Psychoanalysis and the social and political system

David Morgan is a consultant psychotherapist and psychoanalyst fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society. He is also a training analyst supervisor at the British Psychoanalytic Association, and a lecturer recognised nationally and internationally.

Here he speaks about his personal journey, his inner struggle with the twists and turns of our social and political system and the people who defy it.

I was a happy analyst working in radical Swiss Cottage (as opposed to Hampstead). I had worked happily and unhappily at times in the NHS for 25 years. I felt an affinity with this venerable institution and still do. We were able to provide mental space for people who rarely get to see an analyst.

It seemed obvious to me that a civilised country would have an egalitarian health system. When inevitably an NHS Trust was formed that encompassed the clinic, there was some celebration as if it were some kind of achievement, rather than a potential death knell that we were all having to collude with. The latter had as much to do with survival of some psychotherapeutic modality, and holding onto our jobs.

A band that I sang and played with for fun, the infamous Attention Seekers, performed a song which expressed my feelings as best I could. (With apologies to Bob Dylan (Zimmerman).)

T’was in another lifetime before we formed the Trust
When therapy was based more on love and trust
We went into the wilderness and the Trust was born
Now we’re buried ‘neath audit degrees and forms
And in a future lifetime you can rest assured
We will look back at this time to be endured
Whilst the futile IAPT therapist blows his futile horn
We will be buried ‘neath audit, cost cuts and forms.

Yes, I know, a cynical protest song, with a hint of adolescent rebellion, seeking to defy the advance of expensively employed hospital management and their ‘cost saving cuts’. We all in fact went along with this process, as middle-class professionals can always can be relied upon to do. We all had mortgages to pay after all.

Eventually, not being adept at form filling of any kind, I left the relative shelter of the NHS for full-time private work. I enjoy this, the privacy of the consulting room.

However, I was eventually approached by a professor of investigative journalism, Gavin MacFadyen, ex Panorama and This Week, to provide psychological help for people who provided him with stories that he then investigated. He, remarkably for a journalist, cared about his sources and couldn’t sleep easily just using them and leaving them to their fate.

Thus began an aspect of my career where I have had the privilege to meet women and men, like Gavin, who have had the courage to stand up against deceit and hypocrisy, people with a willingness to be counted in their industries and jobs.

They are like the boy in ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ story who had the temerity to point out deception where they found it. Yes, in hospital management fraud, ‘care’ of the elderly, weapons selling and the army, the law, and, of course, banking.

Since then, I have seen hundreds of people on a Friday afternoon in Swiss Cottage, both individually and later in a large group. The governing aspect of these encounters has been to emphasise that authority is permeable and that someone does not have to become what is projected into them, even when it’s a pathological organisation that is out to diminish their exposure by shooting the messenger. Also, how not to be destroyed by justifiable grievance when you find those in charge don’t care. As one would-be whistleblower was informed ‘do you feel lucky’? I have been ably assisted in this work by lawyers who are still inspired by ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ ethics.

I am grateful for this political aspect of my work although occasionally paranoid that I am being exposed to the rottenness of the neoliberal project that is currently putting profit before survival and with all that means for the human psyche and the planet we inhabit.

This led to establishing the Political Mind Seminars at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and the Frontier Psychoanalyst podcast which has attracted a large following from a diverse audience. From these endeavours, involving many analysts, there have arisen two volumes, the first which has just been published, The Unconscious in Social and Political Life.

The consulting room can be a psychic retreat, if the setting we are working in is under threat. If you wander around Berlin, you can see the blue plaques commemorating where many of the analysts who stayed used to practice.

David Howell Morgan
Psychoanalyst, London

Read more on The Unconscious in Social and Political Life, or its companion volume, A Deeper Cut: Further Explorations of the Unconscious in Social and Political Life, both edited by David Morgan and part of the Political Mind series.