This is What a Psychoanalyst Looks Like

According to the comedian Eddie Izzard there is a thing called the ‘Circle of Cool’ and each of us is situated somewhere on its circumference. There’s looking utterly dreary, then further around things get marginally more interesting, gradually edging towards quite-cool-actually before reaching ‘hip and groovy’, which is then liable to tip over into ‘looking like a dickhead’. If you wear the same style of clothes your whole life you may find yourself inadvertently moving around the circle; your checked suits take you from looking conventional to eccentric and then back again, ad infinitum. Each cycle takes about twenty years.


In Nina Coltart’s classic book, How to Survive as a Psychotherapist, she advises fellow therapists on their choice of work clothes; nothing too extreme, apparently. The point is to look ‘regular’ and, most importantly, not too narcissistic. Female therapists mustn’t appear sexy. Make-up needs to be kept to a minimum and skirts should fall below the knee. You’re there to listen, not to seduce your patients, nor to make them envious. Portrayals of therapists in films tend to fall in line with this advice. For men the choice is between looking like Freud (Spellbound) or going smart-casual (Hope Springs), perhaps straying into eccentric knitwear if you work with more creative clients (Some Kind of Monster). For women the trajectory is much the same, from utterly-drab-but-affluent (Get Out) to droopy-wacky (Meet the Fockers), either option being purchasable at Hampstead Bazaar.

My first interest in psychoanalysis was very much bound up with an interest in fashion. While studying Fine Art at Goldsmiths’ I had the double pleasure of being encouraged to study Freud, and never being discouraged from looking like a dickhead. The two weren’t seen as contradictory. Using psychoanalytic ideas to think about fashion, and what people might be trying to do with clothes, had a venerable history. Not only had the subject of fashion been discussed at Freud’s Wednesday meetings, but there was J.C. Flügel’s brilliant Psychology of Clothes, and even Edmund Bergler’s Fashion and the Unconscious (if you were able to stomach his ludicrous ideas about ‘curing’ homosexuals).  

The first point of conflict between my two big areas of interest came when I started to see a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in my third year of college. He was pretty forthright about viewing my outfits as a symptom in need of fixing, and recommended that I try dressing ‘more normally’ for a week or two ‘to see what kinds of feelings it brought out’. The idea was horrific. Fashion, it seemed, was functioning like a drug for me, buffering unbearable thoughts and sensations, absorbing libido, and intermittently making it enjoyable to inhabit a body. Perhaps it was even warding off self-destructive impulses — I certainly spent huge amounts of time doing vicious things to clothes, cutting them, dying them and generally tormenting them. If I hadn’t been doing that I dread to think what I might have done instead. It was a symptom I didn’t feel I could afford to drop. The therapist himself was wholly committed to the ‘smart casual’ option, and I eventually decided I’d like to remain as far away from his position on the circle of cool as possible. The therapy ended with me feeling like a ‘bad patient’ who was choosing not to get better. 

A few years later, my interest in both fields still intact, I found myself choosing between working in fashion — as either a stylist or journalist — or thinking about psychoanalysis more seriously. I offered myself as an unpaid slave to Katie Grand, went to meet a scary woman upstairs at Vogue House, found a lacanian analyst (who looked like Freud in a big way), and started going to psychoanalytic events. The first of these was a Christopher Bollas talk at Regent’s College, and it was one of the worst visual shocks of my life. I had never seen so much soft, bland-coloured fabric in one room. The overwhelming neutrality made me nauseous. How could anything be differentiated from anything else in this space? Perhaps one at a time these therapists might have appeared calm, trustworthy and admirably lacking vanity but, en masse, they just looked spooky. (It’s incredible to think that, around two decades later, in 2016, these people might have found themselves firmly in the hip and groovy zone, comfy neutrals being the core concept of Kanye West’s ‘Yeezy Season 2’…) 

A visit to a lacanian conference in Paris a couple of years later proved decisive. The analysts were unapologetically dickheaded. (Lacanians are famous for this.) They wore brightly coloured dresses, vintage kimonos, sunglasses indoors, there were men in McQueen skulls, and some of them smoked some kind of prototype e-cigarettes during lectures. They were also completely uninterested in ‘curing’ people if curing meant bringing them into line with some kind of social norm. I had been warned off these dangerous types by a pair of dour beige-wearers at a West London psychotherapy clinic, and their spitting disapproval probably clinched the deal. It had to be possible to use psychoanalytic ideas to think and to write, and to have dynamic dialogues with people who were suffering, without dressing up as a human blur. I even wondered whether this purposeful dowdiness made patients’ fantasies about their therapists more lurid, as if the too-obvious mask of respectability was a veritable provocation.
Of course the world of fashion can be cruel. Its capriciousness, its treatment of women’s bodies, its snobbishness, its encouragement of unnecessary expenditure, and its production of waste, are all appalling. But then again it can be incredibly tolerant, welcoming a huge array of people, many of whom might be seen as misfits elsewhere. While it has a reputation for valorising a narrow vision of beauty, it also celebrates difference, lauding people and things that the rest of the world may consider ugly. As my first, dear object relations therapist might have understood, fashion is both good and bad. 
For Freud, the thing that was striking about fashion was its hold over otherwise sensible women, who appeared to be defenceless against it. (Perhaps a disavowal of his own investment in fine clothes?) This idea is very much reflected in both Zoolander films, where everyone’s in thrall to a huge, spooky system. The films present the most idiotic face of fashion — literally — but are much loved by people in the industry. (Or at least the first one was; Zoolander 2 apparently seemed a bit passé.) The ‘copying’ aspect of fashion suggests something mindless; you wear something because other people are wearing it. Fashion involves a kind of cloning. This unquestioning suggestibility is perhaps not the quality one might expect to find in a therapist, who maybe ought to exhibit more independence of thought. But how strange that therapists’ traditional insistence on a disinvestment of one’s own image produces yet another series of clones…

Last year I found myself regularly wearing a mushroom coloured wool sack dress without the slightest hint of irony. I wondered what it meant. Was I finally cured of my symptom? Had I become a ‘proper’ therapist? Or was it just that I had had the good fortune to stumble across this brutally minimalist Margiela dress in the New Cross TKMaxx? The answer remains unclear. 

Anouchka Grose is a psychoanalyst and writer practising in London. She is a member of CFAR and The College of Psychoanalysts-UK. She has written non-fiction: No More Silly Love Songs: A Realist’s Guide to Romance (Portobello, 2010) and Are you Considering Therapy (Karnac, 2011), as well as writing fiction: Ringing for You (Harper Collins, 1999) and Darling Daisy (Harper Collins, 2000). She is the editor of Hysteria Today (2015), a collection of essays on hysteria in the contemporary psychoanalytic clinic. Her journalism is published in The Guardian, and she also writes for numerous art and fashion publications. She has taught at Camberwell School of Art and gives talks on art and psychoanalysis in museums and galleries, as well as sometimes speaking on the radio. .

Her latest book, From Anxiety to Zoolander: Notes on Psychoanalysis, has recently been published by Karnac.


The book will also be available to buy at the forthcoming Fashion and Psychoanalysis International Conference on Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th October 2017, at Freud Museum London. This conference brings together psychoanalytic thinkers and fashion experts to offer fresh perspectives in fashion thinking. Speakers will address a wide range of themes connecting fashion, clothing, style and the body to psychoanalysis, creativity and unconscious emotional life. The conference will also explore the largely neglected role of fashion in clinical and mental health settings – aiming to address the many idiosyncrasies, taboos and paradoxes involved.

The second day will be dedicated to wellbeing and mental health in the context of fashion. Through research and clinical perspectives, it will invite you to unravel two rather paradoxical phenomena: the relative absence of psychology in the fashion world and the apparent absence of fashion in the clinical encounter. The conference will end with a panel discussion on ‘Enclothed cognition’. The panel will include Carolyn Mair, Anouchka Grose, Katerina Fotopoulou, Claire Pajaczkowska and others. To buy tickets for the event, please click here.


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The First Ambush: Hijacking the Human Brain

‘Unbeknown to me at the time, the army’s training and/or indoctrination would come to shape my life, my decisions and my neurological processes for years to come. I suppose at the time we took it all in our stride and laughed it off. But we as people and in particular our brains were being prepared for the inhuman rigours and demands of traditional war fighting, closing with and engaging the enemy and by extension modern international conflicts’ – Ryan Hall, British infantry, 2000-2008

A major new report has just been published drawing on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies from the last half-century to explore for the first time the effects of modern army employment on soldiers, particularly their initial training. The studies are mainly the work of military academic research departments in the UK and US, supplemented by research in other countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, and Norway. The report finds that army employment has a significant detrimental impact on soldiers’ attitudes, health, behaviour, and financial prospects. This is partly due to soldiers’ war experiences, but also to how they are recruited and trained, how they are conditioned by military culture, and how they re-adjust to civilian life afterwards.

It reveals how in the process of transforming civilians into soldiers, army training and culture forcibly alter recruits’ attitudes under conditions of sustained stress, leading to harmful health effects even before they are sent to war. Among the consequences are elevated rates of mental health problems, heavy drinking, violent behaviour, and unemployment after discharge, as well as poorer general health in later life.

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The Therapy Womb, by Michael Eigen

Posted on Jun 16, 2017

Psychoanalytic Beauty and the Unborn Self

I remember the first one-on-one session I had with a patient when I began training. I felt I could breathe in an emotional atmosphere I had been looking for without knowing it. A new kind of atmosphere to live in, mind to mind, heart to heart, soul to soul, psyche to psyche, with all the quagmires, blocks, furies, longings and beauty therapy gives birth to.  Therapy wombs filled with therapy births and persistent conflict whether to be born or not, in what ways, with what price.  It can be confusing to be in and out of womb at the same time, but to be so, I feel, is a basic structure of our existence.

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Creativity, Psychoanalysis, and the Unconscious

Celebrating the launch of Writing on the Moon at the Creative Salon

Writing on the Moon is an innovative collection of creative writings by psychotherapists – poems, short stories, and creative non-fiction. The themes tap into our most passionate and spontaneous selves, raiding the inarticulate, as we hear the creative voices of psychotherapists as never before. Two questions are implicitly addressed: Why is creativity important to psychoanalysis? And how can a therapist’s analytic mind be receptive to the artistic voice?

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Dreams, Storytelling, and the Birth of Literature

“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep”
– Shakespeare, The Tempest

Dreams and literature are closely related. The dream’s essence lies in its storytelling capacity. Dreams are autobiographical fictions that tell the story of the dreamer’s life history, her role in transgenerational family themes, and her ethnic and cultural identity. In that sense dreams are psychosocial depositories and makers, not unlike world literature, which recreates interiority and historicity of a given time period. Literature is a dream gone solid. And the process of fiction writing duplicates the dream’s inherent narrative facility. 

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My Dinner with Iain McGilchrist: An Interview with producers Cathleen MacDonald and Vanessa Dylyn

Making the film The Divided Brain has been an exciting journey for all involved. Recently, producer Vanessa Dylyn and Dr Iain McGilchrist met for dinner in London to discuss the film and other matters. Vanessa shared her experience in an interview with co-producer and technical lead Cathleen MacDonald.

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Deconstructing the Psychoanalytic Thinking concerning sexuality

Contemporary societies are dealing with enormous challenges related to the increasing presence of new family configurations, sexual and gender migrations, as well as questioning of the classical categories on women and the feminine. These challenges become visible in a context of significant advances concerning biotechnology and informatics, within a world that oscillates between globalization and multiculturalism, between discrimination and inclusion.

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Carl Jung: BBC Television Interview

Posted on Mar 27, 2017

Interview with Carl Jung


Filmed in Switzerland at his lakeside home near Zurich, Professor Carl Gustav Jung was viewed as the greatest living psychologist. Interviewer John Freeman found Jung, although an old man, as sharp and clear thinking as ever. It proved to be a timely encounter; Jung died 18 months later (1959).

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Interview with Professor Brett Kahr, conducted at Karnac Books, London on 10th March 2017


KN [Karnacology]: Congratulations on the recent publication of Coffee with Freud.  It seems like only a short while ago that we spoke together about your earlier book Tea with Winnicott.

BK [Brett Kahr]: Thank you.  Yes, Karnac Books very kindly published Tea with Winnicott last year, in 2016, and now, I thank you all, once again, for Coffee with Freud.

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Revising our theoretical and clinical concepts in the light of evolving sexualities

This book is a many-voiced volume describing different approaches in Latin America towards a fuller understanding of female sexuality. As the  former overall chair of the Committee on Women and Psychoanalysis of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA), I’ve always been struck by the buzz and energy at Latin American conferences around topics of sexuality, sexual identity, and gender constructs compared with many other countries of the world, which was hindered from being known more widely because of the language barrier. 

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Carved by Experience


Strange though it may sound, I clearly remember coming across the notion of projective identification for the first time. I was in my early twenties, coping as best  I could with the stream of life, thinking and feeling a lot, understanding little, mainly blind; and the notion that my mental reality wasn’t mine alone, that it didn’t simply consist of just me, that materials passed through which were not “I” – was both eye-opening and therapeutic.  For a thin-skinned person like me, so exposed to her surroundings, it was a good thing to start finding out how these exchanges between inside and outside worked – when they caused suffering and when they brought growth. 

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How the Psychological and the Somatic Interact and Play Off Each Other


This book explores how we think about and understand sport from the perspective of psychoanalysis. As a cultural product, sport constitutes an entertainment and a pastime – a break that acts like a “psychological moratorium”. It breaks us away from the miseries of everyday realities and worries, transporting us to another reality—that of the ‘game’. Sport also represents a transaction through which personal and social feelings of aggression can be constructively released and harnessed in a controlled and contained space.

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The Origins of Permission to Narrate

Vintage microphone

I’d just finished The World Within the Group (2014) and had several lines of research and chapter drafts that did not find a home in that book. So, without too much of a leap, I thought, why not give birth to a new set of essays?  The more I looked over what I had, I saw an emergent theme, that of human narration and voice, both within psychotherapy, and without, in the wider domain of culture. I just love the general idea that human beings are inherently literary creatures, whose motives, passions, and reasons are expressed in wonderful spontaneous metaphors, analogies, speech acts and stories. So, I guess, I granted myself ‘permission to narrate’, to explore such questions.

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How Society Shapes Who We Are


The Political Self explores how our social and economic contexts profoundly affect our mental health and well-being, and how modern neuroscientific and psychodynamic research can both contribute to and enrich our understanding of these wider discussions. It therefore looks both inside and outside—indeed one of the main themes of the book is that the conceptually discrete categories of “inner” and “outer” in reality constantly interact, shape, and inform each other. Severing these two worlds, it suggests, has led both to a devitalised and dissociated form of politics, and to a disengaged and disempowering form of therapy and analysis.

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Foraging Film is as Pleasant as a Writer’s Work Gets


You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to recognize a stalker or to read or write a book about stalking. I hope the readers of Karnacology will indulge me by accompanying me through some selected personal highlights of my journey in preparing this volume, which is not, I believe, your typical experience of a psychoanalyst attempting to break new ground via writing. 

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Hanging between Heaven and Hell: Jung’s Pioneering Understanding of Integration


Jung’s Red Book records an extraordinary series of self-induced visions that Jung experienced between 1913 and 1917, together with his reflections and interpretations of them, which he continued to reinterpret and refine until about 1930. The book, which was only publicly published in 2009, takes us to the core of the personal experience on which Jung drew more circumspectly in his psychological works.

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Entering the Analytic Frame: Psychoanalysis as Romantic Science


Following the talk I gave at the Freud Museum on October 6 to celebrate the publication of Portraits of the Insane. Théodore Géricault and the Subject of Psychotherapy, a couple of new thoughts have emerged, connections implicit in the book that I now feel I can make more explicitly. It is unsettling but satisfying too to have to acknowledge that writing and thinking are processes over which I have but limited control – like patient and therapist, who are similarly subject to larger processes. 

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Publishing a Book About Psychoanalysis and Movies


I have been a psychoanalyst for about 45 years, and a writer all of my life. Conducted seriously, both practices impart a degree of personal pride that sometimes verges on self importance. Long ago, I began to be chastened of such inclinations with regard to the practice of clinical psychoanalysis: the non-negotiable price of growth as an analyst is a systematic diminution of omnipotence. Likewise with writing: you learn soon enough that you have overestimated the distance that talent, alone, will take you. All this is painful, but necessary, if you intend to persist.

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The psychological and neurobiological characteristics of  the ‘unrepressed unconscious’ and the role of the right hemisphere


What do we mean by “unrepressed unconscious”? Are there differences between the so-called “unrepressed unconscious” identified by some authors, and the “repressed unconscious”, which has generally been the object of the psychoanalytical investigations of theoreticians and clinicians, starting with Freud himself? How do we understand the relationship of this “unrepressed unconscious” with the modes of implicit memory? What is the role of the unrepressed unconscious in the most recent clinical work? These are some of the questions the contributors to this volume have tried to debate and exemplify.

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The further we go, the more there is to go


Totem conveys spirit, a sense of the sacred. Freud attempted to get under the totem and explore psychic forces and pressures below the surface. Jung opened further depths in exploration of the sacred. Engagement with a sense of mystery that permeates existence lives in many quarters, including art, music, religion and depth psychologies.

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Divided by education, by design, by normalised duplicity, should the UK be surprised to find itself in deep trouble?


The shocking events, misinformation, betrayals, and back-stabbings of the last month suggest what a thoroughly divided nation we are. We are split along class and education lines in a way Continental Europeans can’t really appreciate. Those I have spoken to recently about Brexit – Dutch, Danish, French and Germans – are both shocked that we sacrificed our position in Europe and outraged by the resignations of the three main players and the ‘business-as-normal’ attitude in our public life.

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Containing the Containers:  The Evolution of the Analytic Space


All photographs © Sebastian Zimmermann, ‘Fifty Shrinks

The quality of the analytic relationship and the space in which such a relationship occurs are constituted not only by the cognitive context but also by the immediate and pervasive physical context. “The analytic room should have the capacity to evoke different kinds of associations and be able to accommodate richly variegated desires of the occupants. The effect of the architecture on the analytic relationship, and hence the analysis, in direct and indirect awareness, is profound” (Danze).

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Oedipus and the Oedipus Complex: A Revision


During his work on the concept of the Oedipus complex in 1910 Freud took recourse to a literary highlight of early European culture, Sophocles’ drama “Oedipus Tyrannus”. In so doing he unfolded a perspective unfamiliar to contemporary science of the day, and which to the present day remains disturbing in nature whilst at the same time allowing greater access and lucidity to the concept. Despite the fact that the classical conception of the Oedipus complex has undergone modifications it still influences present day psychoanalytic understanding and clinical work.

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The author, philosopher, and existential psychologist Colin Wilson (1931-2013)


Colin Wilson was born on June 26, 1931 in Leicester—the first child of Arthur and Annetta Wilson. At the age of eleven he attended Gateway Secondary Technical School, where his interest in science began to blossom. And, indeed, by the age of 14 he had compiled a multi-volume work of essays covering all aspects of science entitled A Manual of General Science

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Madness in a Maddening World


Psychosis can be seen as the sign or symptom of disturbances within our present cultural situation in the world. For a significant number of people, it is a way of escaping from unbearably destructive and maddening social situations.

The cultural nests or “cradles” of our civilization are precisely places such as the Mesopotamian historical foundations of Nineveh, Palmyra, Babylonia and other heritage sites; these treasures of our present system of sociological and historical values (e.g., the origin of writing in the Sumerian tradition) have become victims of maddening attacks in a world that finds itself in a state of mental and moral decline.

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How the ongoing dialogue between the left and right hemispheres constitutes our mental reality


My book The Wisdom of Lived Experience explores various aspects of the nature of reality and more specifically that of lived experience. In recent years I have become aware that my efforts to learn from theory and from noted colleagues have often meant closing down my experiencing mind and focussing upon the intellectual and the theoretical, rather that upon the more three-dimensional lived experience with my patients and within myself.

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Why Peace is Not Just for Christmas, by Rod Tweedy

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Last year saw the centenary of the Christmas Truce of World War One – the remarkable event in which soldiers from supposedly ‘enemy’ sides spontaneously decided to meet in No Man’s Land to exchange gifts, play football and wish each other a happy Christmas — much to the disapproval of their leaders, who promptly prohibited such unpatriotic fraternising under threat of court-marshall. To mark this anniversary we posted a photograph from the event, together with a quotation from a contemporary veteran, the former SAS-soldier and founder of Veterans for Peace UK, Ben Griffin:  “It is important to remember the truces today only if we are willing to foster in the present the spirit of those who on Christmas Day 1914 put down their weapons and walked out to meet the enemy.”

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Laughing with Two Rabbis and an Imam

'What is this, some kind of joke?'

During my research for writing my book How To Laugh Your Way Through Life. A Psychoanalyst’s Advice (Karnac, 2013), I became sensitized to how people use tragic-comic humor—seeing the comic in the tragic and the tragic in the comic—in the service of life-affirmation amidst their personal ordeals. Recently, I had three instances in my clincial work in which my patients use of tragicomic humor reflected their mature capacity to recognize internal conflict with a degree of self-acceptance even if it involved some narcissistic bruising. 

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‘Once Upon An Analysis…’

glowing-book (2)

The psychoanalytic voyage of discovery is probably impossible to capture in words.  If every analysis is unique, the signature of each human mind more identity-laden and whorled than any thumbprint, a verbal account of the process must fall short of its mark.  Rensal the Redbit addresses the complex innocence of communication as two beings, a “tall one” and a “small one” fling the bridge of language across the chasm that separates them. 

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David Smail: Clinical Psychologist, Sociologist, Philosopher, and Political Critic

David Smail, clinical psychologist, who has died aged 76

As Karnac Books republish four key works by the pioneering clinical psychologist, his son Alastair reflects on his achievement.

When my father died just over a year ago, the family was unsure what to do with his books. He had said he would like them published on the internet for free; either that or left alone. We did not have the capacity to post them on the internet, although David had put many articles and an internet publication on his website: The reaction to his death, as for example inThe Guardian obituary persuaded us that we needed to do something.

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One hundred years after Totem and Taboo

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Although it was the object of numerous publications by ethnologists from the mid-nineteenth century up to the First World War, the age-old practice of totemism, well-known for its quasi-worldwide dissemination and the questions of its origins, seems to have disappeared from anthropological literature thereafter.

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Adult Education: The Anxiety of Influence and the Influence of Anxiety


Fragile Learning: The Influence of Anxiety asks the reader to consider a wide variety of factors that might challenge an adult learner’s resilience or make the process of learning precarious and problematic. It is a book about anxiety (anxiety at the root of all learning); about barriers to adult learning, and about the situation that arises when the educator also becomes a Fragile Learner. Over fifteen chapters, the book discusses the various ways in which the processes and procedures of learning can be broken; and argues that it is much easier to break something than to fix it.

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A Journey Through the Dark Boroughs of a Pedophilic Cannibal’s Mind

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Nathaniel Bar Jonah would regularly say, when questioned about the murder of the 10-year-old boy, “They can’t prove anything because there is no body,” and Bar Jonah was right, because he ate the young boy. 

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The Interpretation of the Other: An Analysis of Love


‘Oh, yes, I’ve been in love before alright but though violently not to a hundredth this degree. For I do not believe that one can more than once lose one’s identity … If I am cut off from you … there is nothing of me surviving,’ the art critic, Adrian Stokes, told his beloved sister-in-law, Ann Mellis.

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Myths of Mighty Women: Their Application in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy

John Singer Sargent Triumph of Religion - Boston Public Library A.2 Pagan Gods, Astarte (North end ceiling vault, east half) Installed 1895 Photography by Bill Kipp 1999

It is the premise of our book Myths of Mighty Women, that the Oedipus myth which was all-important to Freudian analysts in the twentieth century is only one among many myths that can embody the unconscious fantasies that shape women’s hearts, minds and behaviour, and we explore aspects of these ancient mythic, biblical, and folk stories that have implications for contemporary women’s lives and for treatment.

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Psychotherapy as Farming – The Story of Anna Hazare and the Healing of a Village


If you google ‘Anna Hazare’ on , the most prominent picture which might bob up would be that of a slightly-built Indian farmer called Anna Hazare (in Marathi “Anna” is an honorific term meaning “village elder” or “father”), sitting in the shadow of Mahatma Gandhi’s large picture while embarking on a hunger fast against corruption.  But few know that the man who sat humbly in Mahatma Gandhi’s large shadow in BBC stories and pictures was the sort of man Gandhi had himself imitated a long time ago before he became the famed freedom fighter dressed in a loincloth. After studying law, the young, suited and booted M.K. Gandhi gave up his western clothes and adopted the garb of the Indian farmer/peasant, so as to better identify with the Indian farmer, such as Anna is, to lead the Indian freedom movement.

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Suffering into Truth: The Achievement of Oedipus


Given that the story of Oedipus is foundational to psychoanalytic thinking it is surprising that there has been relatively little attention paid to Sophocles’ play Oedipus Tyrannus, even though the play is the reason that the myth has survived and was noticed by Freud some 2400 years later. This is partly because psychoanalysts tend to assume the play and the myth are the same thing.

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Hilda and Freud: Collected Words


Antonio Quinet in the performance of the play (Freud Museum, 2013)

This is a play on Hilda Doolittle’s analysis with Freud. The play is based on H. D.´s (Hilda Doolittle)Tribute to Freud, the letters, as well as some of her poetry, that she exchanged with Freud and her literary circle. Hilda, a forty-seven-year old poet met Freud, then in his late seventies, in 1930s Vienna. It was the beginning of a startling “love affair”, with exchanges of gifts, letters, and flowers, within and beyond the psychoanalytical setting.  It was written to be performed  by The Unconscious on Stage Company  at the Freud Museum London from 12th to 16th November 2013.

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The Covert Freud and the Lights He Lit on Western Culture


There were many Freuds: the scholar, the academic, the researcher, the neurologist, the founder of the new discipline: psychoanalysis, and Viennese professional. All were noted for their rejection of religion and their identification with prevalent German culture. This was the picture painted by Freud’s principal  biographers: Ernest Jones, Peter Gay and Ronald Clark. They agreed that Freud came from an assimilated Jewish background and he was a completely secular intellectual.

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The Establishment on the Couch: Analysing the politics of blame, fear, apathy and denial


Psychotherapy and politics

As Britain nervily approaches an unpredictable general election, it’s hard not to identify with a certain troubled soul from one of our greatest dramas and reflect that “something is rotten in the state of” our politics.

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Where the Waters Meet: Convergence and Complementarity in Therapy and Theology


In 1957 the art critic Carlton Lake (1915-2006) enjoyed a remarkably frank interview with Pablo Picasso.  Jacqueline Roque, the woman in Picasso’s life at that time, was present.  Lake recalls this particular conversation: 

Just then my eye was caught by an unframed canvas standing on a shelf above Jacqueline’s head and to the right. It was a portrait of a girl – Jacqueline, I would have said – in tones of green and black and white. She was shown in profile, looking off to the left, and Picasso had given the face a mildly geometrical stylization built up of triangular forms which emphasized the linear treatment but at the same time preserved the likeness. I pointed to the painting. “How would you explain to a person whose training made him look on that as deformation, rather than formation, why you had done it that way?” I asked him.

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Creating the ‘Good Life’


In my most recent book Creating Heaven on Earth: The Psychology of Experiencing Immortality in Everyday Life, I asked the question, How does one best fashion an “internal” world, a personal identity, that creates the conditions of psychological possibility to apprehend immortality, that almost magical Infinite—conceived as something-outside-everything, God, or the Other—from everyday living? The art of living the “good life”—following Freud, one of deep and wide love, creative and productive work, one that is guided by reason and ethics and is aesthetically pleasing—requires skillful attunement to these lovely transcendent presences in everyday life.

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Craving the love and devotion of their victims, it is not surprising that some culprits are politicians


Home Secretary Theresa May, still trying to find someone suitable to chair her inquiry into historical claims of sex abuse against children, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr yesterday that the allegations that have emerged so far are only “the tip of the iceberg”.

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Freud in Zion: Psychoanalysis and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity

Freud-in-Zion2Few episodes in the history of psychoanalysis are as densely packed with trans-cultural, ideological, institutional and ethical issues as the arrival of psychoanalysis in pre-state Israel in the early 20th century.

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Supporters of the virtual currency boast of no controls and no victims – but do they just want to get rich quick?


As financial regulations increase by the day, so do the ways around them. The most radical yet is the virtual currency known as the Bitcoin. Instead of real money, virtual cash is stored in an online wallet lodged in the hard drive of a computer.

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The human psyche is not simply a cultural construct. Neither is the universe in which the individual and society alike are embedded. Both have their own reality, their own powerful drives and hard limits. Sanity has as much to do with confronting those implacable facts as it does with conforming to social norms.

Now and then, the gap between the collective imagination of society and the realities of psychological or physical existence widens to a breaking point, and the facts that matter most are precisely those for which a culture’s definitions of sanity can find no room at all. When this happens, some of that culture’s cherished assumptions about the world are about to give way, with consequences that usually end up in big type in the history books.

There’s at least one way to catch the foreshocks of such a transformation, and that’s to pay close attention to changes in psychological patterns on the individual level.

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Marcel Proust – the making of a sadomasochist



The subject of the mother-son relationship had never been broached with such psychological insight as in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (1921). Indeed, we had to wait until 1969 before Philip Roth revisited the subject in Portnoy’s Complaint.

Yet Proust writes about the mother in such an innocuous and idealizing manner that to the unsuspecting reader it appears an unambiguously loving relationship. However, in earlier works, such as Jean Santeuil (c.1897) and short stories dating from his youth, Proust expressed himself in a less veiled style. Moreover, a letter to his mother written when he was more than forty years old is even more revealing. In it he complains that she still treats him as a four year-old child. Her aim seems to have been to control him mentally as well as physically.

Proust developed a sexual perversion. He became a sadomasochist and shows in his novel how this preference can develop. Generations of analysts after Sigmund Freud have maintained the explanation of masochism put forward in Freud’s paper, ‘A Child is Being Beaten’: the boy wants to be beaten by father as a replacement for being loved by him. The Oedipal father is the central figure in this account, rather than the mother. Indeed, Freud idealized the mother-son relationship, calling it ‘the least ambivalent and the most loving’ of all human bonds. He used only female cases for his theory of masochism. No male cases at all were explored, with only a mention of how passive feminine strivings are the source of masochism in males.

Like Proust, Freud derived his psychological knowledge in great part from subjective experience. But his experience with his mother was very different from that of Proust, who never overcame her domination. Consequently, Proust felt that in order to enjoy his (homo)sexuality he had to escape her control. Because his pleasure insulted his mother, then profaning and even murderous phantasies concerning mother figures became a condition for his pleasure and sexual excitement. This is the perversion that drives all his male protagonists throughout his novel.

marcel-proust-maman-famill1The Oedipal concept of ‘the boy in love with mother and wanting to kill father’ is turned upside down. The boy has not overcome his dependent position towards his mother. He has not reached a triadic Oedipal relationship. Consequently, he has to escape her control momentarily, to function as a sexual being at all. To channel his anxiety and aggression in a perverse sexual scenario enables him to become excited and potent. But this is compulsive, repetitive and not at all a free choice.

In my opinion, matricide (rather than patricide) has not received the attention within and outside of psychoanalysis that it deserves. Besides mother-son pathology, the concept clarifies much mother-daughter pathology as well. Such murderous phantasies and dreams are not uncommon in either men or women, but there is a crucial difference that must be observed: femininity is not threatened by unresolved dependency on the mother, unlike masculinity in males.

Hendrika C. Freud
Author of Men and Mothers: The Lifelong Struggle of Sons and Their Mothers, and Elektra vs Oedipus: The Drama of the Mother-Dauighter Relationship

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Why, not when?

Looking back on the theories offered to explain the riots of 2011, there was too much attention paid to the issue of why they occurred at that particular moment. Asking such a precise question was bound to lead to a plethora of factors being deemed significant, with a failure to identify which was more significant than the others.

The real question was ‘what were the conditions which made such a total loss of social control, expressed by looting, occur?’ That they happened in 2011 rather than the previous year or in 2012 was the wrong question.

The main factor

Of course there were many contributory factors, but by far the most significant was that we had become a nation of ‘shop till you drop’, It Could Be You, credit-fuelled consumer junkies. Widespread materialism (placing too high a value on money, possessions, appearances and fame – what I dubbed Affluenza) had been ramped up to such a degree that another question would be ‘why had there been no looting before?’

As the recession bit, money was getting tighter. For thirty years, first with Thatcherism, then Blatcherism, we had been encouraged to aspire, to believe that anyone could have anything or become anyone (even an ugly and unpleasant person could dream of winning Big Brother). There was a sense of entitlement to a widescreen TV and the sense that such a possession would make you fulfilled. What had been satirized as Loadsamoney in the eighties had ceased to be a joke. Being a loud-mouthed greedy person (otherwise known as the stereotypical American) had become highly valued. For five decades, we had been spending twice as much per capita on advertising to our population as mainland Europe, deliberately encouraging them to conflate real needs with confected wants.

The riots were inevitable

It would be wrong to claim that riots were inevitable. But it was hardly surprising to say the least when, one day, large swathes of the population who could not afford the consumer goods suddenly discovered that, if enough of them simultaneously smashed the windows of the shops and just took what they wanted, it was possible.

The biggest irony was that it took Right Wing journalists to point out that the population were only doing what the filthy rich ruling elite had been doing for three decades: the CEOs plundering their corporations, the MPs fiddling their mortgages and expenses, the politicians and civil servants hopping in and out of the financial services bed.

traders-are-probably-profiting-big-from-californias-gas-price-spike  london-looters-2011

Oliver James

Author of Affluenza; The Selfish CapitalistLove Bombing: Reset your Child’s Emotional Thermostat

. Affluenza.jpg     The%20Selfish%20Capitalist    9781780491370


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‘On the seashore of endless worlds, children play’


I have been fascinated by images ever since I can remember. How embarrassing for my mother, proudly introducing her three-year-old son to the principal of the school at which she taught only to have the little one say, “You’re a whale.”  To this moment, I can see myself seeing this good man as a whale as vividly as the instant it happened. His body and demeanour became a prompt for a waking dream image selected from swarms of inner possibilities, seas of images within. For the little boy, people were not only people. They also were these images and, at times, this led to trouble.

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We’re teaching our kids not how to Remember, but how to Kill



Why should we study killing? One might just as readily ask, Why study sex? The two questions have much in common. Every society has a blind spot, an area into which it has great difficulty looking. Today that blind spot is killing. A century ago it was sex.

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How the poetic and psychoanalytic processes illuminate each other


The Motive for Metaphor can be thought of as a small anthology: each chapter a kind of meditation (perhaps to start the reader on a longer meditation). Each focuses on a poem, sometimes two; on poetry in general; on poetry and psychoanalysis; on thought itself. The poems are beautiful and would be even in the absence of discussion.  But I hope the discussion will deepen the reader’s appreciation – of both the poems themselves and of the way the poetry sheds light on the psychoanalytic process.

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The Tragedy of Crookham Court School

In 1969 Ian Mucklejohn went as a supply teacher to Crookham Court School, a private boys’ school in Berkshire, where he kept a diary of its eccentricities and odd characters. But it became clear that these peculiarities disguised a sinister undercurrent. Years later, he helped to expose one of the biggest scandals in modern British education, as evidence emerged of the sexual abuse by teachers of dozens of boys at the school. He writes here about the book recounting how the abuse came to light and the lessons that need to be learned. 


Crookham-2-005 (2)‘How’ I asked a Norwegian client last summer, ‘can Norway exist as the incredibly open society it is?’  I asked because, within a minute of tapping his name into a search engine, I had discovered not only a Norwegian enquirer’s full address, but also his landline number, his mobile number, his date of birth, his wife’s name and date of birth, his salary, the tax he paid and what that tax was spent on.  My client looked me in the eye.  ‘I think,’ he mused ‘It’s because we trust each other.’

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Moralizing Evil

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Are we headed toward human extinction?  All inhabited continents are engaged in military conflict, and there is no foreseeable end in sight.  World superpowers, rogue nations, and international politics fuel existing warfare, leading to repetitive cycles of death, despair, transgenerational trauma, and systemic ruin. 

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Rationalism and Racism: how modern racism has its roots in the Enlightenment

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The aim of my new book, Racist States of Mind: Understanding the Perversion of Curiosity and Concern, was to observe and understand racism as a psychological phenomenon – what I refer to as a ‘state of mind’ as it emerges in individuals, groups, organisations, and societal life. 

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Freud and War, by Marlène Belilos

Posted on Jul 28, 2016

Thoughts for the Times on War and Death


War is obviously still a core issue for us today – just as it was for Freud, as Eugenie Lemoine-Luccioni observes in the title of her article (‘War: A core issue for Freud’) for this book. 

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The Therapist as Therapon: A Healing Sancho Panzo

Don Quixote book sculpture 2 web

The success of Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote - reputed to be the second bestselling book after the Bible - is no doubt due in large part to the author’s remarkable skill in telling a story, as he puts it, "to fight melancholia". Indeed, the original idea for the eponymous hero first appeared to Cervantes while he was himself imprisoned in Sevilla, on a false accusation - a melancholy experience that triggered memories of a previous traumatic incarceration, when twenty years earlier he had been captured by Barbary pirates (as a soldier fighting against the Ottoman empire) and spent five years as a slave in Algiers.

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