The Learning Relationship: Psychoanalytic Thinking in Education

Author(s) : Biddy Youell

Part of The Tavistock Clinic series - more in this series

The Learning Relationship: Psychoanalytic Thinking in Education

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Also by Biddy Youell

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This book offers a psychoanalytic perspective on learning and teaching and on many of the issues which preoccupy those who work in educational institutions. It looks at the origins of learning in childrens early relationships and at factors which help and hinder the educational process in later childhood and adolescence. Amongst the topics addressed in the book are the significance of play and playfulness, the impact of change, separation, times of transition, bereavement, bullying and racism. The author has aimed to set well-established psychoanalytic ideas about learning within the context of current educational practice and to look at the teachers experience alongside that of the students.

This volume is a collection of papers, each of which is a version of a lecture previously given as part of the Tavistock course, "Emotional Factors in Learning and Teaching; counselling aspects in education". The course, which is for teachers and others working in educational settings, has been running for more than thirty years. It began as a collaboration between Martha Harris, then Head of the Child Psychotherapy training at the Tavistock Clinic and her husband, Roland Harris, an educationalist and writer. This partnership between clinical thinking and expertise in educational theory and practice continues to the present day, with child psychotherapists and educationists working closely together.

The ideas underpinning the course were first elaborated by Isca Saltzberger Wittenberg, Gianna Henry and Elsie Osborne in 1983 in The Emotional Experience of Learning and Teaching, a book which remains a valued, core text. This new volume represents an attempt to revisit some of the same themes and to set the applied psychoanalytic thinking in the current educational context.

Reviews and Endorsements

'Parents will derive insight and understanding from this book and from the fine balance achieved between the anxieties and pressures of contemporary educational settings and the potential fulfilment of being part of an institution in which containing relationships promote and sustain the "growing up" that children are doing both emotionally and cognitively... "Learning Relationship" focuses on the true meaning of education and its vital developmental role, in contrast to the target-driven pressures of curriculum delivery that can so often reduce these vital years to ones of stressful, test-orientated training. In so doing the book includes reflections not only on the psychoanalytic understanding of what makes children want to learn, but also on the nature of play and playfulness. It is this and the vividly observed examples of children and their happy and unhappy worlds that make these pages a learning experience in itself.'
- Margot Waddell, from the Series Editor's Preface

'Teaching and learning are the twin processes at the heart of education. This excellent book, like the long established and much admired course from which it grew, views these as dynamic relationships, linking students, teachers, schools and curricula, which can be studied and understood. It provides a splendid overview of the everyday relevance of psychoanalytic concepts in exploring and enriching the teacher's role and task. The clarity of thought and freshness of tone make it a pleasure to read, and it offers a much needed and challenging and illuminating account of the vicissitudes of child and adolescent development which will make sense to teachers, parents, educationalists and others concerned with the larger aims of education.'
- Margaret Rustin, Head of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy, Tavistock Clinic

'This book is unusual because it combines a fascinating clinical account of therapeutic work in schools with wisdom gained from many years of thought and practice. It is essential reading for teachers and therapists as well as anyone interested in a deeper understanding of how children learn.'
- Philip Hewitt, School Counsellor, Westminster School

About the Author(s)

Biddy Youell is an educationalist and psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic.

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