Hidden Histories of British Psychoanalysis: From Freud’s Death Bed to Laing’s Missing Tooth

Author(s) : Brett Kahr

Part of Freud Museum London series - more in this series

Hidden Histories of British Psychoanalysis: From Freud’s Death Bed to Laing’s Missing Tooth

Book Details

  • Publisher : Karnac Books
  • Published : October 2023
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 348
  • Category :
  • Catalogue No : 96947
  • ISBN 13 : 9781800131903
  • ISBN 10 : 9781800131

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In this compellingly written and meticulously researched new book, Professor Brett Kahr draws upon extensive unpublished archival sources and upon his four decades of oral history interviews to paint fascinating portraits of many of the icons of mental health. Hidden Histories of British Psychoanalysis: From Freud’s Death Bed to Laing’s Missing Tooth includes detailed accounts of Kahr’s interviews with such noted figures as Enid Balint, Marion Milner, Ronald Laing, John Bowlby and his wife, Ursula Longstaff Bowlby, as well as numerous members of Donald Winnicott’s family.

Framed as a series of glimpses into the early history of British psychoanalysis, Kahr explores how the German-speaking Sigmund Freud learned how to psychoanalyse English-speaking patients; how Enid Eichholz (the future wife of Michael Balint) pioneered couple psychoanalysis in the wake of the Second World War; how Donald Winnicott treated “The Piggle” in the midst of his own health crises; and how Masud Khan degenerated from a clinical sage into an anti-Semite.

A breathtaking combination of interviews, reminiscences, and well-documented scholarship, this book provides a gripping overview of many of the key figures in British psychoanalysis, all of whom made unparalleled contributions to the mental health profession, and whose lives and careers deserve to be visited and revisited.

Reviews and Endorsements

Few books are simultaneously informative, deep, playful, and pleasurable to read. Combining humility and respect for his subjects with creative audacity and understated eloquence, Brett Kahr’s Hidden Histories of British Psychoanalysis is a rare book of such sort. The two words in the title that give away the author’s passion and craft are “Hidden” (with its impish promise to unveil secrets) and “Histories” (with its sombre acknowledgment of the myriad, divergent sources, choices, and agendas in writing history). Based upon laborious archival research and personal interviews with the London glitterati of psychoanalysis (e.g. John Bowlby, Marion Milner, Enid Balint, Pearl King, R. D. Laing), Kahr offers us a penetrating glimpse into the post-Freudian developments in British psychoanalysis, while introducing us to the strengths and solidities of his dramatis personae as well as to their whims, idiosyncrasies, and occasional madnesses. This is a great contribution to our professional literature indeed!
Salman Akhtar, MD, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, Jefferson Medical College, and Training and Supervising Analyst, Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia

This is a very sneaky book. Ostensibly it is a series of tales from the history of Anglophone psychoanalysis in the twentieth century. But, in reality, it is a readable, often funny, account by the best historian of psychoanalysis of his generation, Brett Kahr. As much autobiography as historical account, it shows what happens when a brilliant mind meets an intractable object. The essay on the young student Brett Kahr and R. D. Laing’s missing tooth is itself worth the price of the volume, and has the possibility of becoming the classic essay on the pitfalls of celebrity.
Sander L. Gilman, PhD, Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at Emory University

A self-described “clinical historian”, a prolific writer and biographer of Donald Winnicott, with a passion for the rigorous rendering of historical detail and the healing of the human soul’s most intractable sufferings, Brett Kahr has made a reputation for himself as the eminent narrator and in depth analyst of the vagaries and some of the most protracted motifs and aspects that animate the legacy of psychoanalysis and that of its leading and lesser-known figures (the “elderly psychoanalysts”, as he lovingly calls them, whose homes, libraries, and couches he recalls visiting here).
The present collection of essays adds a series of important chapters to this ongoing and captivating lifelong project. In an at once engaging and well-documented fashion, Kahr takes us back to the contingent elements that, together, gave psychoanalysis in the United Kingdom its inescapable force and necessary radiance. From Freud’s unknown English teacher, to the growth of his English speaking clinical practice, and his remarkable Anglicisation, via the untold sources and adventures related to Winnicott as filtered through his marital life, up to the contributions made by a host of significant but much less-known theorists and practitioners, from “unassuming icons” to “bad boys” in British child, adult, and couple analysis, Kahr’s unique book traces overlooked names and cases, concepts and practices, that have not received the attention they deserve in what he calls “psychoanalytical historiography”.
Kahr is attentive to and appreciative of the networks, both familial and professional, within which great thinkers produce their psychoanalytic ideas and do their clinical work. He relies not only on his interviews with his heroes and heroines, but also on conversations with family members, colleagues, patients, secretaries, and medical doctors alike. In a non- judgemental way, he, at times tenderly, also registers the errors, deviations, and even perversions of these great figures. There is a moving resemblance between the fragility of “psychoanalytical psycho-biographical reconstructions”, including the author’s own, and the carefully observed deterioration and bodily disintegration of the heroes and heroines portrayed as they age or fall ill: Freud’s skin, Khan’s cancer, Milner’s loss of hearing, Laing’s falling tooth, and more. Kahr is acutely aware of his heroes and heroines falling into pieces, disintegrating, even shattering “into million pieces”, and, as a clinical historian, seeks to put them back together again, precisely by finding meaning in their history.
There is a dark side to these stories, therefore, which the psychoanalyst in Kahr believes one needs to explore, as only the deep probing of such “shadows” yields understanding and the possibility of avoiding their repetition. If the psychoanalytic work turns ghosts into ancestors, Kahr, for his part, does the same with corpses. Indeed, his previous work on the schizophrenic feeling of bodily disintegration keeps him close to the material reality of bodies, odors, sounds, and textures, which are evinced in each one of the remarkable encounters collected in this partly oral history, which relies as much on countless hours spent in the archives.
Kahr’s Hidden Histories is a labor of love that in its caring attentiveness humanises the great figures on whose shoulders it stands. Highly readable and greatly enticing, this latest addition to the Freud Museum’s and Karnac’s promising new series, will speak to professionals, historians, and the wider interested reading public alike.
Orna Ophir, PhD, Associate Director of The DeWitt Wallace Institute for Psychiatry, Weill-Cornell Medical College, New York, and a Member of the History of Psychoanalysis Committee of the International Psychoanalytical Association

Using storytelling and clinical and research tools, Brett Kahr’s sorcery brings to life several well-known personalities in the British psychoanalytic panoply – its “superstars” as well as its “bad boys”. While profoundly respectful, Kahr’s thoughtful critique of rigorously sourced archival papers, oral history research, and personal interviews rewards the readers with much wisdom and inspiration from foundational figures of psychoanalysis.
Joan Raphael-Leff, PhD, Retired Professor of Psychoanalysis, and Leader of the Academic Faculty of Psychoanalytic Research at the Anna Freud Centre

I fear I have done Professor Kahr a disservice by sharing so many spoilers from his magnificent book. But in my defence, I have shared them with you as an encouragement for you to read it yourself. [...] His commitment to this project shines from his loving descriptions of Marion Milner’s home (it needs a good clean) to his open-minded inquisitiveness into the potential motivations of those like Khan or Laing who can so easily be dismissed as heroes or villains. [...] In the words of this text Brett communicates his deep enthusiasm for the hidden histories that, due to his diligence, are no longer hidden. After all, this book is the result of his exhaustive archival research alongside the interviews he personally conducted.
Aaron Balick, Psychology: Applied, 2023

In this charming book of essays, Professor Brett Kahr exercises his passion and skill in historical storytelling to contextualise the personal and professional history of various aspects of 20th century British psychoanalysis. [...] [This book], is a unique and welcome addition to the literature. Derived from countless interviews (over 900 alone into studies on Winnicott, including fifty of his former patients), and from devoted explorations of archival material as well as self-reflection on his various meetings, the tone of the book ranges from the anecdotal to the historiographic, and is very enjoyable [...] Psychoanalysis at its very core embraces the hidden in our histories. It is a joy to read this book which embraces the hidden histories in our psychoanalysis.
Helena Michaelson, Psychodynamic Practice

Brett Kahr has been described as the best historian of psychoanalysis of his generation. In this informative book he shares new details from his itnerviews and archival research. [...] Kahr is a brilliant storyteller and this enjoyable read has much to offer anyone interested in exploring the roots of modern therapy.
Jane Cooper, MBACP (Snr Accred), former counsellor in higher education

Table of Contents

My Love of Deceased Psychoanalysts

Chapter 1 - “Zooming” in Old Vienna: How Sigmund Freud Became an English-Speaking Psychoanalyst

Chapter 2 - Freud’s London Death Bed: Notes on the “Invalid Couch” at Maresfield Gardens

Chapter 3 - Donald Winnicott’s Wives: From Alice Buxton Taylor to Clare Britton

Chapter 4 - “The Piggle” Family Papers: Unpublished Archival Gems Regarding Winnicott’s Most Iconic Case

Chapter 5 - “Half-Baked Pseudo-Scientific Rubbish”: How John Bowlby Reinvented Child Psychiatry

Chapter 6 - Ursula Longstaff Bowlby: The Creative Muse of Attachment Theory

Chapter 7 - Breakfast with Marion Milner: Reminiscences of the World’s Oldest Psychoanalyst

Chapter 8 - Enid Eichholz Balint: The Birth of Couple Psychoanalysis in England

Chapter 9 - Rajah on the Couch: The Magnificence and Misery of Masud Khan

Chapter 10 - R.D. Laing’s Missing Tooth: The Secret Roots of Genius and Madness

How to Be Intimate with a Corpse: The Role of Psychoanalytical Historiography


About the Author(s)

Professor Brett Kahr has worked in the mental health profession for over forty years. A clinical registrant of both the British Psychoanalytic Council and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, he is Senior Fellow at the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology in London and, also, Visiting Professor of Psychoanalysis and Mental Health at Regents University London.

Over the decades, Kahr has worked in the National Health Service and in private practice in Central London with both individuals and couples. He is currently Consultant Psychotherapist to The Balint Consultancy and, additionally, Consultant in Psychology at The Bowlby Centre. He also serves as Chair of the Scholars Committee of the British Psychoanalytic Council, as well as Senior Clinical Research Fellow in Psychotherapy and Mental Health at the Centre for Child Mental Health.

Professor Kahr is the Honorary Director of Research at Freud Museum London and, also, an Honorary Fellow of the museum. Previously, he served as Deputy Director of the International Campaign for the Freud Museum from 1986-1987 and, more recently, as Trustee of both Freud Museum London and of Freud Museum Publications from 2011-2020.

In addition to his clinical practice, Kahr has collaborated with the media in order to promote mental health knowledge. Formerly Resident Psychotherapist on BBC Two, broadcasting about mental health issues to millions of listeners, he has appeared on over one thousand radio and television programmes. In recognition of his work in this field, he has become Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Media and Communication at Bournemouth University. The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy recently awarded him an Honorary Fellowship for his contributions to public service.

Professor Kahr is the author of sixteen books and series editor of more than seventy-five additional titles on a wide range of subjects.

His solo-authored books cover a range of topics, including clinical investigations of extreme psychopathology and forensic mental health, such as his titles, Bombs in the Consulting Room: Surviving Psychological Shrapnel, as well as Dangerous Lunatics: Trauma, Criminality, and Forensic Psychotherapy. He has also written on Sex and the Psyche, a Waterstones Non-Fiction Bestseller and a chosen title in the Sunday Times Book Club, based on his study of the traumatic, unconscious roots of over 20,000 adult sexual fantasies, as well as Celebrity Mad: Why Otherwise Intelligent People Worship Fame. His historically orientated books include the very first biography of Donald Winnicott, entitled D.W. Winnicott: A Biographical Portrait, which received the Gradiva Award for Biography, as well as the popular titles, Life Lessons from Freud, Tea with Winnicott, and Coffee with Freud. Most recently, he has released Freud's Pandemics: Surviving Global War, Spanish Flu, and the Nazis, the inaugural title in the new Freud Museum London Series of history books, published by Karnac Books exploring not only how Sigmund Freud navigated the tragedies of his own lifetime but, also, how he would have handled the COVID-19 pandemic and what lessons our world leaders might learn from those pioneering psychoanalytical concepts.

Professor Kahr has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Karnac Books and has produced many books with this publisher and has also served as series editor or series co-editor or consultant to four of its monograph series. More recently, he has become Series Editor of the Freud Museum London Series, hosted by Karnac Books in association with Freud Museum London, as well as Advisory Editor-in-Chief to Karnac Books and to its sibling imprint Confer Books.

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