Chris Mawson (1953-2020) was a Training and Supervising Analyst of the British Psychoanalytical Society. He trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy with children and adolescents at the Tavistock Clinic, and in psychoanalysis at the British Psychoanalytical Society and Institute of Psychoanalysis.
Training and career
Before training as a clinical psychologist Mawson worked for three years researching the attention and dreaming of patients whose manic depressive cycles were very short – 48 hours in fact, synchronised with their circadian rhythms. It was the work on their dreaming, and the detail of their anxiety, that led him to psychoanalysis, becoming a patient and later undertaking analytic training and analytic work with children.
He worked for nine years in St Mary’s Hospital Department of Child Psychiatry, Paddington Green, in the days (long since passed) when children at that clinic were offered intensive psychoanalytic treatment within the care of the NHS. He later worked as a psychoanalyst in private practice and taught extensively in England and overseas.
An authority on Bion
Mawson had a special interest in the work of Wilfred Bion and was the editor of The Complete Works of W. R. Bion (2014, Karnac, now published by Routledge). Bringing together Bion’s work in a systematic and complete way for the first time, it is an impressive and full account and made Mawson an expert in the field. A major enterprise, it took 11 years of detailed commitment and devotion.
While undertaking this task Mawson edited Bion Today (2010, Routledge), which explores the many different ways in which Bion’s theoretical concepts have been used and developed in contemporary psychoanalytic thinking and applied to understanding individuals, groups and organisations.
He lectured on theoretical and methodological aspects of Bion in Taiwan, Berlin, Hamburg and Los Angeles.
Psychoanalysis and anxiety
In Mawson’s last book, Psychoanalysis and Anxiety: From Knowing to Being (2019, Routledge), he combined psychoanalytic, existential and dramaturgical perspectives on the study of anxiety.
The book explores the implications for psychoanalysis of including a consideration of the being of the patient, and of the analyst. The central principle throughout is that the psychoanalytic and the existential belong together since it is the irreducible fact of anxiety that unifies them. It is in relation to anxiety that we are helped by other human beings to bear what is, and what we are.
Mawson had a longstanding interest in theatre and film, and was an early member of the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival, serving on the organising committee of this popular event for two years running. He explored his interest in theatre, and its relationship to psychoanalysis, in Psychoanalysis and Anxiety: From Knowing to Being.
He was an early pioneer of the Institute of Psychoanalysis website and also the first Melanie Klein Trust website, helping to realise their potential and providing invaluable advice to colleagues.
He brought an honest and forthright approach to thinking about his patients and those of his supervisees. He was unassuming and humorous, with a generous loyalty to his colleagues and friends.
Hannah Solemani, 2020
A tribute by Michael Feldman, Chair of the Melanie Klein Trust
Chris Mawson’s sudden, shocking death deprives us of a good friend, and a gifted colleague who was much loved and admired. He always seemed to be so full of life. A creative thinker, who was always interested in new ideas, always very generous. He was always pleased to help with a technical problem to do with the computer and the internet. On the other hand, he was always willing to provide a relevant quote from Bion, or explain what he thought Bion intended to convey. More recently he has been developing his own, original ideas in a way that was always stimulating and enriching.
His Bion scholarship and dedication was impressive, and we have his collected works of Bion as a tribute to his work. He was much valued as a teacher and supervisor, both in Britain and abroad. It is of some consolation to think of the many students and colleagues who benefitted from their contact and involvement with him. He will remain a very vivid presence for so many of us.
His loss is especially poignant as he had entered a new and happy phase of his life, with a loving partner, Donna, and a new grandson who a source of great joy and pride for him.
Michael Feldman, November 2020
A tribute by psychoanalyst and Bion scholar Nicola Abel-Hirsch
Chris’s editorship of The Complete Works of W.R. Bion (2014) is a remarkable achievement and places him at the heart of international explorations of Bion’s clinical and theoretical work. He was both truly creative and deeply disciplined in his approach. Chris was very generous in answering questions. He was full of life and often sent quotes and pictures to his friends – one could feel his own enjoyment of them. We worked together on projects to do with Bion and I doubt I will ever not find myself thinking I will discuss something with him.
Bion wrote: “It is easy in this age of the plague – not of poverty and hunger, but of plenty, surfeit and gluttony – to lose our capacity for awe. It is as well to be reminded by the poet Herman Melville that there are many ways of reading books, but very few of reading them properly – that is, with awe. How much the more is it true of reading people.”
Chris was capable of awe.
Nicola Abel-Hirsch, November 2020
1986 Mawson, C. ‘The use of play technique in understanding disturbed behaviour in school’. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 2(1): 53-61.
1994 Mawson, C. ‘Containing anxiety in work with damaged children’ in Anton Obholzer and Vega Zagier Roberts (eds.) The Unconscious at Work: Individual and Organisational Stress in the Human Services (1994, Routledge, new edition 2019).
2010 Mawson, C (ed). Bion Today. Routledge.
2014 Mawson, C (ed). The Complete Works of W. R. Bion. Karnac, now published by Routledge.
2017 Mawson, C. Review: ‘Between Mind and Brain: Models of the Mind and Models in the Mind by Ronald Britton’. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 98(6):1826-1830.
2017 Mawson, C. ‘Interpretation as Freud’s specific action, and Bion’s container–contained’. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 98(6):1519-1532.
2018 Mawson, C (ed). Three Papers of W. R. Bion. Routledge.
2019 Mawson, C. Psychoanalysis and Anxiety: From Knowing to Being. Routledge.