Wilfred Bion

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Wilfred Ruprecht Bion, 1897-1979, was a British psychoanalyst. A pioneer in group dynamics, he was associated with the 'Tavistock group', the group of pioneering psychologists that founded the Tavistock Institute in 1946 on the basis of their shared wartime experiences, and trained in psychoanalysis under the influence of Melanie Klein.

He later wrote the influential Experiences in Groups, London: Tavistock, 1961. Experiences in Groups was an important guide for the group psychotherapy and encounter group movements beginning in the 1960s, and quickly became a touchstone work for applications of group theory in a wide variety of fields.

Life

Bion was born in India, but educated in England. After the outbreak of World War I, he served as a tank commander in France where he was awarded both the DSO and the Legion of Honour. Subsequently, he studied history at Queen's College, Oxford and medicine at University College London. Initially attracted to London by the 'strange new subject called psychoanalysis', he met and was impressed by Wilfred Trotter, an outstanding brain surgeon who had also written the famous Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War in 1916, based on the horrors of the first world war. This was to prove an important influence on Bion's interest in group behaviour. After obtaining his medical qualification Bion spent seven years in psychotherapeutic training at the Tavistock Clinic, an experience he regarded, in retrospect, as having had some limitations. It did, however, bring him into fruitful contact with Samuel Beckett. He wanted to train in Psychoanalysis and in 1938 he began a training analysis with John Rickman, but this was brought to an end by the Second World War.

He joined the RAMC in 1940 and worked in a number of military hospitals including Northfield Hospital where he initiated the first Northfield Experiment. These ideas on the psychoanalysis of groups were then taken up and developed by others such as S. H. Foulkes, Rickman, Bridger, Main and Patrick De Mare.

The entire group at Tavistock had in fact been taken into the army, and were working on new methods of treatment for psychiatric casualties (those suffering post-traumatic stress, or 'shell shock' as it was then known.) During the war Bion's wife gave birth to a daughter, but, tragically, she died soon afterwards. His daughter, Parthenope, became a highly-regarded psychoanalyst. She herself died prematurely, in a car crash in Italy in 1998.

Returning to the Tavistock Clinic Bion chaired the 'Planning Committee' that reorganised the Tavistock into the new Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, alongside a new Tavistock Clinic which was part of the newly launched National Health Service. As his interest in psychoanalysis increased, he underwent training analysis, between 1946-1952, with Melanie Klein. He met his second wife, Francesca, at the Tavistock in 1951. He joined a research group of Klein's students (including Hannah Segal and Herbert Rosenfeld), who were developing Klein's theory of the paranoid-schizoid position, for use in the analysis of patients with psychotic disorders. He produced a series of highly original and influential papers (collected as "Second Thoughts", 1967) on the analysis of schizophrenia, and the specifically cognitive, perceptual, and identity problems of such patients.

During the forties, he produced a series of brilliant papers on group dynamics, (collected as "Experiences in Groups", 1961). Later he attempted to understand thoughts and thinking from a mathematical and scientific point of view, believing there to be too little precision in the existing vocabulary. Later he abandoned the complex, abstract appplications of mathematics, and even the Grid, and developed a more intuitive approach, culminating in the Memoir of the Future.

From 1962 till 1965, Bion was President of the British Psychoanalytical Society. He spent his later years in Los Angeles, California, before returning to the UK shortly before his death.

He left a reputation which has steadily grown in Britain and internationally. Some commentators consider that his writings are often gnomic and irritating, but never fail to stimulate. He defies categorisation as a follower of Klein or of Freud.

Bion created a theory of thinking based on changing Beta elements (primitive, concrete thoughts) into alpha elements (dream thoughts).

See also

Bleandonu, Gerard, Wilfred Bion: His Life and Works. Free Association Books, London, 1994

Symington, Joan and Symington Neville, The Clinical Thinking of Wilfred Bion, Routledge, London, 1996

López-Corvo, Rafael, The Dictionary of the Work of W.R. Bion, Karnac Books, London, 2003

See also

External links

Bibliography

Bion, W.R. (1940). The war of nerves. In Miller and Crichton-Miller (Eds.), The Neuroses in War (pp.180 - 200). London: Macmillan, 1940.

Bion, W.R. (1943). Intra-group tensions in therapy, Lancet 2: 678/781 - Nov.27, 1943, in Experiences in Groups (1961).

Bion, W. R.(1946). Leaderless group project, Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 10: 77-81.

Bion, W. R. (1948a). Psychiatry in a time of crisis, British Journal of Medical Psychology, vol.XXI.

Bion, W. R. (1948b). Experiences in groups, Human Relations, vols. I-IV, 1948-1951, Reprinted in Experiences in Groups (1961).

Bion, W. R. (1950). The imaginary twin, read to the British Psychoanalytical Society, Nov.1,1950. In Second Thoughts (1967).

Bion, W. R. (1952). Group dynamics: a review. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, vol.33: , Reprinted in M. Klein, P. Heimann & R. Money-Kyrle (editors). New Directions in Psychoanalysis (pp.440-477). Tavistock Publications, London, 1955. Reprinted in Experiences in Groups (1961).

Bion, W. R. (1954). Notes on the theory of schizophrenia. Read in the Symposium "The Psychology of Schizophrenia" at the 18th International psycho-analytical congress, London, 1953 International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, vol.35: . Reprinted in Second Thoughts (1967).

1955a Bion, W. R. The Development of Schizophrenic Thought, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, vol.37: . Reprinted in Second Thoughts (1967).

1955b Bion, W. R. Language and the schizophrenic, in M. Klein, P. Heimann and R. Money-Kyrle (editors). New Directions in Psychoanalysis (pp.220 - 239).Tavistock Publications, London, 1955.

Bion, W. R. (1957a). The differentiation of the psychotic from the non-psychotic personalities, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, vol.38: . Reprinted in Second Thoughts (1967).

Bion, W. R. (1957b). On Arrogance, 20th International Congress of Psycho-Analysis, Paris, in Second Thoughts (1967).

Bion, W. R. (1958). On Hallucination, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis,vol.39, part 5: . Reprinted in Second Thoughts (1967).

Bion, W. R. (1959). Attacks on linking, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, vol.40: . Reprinted in Second Thoughts (1967).

Bion, W. R. (1961). Experiences in Groups, London: Tavistock.

Bion, W. R. (1962a). A theory of thinking, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, vol.43: . Reprinted in Second Thoughts (1967).

Bion, W. R. (1962b). Learning from Experience London: William Heinemann. [Reprinted London: Karnac Books,]. Reprinted in Seven Servants (1977e).

Bion, W. R. (1963). Elements of Psycho-Analysis, London: William Heinemann. [Reprinted London: Karnac Books]. Reprinted in Seven Servants (1977e).

Bion, W. R. (1965). Transformations. London: William Heinemann [Reprinted London: Karnac Books 1984]. Reprinted in Seven Servants (1977e).

Bion, W. R. (1966). Catastrophic change, Bulletin of The British Psychoanalytical Society, 1966, N°5.

Bion, W. R. (1967a). Second Thoughts, London: William Heinemann. [Reprinted London: Karnac Books 1984].

Bion, W. R. (1967b). Notes on memory and desire, Psycho-analytic Forum, vol. II n° 3 (pp.271 - 280). [reprinted in E. Bott Spillius (Ed.). Melanie Klein Today Vol. 2 Mainly Practice (pp. 17-21) London: Routledge 1988].

Bion, W. R.(1970). Attention and Interpretation. London: Tavistock Publications. [Reprinted London: Karnac Books 1984]. Reprinted in Seven Servants (1977e).

Bion, W.R. (1973). Bion's Brazilian Lectures 1. Rio de Janeiro: Imago Editora. [Reprinted in one volume London: Karnac Books 1990].

Bion, W. R. (1974). Bion's Brazilian Lectures 2. Rio de Janeiro: Imago Editora. [Reprinted in one volume London: Karnac Books 1990].

Bion, W.R. (1975). A Memoir of the Future, Book 1 The Dream. Rio de Janeiro: Imago Editora. [Reprinted in one volume with Books 2 and 3 and ‘The Key’ London: Karnac Books 1991].

Bion, W. R. (1976a). Evidence. Bulletin British Psycho-Analytical Society N° 8, 1976. Reprinted in Clinical Seminars and Four Papers (1987).

Bion, W.R. (1976b). Interview, with A.G.Banet jr., Group and Organisation Studies, vol.1 No.3 (pp.268 - 285). September 1976.

Bion, W.R. (1977a). A Memoir of the Future, Book 2 The Past Presented. Rio de Janeiro: Imago Editora. [Reprinted in one volume with Books 1 and 3 and ‘The Key’ London: Karnac Books 1991].

Bion, W.R. (1977b). Two Papers: The Grid and Caesura. Rio de Janeiro: Imago Editora. [Reprinted London: Karnac Books 1989].

Bion, W. R. (1977c). On a Quotation from Freud, in Borderline Personality Disorders, New York: International University Press. Reprinted in Clinical Seminars and Four Papers(1987). [Reprinted in Clinical Seminars and Other Works. London: Karnac Books, 1994].

Bion, W. R. (1977d). Emotional Turbulence, in Borderline Personality Disorders, New York: International University Press. Reprinted in Clinical Seminars and Four Papers(1987). [Reprinted in Clinical Seminars and Other Works. London: Karnac Books, 1994].

Bion, W. R. (1977e). Seven Servants. New York: Jason Aronson inc. (includes Elements of Psychoanalysis, Learning from Experience, Transformations, Attention and Interpretation).

Bion, W.R. (1978). Four Discussions with W.R. Bion. Perthshire: Clunie Press. [Reprinted in Clinical Seminars and Other Works. London: Karnac Books, 1994].

Bion, W.R. (1979a). Making the best of a Bad Job. Bulletin British Psycho-Analytical Society, February 1979. Reprinted in Clinical Seminars and Four Papers (1987). [Reprinted in Clinical Seminars and Other Works. London: Karnac Books, 1994].

Bion, W.R. (1979b). A Memoir of the Future, Book 3 The Dawn of Oblivion. Rio de Janeiro: Imago Editora. [Reprinted in one volume with Books 1 and 2 and ‘The Key’ London: Karnac Books 1991].

Bion, W.R. (1980). Bion in New York and Sào Paolo. (Edited by F.Bion). Perthshire: Clunie Press.

Bion, W.R. (1981). A Key to A Memoir of the Future. (Edited by F.Bion). Perthshire: Clunie Press. [Reprinted in one volume London: Karnac Books 1991].

Bion, W.R. (1982).). The Long Weekend: 1897-1919 (Part of a Life). (Edited by F.Bion). Abingdon: The Fleetwood Press.

Bion, W.R. (1985). All My Sins Remembered (Another part of a Life) and The Other Side of Genius: Family Letters. (Edited by F.Bion). Abingdon: The Fleetwood Press.

Bion, W.R. (1985). Seminari Italiani. (Edited by F.Bion). Roma: Borla.

Bion, W.R. (1987). Clinical Seminars and Four Papers, (Edited by F.Bion). Abingdon: Fleetwood Press. [Reprinted in Clinical Seminars and Other Works. London: Karnac Books, 1994].

Bion, W.R. (1992). Cogitations. (Edited by F.Bion). London: Karnac Books.

Bion, W.R. (1997a). Taming Wild Thoughts. (Edited by F.Bion). London: Karnac Books.

Bion, W.R. (1997b). War Memoirs 1917 - 1919. (Edited by F.Bion). London: Karnac Books.

Bion, Wilfred R (1999). Seminar held in Paris, July 10th 1978. Transcribed by Francesca Bion Sept.

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