British Psycho-Analytical Society

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The London Psycho-Analytical Society, formed in 1913, was composed of thirteen members, only four of whom worked as psychoanalysts, while others agreed with Jung. On February 20, 1919, ten members interested in Freud's work agreed to disband that group and to re-form it as the British Psycho-Analytical Society. They decided only to accept as members, those who were interested in and practiced psychoanalysis. The members elected Dr. Ernest Jones as president and decided that members and associate members should be elected. They drew up rules for the Society, and in 1924 the Institute of Psycho-Analysis (IPA) was set up to hold property, to deal with financial and other matters concerning publication. Later the Institute became responsible for the administration of the Clinic and of training activities. The officers of the Society were responsible for the scientific activities of members and were its link with the IPA.

In 1926, the London Clinic of Psychoanalysis was established. Members gave one session a day freely to the Clinic, for the next thirty years. It was disclaimed from the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948-49 and it is still an independent clinic. As membership increased, so the committee structure expanded, and after 1946 committees were governed by the "Gentleman's Agreement." In September 1972 the Society was registered as a Charity: No. 264314.

By 1920 there were thirty members and associate members of the British Society. During the 1920s several members of the British Society went to Europe for analysis with Freud, Hans Sachs, Karl Abraham and Sandor Ferenczi. The approach of these analysts influenced the British approach to psychoanalysis. By 1925 there were fifty-four members of the Society, who came from a number of professional disciplines, among them were psychiatrists, medical practitioners, teachers, graduates and "gentlemen scholars." In 1927 Melanie Klein became a member of the Society and she brought with her various scientific differences with the Viennese, and especially with Anna Freud.

After 1933 the growth of anti-Semitism under Hitler put the lives of Jewish psychoanalysts in danger, first in Germany, and then from 1938 in Austria. Many became refugees, and some of them, including the Freuds, accepted membership of the British Society, to the great enrichment of psychoanalysis in London. Originally, to become a member, associates read a clinical paper to the Society or to a Panel, but since 1975, they have had the option of taking a two-year membership course.

In 1925 at the Bad Homburg Congress in Germany, the first Conference of delegates from branch societies took place and agreed that training should be the responsibility of a training committee and not of an individual. In 1926, the British elected their first training committee and formalized their training. The need for medical qualifications was discussed but most members of the Society supported Freud's point of view against this requirement.

Disagreements in the British Society and criticisms of Melanie Klein's theories led to the "controversial discussions," which were concerned with what kind of psychoanalysis should be taught to students. Following these discussions, Glover resigned from the Society and Anna Freud resigned from the training committee. When Sylvia M. Payne was elected as President in 1944, she suggested a change in the training program in order to include Anna Freud's approach to psychoanalysis. Training was divided into Course A, which catered to the majority of the British Society (i.e. the Middle Group and the Kleinians) and Course B, which catered to Anna Freud's approach. In order that no one group could dominate the others, it has been agreed that all committees contain representatives of each group. This was not written down in the Society rules, so it was called the "gentlemen's agreement." Groups are now designated as Kleinian, Independent (Rayner, 1991), and Contemporary Freudian.

These earlier training arrangements were revised in the early 1960s when a separate curriculum committee was set up alongside the training committee. Later in 1973, after much research, a new structure was agreed upon, which allocated aspects of the training process to separate sub-committees, whose chairmen were members of the policy-making education committee. Training takes place primarily in London, although special arrangements have been made for selected students from Scotland and Northern Ireland to be trained as psychoanalysts.

Since 1919 the scientific and clinical interests of members have included the role of anxiety, hostility and aggression, the theory of symbolism, character problems, the origin and structure of the superego, problems of psychoanalytic technique, a psychoanalytic theory of psychoses, and the psychoanalysis of children. They also applied psychoanalytic understanding to the arts, educational, and social issues.

Interest in the early development of infants and the possibility of analyzing them increased with the move of Klein to London in 1927. Her ideas started to have implications for work with adult patients, which some members considered to be incompatible with Freud's approach. Klein's critics objected to her use of fantasy, her interpretation of Freud's concept of the death instinct, and her concept of internal objects. When Anna Freud and her colleagues arrived in 1938, they joined Klein's critics. Between 1942 and 1944 Scientific Meetings were arranged to explore these differences, after which members agreed to differ within the context of the gentleman's agreement (King and Steiner 1991).

After the Second World War the scientific life of the Society continued to be characterized by interest in child analysis, psychotic and borderline conditions and the application of psychoanalysis to the arts and social issues. The division into three groups created at times serious disagreements, but properly contained they contributed to the creativity and liveliness on the scientific life of the Society. In the early twenty-first century, the scientific differences between members have decreased, and interest now centers on technique and the "here and now" of the analytic relationship rather than on the elucidation of theoretical issues and concepts.

As papers on applied subjects were seldom read at Scientific Meetings, in 1968 a special Section was set up that became known as the "Applied Section." Through this section and courses of public lectures, alongside the Annual Ernest Jones Lecture, links have been made with colleagues from other professional disciplines.

During the 1920s, Susan Isaacs did research on the social and intellectual development of young children in the Malting House School, Cambridge (Isaacs 1933). In 1932, Edward Glover carried out and later published research on the way members of the Society worked as psychoanalysts (Glover and Brierley 1940). In 1957, the Research Committee was set up to facilitate applications for members' research. Interest also centers on the conceptualization in statistical terms of the outcome and effectiveness of psychoanalysis. In 1981, the Erich Simenauer Foundation was set up, through the generosity of the late Prof. Simenauer, who was an Honorary Member of the Society, to support and encourage psychoanalytic research work.

After Ernest Jones died, his remaining papers were given to the Archives of the Society. They cover his work for the International, as well as for the Society. When Pearl King became honorary archivist, she began to index the Archives on a computer database. This is an ongoing task. The Archives have become an important center for research into the history of psychoanalysis.

In 1920, the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis started publicationthe first psychoanalytic journal in the English language. A Glossary Committee of Joan Riviere, James and Alix Strachey, and Ernest Jones, worked in collaboration with the Freuds on the task of translating Freud's work and concepts from German into English. In 1924, The International Psycho-Analytical Library was started with the Hogarth Press. In 1986, the Institute launched The New Library of Psychoanalysis in cooperation with Tavistock and then Routledge.

Following the Second World War, the Society sponsored the translation of Freud's complete psychological works into English and their publication in twenty-four volumes as the Standard Edition. James Strachey carried the main responsibility for this great achievement, with the help of Anna Freud (Steiner 1987). A revised Standard Edition is planned; it is to include matter from previously unknown papers, corrections, and a glossary of German words having controversial translations.

Professional and public concern with the legitimacy of psychoanalysis as a medical specialty led the British Medical Association in 1927 to set up a committee to investigate it. After meeting for two years, they agreed not to oppose the use of psychoanalysis, by those trained by the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, as a treatment for mental illness. Since then the Society has presented evidence to a number of Royal Commissions.

In 1956, on the centenary of Freud's birth, the London County Council placed a commemorative plaque on the house where he had lived in Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead. In 1986, following the death of Anna Freud, this house was opened by Princess Alexandra as the home of the Freud Museum. In 1975 David Astor donated the money for a Freud Professor-ship at University College, London. Initially, the professors were appointed annually, but in 1984 Dr. J. J. Sandler was appointed as the first full-time Freud Professor. The Society built up close links with hospitals in the NHS, especially with the Tavistock Clinic and the Cassel Hospital, which resulted in their facilitating the training of psychoanalysts who were on their staff. The Society also supported the Anna Freud Center in its training of child psychotherapists and child psychoanalysts.

Several members of the British Psycho-Analytical Society have held important professional roles in the psychoanalytical world: Ernest Jones, William H. Gillespie, Adam Limentani and Joseph Sandler were presidents of the IPA. The Society has organized four IPA. Congresses: in Oxford in 1929, in London in 1953, in Edinburgh in 1961 and in London in 1975. The Society was responsible to the IPA for the Sponsoring Committees for Australia and Canada, and it has trained candidates from many countries.

Joseph Sandler and Anne Marie Sandler were Presidents of the European Psychoanalytical Federation. Since 1969, every two years the Society has organized the English Speaking Conference for European psychoanalysts.

Pearl King and Riccardo Steiner

See also: Controversial Discussions; Jones, Ernest; International Journal of Psychoanalysis, The ; Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud .


Glover, Edward, and Brierley, Marjorie. (1940). An investigation of the technique of psycho-analysis. London: Bailliere, Tindall and Cox.

Isaacs, Susan. (1933). Social development in young children. London: Routledge.

King, Pearl H. M., and Steiner, Riccardo. (1991). The Freud-Klein controversies 1941-1945. London, New York: Tavistock Publications-Routledge, New Library of Psychoanalysis.

Rayner, Eric. (1991). The independent mind in British psychoanalysis. London: Free Association Books.

Steiner, Riccardo. (1985). Some thoughts about tradition and change arising from an examination of the British Psycho-Analytical Society's "Controversial Discussions," 1943-1944. International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 12, 27-71.

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British Psycho-Analytical Society

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