The Courage of Simplicity: Hanni Biran explores the central ideas in the work of W.R. Bion

Psychoanalytic thinking through three prisms: person, group, and society


The chapters of this book were written throughout a period of many years. The ideas they present are grounded in the thinking of Wilfred Bion. Bion has always been an inspiration to me. His books are thought-provoking and conducive to playfulness and elaboration. His writing is an exquisite combination of poetry and science. It draws on intuition, a unique life experience, and profound knowledge of psychoanalysis and other disciplines.

Bion takes great liberty in his writing. While he may be considered an enigmatic, even incomprehensible author, the second and third readings reveal several very simple, even everyday principles which shed much light on the world within us and around us.

I have named this book The Courage of Simplicity for two reasons. First, since Bion is, paradoxically, very simple. The second has to do with the character of my own writing. In this book, I set out to write both clearly and directly about highly intricate matters. My writing is affected by my personal biography as an Israeli, born about the same time as the establishment of the state of Israel. My life has been interlaced with the social dilemmas and social traumas that accompany the difficult history of the Jewish people. In terms of my political views, I am against the occupation and support peace between the two peoples who are sharing this harsh region.


“I am against the occupation and support peace between the two peoples who are sharing this harsh region.”

The book is divided into four sections. The first revolves around the individual. Clinical in its emphasis, it discusses Bion’s theory of thinking, his reading of the Oedipus myth, and his notion of the “selected fact”. These are illustrated by vignettes highlighting the emotional aspect of thinking.

The second discusses the small group and its unconscious processes. Although Bion’s paradigms have greatly influenced psychoanalytic conceptions of small group processes, this section integrates the thinking of Bion with that of Klein, Foulkes, Turquet, Lawrence and Hopper. The third, focusing on the feelings of despair and helplessness in the face of repetitive, unending war, is inspired by the experiences of my own life in Israel. It relates to society at large and the traumatic history of the Jewish people: the Holocaust is still inscribed in the Israeli social-unconscious and this social trauma has considerable impact on the Jewish-Arab conflict. I wholeheartedly believe that these three circles – individual, group, society – are both inseparable and intricately interdependent.

The final section elucidates key concepts in Bion’s thinking, such as Container and Contained, and the Caesura. It is also clinically oriented, demonstrating how these concepts may shape interventions and interpretations in our work with patients.

I took great pleasure in my work on this book, mostly as I have been able to discover many ways of illustrating and fleshing out Bion’s abstract ideas. The final pages also depict several of the formative events of my life. Spanning from my childhood to the present day, these are the experiences that have shaped me as a psychoanalyst and a group analyst.

4035777_orig (1)Hanni Biran, MA, is a clinical psychologist, a trainee psychoanalyst and lecturer and supervisor at Tel Aviv Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, where she is a member of the committee for social involvement of the Institute. A group analyst, she is also a lecturer at The Israeli Institute of Group Analysis and supervises many teams and staff members in public clinics and hospitals involved in group psychotherapy. She has also been trained according to the group relations tradition of Tavistock Institute, and conducts small and large groups and role analysis workshops in Israel and abroad. She is a lecturer in the program for psychotherapy at Tel Aviv University and in the program for psychotherapy at Magid Institute, The Hebrew University.

Her book The Courage of Simplicity: Essential Ideas in the Work of W.R. Bion is published this week by Karnac Books

Biran-NilgaReviews and Endorsements

‘What a lovely, probing book Hanni Biran has written, at once gentle, strong, warm and clear, touching individual, group and cultural processes important for the quality of life today. It contributes to our thinking and feeling about who we are and what we do and can do with ourselves.’
— Michael Eigen, PhD, author of Contact with the Depths and The Sensitive Self and Faith

‘This is a rather special book. In an admirably evocative way, it balances the key Bionian ideas on one hand, with a wide range of Biran’s own personal experiences – experiences in her own biography, and in her range of academic and professional reading. So, this book mixes an exposition of Bion from the primary sources, with an interwoven pattern of the author’s own thinking, interpretation and almost love for her chosen subject. It is a straightforward confrontation between the essential ideas, as Biran calls them, against a backdrop of social instability which betrays in all details the disturbances that the professional sections calmly dissect, in terms of social forces, unknown to the individuals, and the unconscious of those individuals, also unknown to them. I can’t think of a better place to situate oneself to read and understand Wilfred Bion.’
— Professor R.D. Hinshelwood, University of Essex, author of Bion’s Sources: The Shaping of his Paradigms

‘The scope of this book speaks to the strength of Hanni Biran’s scholarship and the generosity of her spirit, showing clearly the depth of her command of the ideas and work of Bion and the power of both in the contextual and clinical applications of her own professional practice. She credits equally her learning from the patients with whom she has worked and accords them a public parity of respect. With beautiful prose, Biran goes further, offering the reader the line of her own life where these ideas, her practice, her dearly held values and political courage weave together to make her the exceptional colleague we know. This is an exciting and excellent contribution to us all.’
— Dame Ruth Silver, Chair of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, and founding President of the Further Education Trust for Leadership


One thought on “The Courage of Simplicity: Hanni Biran explores the central ideas in the work of W.R. Bion

  1. Pingback: Analysing the Social Context of Individual Distress: Celebrating the Pioneering Work of David Smail |

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