophy of science which argues that claims to objectivity should undergo the most searching scrutiny. The point is to get at the truth. This is a process, a moral one. I am trying to make a contribution to that process.

It has already been objected that I have demonised those with whom I disagree. In part, that is the reaction of someone who is not accustomed to being held morally accountable. In part, it is intrinsic to political disagreement, and part of my aim is to persuade you that these are political, as well as moral, matters. Anyway, I don't mind being wrong and will widely publicise and provide editorial and journal and internet space for views which correct or disagree with mine. I always have; I always will. I do not wish to libel anyone: I do wish to hold them morally and politically accountable. It is not the same thing. Only people unaccustomed to being criticised do not know the difference.

In particular, I will provide space on my internet web site for updates, corrections, criticisms and debate arising from these essays:

Writings of Bob Young

I have gone to all the lengths which I have felt I reasonably could to avoid pillorying any individual by name. Naming some institutions has struck me as inescapable, since I am not merely arguing about general principles (though I am certainly doing that, as well); I am also arguing about this profession in this country at this time. I am also doing so in ways and with respect to issues which I think do not apply to this setting alone.

I have shown one or more of these essays to many, many people. Some have made no response at all, in spite of repeated requests. Others have made helpful comments, which I have weighed and almost always incorporated in some form. I do want to thank certain people for their comments, whether they have been supportive, severely critical or mixed. I do not wish to implicate my commentators, but I suppose I want it known that I have sought to test widely what I say in these essays and by the minds of people who, for one reason or another, have earned the right to an opinion on the matters I discuss: Michael Pokorny, Eric Rayner, Bob Hinshelwood, Digby Tantam, Alan Lidmila, Ellspeth Morley, Joscelyn Richards, Haya and Chris Oakley, Kenneth Eisold, Gordon Lawrence, David Armstrong, Paul Gordon, Ruth Barnett, Emmy Van Deurzen, Em Farrell, Jeanne Magagna, Toma Tomov, anonymous reviewers for a journal (who recommended publication), and many others. A number of commentators on the internet have encouraged me to believe that my thinking was congenial to them and relevant to other contexts. As I indicate below, I have also tested the assertions in these essays by delivering them, and thereby opening them to critical scrutiny and criticism, in appropriate public professional forums.

Finally, although I shall make criticisms of various institutions, I want to say as passionately as I can that I also owe great debts to some of them, in particular, The London Institute of Psycho-Analysis and the Lincoln Centre and Institute of Psychotherapy, as well as my analysts, teachers, supervisors and colleagues. You might think that some of my criticisms are a strange way of paying them, but you would be wrong. I am holding out for the highest standards which they have given me the strength to advocate.

The three essays were not written with the intention of including them in a single volume. Each was prepared for a specific occasion and has been revised in the light of events and thoughts and comments I have had since I first delivered it. In editing them for this volume I have tried to minimise repetition but have left some things in which still seem integral to the argument of that essay. I also think that some facts bear repetition. The histories of the essays are as follows:

'The Culture of British Psychoanalysis' is a frequently revised and updated version of a talk delivered to the Philadelphia Association, London, May 1990. It was also presented in an abbreviated form at the Essex Institute for Psychotherapy and Analytic Studies, February 1994.

'Character and Morality' is the considerably revised and expanded text of a lecture delivered to the joint University of East London/Tavistock Clinic MA in Psychoanalytic Studies, 13 October 1994 and to the Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies, University of Sheffield, 14 October 1994.

'The Psychodynamics of Psychoanalytic Organizations' is the revised text of a paper presented to the annual conference of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations in New York City, 15 June 1996.

Robert M. Young
Islington 13 October 1996

The Human Nature Review
© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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