2017 Pitlochry Conference – Before and beyond words: Exploring Melanie Klein’s work and influence

Shrouded in snow, cold, with blue skies and beside the deep, fast flowing River Tummel, Pitlochry Festival Theatre in November was an evocative location for this two-day conference.

Pitlochry, a small Scottish town, is known in the psychoanalytic world as the home of Klein’s analysis of ten-year-old Richard, carried out in the middle of the Second World War, all 93 sessions written up in detail and published in Narrative of a Child Analysis (Hogarth Press,1961).

Exploring Klein’s legacy

Photo of a snowy scene in Pitlochry in Scotland.
Pitlochry in the snow

The conference, organised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland Medical Psychotherapy Faculty in association with the Melanie Klein Trust, was attended by participants from all over the UK and from diverse mental heath fields. Child psychotherapists, psychiatrists, forensic psychiatrists, psychoanalytical psychotherapists, music therapists, psychoanalysts and trainees all travelled through the snow and gathered to listen to six moving clinical papers.

Two papers gave vivid accounts of work in forensic units. Kirstin Macdonald, Head Music Therapist, talked about music therapy with a chronic older schizophrenic man. Alasdair Forrest, Psychiatrist training in Psychotherapy and Forensic Psychiatry, discussed the unrecognised significance for young men of losing the opportunity of becoming a father when their partners lose a pregnancy.

Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapists Andrew Dawson and Debbie Hindle each presented once-a-week psychotherapy with severely traumatised children who had been placed with adoptive or foster families, discussing these particular children’s wish for revenge and their difficulty in expressing gratitude.

Margot Waddell, Psychoanalyst and Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, eloquently described her analysis of an acting-out adolescent with a fragile, papered-on identity.

Margaret Rustin, Honorary Consultant Child Psychotherapist, discussed the continuing relevance of Klein’s Narrative of a Child Analysis. Richard was a young boy disturbed by a world at war, just as so many children we treat today suffer from the effects of migration, family breakdown and war. Rustin wondered whether, in our work with children nowadays, even when their external world is disrupted and the adults around them fail to offer protection, we could still learn from Klein’s direct, fearless way of talking to our patients about their inner worlds. Rustin’s paper is available to all to read and download via the following link:

Michael Feldman and Margaret Rustin

All the speakers, in their different ways, gave words to emotional life – its developments and disturbances – that lies at the heart of Melanie Klein’s discoveries about the inner life of infants. Extremely important psychoanalytically informed work is taking place with ill and damaged patients, in settings that would have not been thought possible 76 years ago, when Klein undertook her analysis of Richard.

Klein and Scotland

John Shemilt

The conference was enriched by a vivid account by John Shemilt, a psychoanalyst working in Glasgow, of the influence of Klein’s ideas in both child and adult psychoanalytical psychotherapy practice in Scotland. Shemilt also shone a light on the part that Scotland has played in the lives of many renowned psychoanalysts – Paula Heimann, Edward Glover and Hanna Segal, to name a few. You can read and download his paper below.

The Melanie Klein Trust also produced a short booklet describing Klein’s time in Pitlochry. This includes the speech given by Hanna Segal when a commemorative plaque was placed on the famous Girl Guide hut thirty years ago. Click on the link below to have a look.

Cover of the Melanie Klein in Pitlochry cover

At the end of the conference, there was a walk over the river and through the town, from the conference venue of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre to the Girl Guide hut, and then onto Melanie Klein’s lodgings in a simple house (now offering bed and breakfast). This only added to everyone’s appreciation of a very special account of an important analysis: one which Klein carried out so many years ago, but which continues to give us much food for thought and development.

This friendly, illuminating two-day conference was enjoyed by all – it did indeed ‘surpass our expectations’, as Klein herself wrote to D W Winnicott about her relatively brief, yet richly significant, time in Pitlochry.

December 2017