Photograph of Margaret Rustin

Margaret Rustin

Margaret Rustin is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, and Adult Psychotherapist, and an associate of the British Psychoanalytical Society.

Early life

Margaret Rustin was born in Kettering, a town then notable for a sense of community, which pervaded her early childhood. When she was seven her family moved to Leeds, where she received an excellent education from the Leeds Girls High School and gained a scholarship to Somerville, Oxford to read Classics. This trajectory demonstrates a close identification with both her parents: her mother, who went to Somerville, and her father, a Baptist minister who became a significant preacher and radio speaker.

Leaving Oxford to marry Michael Rustin, Margaret moved to University College London, where she studied Philosophy under Bernard Williams, Ted Honderich and Richard Wollheim. Her belief in education, commitment to public service and support for the welfare state were by this time firmly entrenched.

Career and publications

Following in the footsteps of Esther Bick and Martha Harris, Rustin trained as a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic, London. Harris, then head of Child Psychotherapy at the Tavistock, had a profound influence on her and her thinking, in particular through her total commitment to the processes of learning and teaching. In 1985, Rustin effectively took up the mantle of the present and future training of the child psychotherapy profession, when she became head of the Tavistock child psychotherapy training. She was also a central figure in the life of the institution as a whole and, between 1987 and 2009, assumed various significant positions including: Vice Dean, Child and Family Department; Dean of Postgraduate Studies; Chair of the Professional Committee; and, from 2003-5, Executive Director. More recently, she was made an Honorary Associate of the British Psychoanalytical Society, having been involved in many of its activities over the years.

Early on in her Tavistock career, Rustin took a year’s leave of absence at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (1984-5). During this time she was deeply involved in the upbringing of her own young children, and with writing. This period eventuated in the co-authorship, with her husband Michael, of the marvellous Narratives of Love and Loss: Studies in Modern Children’s Fiction, first published in 1987 and recently republished to include a chapter on ‘The Inner World of Harry Potter’. Already clear in this book is Frances Rustin’s capacity to convey the reality of children’s imagination and creativity. Further collaborative publications of the Rustins include a work on psychoanalysis and drama, Mirror to Nature: Drama, Psychoanalysis and Society and, most recently, Reading Klein, a triumph of scholarship and clear thinking. Rustin has always been a prolific and generous writer, initiating and sharing with others several books, which include the joint editorship of and contributor to: Closely Observed Infants; Assessment in Child Psychotherapy; Work Discussion: Learning from Reflective Practice in Work with Children and Families; Young Child Observation: A Development in the Theory and Method of Infant Observation; Psychotic States in Children, and most recently, Short-term Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. She has always maintained a deep interest in the observational roots of child psychotherapy.

Social and political realities of children’s lives

Over the years, Rustin has been an inspirational beacon with regards to her many published articles, and her commitment to teaching both in the UK and all over the world. A particular aspect of this work is her capacity to think about internal and external worlds simultaneously. An outstanding example of such thinking is an influential article she wrote in 2005, ‘Conceptual Analysis of Critical Moments in Victoria Climbié’s Life’. Drawing on the Victoria Climbié enquiry report, the paper conveys a deep understanding of the states of mind of such persecuted children, and offers thoughts about why the professionals involved found it so impossible to see what was happening, despite the evidence being available. As Rustin puts it: “Both Victoria’s states of mind and those of the professionals who came into contact with her are analysed”, in this paper, “in terms of defences against extreme pain.” Of great significance are her comments on the importance of the right kind of training and organisational support being available for child protection and medical staff. The strength and insight of her commitment to teaching and learning extends from the innermost psychological workings of the hearts and minds of the most troubled children and their families, to the outermost reaches of the social and political conditions and contexts for their individual suffering.

Margot Waddell, 2017


Key publications

1987 Rustin, M.E. & Rustin, M.J. Narratives of Love and Loss: Studies in Modern Children’s Fiction. Karnac.

1989 Rustin, M.E. (co-ed and contrib.). Closely Observed Infants. Duckworth.

1997 Rustin, M.E. (co-ed and contrib.). Psychotic States in Children. Karnac.

2000 Rustin, M.E. (co-ed and contrib.). Assessment in Child Psychotherapy. Karnac.

2002 Rustin, M.E. & Rustin, M.J. Mirror to Nature: Drama, Psychoanalysis and Society. Karnac.

2005 Rustin, M.E. ‘Conceptual analysis of critical moments in Victoria Climbié’s life’Child & Family Social Work, 10: 11–19. 

2008 Rustin, M.E. (co-ed and contrib.). Work Discussion: Learning from Reflective Practice in Work with Children and Families. Karnac.

2013 Rustin, M.E. (co-ed and contrib.). Young Child Observation: A Development in the Theory and Method of Infant Observation. Karnac.

2016 Rustin, M.E. (co-ed and contrib.). Short-term Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy for Adolescents with Depression: A Treatment Manual. Karnac.

2016 Rustin, M.E. & M.J. Reading Klein. Routledge.