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The Writings of Professor Robert M. Young



by Robert M Young

I have known Bob Hinshelwood since the early 1980s and dare say that I have been directly or indirectly instrumental in his coming to know many people here today.
I was approached by a small group of psychiatrists, including Bob, to conduct a study group on concepts in philosophy and social theory, for example, the concepts of the history of ideas, ideology, the sociology of knowledge – that sort of thing. I have to say that some of them were not very diligent in doing the suggested reading and took little part in the discussions. I found them heavy going, except for Bob, who did the reading and was active and thoughtful in the discussions. I explained this discrepancy to myself in a way that you may find intolerant – that, for the most part, people who go to medical school are not very much taught or invited to think about concepts - about, as it were, holding them up to the light and pondering their facets and looking underneath them to discern the assumptions on which they are based. Bob was exceptional, I think, because he is exceptional.

My next contact with him arose as a result of my deciding to train as a psychotherapist. I was in full analysis because my experience in making television documentaries had left me very depressed, triggered by the ruthless ways that people in television behave. I set up Free Association Books as a haven from my academic and media experiences. One day, Claire Pajaczkowska, who was translating a book for us, was sitting in my office and said, ‘Why aren’t you training?’ I immediately saw her point. Indeed, I had set out to become a psychiatrist and analyst years earlier in America, and one thing had led to another and had taken me up different trails. My analyst supported the idea and suggested that although I was over the then existing age limit, I should try to apply to the Institute of Psychoanalysis. Sure enough, because of that age limit I was not allowed to apply. He next suggested the British Association of Psychotherapists, who did not accept me. He then said that the other trainings were, as he put it, ‘beneath your competence’ and that I should apprentice myself to someone I admired.

I approached Bob who took me on at the Psychotherapy Department of the St Bernard’s Hospital in Southall where he worked from 1976 until 1993. He supervised me weekly in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and then group psychotherapy from 1984 for many years, at a guess, for approaching five hundred sessions. He also nominated all my subsequent supervisors. He then suggested that I’d better get mobbed up, since registration was on its way, though it still hasn’t arrived many years later. I responded to an invitation from Judith Jackson, head of the Lincoln training and went on to do their Full Membership course. So it is literally true that I owe all my training experiences to him, directly or indirectly, and you can imagine how grateful I was and am for that. He was, you won’t be surprised to hear, an exacting and sometimes mildly sardonic supervisor, but he was also a generous one. For example, he invited me to be a member of the low-fee West London Psychotherapy Clinic that he and Herta Reik founded to help people on a long NHS waiting list for treatment. As a result I had a full complement of patients very early in my career, a blessing that few newly minted psychotherapists receive. As for the sardonic, I think it was he who said, ‘If you don’t understand what the patient is saying, make an interpretation, and if you don’t understand the patient at all, write a paper’. I am not sure of my memory with respect to the next maxim: ‘If you don’t understand anything, write a book.’ Perhaps I have mis-remembered.

          The next and very fruitful area of cooperation between us was in publishing. He was setting up the British Journal of Psychotherapy when I was creating Free Association Books and the journal Free Associations. He was a very active supporter of both of these ventures. He joined the board of the journal, attended its meetings very scrupulously and was free with his advice and support. He wrote a number of articles and reviews, e.g., a philosophical paper on a dual materialism in psychotherapy, a reflective piece on the situation in training in the profession and a sharp critique of eclecticism in psychotherapy trainings. He was also generous in suggesting ideas for the press. Several come to mind – collecting the papers of Isabel Menzies Lyth and those of Tom Main. He drew our attention to a biography of Wilfred Bion by Gerard Bleandonu that we had translated and published. I am sure that there were more, but neither of us can remember specific titles.

He also brought us three of his own books. The first was What Happens in Groups? for which I think I suggested the title. It is still a standard work in that area. The third was Clinical Klein that also remains highly regarded. The second was, of course, A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought. I had the original idea for that book. It was inspired by a little volume by the Marxist English literature scholar, Raymond Williams, who had written a dictionary of the concepts used in Cultural Studies, entitled Keywords, first published in 1976. Here is an assessment of it I got from Amazon: ‘Williams book is a very useful one. It offers a wide variety of explanations of the concepts, institutions and values that have shaped the world over the centuries. Ranging from the traditional ideas of family to less-investigated areas such as intellect and dialect. An important book and one which anyone interested in such an area should own.’ The idea was not just to provide dictionary definitions but a little essay both defining and illuminating the concept, e.g., ‘alienation’, ‘formalist’, ‘ideology’, ‘mediation’, ‘positivist’.

          I took this idea with me to supervision one morning and asked Bob for suggestions as to who should be approached to write it. He rang the next day and said that he wanted to write it. To be frank, my first reaction was to feel taken aback and a bit trapped. I didn’t see how I could withhold the commission from him, though I was not altogether sure that it was something he would get his mind around. I did not at that time think of him as a scholar. Indeed, when he took up the appointment as a professor at Essex he was kind enough to say that I had had a major role in his becoming one.

          When the text started to come in I knew I had been wrong about his academic abilities - dead wrong. My admiration grew as I read and lightly edited the manuscript. The idea of writing thirteen major entries and many shorter ones was excellent. The only significant editorial contribution I made was to spare the reading public the things he had to say about Winnicott. I’ll share two more recollections with you. The book launch was held at the Institute of Psychoanalysis, and the main speaker at the point ion the proceedings when we raised our glasses was the then-president of the Society, a member of the Independent Group. He spoke at length about the important links between the Institute and the Cassel Hospital of which Bob was by then the clinical director. He made no mention at all of Bob or the book.  I commented on this to Bob, something which, to put it mildly, seemed to me to be a major omission, even a snub. He smiled and said that ‘different people have different agendas’. My next antidote is that some of the Kleinian luminaries were very angry that there was no personal entry on Betty Joseph, whose important contributions could be said to be ones of technique. This and some other criticisms were addressed in a second edition. There was talk of a major revision edited by a committee, but this has not come to pass, I am glad not to have the unity of Bob’s vision diluted and fragmented. The book is indubitably a classic, and it would be a travesty to mess with it. You will all know how useful and important this book is. Klein was not a terse writer and did not spell out her concepts neatly. I believe that the dictionary has played a major part in making her ideas and those of Bion and others accessible to a much wider audience and thereby spreading Kleinian ideas far and wide. The fact that it has been translated into nine languages speaks for itself. [Enthusiastic applause]

Bob is not a pompous man, I remember when he was still trying to get the British Journal of Psychotherapy off the ground, some people he thought were working with him decided to launch a separate journal, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, catering for people working in the NHS. He confided to me that he was at that time terrified.  Yet the BJP grew and became truly and remains what someone once called ’the journal for the rest of us’.

Then there are the International Journal of Therapeutic Communities and Psychoanalysis and History. These are three major initiatives covering three disparate parts of the forest of analytic and related ideas – all edited and sustained by him. I have started periodicals and know just what a task, burden and source of anxiety it is to get a board together, get it set up, keep it going and do the endless and relentless admin. I dealt with most of those tasks by having managing editors, as Karl Figlio, Barry Richards, Paul Gordon and Em Farrell can bear witness to.

Bob also has a trait that puzzles me, though I also admire it. He reaches a point when he decides just to let a thing go, rather as a mother bird nudges her little birdies out of the nest so that they will learn to fly without her ongoing nurturance. He withdrew from the West London Psychotherapy Clinic long ago and sold the BJP to the BAP in 2006 and the Psychoanalysis and History journal to Edinburgh University Press in the same year. He never owned the therapeutic communities journal and gave up his last editorial role after six years in 1986. He left the Cassel Hospital after four years in 1997, well before he was expected to and at a time when his influence and leadership were making a big impact on that admirable institution’s standards and standing.

Then he took up the Professorship in Psychoanalytic Studies at Essex in 1997 from which he is now retiring. It is not for me to give an account of his twelve years of work here, but I will note that there were once more than half a dozen such centres (I was at the Sheffield one until I retired nine years ago), and now there are two Essex and University College, though Middlesex still offers a narrowly based MA but little else and the University of North London offers a number of related programmes and an MA jointly with the Tavistock Clinic. Only Essex still has a broad set of offerings of degrees, courses and research opportunities. Of course, this is significantly due to the initiative and leadership of Karl Figlio, but I don’t suppose that anyone will have any doubt about the shining beacon that Bob Hinshelwood has been.

I will, however, sum up his productivity. He has written or edited eleven books and two collections of influential papers from the 1920s and 1940s. There are 60 refereed articles, 23 non-refereed ones, 57 chapters in books, 32 book reviews and 85 invited papers and workshops abroad.  I confess that when I read his list of writings I emailed him as follows: ‘Yours is longer than mine’. Lazy sod.

And then there’s all that mentoring. If my experience of that is anything to go by, and I am sure that it is, the list must be long and must reflect much heartfelt appreciation for his time, his acumen, his midwifery and his generosity of spirit.

Bob and I have had disagreements, sometimes sharp ones, and my overall view of psychoanalytic practice, theory and institutions is currently baleful, not least because of quite a lot of people’s penchant for letting comfort and career come before principles and politics. Moreover, I have several times and especially recently found people in positions of leadership behaving in appalling ways. Of course, it was ever so, but I once hoped that in this, of all professions, it would be less so. Please don’t think that I see him as serenely and stoically above all the muck of professional and academic politics. I do not. However, when I reflect on the variety of experiences I have had with Bob Hinshelwood I conclude that his role in my life and my profession has been almost completely admirable and often inspiring. I feel privileged to honor him here today.







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