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Hamilton, V. (2009). The Humility of Frances Tustin: Introductory Essay to ‘The Perpetuation of an Error’, by Frances Tustin (1994). Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 3(1):76-88.

(2009). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 3(1):76-88

The Humility of Frances Tustin: Introductory Essay to ‘The Perpetuation of an Error’, by Frances Tustin (1994)

Victoria Hamilton

In the opening sentence of ‘The Perpetuation of an Error’, Frances Tustin states her intention: ‘to sort out my ideas about autism before my professional life comes to an end’. The paper discusses not only those errors that are specific to psychoanalytic studies of autism, but also the reasons for the perpetuation of errors in other fields of study. I re-read the paper at the same time as I unearthed a large file of dozens of letters written to me by Frances Tustin between the years 1974 and 1994. In these letters, Frances discusses shifts in her thinking, drafts of new papers, and new observational studies that had absorbed her attention. She worked tirelessly to clarify the theories and practices that inform the treatment of autistic children. She continually adjusted and corrected previous formulations. Like many psychoanalysts, she used not only clinical observation, but also personal experiences that guided her understanding of autistic states. Frances, a very warm, kindly, and approachable person, had also suffered the depths of depression, terror, and darkness that afflict autistic children and their care-givers. She had lost two children at birth.

In reading the letters, I was immediately struck by Frances's humility, generosity, and openness to new ideas. She was a great communicator, and one of those who brought people together from all over the world. She helped an enormous number of people, me included, with their thinking, clinical practices, papers, and books. In this respect, she played a somewhat similar role to that of John Bowlby in my professional life as a child psychotherapist and psychoanalyst. Both were pioneers in their fields who liked to share their ideas, doubts, and enthusiasms.

Unlike some analysts of the era in which Frances trained, there was something very homely and simple about Frances.

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