Tea with Winnicott: Brett Kahr and the Art of ‘Imaginary Non-Fiction’

Interview with Professor Brett Kahr, conducted at Karnac Books, London on 20th February 2016

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KARNACOLOGY [KN]: Congratulations, Professor Kahr, on the appearance of your most recent book Tea with Winnicott.

BRETT KAHR [BK]: Thank you.  I am very honoured to be published once again by Karnac Books.

KN: You have been writing for us for quite some time.

BK: I wrote my very first title for Karnac Books almost twenty years ago!  My gratitude to everyone in the organisation is immense, and it has been a joy to have remained a Karnac author over such a long period of time.

51GGyJzndTL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_KN: Yes, we published D.W. Winnicott: A Biographical Portrait back in 1996.  That was the very first book-length biography of Winnicott.

BK: I had great fun with that one, but I had to endure the frustration of producing a book of fewer than two hundred pages.  Winnicott really deserves many hundreds of pages, if not thousands.

KN: Tell us the story.

BK: Well, that book appeared shortly before the centenary of Donald Winnicott’s birth.  Your publisher had asked me to produce a short biography which could be ready in time for the festivities – a whole raft of Winnicott birthday conferences – and so I obliged.  We intended that it should be something of a celebratory volume.  But I barely had space to say as much as I would have wished.

KN: You have persevered, though, with your biographical and historical research on Winnicott.

BK: Oh, yes indeed.  I have been studying his life and work for over thirty years now, and I am finally pulling together all of my archival findings and my oral history interviews into what will probably be a multi-volume biography of this great man.

KN: You met many of Winnicott’s intimates during your travels.

BK: I started conducting oral history interviews with some of the pioneers of psychoanalysis back in 1982 and 1983.  Fortunately, I managed to meet such legendary heroes and heroines as John Bowlby, Margaret Little, Marion Milner, Enid Balint, Michael Fordham … the real “greats”.  These remarkable men and women very graciously granted me interviews about their lives and their associations with Winnicott.  And they taught me so much.

KN: You also met Winnicott’s private secretary.

BK: Yes, Joyce Coles.  The most lovely woman.  I became quite friendly with her during the last five or so years of her life.  She very generously bequeathed a whole archive of papers to me, which has been absolutely invaluable.

C with Joyce Coles

D.W. Winnicott with Joyce Coles, © Alison Bechdel

KN: Well, we very much look forward to this multi-volume biography.  What a great deal of work for you.

BK: Yes.  But it is perhaps the best education that I have ever had.  Researching Winnicott’s life has given me a privileged opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and, also, to study the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in a depth that I had not anticipated.

KN: Your first book won the Gradiva Award for biography.

BK: That came as a surprise, I must confess, but a most welcome one.  I think that this nod of recognition allowed me to persevere with my research and made me hopeful that Winnicott’s life might be of ongoing interest to colleagues.

KN: But tell us about your latest book, Tea with Winnicott.  The title is most intriguing.

BK: I have never written a book quite like this one before.

KN: Yes?

BK: Well, having spent so much time studying Winnicott’s life  …

KN: Are we correct that you have interviewed literally hundreds of people who knew him?

BK: Yes, I stopped counting after a while, but I do still keep a list of all the people with whom I have spoken.  I think that by this point I have interviewed or corresponded with over nine hundred people who knew Winnicott personally, including many of his former patients.

KN: My goodness!

BK: Sadly, most of them are now deceased.  But they reminisced with me in the most generous way.  In some respects, the openness of my interviewees reflected something quite important about the warm-heartedness of Donald Winnicott himself.  Only five psychoanalysts out of hundreds and hundreds refused to share their memories for various personal reasons.  Most people, however, spoke with great frankness and appreciation and, also, with a strong desire to cooperate with my research.

D.W. Winnicott Quotes 1 (1)KN: So you interviewed his psychoanalytical colleagues and his patients?

BK: As I indicated, I have now met many of Winnicott’s patients and colleagues, but, also, family members, friends, even some of his enemies.

KN: I heard a rumour that you have even located Winnicott’s cardiologist and his tailor.

BK: Yes, that’s right.

KN: Gosh, how on earth did you track down the tailor?

BK: I found an old invoice for some clothing repairs among Winnicott’s papers, and, even though some forty years had passed, I took a risk and wrote a letter to the tailor.

KN: The address on the invoice?

BK: Absolutely.  Fortunately, Winnicott’s tailor – a lovely old man – still lived there, and he actually replied to me.  And I arranged to interview him.  He remembered Winnicott extremely well and he shared some fine details with me.  He even spent a whole day rifling through his garage on my behalf, looking for old receipts!

KN: You have really done your homework.

BK: Well, I have tried to do so.  Certainly, I have read through his unpublished correspondence many times.  And as a result of this immersion in Winnicott’s life and writings, I have, over the years, started to have conversations with him in my head – hardly surprising, I suppose – but I feel that I have come to know his speaking style rather well.  I would like to think that I have, by this point, a familiarity with his cadences … with the musicality of his speech.

KN: And you have brought him back to life for us?

BK: Well, I do hope so … at least a little bit.

KN: Tea with Winnicott is, we believe, your resurrection of Winnicott …

BK: I think it would be more accurate to say that I invited Dr. Winnicott to return to earth for just one day in order to be interviewed posthumously.

KN: What a clever idea.  And what fun!  But why did you script this “posthumous interview”?

BK: Winnicott published so many books in his lifetime.  Many others appeared after his death.  And there are still some writings that remain completely unknown.  Students have a very great deal of difficulty grasping the totality of Winnicott’s writings due, in part, to the sheer bulk.  And I thought that it might be enjoyable to produce a posthumous interview in which I could ask Winnicott to tell us everything that we need to know about his life and about his work – all conveniently assembled in one portable book.

KN: I suppose you must have a great deal of experience teaching Winnicott to students by this point.

BK: A number of different organisations have kindly invited me to speak to their students over the years.  And I must confess, after a while I began to get a little weary of delivering the “So-Who-Exactly-Was-Donald-Winnicott?” lecture again … and again … and again.  So I thought it might be better to produce a primer about Winnicott’s life and work that would be both meaty but, also, fun.  And hence, I wrote Tea with Winnicott.

KN: Very much in the Winnicottian spirit of playfulness.

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“A more personal, more authentic Winnicott”

BK: Some of the expository writings on Winnicott, though deeply intelligent and very worthy, often lack a certain spontaneity.  Many of these books are a bit stodgy and hence off-putting to students.

KN: Tell us more …

BK: Well, certain textbooks lack Winnicott’s zest, his quirkiness, his joie de vivre, and his subversiveness.  I longed to produce a little book that would encapsulate something of that essence of Winnicott which I have come to know from studying his unpublished correspondence, and from having interviewed so many people who knew him well.

KN: A more personal, more authentic Winnicott?

BK: I certainly hope so.  But we must leave that for others to decide.

KN: I believe that you shared your manuscript with some of the few remaining analysts and patients who did know Winnicott personally.

BK: Yes, two of my former clinical supervisors, both now in their eighties, very kindly read the book in great detail.  I felt quite relieved when they told me that they recognised Donald’s voice in an authentic way.  I also had the deep privilege of presenting the draft typescript to “The Piggle”.

KN: Winnicott’s famous patient?  Is she still alive?

BK: Oh, very much so!  She is a lovely woman, now in her fifties.  I met her back in the 1990s, having interviewed her mother previously.

KN: What has become of “The Piggle”?

BK: Oh, well, she is a very accomplished professional and quite delightful as a personality.  I hold her in high regard.

KN: And she has read Tea with Winnicott?

513kaeTM0IL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_BK: Yes, she did.  I sent the typescript to “The Piggle” before anyone else had read it.  Of course, she does not remember Winnicott in the detailed way that Marion Milner remembered him for instance.

KN: She was only a tiny little girl at the time of her child analysis.

BK: Yes, indeed.  Both of her parents spoke about Winnicott extensively during her lifetime.  She very kindly told me that when she read my book, she recognised the Winnicott that her mother and father had described to her.

KN: So the book has a real authenticity.

BK: Well, let me underscore that it is of course a “reconstruction” of Winnicott’s life and work.  A posthumous interview.  But I have endeavoured to check and re-check all of the historical facts to the best of my abilities.  Inevitably, I have written a version of Winnicott, There may, no doubt, be many others.

KN: You have referred to your book not only as a “posthumous interview” but, also, as an exercise in “imaginary non-fiction”.

BK: Technically, one could describe this posthumous conversation as a play.  I have written it in dramatic form, rather like a traditional theatrical script.  But it contains a welter of historical facts – many previously unpublished – so I did not think it quite right to describe it as fiction.  Hence, I have come to regard Tea with Winnicott as a work of “non-fiction”, but of the “imaginary” sort.

KN: You and Winnicott are the two main characters in the book.

BK: Along with Joyce Coles.

KN:  The secretary.

BK: I wish you could have known Joyce Coles.  A most beautiful, kindly, decent woman.  Few people realise the seminal role that she played in Winnicott’s life.  I often say that without Coles there would be no Winnicott.

KN: What do you mean?

BK: She typed every single one of his case notes, every single draft of his books and papers … she made him food, she nursed him during his many illnesses.  She even looked after his clothing, his automobiles … well, everything, in fact.  Together with his second wife, Clare Winnicott, Mrs. Coles really helped to keep him alive.

KN: She worked for Winnicott for a long time.

BK: Mrs. Coles entered his employment in September, 1948, and she remained with him until his death, in January, 1971.  Afterwards, she worked for his widow.

KN: So she really had to be a character in your book.

BK: Oh, yes.  As I sit and interview Dr. Winnicott about his life and work, Mrs. Coles keeps popping in to refresh our tea cups.

KN: So you are literally having tea with Winnicott.

BK: We consume quite a lot of it during the interview, yes.

KN: It sounds great fun.

BK: I had a very good time writing it, certainly.  I hope that students will find it to be a useful introduction.  And that senior colleagues might also turn to it as a helpful refresher.  Certainly, it contains many biographical nuggets that have not appeared in print previously.

KN: So what do you actually talk about in the book?

BK: I try to steer Winnicott through his chronology, from his birth in Plymouth in 1896, to his death in London in 1971.  We cover his early childhood, his schooling, his training in medicine and then in psychoanalysis, and so on.

KN: And you deal with his theoretical concepts and with his technical achievements?

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“the Winnicottian spirit of playfulness”

BK: Oh, yes, of course.  I try to engage Winnicott in a discussion about his corpus of writings, focusing on his very detailed, very comprehensive theory of human development, as well as his copious innovations in clinical practice.

KN: Many readers must struggle with all the neologisms that Winnicott introduced into the psychoanalytical literature?

BK: Neologisms!  Yes, indeed.  Winnicott created a veritable lexicon of psychoanalytical terminology.

KN: Transitional objects, holding environment, squiggles, absolute dependence, the capacity to be alone …

BK: We could go on all afternoon listing the new words and phrases that Winnicott created for us.

KN: Hate in the counter-transference, the capacity for concern, primary maternal preoccupation, the antisocial tendency, the incommunicado, etc.

BK: You know your Winnicott extremely well.

KN: Working for Karnac Books, you can imagine …

BK: Yes, of course.

KN: I noticed that throughout the interview you really push Winnicott at times …

BK: … to define his concepts as clearly as possible.  Yes.  I certainly ask him to clarify some of his more challenging ideas.

KN: The book contains illustrations as well … actual graphics!

BK: Thank you for asking about the drawings.  We have a number of really gorgeous illustrations.

KN: You did not do these yourself.

BK: Goodness, no.  I can barely draw a stick figure.

KN: Tell us about the artist.

BK: Oliver Rathbone, the Publisher and Managing Director of Karnac Books …

KN: Our esteemed boss!


Alison Bechdel, 2014 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Award” for “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits”

BK: The very same … Oliver suggested that we ought to have illustrations.  And he very cleverly engaged the services of the remarkable American graphic designer Alison Bechdel.

KN: What should we know about Ms. Bechdel?

BK: As far as I am concerned, no one has ever drawn Donald Winnicott so beautifully, and so evocatively.  I think that she has done a fantastic job and that she has really captured something of the private essence of Winnicott in her drawings.

KN: And Alison Bechdel really knows about our field.  She has, I think, undergone psychoanalysis or psychotherapy herself.

BK: Yes.  She has written at length about her experiences.

KN: And she is a genius, I believe?

BK: She is a genius, quite literally!  In 2014, Ms. Bechdel won the “Genius Award” from the MacArthur Foundation.

KN: Wow, that is impressive!

BK: The MacArthur Foundation confers these grants on the most exceptional artists and scientists, people such as Stephen Jay Gould, Susan Sontag, Julie Taymor, Adrienne Rich, Tim Berners-Lee …

KN: The inventor of the World Wide Web?

BK: Indeed.

KN: We are really lucky to have got her on board.

BK: Absolutely.  I owe this entirely to the good thinking of Oliver who first suggested that we might wish to incorporate some graphics.

KN: We do not often have illustrations in our books.

BK: Tea with Winnicott seemed to cry out for something visual, and Alison really came up trumps.  I feel very honoured.


‘Fun Home’: winner of the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical

KN: I know that Ms. Bechdel inspired a hit show currently playing on Broadway.  Is it called Fun Home?

BK: Yes, she helped to adapt one of her autobiographies as a Broadway musical.  It has received a whole handful of awards including the 2015 Tony Award for the “Best Musical”.

KN: Wow!

BK: She is a deeply creative person and a great asset to the book.

KN: I am curious to know why you decided to resurrect Winnicott for a cup of tea?  Why not Squiggling with Winnicott?  Or Strolling with Winnicott Through Hyde Park?  Or even Playing the Piano with Winnicott?  Especially as you are a musician, too, I believe.

BK: This is a very good question.  At the most basic level, I think many psychoanalysts round the world regard Winnicott as the most prototypical English practitioner, unlike other British-based psychoanalysts Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, each born in Austria.

KN: Or Ronald Fairbairn, born in Scotland.  And what about Masud Khan, from Pakistan?

BK: Indeed.  Or Wilfred Bion, born in India.

KN: Sure.

BK: But at a deeper level, I suppose that I wanted to celebrate the art of conversation.

KN: In what respect?

BK: I remember back in the early 1990s, while working as a young college lecturer, each afternoon at 4.00 p.m., a tea trolley would appear in the corridor, and all of the faculty would stop work and stand round drinking tea.

KN: A quaint throwback to the 1950s!

BK: And before, no doubt.

KN: What a lovely tradition.

BK: Well, to my great sadness, the college fired the tea trolley lady just weeks after I had begun teaching there due to funding cuts!  I consider this a great loss, not only for this woman, but for the quality of communication and discussion among colleagues.

KN: I suppose you loathe e-mail and I will not even deign to ask why you didn’t invite D.W.W. for an e-interview!

BK: Yes, I could not have written E-Mail with Winnicott.  It had to be a cup of tea!  Winnicott enjoyed conversation deeply and he proved himself a master of the conversational arts.  I think we absolutely had to take tea together and chat!

KN: So, you wrote the Winnicott biography for us in 1996, and now, Tea with Winnicott.  And you also edited two volumes for Karnac Books on Winnicott, namely, Forensic Psychotherapy and Psychopathology:  Winnicottian Perspectives, which came out in 2001, and The Legacy of Winnicott:  Essays on Infant and Child Mental Health, which we released in 2002.

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BK: Yes.

KN: Are you a bit obsessed by Winnicott?  Maybe a bit over-obsessed?  Is that a technical term?

BK: Yes, I am extremely obsessed with Winnicott.

KN: But why?

BK: Quite simply, I regard him as the most important psychologist since Sigmund Freud.  In some respects, though not all, I consider him more important than Freud for contemporary thinkers.

KN: A very big claim!

BK: I cannot promise to substantiate this claim in the course of our brief interview.  But in Tea with Winnicott, I try to put forward my case for his greatness, his impactfulness …

KN: Of course.  We shall have to read the book to find out more.


Winnicott, the “cartographer of infancy”

BK: That would be helpful.  But for starters, it might be worth mentioning that Winnicott did more than anyone else, in my estimation, to elucidate the psychology of infancy.  You see, Freud certainly pointed us in the direction of infancy.  But only in the most rudimentary way.  Winnicott, by contrast, sketched the map in great detail.  In this respect, I have come to refer to him as the veritable “cartographer of infancy”.

KN: Thank you.  That is very helpful.  You mentioned that you are now working on the multi-volume biography of Winnicott.

BK: Yes.  I have nearly completed a draft of the first volume.

KN: We look forward to reading that.

BK: It will be a great relief to finish it!

KN: And will that satisfy your need to write about Winnicott?

BK: Perhaps it will.

KN: We are going to publish another one of your Winnicott books in a little while.

BK: Yes.  I have also finished a study called Winnicott’s Anni Horribiles:  The Creation of ‘Hate in the Counter-Transference’.

KN: A study of Winnicott’s classic 1949 paper.

BK: Correct.  I have written a book-length examination of how and why Winnicott came to compose this landmark paper whose implications for contemporary clinical practice remain of the greatest relevance.

KN: It would be tempting to ask you to tell us more about that book.

BK: I am just now working on the Index.  Would it be all right if we had a further conversation about this one round about the time of publication?

KN: Of course.  You clearly like writing.

BK: Oh, I love writing.  I know that sounds odd.  Many people experience writing as a completely persecutory activity.  But I find it very stimulating and therapeutic.  I hope that I may have the luxury of writing until the very end.

KN: Many of our authors really struggle to finish their manuscripts.  They find writing rather an odd activity.  Some of them feel compelled to write in order to share their findings with colleagues, but they do not enjoy the process and they really sweat.  What is your secret?

BK: I do not know.  I worked very hard at my writing as a young man, and I eventually found a way to translate thoughts into words that seems to suit my temperament.

KN: Do you have any advice for other authors?

BK: I think that Anna Freud had some good advice.  Sadly, I never had the pleasure of meeting her.  But I have a very dear colleague who trained with Miss Freud and who spent much time with her.

KN: Yes?

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Anna Freud: “When the thoughts are clear, then the words are clear”

BK: And Anna Freud told my colleague, “When the thoughts are clear, then the words are clear”.

KN: So it helps to have clear thoughts before one writes.

BK: Does that sound rather hackneyed?  I do hope not.  Because I believe that Miss Freud had, indeed, encapsulated something foundational about the essence of being able to write.

KN: Do you regard Anna Freud as a good writer?

BK: A clear writer, certainly, but not a gripping stylist.  Of course she wrote mostly in English – her second language – after her emigration from Vienna.  Having said that, her early German-language writings – those composed in her native tongue – though brilliant, certainly lack literary sparkle.  She never wrote with the panache of her father.

KN: So clarity is important to facilitate writing, but it might not be a sufficient basis for good writing?

BK: Precisely.

KN: Who do you admire as writers?

BK: Mental health writers?

KN: Yes, mental health writers.

BK: To my mind only Freud and Winnicott deserve to be described as truly great clinical stylists.  I admire the brilliance of Melanie Klein, of John Bowlby, of Michael Balint, of Enid Balint, and others, but to me, their prose leaves much to be desired.  Freud and Winnicott however … well, they really have the capacity to use language creatively, incisively, amusingly, trenchantly.

KN: You have mentioned the historical greats:  Freud, Winnicott, Bowlby, the Balints.  What about contemporary writers?

BK: I would be very reluctant to single out any living writers.  We do have quite a number of really good ones.  And Karnac Books publishes many of them.  Various American authors published by Karnac Books have great facility in my estimation.

KN: Oh, do tell us …

BK: And provoke unnecessary sibling rivalry?

KN: Well, perhaps not.

BK: I do find your questions about writing rather important.  I think that the tendency towards more evidence-based writing and towards peer-reviewed journal articles, which have become the benchmark of academia, has rather killed some of the more creative writing that one finds in the early psychoanalytical journals.  You may not be surprised to learn that I enjoy reading journal articles from the 1920s and 1930s rather more than recent publications from the 2010s.  The early psychoanalytical writers had a truly great capacity for raw, even unbridled, creativity which the vast majority of contemporary practitioners sorely lacks.

KN: Certainly, we often have to turn down good, solid books from authors which are not particularly well written.  All publishers must struggle to find a balance between the style and the content, to the extent that one can ever separate the two.


Sándor Ferenczi: one of the great psychoanalytical stylists

BK: Do you know, I realise that I completely neglected to mention Sándor Ferenczi.  I would add Ferenczi to the list of great psychoanalytical stylists, along with Freud and Winnicott.  And also, Theodor Reik, a genius of a writer, though still much overlooked.

KN: Does one need to be a great writer to be a great thinker?

BK: Probably not.  Consider Harry Stack Sullivan, for instance.  I find his writing very dense.  But when one slogs through it, one encounters pure genius.  One might make a similar claim about Wilfred Bion.  And also Ronald Fairbairn.

KN: Do you think that our psychotherapy trainings and psychoanalytical institutes ought to teach courses in clinical writing?

BK: What a good idea!  I suspect that some institutions may well do so already.  But I cannot think of any British trainings that provide formal tuition in writing.  But that would be a great help.  I do remember that many, many years ago, during a visit to New York City, I received an invitation to attend a seminar at one of the psychoanalytical institutes … a seminar devoted entirely to the art of writing.

KN: Tell us about it.

BK: Do you remember Lucy Freeman?

KN: No.

BK: Oh, my, you must read Lucy Freeman’s books.  I regard her as possibily the greatest psychoanalytical stylist of all time.

KN: A greater analyst than Freud and Winnicott?


Lucy Freeman covered mental health for The New York Times while also undergoing her own psychoanalysis

BK: Lucy never trained as a clinician, though had she done so, I suspect that she would have proved herself a very empathic practitioner.  No, she began her career in the 1940s as a correspondent for The New York Times – one of the very first female journalists ever.  She underwent psychoanalysis in Manhattan, and that proved to be a very potent experience.  And afterwards, she wrote a deeply engaging memoir about her analysis entitled Fight Against Fears, published in 1951.

KN: Why do we not know of this book?

BK: Precisely.  It became an overnight sensation in New York.  At that point in time, no patient had ever written a full-length memoir about the experience of undergoing psychoanalysis before.  Not in this way.  She wrote with remarkable frankness and courage.

KN: It sounds wonderful.

BK: A staggeringly good book, almost impossible to put down.

KN: We shall have to search for a second-hand copy.

BK: I can lend you mine!

KN: Did you know her?

hhcoverfightagainstfearBK: Yes, I had the privilege of meeting her during the mid-1980s, and we developed a very warm friendship.  She very kindly encouraged me in my fledgling efforts – a most generous person.  Lucy wrote with tremendous engagement, deep clarity, and great warmth.  It may not be widely known that she ghost-wrote a number of classic psychoanalytical texts in the 1980s.

KN: Ghost-wrote?

BK: Yes, many of the psychoanalysts in New York City used to pay her to write their books for them.  Quite a number of them could not write at all, and many others who, in fact, could write, did so quite badly.  And so they hired Lucy.  I think she paid her rent in this way!

KN: And she taught seminars on writing to psychoanalytical students?

BK: She did indeed.  I really do like your idea of inaugurating writing seminars for clinical practitioners.

KN: Has writing become more challenging for clinicians in recent years?

BK: Because of the greater sensitivity to matters of confidentiality?

KN: Yes.

BK: Oh, undoubtedly so.  I remember back in the early 1990s, while working at the Tavistock Clinic, the head of our clinical team came in one day and told us that the British Medical Association had just issued an ultimatum:  physicians would no longer be permitted to publish case material without having obtained prior, written permission from the patient.

KN: Professionals started to become much more sensitive to this.

BK: Yes.  An orthopaedic surgeon, for instance, could no longer publish a picture of a patient’s toe without having obtained informed consent.

KN: Whereas in the olden days, one could simply write and hope that the patient would never know about it …

BK: Nowadays, we have become more thoughtful about the meaning of publishing case histories.  When Freud did so, few of his patients would have had access to those specialist Austrian and German medical periodicals.  But nowadays …

KN: Tim Berners-Lee.

BK: Yes, because of the Internet, even articles which appear in fairly obscure journals now find their way quite swiftly into the public arena.  Consequently, clinicians have an obligation to be tremendously cautious, careful, concerned.

KN: And has this inhibited clinical writing?

BK: Perhaps it has done.  But we have begun to experiment with all sorts of ways of disguising clinical material, whether by using composite cases or other methods.

{4EAC1CC4-11A6-4540-9A62-04DD56A2A427}Img400KN: Dr. Susie Orbach found a novel way, I believe.

BK: Yes.  Her book on The Impossibility of Sex is a brilliant exemplar of “imaginative non-fiction”.  She created case histories based on composites but then she treated them as if they had become real patients and embarked upon psychoanalytical work with them, accordingly, studying her own countertransference very sagaciously.  I find that book a really engaging contribution to clinical writing.

KN: And do we have other examples of clever approaches?

BK: I think that we have not experimented nearly enough with anonymous publication.

KN: Anonymous publication?

BK: Yes, case histories could be published without the author’s name on the title page.  One or two journals have already toyed with this format.  And I do think that this deserves more consideration.  But this topic of confidentiality …

KN: A big one, I know.

BK: Perhaps we might have another conversation about this at some point.

KN: Tell us about your future writing plans.  You will continue to work on the big Winnicott biography?

BK: Yes, that certainly keeps me busy.

KN: But you have some other books in press, I believe.

BK: Apart from the book on Winnicott’s Anni Horribiles:  The Creation of ‘Hate in the Counter-Transference’ to which you kindly referred, I have one other book nearing completion.


Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

KN: Do tell.

BK: Well, I have almost finished my book – quite long in the pipeline – on The Traumatic Roots of Schizophrenia.

KN: An old interest of yours, I believe?

BK: Yes, I began my career working in hospital settings with patients diagnosed as schizophrenic.  And it became increasingly clear to me just how many of them suffered from early traumas, not only physical abuse and sexual abuse but, also, from death wishes.

KN: Death wishes?

BK: Yes, internalised death wishes.  I have come to speak about this as the “infanticidal introject”.

KN: You have written some clinical papers about the ways in which patients internalise early parental death wishes.

BK: Not a popular subject, I assure you.  Indeed, one might regard it as somewhat controversial, but since I began to publish on this topic, more and more colleagues have written to me sharing similar experiences.

KN: When will we be able to read that one?

BK: Very soon.  I am just completing the references as we speak.

KN:  How do you find time to do so much writing when you work full-time as a clinician?

BK: Well, you must remember that I have been “nursing” many of these projects for years and years … sometimes for decades.  After extensive marination, some have finally reached the point of readiness!

KN: And you do a lot of work for other writers, too, as series editor of several monograph series.

BK: Yes, I have had the privilege of facilitating the books of a number of colleagues – a very time-consuming process but also a very enjoyable one.

KN: Which monograph series do you most enjoy?

BK: I have worked on a number of these series but I suppose that I particularly enjoy helping to commission titles for our “History of Psychoanalysis Series”, also published by Karnac Books.  I created this project with my old friend and colleague Professor Peter Rudnytsky, who lives in Florida, the distinguished scholar and practitioner.  Together, with the warmest of blessings from Oliver Rathbone, we have shepherded many titles on the history of psychoanalysis through the various stages of publication, some sixteen of which have already appeared in print, with probably another sixteen in the immediate pipeline.  We have great fun with this project.

36646  35010  37372  Karl Abraham Life and Work

KN: Tell us more.

BK: We just published Ilonka Venier Alexander’s biography of her grandfather, the great Franz Alexander, one of Sigmund Freud’s most distinguished pupils.

KN: The founder of modern psychosomatic medicine?

BK: Absolutely!  Quite a genius in my estimation.

KN: And what else?

BK: We have also just launched Dr. Cesare Romano’s new book on Freud’s case history of “Dora”.  Dr. Romano, an Italian psychiatrist, has revisioned the case in a brilliant fashion.  His book reads rather like the best of mystery stories.  I recommend it highly.

KN: And what is forthcoming?

are-you-my-mother (1)BK: We have some really compelling titles, including Dr. Anna Bentinck van Schoonheten’s biography of Karl Abraham.  This will be the first truly comprehensive biography of Abraham ever produced.  And she has done a spectacularly good piece of work, having visited many archives all round the world.  Indeed, she managed to unearth some truly exciting pieces of data that no one has known about heretofore.  And then we will publish Professor Daniel Burston’s study of the virtually forgotten psychoanalyst Karl Stern – a most interesting piece of sleuthing – as well as Professor Naomi Segal’s very elegant translation of Didier Anzieu’s book on the skin ego.

KN: You love history.

BK: Oh, absolutely.  Psychological work and historical work are really indistinguishable as far as I am concerned.  Having trained in both fields, I have come to see real correspondences between the disciplines.  I find little difference between working in the archives of a museum or library, and working in the archives of the patient’s mind.  In both cases, we endeavour to unearth important pieces of buried historical data which can shed light on the present.  I regard all psychotherapists and psychoanalysts as “applied historians” or “clinical historians”.

KN: Fascinating.

BK: Fortunately, in undertaking psychotherapeutic work, those of us who practice “applied history” or “clinical history” have the potential to be of help to our patients.  That is history work at its best.

KN: Well, Brett, may I thank you for your time and for your thoughts.  We are delighted to welcome Tea with Winnicott to our bookshelves.  Many congratulations!

BK: Thank you.

KN: You know, reading Tea with Winnicott really put a smile on my face.  One senses the enjoyment that you and “Donald” have in your “imaginary non-fiction” conversation.

BK: Oh, good.

KN: Your affection for Winnicott really shines through.

BK: Professor Jeremy Holmes recently described Winnicott to me as my “posthumous friend”.

KN: What a great turn of phrase!

BK: Well, I had never thought about Winnicott in that way before.  We all spend so much time trying to keep up with our pre-posthumous friends.  But I suppose that one can, in fact, have a vibrant friendship with someone who has already died.

KN: You experience Winnicott very much as a living person.

BK: Without doubt.  Yes, absolutely.

KN: Well, we are very grateful to you for writing Tea with Winnicott.

BK: Thank you.  And let us raise our tea cups to D.W.W., without whom we would not have had this conversation.

KN: Indeed!

Professor Brett Kahr is Senior Fellow at the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, in the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology, London, and Senior Clinical Research Fellow in Psychotherapy and Mental Health at the Centre for Child Mental Health. A registrant of both the British Psychoanalytic Council and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, he has written or edited eight books and serves as Series Editor or Co-Editor to the ‘Forensic Psychotherapy Monograph Series’ and the ‘History of Psychoanalysis Series’ for Karnac Books. He is also a Trustee of the Freud Museum London. He has worked in the mental health field for over thirty-five years. His most recent book is Tea with Winnicott, and his forthcoming book is entitled Winnicott’s Anni Horribiles: The Creation of ‘Hate in the Counter-Transference’.



37363Donald Winnicott is currently the most popular author in contemporary psychoanalysis.  His writings are cited in bibliographies even more frequently than those by Sigmund Freud. And yet how many mental health professionals have actually managed to read and digest the nearly twenty published volumes of Winnicott’s books, chapters, essays, reviews, and letters? In a tour de force, Professor Brett Kahr, the award-winning biographer and scholar of long-standing, has resurrected Donald Woods Winnicott from the dead and has invited him for a memorable cup of tea at 87 Chester Square – Winnicott’s London residence – in which the two men discuss D.W.W.’s life and work in compelling detail.

After digesting Kahr’s highly accessible “posthumous interview” with Winnicott, readers will have come to acquire a thorough overview of Winnicott’s corpus of writings, and will appreciate the historical context in which he scripted his pioneering psychoanalytical contributions. A highly creative exercise in “imaginative non-fiction”, this book – the first in a new series entitled “Interviews with Icons” – will delight novices and experienced professionals alike.

Lavishly illustrated by Alison Bechdel, winner of the McArthur Foundation “Genius” award, with original drawings of Winnicott based on unpublished photographs of Winnicott from Kahr’s archive, this book will be the perfect guide for both students and scholars, and the ideal gift for colleagues.