Photograph of Michael Fordham

Michael Fordham

Michael Fordham (1905-1995) pioneered the Jungian analysis of children and, like Melanie Klein, he tapped into something essential in the mind of the child. His significant contributions to analytic theory and practice included positioning analytical psychology between psychoanalysis and Jung’s original formulations.

Disseminating Jungian ideas

Through the forum of the British Psychological Society’s Medical Section, Fordham disseminated Jung’s ideas in the post-war period. He was also a leader in setting up the Society of Analytical Psychology to train clinicians interested in Jung’s ideas. This society was the first to offer a training in Jungian Analysis, and Jung himself was its first president at its inception.

Fordham set out the shape of The Collected Works of CG Jung, proposing which papers should be grouped together to form which books and what the sequence of publication should be. Fordham was also the inspiration behind the Journal of Analytical Psychology and its first editor, for 15 years from 1955. In addition he wrote eight books, numerous articles and a memoir.

Infancy, childhood and autism

Fordham’s pioneering work on infancy and childhood has led to a new model of development within Jungian circles and his studies in autism based on his development of Jung’s ideas of the self have been accepted in the wider analytic community. His most radical departure from Jung was to describe the actions of the self in infancy and childhood such that the infant, far from being uncentred at birth, as Jung originally thought, is a person with an individual identity even in utero.

A unified theory of the self

Jung’s psychology is an individual psychology, and his reluctance to foster the institutionalisation of his ideas arose from his knowing that an individual method could only be taught with difficulty. Much of Fordham’s work countered this religious aspect of Jungianism. In understanding the complementary nature of Jung’s contribution to Freud’s, Fordham drew attention to the need to be well grounded in the analysis of transference as a prerequisite to a deeper analysis of the self.

In essence he described a unified field theory of the self which changed the Jungian perception of life as having a first and a second half. Inspired by Jung, Fordham was not a ‘Jungian’. He was noted in particular for using clinical evidence to guide him.

Traditionally Jungian analysis has treated mythology almost as metapsychology, looking to myths to illustrate behaviour. Fordham reversed this tradition and used his clinical work with people to illuminate contemporary myths. By turning it that way round, without renouncing altogether the use of myths to elucidate clinical material, he not only did Jungian analysis a great service but he has also provided a clinical base for the myths themselves, grounded them and thereby stopped them floating away as if they were but fragments of an analysis drifting in a magical world.

Fordham and Klein

Fordham valued highly Klein’s method of child analysis, and thought her description of childhood phantasies very close to essential archetypal images he encountered in his clinical work, but disagreed with her theorising about the death instinct as a drive in its own right.

Fordham showed how the depressive position was an early expression of the Jungian concept of individuation, he compared splitting processes in infancy with the dynamic of the self. He studied projective identification, recognising how it could be destructive if the projection was not withdrawn but on other occasions could be a primitive form of communication, especially between mother and infant. All these Kleinian ideas with some modification played an important part in his understanding of infantile states of mind. Writing at the end of his life about his model he said:

“I should state again why I found Klein’s work especially helpful. It was not only that she adopted the concept of unconscious phantasy, not only the facts of experience which she discovered, not only how she invented a method of analysing children, but also that she introduced the idea of ‘positions’. In doing this she recognised that the patterns attained in infancy and childhood were not just states to be left behind and superseded by more mature structures, but were meaningful patterns which could themselves mature and form the basis for experiences throughout the life of the individual.”

Fordham, 1995

Repairing schisms by promoting dialogue

The schismatic tendencies in the analytic world have been fostered by devoted pupils of the great masters claiming their interpretation is the right one. Fordham, like Jung, eschewed this approach and avoided groups and cults of personality. Jung did not want to establish trainings and societies and was once heard to say while attending a meeting in Zurich of analysts interested in his ideas: “Thank God I am not a Jungian!”

Fordham’s breadth of interests, love of Jung and scientific enquiry, led him to write on the occasion of Jung’s death in 1960:

“His name is still almost automatically linked with that of Freud as most nearly Freud’s equal, and if his main life’s work was in the end to be founded on a personal and scientific incompatibility with Freud, there are those who believe, like myself, that this was a disaster, and in part an illusion, from which we suffer and will continue to do so until we have repaired the damage.”

Fordham’s life was open to this task of repair. He gave papers to psychoanalytic groups, demonstrating to them the value of Jung’s archetypal psychology. He promoted discussions and conferences in Britain with speakers drawn from Jungians, Freudians, Kleinians, and psychiatrists. Through his own careful study of the clinical work of Freud and Klein and those who have come after, he equipped himself to disseminate psychoanalytic ideas in his analysing, his teaching and his supervising, and to show where the connections and differences lay between the great pioneers.

Creative and innovative, Fordham was the leader in establishing a high quality Jungian organisation for training future analysts, and was one of very few Jungian analysts to establish an international reputation.

James Astor, 2017

Key publications

Fordham, M (1957) New Developments in Analytical Psychology. Routledge.

Fordham, M (1969) Children as Individuals. Hodder and Stoughton, revised 1994, Free Association Books.

Fordham, M (1976) The Self and Autism. Heinemann.

Fordham, M (1985) Explorations into the Self. Academic Press.

Fordham, M (1995) Freud, Jung, Klein – The Fenceless Field. Routledge.