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Jaques, E. (1982). Wilfred R. Bion: Reflections on His Life and Work. Am. J. Psychoanal., 42(3):249-252.

(1982). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 42(3):249-252

Brief Communications

Wilfred R. Bion: Reflections on His Life and Work

Elliott Jaques, M.D., Ph.D.

With the death of Wilfred Ruprecht Bion in Oxford on November 8, 1979, psychoanalysis loses one of its most distinguished practitioners and original thinkers. Building on the work of Freud and Melanie Klein he extended, well beyond the previous limits, our understanding of psychotic thought processes, and in so doing he threw much light on the more usual thought processes. His writings are exciting and stimulating to his psychoanalytic colleagues because of the new ways of looking at things which he opened up. To meet him was to be aware of being in the presence of an immensely powerful intellect with extensive erudition, all put to the use of an uncritical understanding and expressed in a very simple and direct manner.

Wilfred Bion was born on September 8, 1897, in India. India made a lasting impression on him and he maintained his interest in that country to the end of his life; indeed, shortly before his death he was entertaining plans to visit Bombay to work with the analytic group there.

He went up to Oxford in January of 1919 and became an undergraduate of Queen's College, where he read Modern History. During this time at Queen's he met and was deeply influenced by H. J. Paton, who was then the philosophy tutor there. Paton was interested particularly in the works of Kant, some of which he translated, and in moral philosophy, the impact of both of which can be seen in Bion's later works.

By 1924 Bion had already decided to study psychoanalysis, and it was with this in view that he went to University College Hospital. In 1932 he had a post at the Institute for the Scientific Treatment of Delinquency and was medical officer in the department of psychotherapy at the Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases. It may have been there that Bion first met John Rickman, with whom he was later in analysis, and to whom he always remained very grateful. In 1933 Bion took a post at the Tavistock Clinic which he retained until 1948.


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