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Well Known Figures in Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis Ireland


Well Known Figures in Psychoanalysis

Wilfred Ruprecht Bion (1897 - 1979)

Bion is well-known for his work on group processes, but he was also a major
contributor on psychosis and on thinking, as well as developing psychoanalytic theory
on art and creativity.
He was born in India and went to England for schooling at the age of eight.
During WW1 he served in France as a tank commander and won the DSO and the
Legion of Honour. He studied Modern History at Oxford and was introduced to
philosophy, which was to be an enduring influence in his life. He embarked on
medical studies in London and graduated in 1930. He fell under the influence of John
Rickman and began an analysis with him, to be interrupted by WW2, during which
time he briefly looked after men suffering from shell shock and his interest in groups
began. Later he was analysed by Melanie Klein and spent years at the Tavistock
Clinic developing the theory and practice of group work. Eventually he abandoned
group work and went into psychoanalytic practice In London, then spent the last
eleven years of his life, until shortly before he died, working in Los Angeles.
He produced a vast and wide-ranging oeuvre, having written extensively on
group processes, psychosis and thinking, to name a few of his interests. His well-
known work, Experiences in Groups, 1961 (1952) gives an account of his
understanding of group dynamics, describing his 'basic assumption theory'. In a
therapeutic group, if the therapist declined the position of 'leader', he found that
groups would respond differently, depending on their basic assumption at any given
moment, which is informed by the group's shared phantasy, and produces the group
mentality. Many of his notions were heavily influenced by Klein, but he was also
shaped by his earlier exposure to Plato and Kant, in particular.
Bion was concerned to bring the insights of psychoanalysis to bear on social
and cultural issues. He also worked with and wrote extensively on psychosis,
proposing that such illness was ultimately the result of the mother having been unable
to contain the infant's fear of dying. He was also interested in thinking, developing
the notion of the mind as a 'container-contained', with the thinking apparatus as the
container and thoughts as the contained. He viewed the role of the analyst as being to
provide a reparative maternal environment for the patient.
An early commitment to a more scientific discourse where he drew on
analogies from maths and the physical sciences gradually gave way to more
speculative approach. He came to see psychoanalysis as an art rather than a science,
and the language of his writings became more poetic and, in parts, mystical. His later
work is often criticised as being deliberately obscure and incomprehensible, and he
himself came to value enigma and mystery above clarity and certainty. Donald
Melzer became a major proponent of Bion's work, but his influence is to be found in
many areas of psychoanalytic interest.

Selected Works:
Experiences in Groups (1952)
Further Reading:
The Clinical Thinking of Wilfred Bion, by J & N Symington (1996)
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