British psychoAnalytical Society was founded by Ernest Jones in
1919. There were soon more than fifty members. Although rather
autocratic by nature, Jones was a convinced egalitarian in his
principles so that the Society soon became thoroughly democratic
in spirit. For instance, medicals and non-medicals, and men and
women, were equally allowed to join from the start, so the Society
soon became remarkably wide-based in skill and knowledge.
Publication of The International Journal of psychoanalysis
started in 1920 and book publishing began in 1924.
Those that assembled
under Jones had brilliance as well as vigour. Well known were:
John Rickman, James and Alix Strachey, Edward Glover, Ella Sharpe,
Joan Riviere, Susan Isaacs, Sylvia Payne - an early writer on
issues of femininity; Marjorie Brierley and J.C. Flugel
-distinguished academic psychologists; Karen and Adrian Stephen,
who incidentally was Virginia Woolf's brother. Fairbairn, Bowlby
and Winnicott came a few years later.
In 1925 Alix Strachey
met Melanie Klein in Berlin and recognised her qualities. Klein
was invited to London to speak and came for good the following
year. About the same time Anna Freud in Vienna published her first
book on child analysis. Encouraged by Jones to give her opinion,
Melanie Klein trenchantly attacked the book. The Freud's, father's
and daughter's, suspicion of Klein probably started from that
time. This was only one cause of friction between London and
Vienna; more generally, a competitiveness between the analysts in
the two cultural centres developed. By the early thirties the
atmosphere was so tense that an exchange of views was arranged to
inform both sides. Meanwhile Klein herself continued to be liked
and respected in the British Society.
However, events in
mainland Europe halted hopes of further peaceful debates between
analysts. Hitler came to power; Jewish analysts were particularly
under threat and Jones fearlessly went to Berlin to start helping
people to leave. Anna Freud, equally bravely, helped from Vienna.
But in 1938 Hitler marched into Austria and the Freuds themselves
were under threat. Again Jones went bravely to Vienna to help them
out. The Freuds came to London. Anna and Melanie were now together
in the same Society.
With the outbreak of
war in 1939 most people in England forgot their differences to
fight the common enemy. However even by 1940 the tension between
Anna and Melanie was becoming acute. By 1941 the atmosphere in the
Society was electric. In 1942, after much debate it was decided to
hold a series of formal discussions in the Society to air the
differences between the Anna Freudians and the Kleinians. These
are now well known in psychoanalytic history as 'The Controversial
Discussions'. A clear account of these events is given in the book
'The Freud-Klein Controversies 1941-45' by Pearl King and Riccardo
Steiner, (1991; London; Routledge).
It should be noted that neither of the two warring factions
consisted of much more than a dozen analysts each. The vast
majority of the Society, about sixty members, took neither side.
Unfortunately the discussions failed to bring peace between the
two factions. However, an important fruit of the debate was that
by the late 1940s major changes in the Society's structure were
beginning to be shaped. Anna Freud and her colleagues were
recognised as a particular group in the Society's training.
The same was accorded to Melanie Klein and her associates, however
she still wanted to be part of the main body of the Society; so,
formally, only two training groups were formed. The 'A Group'
consisted of the original British and the Kleinians while the 'B
Group' consisted of the Anna Freudians alone - later called the
Contemporary Freudians. The original British members were called
non- aligned or the 'Middle group' (the name was changed later to
'The Group of Independents').
By the mid-1950s the
three groups had become quite distinct in the Society. Though not
actually equal in numbers - the Middle group was by far the
largest at that time - it was agreed that all three should equally
share representation on administrative committees. These
committees are many and complex, but they share the work-load of
the Society in an equitable way and have run outstandingly well
for fifty years. They have been a model for many psychoanalytic
and psychotherapeutic societies.
'Independent' was chosen to indicate the philosophical attitude of
mind held in common by its members. However it fails to describe
its heritage from the original Society. It is now nearly a century
old, and the early British pioneers of psychoanalysis gave a
particular spirit of intellectual democracy to psychoanalysis in
The original British
members and their descendants in the Independents include many
famous psychoanalytic names: As well as those already mentioned,
there were: William Gillespie, Marion Milner, Donald Winnicott,
John Bowlby, Charles Rycroft, Paula Heimann, and Michael Balint.
Some time later were: Enid Balint, Adam Limentani, Jock
Sutherland, Margaret Little, Masud Khan, John Klauber and Pearl
King. Later still there has been Harold Stewart, Nina Coltart,
Neville Symington, Christopher Bollas, Patrick Casement, Gregorio
Kohon, Roger Kennedy, Rob Hale and the present writer. There have
been many others just as distinguished, those mentioned here are
known mostly through their writing.
What characterises the
British Independents? There are about 130 paid up members now;
some are explicitly close to the Kleinians, others incline to the
Contemporary Freudians. But most owe ideas to both sides; and
probably all follow approaches from their forbears in the original
British Society, not to mention other theorists as well. Remember
that there is a long intellectual tradition in Britain - probably
five hundred years old - that blends political liberalism with
philosophical empiricism which of course has affinity with
scientific thinking. The early British analysts had inherited this
tradition; and the Independents tend to carry this on. It was
probably William Gillespie who first began to work out a
definition of the Independent point of view. It went something
like this: The Independents have many differences of opinion about
theory and technique, but they share a basic attitude in common.
This is to evaluate and respect ideas for their use and truth
value - no matter from whence they come. Here the positive use and
enjoyment of doubt is essential. Ideological certainty is alien to
this spirit. It is this attitude which has continually informed
the development of the Independent Group to the present day. We
are at the present time again 'rethinking our thinking' and will
be conveying more about it on this website as ideas emerge.
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