The Freud Museum

Events Archive

5 July 2008

Female Experience : Women Working With Women

A major conference celebrating 10 years since the founding of COWAP, the IPA Committee on Women & Psychoanalysis.


Saturday 5 July 2008, University College London

Prof. Joan Raphael-Leff, Dr. Gigliola Fornari Spoto, Dr. Amanda Jones, Prof. Rosine Perelberg, Prof. Juliet Mitchell, Dr. Joan Shachter.

Unless otherwise stated, presenters are psychoanalysts & members of the British Psychoanalytic Society]
Morning Chair and Introduction
Prof Joan Raphael-Leff
Dr. Gigliola Fornari Spoto
Melanie Klein And Female Sexuality Reconsidered
Dr. Amanda Jones (Anna Freud Centre)
Parent-Infant Psychotherapy With Mothers Who Cannot Love Their Babies [With Filmed Interactions]
Afternoon Chair And Introduction
Prof Rosine Perelberg
Prof Juliet Mitchell
Gender And Sexual Difference
Dr. Joan Schachter
Between Words - Beyond Words: Difficulties in the analytic encounter between women


Venue Details
University College London

Visit their website for more information.
Conference Report

The conference report by Celia Goto (Oxford July 2008) is also available as a Word document.

Female Experience Women Working With Women

Saturday 5 July 2008, University College London

Conference review by Celia Goto
Oxford July 2008

This was a truly interesting conference that called for a much needed reappraisal and development of post-Kleinian thinking about sexuality.

After a welcome from Michael Molnar, director of the Freud Museum, and introduction by psychoanalyst Professor Joan Raphael-Leff (Anna Freud Centre & University College London), the day got off to an excellent start when psychoanalyst Gigliola Fornari Sporto presented her paper ‘Melanie Klein and Female Sexuality Reconsidered’. She began by posing the question ‘How do Kleinian analysts deal with sexuality today?’ She suggested that it was now a widespread view that Kleinians are not inclined to focus on sexual interpretations and unconscious phantasy in relation to part objects, preferring to concentrate on separation anxiety. It was her view that sexuality has been largely neglected since Klein, other than by Donald Meltzer. In presenting her own work with a young woman with a history of anorexia and bulimia, Gigliola illustrated the complex constantly shifting, multiple and part-object identifications (projective and introjective), in the unfolding Oedipal drama. The pathological states of mind in her patient revealed confusions of nipple-breast-penis, and milk-semen-urine, in such a way that feeding had become ‘a desperate violence between vagina and penis’ leading to evisceration of her internal objects, inclusive of a ‘crappy couple’ combined object, Essentially, she felt dismantled by and fearful of intimacy, unable to take anything good inside herself, and of course this was omnipresent in the transference. Gigliola drew attention to the twists and turns of male and female identifications in the material, and highlighted the dilemma for contemporary young women processing powerful masculine identifications, in an era when the female body image is preoccupied with magical breasts (cosmetically enhanced) and no hips (suggesting perhaps possession of the potent phallus).

Dr Amanda Jones , (Consultant Parent-Infant Psychotherapist heading North East London NHS Foundation Trust’s Tier 3 Parent-Infant Mental Health Service) then presented an applied psychoanalytic method of intervention with ‘Mothers Who Can’t Love Their Babies’, an award winning documentary made by Channel 4 TV and the Anna Freud Centre. A young mother who had given birth to twin girls plunged into a catastrophic post-natal depression that required her to negotiate losing touch with reality, suicidal desires and intergenerational pathological projections. One of her babies became a bad object from the moment the mother first looked at her, and saw her own mother looking back ‘with terrifying eyes’. She became convinced that the baby was ‘possessed’ and ‘wanted her (the mother) to die’. Amanda’s warm and intelligent commentary supplemented slices of the film material, allowing the audience to see her at work, following the recovery of the mother’s lost good objects, and rediscovery of her maternal capacities for her forgiving babies. The camera work was excellent, capturing the early moments of apprehensive tenderness between the mother and baby, as well as the tentative reaching towards each other of the twins. On being followed by the camera as toddlers, at their height so that you could see the clinical setting through their eyes, one of the little girls turned and looked back poignantly into the lens.

Psychoanalyst Professor Rosine Jozef Perelberg (University College London) gave an introductory presentation on theoretical developments of Gender and Sexuality in Britain and France, before psychoanalyst Professor Juliet Mitchell (University of Cambridge) promised a ‘dry as dust’ presentation on gender and sexual difference. It was in fact highly stimulating and had the added quality of work in progress, which made it all the more interesting. Juliet began by drawing a line of distinction between the acquisition of gender i.e. the adjustment to classification as boy or girl in childhood, and the attainment of sexual difference i.e. becoming women and men through the transformations of puberty. She attributed the first to biological fact (rather primitively determined in this day and age) and the latter to the complex processes of symbol formation. Stitching together ideas encompassing the infantile wish for a virgin birth (e.g. Little Hans); the little boy’s desire to thrust and girl’s to whirl; same-sex gender bonding in latency; and the negotiation of the vertical (parental) and horizontal (sibling) axis of the Oedipus complex; Juliet developed a thesis on sexual difference being shaped by trauma, particularly the trauma of the birth of a sibling. One awaits her next book with interest!

The audience gently but persistently took up a question left hanging in the air from the morning session, ‘How do we think helpfully about lesbianism? It was a relief when after giving the anthropological response (that it is accepted in many cultures throughout the world and much more so in our own now), Juliet rose to the challenge. She talked about the way that the sexual psyche and body are not necessarily united, so that heterosexual couples can be in homosexual relations to each other without knowing, and that in homosexual couplings unconscious heterosexual relations can be taking place. It is interesting that psychoanalysis seems to remain nervous in thinking about same-sex sex, and finds it easier to consider transexuality and gender identity than lesbianism. The new ‘Sitegeist’ journal of Psychoanalysis and Philosophy (No 1 Spring 2008) began life with an edition on homosexuality and it makes uncomfortable reading, accusing psychoanalysis of refusing to think carefully enough about the meaning and experience of same-sex relations, in a much changed society and sexual culture.

It was a hard task for psychoanalyst Dr Joan Schachter (British Psychoanalytical Society) to follow Juliet’s tour de force with the concluding paper of the day ‘Beyond Words - Between Words’, but her work added clinical weight to Juliet’s theoretical hypothesis. She described the analysis of two young bulimic women struggling to find their sexual identities in the aftermath of infantile trauma in relation to their mothers.

The conference focussed on women working with women in celebration of ten years since the founding of COWAP, the IPA’s Committee on Women & Psychoanalysis, and to launch a new edition of the book ‘Female Experience: Four Generations of British Women Psychoanalysts on Work with Women’ (previous edition 1997 spanned three generations).

One of the greatly appreciated aspects of Freud Museum conferences is that they are usually held at UCH and there’s time to dash across Euston Road for a delicious lunch in Drummond Street, famous for Indian vegetarian restaurants and sweet shops!

Conference review by Celia Goto
Oxford July 2008

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