Elphis Christopher, 1936 – 2022

With great sadness, the British Jungian Analytic Association BJAA said goodbye to our eminent and much- loved colleague, Dr Elphis Christopher, in December of 2022. We wanted to share with the Jungian community the beautiful Eulogy for Elphis written by her daughter, Helen, and husband, Donald Jenkinson.

Elphis Christopher was born in 1936 to Greek Cypriot parents, their only child. Her first years were spent in Great Titchfield Street, off Oxford Street, in the heart of London. Her mother was a seamstress who worked in the tailoring trade and her father a sous-chef. Theirs was a one-bedroomed flat with a lavatory but no bathroom and no hot water. Two of her aunts and their families lived in the flats above and below, and Elphis had memories of being much loved and indulged by her immediate and extended Greek family during those early years. All this was to change when war broke out in 1939.

Elphis was then nearly three. She continued living in London through part of The Blitz but in May 1941, her parents decided to evacuate her to Sundon Park, a village near Luton where another aunt lived. Elphis had the vivid memory of standing on a table and her parents kissing her goodbye. She was in shock and could not believe that they were leaving her behind. The pain of the loss of her parents and the sense of abandonment were themes she was to revisit throughout her life. In a real sense, this was to mark the end of her life as a little Greek girl, and she had to build a new identity for herself in an English village, without her parents. She also lost her spoken Greek, to her lifelong regret.

When her aunt became pregnant again, Elphis moved next door to live as an evacuee with an English working-class family. Although she always kept her suitcase packed, ready to leave, Elphis was to remain there until she had finished her primary school education in July 1948. Her main sources of solace and comfort were in roaming the countryside on her bike and in reading, which fed Elphis’s love of language, stimulated her imagination and were her escape into other worlds. She remained a voracious reader and an avid collector of books throughout her life.

When Elphis was 11, her father came to collect her and bring her home. Reunited with her parents, her teenage years were some of the happiest of her life. She attended Paddington & Maida Vale High School for Girls. She loved school, worked hard and excelled, becoming Head Girl. Her parents, ambitious for their daughter, urged her to become a doctor. Elphis was torn, as her favourite subject was History, and this could lead to a career in Law. Elphis’s headmistress stepped in with some wise advice. She said that as the daughter of immigrants it would be easier for her to practise medicine than to become a lawyer and, as for her love of history, she could always keep up with this in her spare time. This was just what happened. It was a decision Elphis never regretted. A school report in the 6th Form stated prophetically that Elphis showed leadership and powers of initiative and her sympathetic understanding of the difficulties of others would be a great asset to her in the medical profession. This was so, and of course equally true later in life as a Jungian Analyst.

Elphis won a place at University College Hospital Medical School in London in September 1955. A month into her studies, she met Donald Jenkinson who was also new to UCL, setting out on a PhD in Biophysics. They became friends, sharing a love of history, literature and current affairs. Both were internationalists. They married in 1959, and daughters Helen, Cara and Lizzy soon followed in the 1960s.

Elphis was an incredible role model for a working woman with a thriving career and a family. She chose a specialty – Family Planning and Reproductive Health – which offered her flexible hours, enabling her to be at home when her daughters returned from school. Appointed as a domiciliary family planning doctor for Haringey and working with a small team of committed and mutually supportive nurses and administrators, Elphis and the nurses travelled the streets and tower blocks for more than 30 years, with over 3,500 patients seen and helped. Many incidental medical and social problems were picked up and acted on. Her thorough and painstaking work was recognised when she became a consultant in 1996.

Elphis forged a path that was both progressive and compassionate. She was a true feminist, believing in equal rights for men and women. While acknowledging that men had it tough too, she was an ardent and effective advocate of a woman’s right to be educated, and to have choices about her body, to have sex without anxiety, to have abortions in the face of unintended or hazardous pregnancies. She also made a huge impact on different cohorts of Haringey teenagers in the 1970s and 1980s, whether she was seeing them in classrooms, at home or at Family Planning Clinics to advise on sex and contraception.
In the late 1980s, Elphis summarized these hard-earned experiences in the book Sexuality and Birth Control in Community Work, published in 1987. She also lectured to medical students, GP trainees, midwives and counsellors, and made many radio and TV appearances both here and in Australia. Some of these were highly controversial at the time but her determination and courage never faltered. One included going eyeball to eyeball with Mary Whitehouse in a TV debate watched by 18 million people.

Through her medical work, Elphis became increasingly intrigued by people’s motivations, behaviour, and choices, the interplay of relationships with significant others, and intergenerational influences. In 1985 she went on to train with the British Association of Psychotherapists as a Jungian Analyst. Jung appealed to her intellectually – the importance of myths, often Greek, and archetypes, the collective unconscious that connects us all. His notion of ‘the shadow’ (the hidden and repressed self, often the self we don’t want to be), resonated for her. She had a nuanced understanding and acceptance of the potential for good and bad in people which lent wisdom to her therapeutic skill and her advice. She wrote many articles in journals and chapters in books. She and her beloved analyst, Hester Solomon, edited and contributed to Jungian Thought in the Modern World and Contemporary Jungian Practice, published in 1999 and 2003 respectively.

She had a deep interest in people and their relationships, and more broadly, in different societies, cultures and civilisations. She also had a remarkable ability to connect with people from all walks of life and backgrounds, however diverse. She had come from the working class, she knew about unemployment as her father had experienced this for five years after serving in the war, and she was never snooty. As she started to move in middle class, professional circles she held her own and was not intimidated. Known for her warmth and generosity, she established close relationships with her colleagues, supporting, encouraging, and inspiring them in equal measure.

After qualifying as an analytical psychologist in 1990, Elphis threw herself into the work of the then British Association of Psychotherapists (BAP) with all her characteristic energy. To mention just a few of her contributions, she served as the organiser for the Reduced Fee Scheme and for Selections, and helped in the editing of the BAP Newsletter. She had a particular interest in couple relations, and after qualifying in this area, became an External Examiner for two of the postgraduate courses offered by the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships. She maintained a small private practice from 1990 and continued seeing patients and supervisees until July 2022.

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