“It’s life, Jim; but not as we know it!”

Remembering the Jungian Influence at the Tavistock Marital Studies Institute, London

David Hewison
London, England
Society of Analytical Psychology

You always know where you are when Captain James T. Kirk of the starship ‘Enterprise’ meets an alien in Star Trek: if the alien is a beautiful woman then he falls in love (and she usually reciprocates, unable to resist his intergalactic charm); if the alien is more like a glowing blob than a woman, then he turns to his Medical Officer, Dr Leonard H. McCoy, for confirmation as to what it is he’s confronting. Without fail, Dr McCoy, amazed at what he is seeing, announces, “It’s life, Jim; but not as we know it!” In an online article in Science magazine in September 1999, Henry Gee used the same catch-phrase to discuss the debates in the late ‘90s about life on Mars – you might remember that there had been a flurry of excitement about possible evidence of the presence of bacteria in meteorite samples that had come from Mars. The evidence was tiny, tiny, holes in the rock which one group of scientists suggested were the fossilised remains of Martian bacteria, and which another group of scientists said could be no such thing, pointing out that the sub-microscopic holes were simply too small to have contained all that bacteria necessarily consist of. The first group of scientists replied that you cannot judge extra-terrestrial bacteria by the standards of terrestrial ones – yes, the holes were too small to contain life originating from Earth, but what if Martian bacteria were simply very different from what we understand as bacteria – what then? Henry Gee suggests that this is a new version of a very old debate: what is it that constitutes life and how do we measure it? It may be the presence of particular chemicals such as carbon or DNA; it may involve a containing membrane; it may involve reproduction and evolution. It may do; but, says Gee, does it have to if it is a hitherto unknown entity – an extraterrestrial? In effect, how can we recognise life, when it is not as we know it?

In terms of this current presentation, we can ask the questions: how little Jungian presence can there be before something stops being Jungian? How much Jungian influence makes something Jungian? Is there a cut-off point and what are its features? In effect, what does it mean to be Jungian and what does being Jungian mean? In formal terms we may think of several features that might be present in say a clinically-oriented organisation that could make it Jungian:

  1. An official link to the IAAP – either as a member society or a developing group
  2. The presence of Jungian analysts as members of staff, consultants, or interested parties
  3. The use of Jungian concepts to understand the work that the organisation does
  4. The reliance on Jungian papers in training and teaching
  5. The Organisation’s self-description and/or its designation by others as Jungian.
  6. Jungian analysts are recognised as appropriate training analysts and supervisors
  7. There is evidence of engagement with the broader Jungian world through publications in Jungian Journals or book series, papers at conferences, and presentations at workshops
  8. Reciprocal evidence that the broader Jungian world is interested in the work going on in the organisation – attends its conferences, buys its books, invites its staff to speak or consult, employs its graduates.

Let me introduce you to the Tavistock Marital Studies Institute in London – renamed as of 1st September 2004 the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships. The Tavistock Marital Studies Institute is one of the ‘Tavistock family’ of Organisations set up in London to explore and apply psychoanalytic thinking to a variety of social and health issues. Its sister Organisations are the Tavistock Clinic, the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, and the Tavistock Consultancy Service. The Tavistock Marital Studies Institute is world-renowned as a centre of excellence for the psychoanalytic study of the couple relationship. It began life as part of an attempt to deal with the detrimental impact on family life and marital relationships caused by the Second World War. Psychoanalysts combined with social workers to develop ways of intervening into couple relationships with an aim to both understand more about how adult couples relate and to provide therapy for disturbed relationships. It has a training programme in Couple Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. You might be interested to know, following Stephan Alder’s imaginary meeting of Michael Balint and C.G. Jung, that Balint was one of the first consultants to what was then called the ‘Family Discussion Bureau’, and that it was there that he met his wife, Enid, who was a key member of the early staff group.

So, to go through my list of possible signs of Jungian life:

Number 1 is easy: there is no formal (or indeed, informal) link between the Institute and the IAAP.

What about Number 2 – the presence of Jungian analysts as staff, consultants or other interested parties? Well, unusually for the Tavistock family, Jungian analysts – particularly from the Society of Analytical Psychology in London – have been staff members of the Institute over the years. These include Janet Mattinson who headed the Institute between 1980-87, Alison Lyons, Mary Welch, Eva Seligman, Peter Fullerton, Warren Colman and for the past eight years, me. Other Jungian analysts did registrarships or shorter- term placements and training there including Hester Solomon, Elphis Christopher, Ann Foden and others. Others, such as Evelyn Cleavely, have been extensively influenced by Jungian thinking without training as analysts. I am grateful that I have been able to talk to some of these people to gather my thoughts together for this paper. I am now the only Jungian analyst on the staff group and, significantly, seven out of the last eight people to do an individual analytic training trained as psychoanalysts or psychoanalytic psychotherapists. The Jungian influence at the Institute has declined considerably as a result.

What about Number 3 – the use of Jungian concepts to understand the work? It is true that some of the papers about couples written by Jungians associated with the Institute have made some use of Jungian as well as psychoanalytic concepts. For example, the Institute’s 40th Anniversary publication, Psychotherapy with Couples, contains papers that approach questions of individuation in marriage or the links between Jung’s concept of marriage as a psychological container and Bion’s notion of container-contained. A dynamic typology of couple relationships was developed in the ‘70s that echoes Jung’s work on types. However, this typology is now out of fashion at the Institute and only Jungian writers in the overall professional field use Jungian concepts to understand the work. All use psychoanalytic thinking, and object relations theory is our lingua franca.

Between 2002 and 2003 I did a survey of the theoretical and clinical orientations of the professional graduate body for Couple Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists. What I found was that out of my thirty-four respondents, four were members of the IAAP. This subgroup was the only one to make use of Jungian concepts to any significant extent – unsurprisingly, in some ways. What might be more surprising is that, on the whole, the Jungian concepts used were principally the developmental ones stemming from the work of Fordham and others. There was very little reliance on either more ‘classical’ or more ‘archetypal’ theories. Amongst the overall respondent group, there was some awareness of developmental Jungian ideas – more indeed than those from Ego Psychology, Self Psychology or the Interpersonal school – but this was still less than half the influence of British Object Relations theory, which was marginally the most influential ahead of Kleinian and post-Kleinian thought. The reasons for this awareness are to be found in our factor Number 4 – the reliance on Jungian papers in teaching or training.

There has always been some of this – inevitably, given the history of Jungian presence at the Institute – but for a few years it slipped out of the syllabus. I now do the theory teaching on the clinical training and so can put in one or two Jungian papers each term. These papers tend to be ones that are closer to psychoanalytic papers, and so are not explicitly ‘archetypal’ in content. This indicates how explicit Jungian ideas are held by individuals rather than by the organisation as a whole.

Number 5 – the Institute is not described by itself or others as Jungian – the Tavistock brand tends to suggest an engagement with psychoanalysis, and there was a concerted effort in the organisation to raise its psychoanalytic credentials as part of a response to shifting currents in the British psychotherapy world in the early 1990s.

Number 6 – the Institute has developed a doctoral-level training in Couple Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy and (developmentally-orientated) senior Jungian analysts are felt to be suitable Training Analysts for trainees. Similarly, the Masters Programme in the Psychoanalytical Study of the Couple Relationship has students on it whose (optional) personal therapy is Jungian. However, the default position is psychoanalytic – if prospective trainees want help in finding a suitable therapist, they are offered a consultation with a psychoanalyst and only if they explicitly ask for a Jungian is anything other than a psychoanalytic practitioner offered.

Number 7 – the Institute’s engagement in the Jungian field – well, I’m here reminding you of our presence! Again, only those members of staff who are Jungian have engaged with the specifically-Jungian world, as opposed to the overall psychodynamic field. And this links into the eighth of our possible criteria for life: does the Jungian field actively engage with the Institute? My sense is that it doesn’t do so explicitly, in a way that, say, the Attachment field does, but that this may simply be the more diffuse nature of Jungian influence generally. Certainly, in the United Kingdom there are no specifically Jungian clinical institutions equivalent to the Tavistock Clinic to offer employment – and the training bodies already have their own criteria for membership.

Reviewing our evidence, then, we’d have to say that on a sliding scale between life and death, the Jungian influence at the Tavistock Marital Studies Institute, is more like a simple-celled organism than a complex animal, though it is not quite as virtual as the sub-microscopic possibly fossilised remains of the Martian bacteria. But is there any other way of recognising life that is not ‘life as we know it’?

In my interviews with Jungians or Jungian-influenced practitioners associated with the Institute, one thing was repeated by all of them: that whilst there is only an implicit use made of some Jungian concepts – for example, the tension of the opposites – perhaps more importantly there has long been an atmosphere in the Institute that has contrasted with that which my interviewees noticed in other psychoanalytic organisations. They described this different atmosphere as a sense of mutuality in the work, a waiting for things to unfold, and a noticing of the benign emergence of ‘cohesion, order and ethos’ rather than addressing pathology only. I’m sure that this kind of description is deeply familiar to you. This is where we Jungians would tend to recognise the presence of the Self – something which exists whether it is named or not – and which influences all we do. Since it would be arrogant to assume that only Jungians can make use of the Self as an experience (as opposed to as a part of a theory) I cannot claim this as evidence of the active influence of Jungian thinking alone at the Tavistock Marital Studies Institute. I can say however, that in the midst of life as we don’t know it, there is still something very familiar and comforting.


  • Ruszczynski, S. (1993) Psychotherapy with Couples. Theory and Practice at the Tavistock Institute of Marital Studies. London: Karnac.