Michael Fordham

Michael Fordham, was the last of the founders of a movement in analysis, and like the other founders, - for instance Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott, or Wilfred Bion, - he tapped into something essential in analysis.

Certainly the historical circumstances which gave him the opportunity to do so will never be repeated, any more than the Freud/Jung collaboration will ever be repeated. Fordham seized an opportunity and positioned analytical psychology between psychoanalysis and Jung’s original formulations. His work has been a turning point in Jungian studies. He co-edited the collected works of C.G. Jung, was a leader in setting up the Society of Analytical Psychology to train clinicians interested in Jung’s ideas, made significant contributions to analytic theory and practice and pioneered the Jungian analysis of children.

Disseminating Jung's ideas

Fordham, through the forum of the British Psychological Society’s Medical Section, disseminated Jung’s ideas in the post-war period. He made them known to a wide group of clinicians, who for the most part were not familiar with Jung’s work or when it became available in English did not read it for political reasons (loyalty to Freud). In practice this meant that he was, in return, open to the work of other analysts in the British object relations school, followers of Freud.

Starting the Society of Analytical Psychology

It was in this context that he was instrumental in starting the Society of Analytical Psychology in 1946 and in devising the content and requirements of the trainings in child and adult analysis. He was director of both trainings. This Society was the first to offer a training in Jungian analysis and Jung himself was its first President.

Editing Jung

His second important contribution to the dissemination of analytical thought was in editing Jung. He set out the shape of the Collected Works, proposing which papers should be grouped together to form which books and what the sequence of publication should be. He was involved in the first publications from 1947, later ceding this executive role to William McGuire in the early fifties. Fordham was also the inspiration behind the Journal of Analytical Psychology and its first editor, a position he held for fifteen years from 1955. In addition he wrote eight books, numerous articles and a memoir.

Family background

Fordham came from an Hertfordshire landowning family. His father, Montagu Fordham, had written books on agriculture and been involved in the Arts and Crafts movement, while his mother had trained as a singer. He was educated at Trinity College Cambridge, and St Bartholomew’s Medical School. He started his working life as a doctor interested in neurology, and was later attracted to the science of analysis. He met Jung through a friend of his father’s Dr Godwin Baynes who was a student of Jung.

A new model of development

Fordham’s pioneering work on infancy and childhood has led to a new model of development within Jungian circles and his studies in autism based on his development of Jung’s ideas of the self have been accepted in the wider analytic community. His most radical departure from Jung was to describe the actions of the self in infancy and childhood such that the infant, far from being uncentred at birth, as Jung originally thought, is a person with an individual identity even in utero.

The agency of the self 

Almost unnoticed, remaining untouched by other researchers and practitioners, was the concept contained in this description of the workings of the self, which was that the self helped to mould and create the environment in its interactions with it. This concept introduced the idea of the agency of the individual in its own development. The self, as Fordham conceived it, was the instigator as much as the receptor of infant experience. This conception gave rise to the particularly Jungian theory of ego development in which the interaction between mother and baby ensured the uniqueness of the situation, a uniqueness created as much by the infant as by the mother.

The instability of the mind

Like Jung, Fordham understood that the instability of the mind gave rise to fierce struggles internally, principally against negative forces of mindlessness, cynicism, and all their derivatives and perverse clothings. Throughout these struggles the beauty of the continuity of the self, of what Jung called the ‘prospective’ nature of the psyche, with its capacity to heal itself, can carry forward the interested enquirer. Part of Fordham’s legacy has been to have shown his fellow analysts, through his example and published work, that the self in its unifying characteristics could transcend what seemed to be opposite forces and that, while it was engaged in this struggle, it was ‘exceedingly disruptive’ both destructively and creatively.

Transference and the self

Jung’s psychology is an individual psychology, and his reluctance to foster the institutionalisation of his ideas arose from his knowing that an individual method could only be taught with difficulty. Much of Fordham’s work has countered this religious aspect of Jungianism. In understanding the complementary nature of Jung’s contribution to Freud’s, Fordham has drawn attention to the need to be well grounded in the analysis of transference as a prerequisite to a deeper analysis of the self, and his example has demonstrated the enriching qualities of psychoanalytic concepts in this task.

A field theory of the self

In essence he described a unified field theory of the self which changed the Jungian perception of life as having a first and a second half. He was inspired by Jung but he was not a ‘Jungian’. What this has meant was that when Fordham was studying Jung’s work and had identified an ambiguity, he relied on the clinical evidence to guide him and not, as so often happens, asserted that his view was the right one because it was what the master really meant, thereby introducing a moral element into the argument .

Mythology and behaviour

Traditionally Jungian analysis has treated mythology almost as metapsychology, looking to myths to illustrate behaviour. Fordham reversed this tradition and used his clinical work with people to illuminate contemporary myths. By turning it that way round, without renouncing altogether the use of myths to elucidate clinical material, he has not only done Jungian analysis a great service but he has also provided a clinical base for the myths themselves, grounded them and thereby stopped them floating away as if they were but fragments of an analysis drifting in a magical world .

Scientific was the word Fordham preferred for his approach. What this meant in essence for him was thinking about and working on emotional experience. The learning, he felt, came from the change in the mind resulting from this process, a kind of internal reorganisation akin to growth.

'Thank God I am not a Jungian'

The schismatic tendencies in the analytic world have been fostered by devoted pupils of the great masters claiming their interpretation is the right one. Fordham eschewed this approach and in so doing stayed closer to the original spirit of his inspiration - Jung. He avoided groups and cults of personality. Jung did not want to establish trainings and societies and was once heard to say while attending a meeting in Zurich of analysts interested in his ideas: ‘Thank God I am not a Jungian !’

Repair and psychoanalysis

Fordham’s breadth of interests, love of Jung and scientific enquiry, led him to write on the occasion of Jung’s death in 1960:

His name is still almost automatically linked with that of Freud as most nearly Freud’s equal, and if his main life’s work was in the end to be founded on a personal and scientific incompatibility with Freud, there are those who believe, like myself, that this was a disaster, and in part an illusion, from which we suffer and will continue to do so until we have repaired the damage.

Fordham’s life was open to this task of repair. He gave papers to psychoanalytic groups, demonstrating to them the value of Jung’s archetypal psychology. He promoted discussions and conferences in Britain with speakers drawn from Jungians, Freudians and psychiatrists. Through the careful study of the clinical work of Freud and those who have come after him, he equipped himself to disseminate psychoanalytic ideas in his analysing, his teaching and his supervising, and to show where the connections and differences lay between the two great pioneers.

An organizer and a leader 

He was the leader in establishing a high quality Jungian organisation for training analysts; in addition he has been creative and innovative as an analyst and was one of very few Jungian analysts to have an international reputation.

He was true to his own thoughts about Jung that ‘the best monument that can be raised to Jung’s memory is to make use of and develop his work rather than let it be passively accepted and sterilized’. In this he succeeded.

For further exploration of Michael Fordham’s work see Innovations in Analytical Psychology, by James Astor, Routledge 1995.

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