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Armstrong, D. (1997). The ‘institution in the mind’ reflections on the relation of psycho-analysis to work with institutions. Free Associations, 7(1):1-14.

(1997). Free Associations, 7(1):1-14

The ‘institution in the mind’ reflections on the relation of psycho-analysis to work with institutions

David Armstrong

Hearsay Has It that when the Chairman of the Professional Committee of the Tavistock Clinic some while ago read a paper at the Institute of Psycho-Analysis on the Psycho-analysis of Institutions, a distinguished Kleinian analyst tartly observed that there was no such thing. The concept was empty.

At first hearing one knows what she means. Psychoanalysis is rooted, in its concepts and methods, on what takes place between two people in a consulting room. It is, one may say, concerned with understanding the emotional experience contained or made present in that room. Its founder's genius lay in realising that this emotional experience, resonating and amplified through the medium of transference, opened a door to the understanding of the mind. Opening this door promoted development, fundamentally in the inner world of the patient, though also of course in that of the analyst her- or himself. Melanie Klein's formidable contribution, as I see it, was greatly to enlarge and clarify the concept of the inner world, its contents and relations, as the focus of development. From this point of view it is not so much the relation of the patient to external reality as his or her relatedness to psychic reality within, which focuses analytic work, session by session, term after term.


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