In the practice of a profession which has been called the ‘talking cure’, the role of the psychoanalyst is to talk – but not about himself. When THERIP first proposed the idea of creating an archive of interviews with senior members of the British Psycho-analytical Society who have helped to shape its development we were concerned with the anonymity of the analytic technique which might prove fatal to the project. Although in the event, no analyst refused an invitation on these grounds, we asked those interviewed to choose their own interviewer (a friend or colleague) and agree with them in advance the main themes to be discussed. Thus the privacy required of a practising analyst would not be at risk. The arrangement proved to have another advantage: we found that some of the liveliest and most fruitful dialogues developed on the basis of a long-standing rapport between interviewer and interviewee.
One of the main purposes of the archive has been to capture knowledge and experience before psychoanalysts take it with them to the grave. The analysts interviewed have lived through a turbulent period in the history of the British Society and we have asked them to give some thought in their interview to their memories of this history and the party they have played within it. Because the interviews were unstructured and each interviewer was different, the archive material does not provide a coherent account of the development of psychoanalysis in Britain. But we would claim that the material, at its best, has a liveliness and charm, which, however anecdotal, provides glimpses of the analytic world not available elsewhere. Where else, for example, could we learn that members of the Anna Freud Centre described the Tavistock (at that time in Fitzroy Avenue) as ‘within spitting distance’? Or sit in on Christopher Bollas’ first supervision with Paula Heinmann as she held her head in her hands: ‘Oh no .. oh dear, oh dear, … no, no’?
The interview, if indeed it qualifies as a literary genre, is clearly linked both to biography (how the interviewer sees his subject) and to autobiography (what the subject chooses to reveal of himself). There is little of the confessional in these interviews: no sex or sin, no childhood memories and, in most cases, less personal detail than in the most restrained of obituaries. The analysts interviewed have chosen, entirely appropriately, to talk about their professional and not their personal life. But a man cannot appear without showing himself. Without wishing to deny that the text may well transcend its author, we believe that these recordings will be of particular interest to future generations of scholars, bringing life to the written page.
The psychoanalysts interviewed have been drawn, as far as possible, from all groups and strands of opinion within the Society. The venue for the interviews has varied, often at the preference of the speakers. Some have had no objection to speaking at the Therip Annual Conference, others have preferred a smaller audience, and some have been interviewed at home (usually for reasons of health). Interviews last well over an hour and were recorded on VHS tape or DVD disc. Later it is planned to extend the project to continental Europe, South America and India.