"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, January 4, 2019

Guntrip on Schizoids and Christians

In any proper accounting of the relationship between Christianity and psychoanalysis, to which I have contributed piecemeal on here (and elsewhere) over the last three years, Harry S. Guntrip must occupy a significant place. He embodied both traditions, being himself a therapist and also a Congregational minister. From this dual perspective he was able to author such books as his early Psychotherapy and Religion and his later Psychology for Ministers and Social Workers

But Guntrip is perhaps best known for his work on the schizoid type. Others in Britain before and after him--especially Melanie Klein in England, and R.W. Fairbairn (also a practicing Christian) in Scotland--had also done important work on this personality type, all of it in the context of object relations theory whose most important thinker was and remains, of course, D.W. Winnicott. (More recently, Nancy McWilliams' essay is noteworthy for its lucidity and detailed portrait of schizoid types. I think she is quite right in arguing that this type is not a pathology to be corrected, but a phenomenon nonetheless deserving careful consideration.)

An earlier biography of Guntrip, who had the benefit of being analyzed by both Fairbairn and Winnicott,.was published in 1986.

What we have more recently from Trevor Dobbs, himself an analyst and academic, is Faith, Theology, and Psychoanalysis: the Life and Thought of Harry S. Guntrip (Wipf and Stock, 2007). It's a frustrating book because it is a rather poorly edited doctoral dissertation, which genre often and notoriously makes for bad books. This book, to be clear, is not bad but undisciplined: the reader is yanked around from topic to topic with little development and less warning or connection. Nevertheless, it is worth persisting to obtain some of its insights.

The book notes that Freud's Future of an Illusion from 1927 set up an apparent conflict between something called "religion" and the so-called science of psychoanalysis. But not everyone, as I have noted on here many times in the past three years, believes in, let alone perpetuates, this pseudo-conflict. Indeed, some labor in both domains without a problem, and Guntrip was one such.

Another was the Scottish analyst W. R.D. Fairbairn (Guntrip's analyst, along with D.W. Winnicott), who also contributed a great deal to the object-relations school, and had his own acute insights into the schizoid phenomenon. Fairbairn (who died in 1964) is finally getting some overdue attention in several new publications, including this collection and this one.

I recently finished John Sutherland's biography of Fairbairn, who grew up in a rather strict Scottish Protestant household before gravitating later to the richer experiences of Anglican Christianity.

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