Rickman, John (1880-1951)

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RICKMAN, JOHN (1880-1951)

John Rickman, a doctor of medicine, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, was born on April 10, 1880, at Dorking, Surrey, England, and died on July 1, 1951, in Regent's Park, London. He was the only child of Quaker parents, and his father died when he was two. He went to Leighton Park, a Quaker boarding school in Reading. He fulfilled the requirements of a Natural Science Tripos at the University of Cambridge, and he completed his medical degree and qualified in 1916 at St. Thomas's Hospital in London. He joined the Friends War Victims Relief Unit in Russia (Rickman, 1949). In 1918 he met and married Lydia Lewis, an American. He then studied psychiatry at Cambridge, where Dr. William H. R. Rivers advised him to see Freud in Vienna. Freud agreed to see him for two guineas.

Freud asked him to work on what was published as The Development of the Psycho-Analytical Theory of the Psychoses (Rickman, 1928a). He returned to London and was elected an associate member of the British Psycho-Analytical Society in 1920 and a member in 1922. He played a key role in the early years of the society and its Institute of Psycho-Analysis, especially in administration, publication activities, and links with allied professions. In this regard, it was particularly helpful that he was an editor of the British Journal of Medical Psychology for 14 years.

He was elected to the council and to the first training committee in 1926. In 1929 he went to Budapest to have analysis with Sándor Ferenczi, and later, prior to the Second World War, he underwent some analysis with Melanie Klein and supported her approach.

After 1936 the Spanish Civil War convinced him of the need to oppose the Nazis. He was often asked to write editorials for The Lancet during periods of political crisis. In 1939 he joined the Emergency Medical Services, later becoming a major in the Royal Army Medical Corp. He met Wilfred R. Bion when he worked in Wharncliffe and Northfield Hospitals. He was then posted to the British Army War Officer Selection Board to select officers. Impressed by his approach, some colleagues later applied to be trained as psychoanalysts.

After the war he took an active part in the British Psycho-Analytical Society and in its new training arrangements. He also facilitated the rapprochement between the Tavistock Clinic and the society. In 1948 he was elected president of the society. At that time he was considered a member of the Middle Group, not a Kleinian. His thoughts as president are contained in his seminal paper on the functions of a psychoanalytic society (Rickman, 1951).

In 1928 he published The Development of the Psycho-Analytical Theory of the Psychoses, 1893-1926 and also Index Psycho-Analyticus. He edited the Psychoanalytical Epitome Series and wrote over a hundred papers and reviews. In 1957 his Selected Contributions to Psycho-Analysis was published.

His early death in 1951 was a loss to the British Psycho-Analytical Society, which missed his ability to act as a bridge between colleagues in other disciplines and analysts exploring the contributions that psychoanalysis could make to the understanding of group relations and the structure of society.

Pearl H. M. King

See also: Great Britain; Group analysis; International Journal of Psychoanalysis, The ; Tavistock Clinic.


Rickman, John. (1928a). The development of the psychoanalytical theory of the psychoses, 1893-1926. London: Bailliere, Tindall & Cox.

. (1928b). Index psycho-analyticus, 1893-1926. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

. (1949). Sketches of Russian peasant life (1916-1918). In Geoffrey Gorer and John Rickman (Eds.), The peoples of greater Russia: A psychological study (pp. 23-89). London: Cresset.

. (1951). Reflections on the functions and organization of a psycho-analytical society. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 32, 218-237.

. (1957). Selected contributions to psycho-analysis. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.