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Spillius, E.B. (1990). Containing Anxiety in Institutions and the Dynamics of the Social: Selected Essays of Isabel Menzies Lyth, in two volumes. London: Free Association Books, 1988 and 1989. Pp. 269 and 274.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 71:366-368.

(1990). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 71:366-368

Containing Anxiety in Institutions and the Dynamics of the Social: Selected Essays of Isabel Menzies Lyth, in two volumes. London: Free Association Books, 1988 and 1989. Pp. 269 and 274.

Review by:
Elizabeth Bott Spillius

Robert Young, the publisher of Free Association Books, is much to be thanked for having persuaded Isabel Menzies Lyth, well known for her skill in combining the insights of social science and psychoanalysis, to publish a selection of her papers. He is much less to be thanked, however, for his method of introducing her work by printing a recorded conversation between Isabel Menzies Lyth, himself, and Ann Scott, the editor of her books. As in most conversations, the three participants wander about from reminiscence to gossip to crucially important issues without ever properly exploring the topics touched on or describing the development of Menzies Lyth's ideas. The papers are serious, the introduction is superficial. The reader, irritated by this discordance, is left to work out for himself what Isabel Menzies Lyth has tried to do.

He will get more help from her own introduction to the second volume, The Dynamics of the Social, where she says that in all the situations in which she has worked, she has used psychoanalytic theory (and she might have added that she makes much use of Bowlby's attachment theory) and certain aspects of social science theory, namely field theory and open systems theory, to understand the way individuals and institutions cope with anxiety through defences, adaptations, and sublimations. Anxiety, both personal and communal, is the central issue she addresses. As she says, as time has gone on she has made more use of management theory and has become more accepting of the fact that working as a consultant to institutions is bound to keep the consultant in a more or less continuous state of anxiety.

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