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King, P. (2002). Bion, Rickman, Foulkes and the Northfield Experiments: Advancing on a Different Front by Thomas Harrison. Foreword by Bob Hinshelwood (Jessica Kingsley, London and Philadelphia, 2000) 319 pp. £17.95.. Psychoanal. Psychother., 16(1):90-97.

(2002). Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 16(1):90-97

Book Reviews

Bion, Rickman, Foulkes and the Northfield Experiments: Advancing on a Different Front by Thomas Harrison. Foreword by Bob Hinshelwood (Jessica Kingsley, London and Philadelphia, 2000) 319 pp. £17.95.

Review by:
Pearl King

The author of this book has set out to describe to his readers the coming into being and the dying away of two remarkable ‘experiments’ that took place in a military hospital in England during World War II, and which, soon after the War, became a very powerful ‘shared group experience’ that empowered those professionals who took part in it; while those who did not do so, endowed those who were engaged in ‘whatever happened there’ with what seemed like ‘a special professional qualification’.

As I have known the main characters in this book, but never worked in Northfield Hospital, I must include myself among those who endowed those who did work there, with ‘a special professional qualification’. I met most of the colleagues described in this book during the period when they had left, or were leaving, Northfield Hospital in 1945-46. They were keen to talk about their experiences and to give me their point of view about what had taken place; and I, who had been working in a munitions factory, was hungry to hear what they had to tell me.

I therefore found this a very interesting book to read, and it made me realise how much can be missed if you only rely on ‘the oral tradition’, which John Rickman himself valued so highly. If you do, you may not get a clear picture of the structures within which events take place and which helps to relate individuals to each other, and which also contains the intra-group tensions that give buoyancy to what happens within the structure.

From the history of what happened as recorded in this book, and particularly from its carefully recorded data, I was able to fill in various facts, to understand more clearly the sequence of events and relate them to what was going on in the War at the time, which helped to make sense of what I already knew.

Reviewing this book has made me experience the mixture of being part of what is now referred to as ‘Living History’, i.e.

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