Betty Joseph: Psychoanalyst and Klein disciple noted for treating the reluctant patient


The psychoanalyst Betty Joseph was the last survivor of a group of innovative clinicians who learned from Melanie Klein and her collaborators. Joseph developed Klein's ideas about "the inner world" and explored how and why patients may prefer to remain stuck with their symptoms, turning away from insight and help, in order to maintain a certain psychic equilibrium, however costly this might prove to the self.

Joseph was acutely interested in such matters; she wrote of patients who were "hard to reach", who preferred "chuntering" to facing their predicament or were addicted to psychic states of "near death" even as they may have appeared to be engaged in the work of recovery. She was renowned for taking up subtle aspects of the patient's manner of functioning that might have escaped others' ears.

Joseph's views, although admired, also aroused misgivings. Like Klein, she could give the impression that not to adhere to her approach was to do a lesser form of analysis: her rigour could be experienced as crushing or "precious", especially when badly applied by others. But she understood the novice's bewilderment, and she nurtured those in whom she saw potential. She set high standards: when told that she had qualified as a psychoanalyst, she wrote back to the relevant committee to say that she did not regard herself as ready. Complacency in the analyst was her bête noire.

Joseph's landmark publications are gathered in Psychic Equilibrium and Psychic Change (1989), which is best seen in the context of her larger career as teacher, supervisor, founder and convenor of a seminar that became something of a legend within the profession. Later renamed a "workshop", once her erstwhile junior students became eminences grises themselves, it ran nearly continuously for more than half a century. The atmosphere was convivial, searching, frank and sometimes rivalrous. She had a close working relationship with the psychoanalyst Michael Feldman, each acting as the other's editor or co-editor. If one could bear the discomfort of her criticism, Feldman observed in a moving speech at her funeral, it was possible to gain immeasurably from the experience.

Her lively seminars were routinely accompanied by copious quantities of panettone, among other edible reinforcements, along with coffee that the visitor was encouraged to drink with ample cream. She viewed modern health fads with irony; there was something in her house and her style that evoked another age. Her old friend, the poet and critic Al Alvarez, remarked fondly of the meals she served: "it was Anglo Jewish – Edwardian-French cuisine – grouse, steak and kidney pie, jellied eels, summer pudding." I recall a signature dish, circa 1972, involving chicken stuffed with grapes she had insisted on peeling and de-seeding.

A generous host and friend, Joseph was also a beloved aunt and great-aunt. She never married and had no children, but was comfortable in the company of the young. Like Klein and Hanna Segal, she regarded child analysis as an indispensable part of the toolkit in understanding the adult patient's mind. Sprightly and witty, she made living alone into something of an art. Towards the end her carer became exasperated when her charge kept disappearing, to concerts, the theatre and meals out. Joseph's zest, intelligence, lack of self pity and interest in the "crooked timber" of humanity made a powerful impression.

Born in Edgbaston in 1917, she was the second of three children in a secular Jewish family, her father an electrical engineer. She came to psychoanalysis via psychiatric social work. After studying and briefly working at the London School of Economics, analysis soon took pride of place. Joseph was sympathetic to communism, especially in her youth, but neither politics, literature nor ideology figured much in her writing, which was resolutely that of a clinician.

Joseph worked in wartime civil defence, at one stage driving a lorry, and worked with child evacuees (whose psychic dislocation, even trauma, she remarked, she only later fully came to appreciate). She began analysis with the Hungarian émigré, Michael Balint, and later with Paula Heimann, a key figure in the British psychoanalytic movement. Heimann, unlike Joseph, parted company with Klein.

Joseph qualified in 1949; it was, however, only in the 1960s and '70s that her distinctive approach became fully apparent. Hers was a highly attuned style of close listening and comprehension, and this capacity for paying precise attention to how the patient hears the analyst's interpretation – and what he or she then does with it – was to influence many of her contemporaries. Her explorations of such nuances and uncertainties bears some comparison with developments elsewhere in the humanities – detailed textual analysis for instance, with no recourse to knowledge of the author, in English literary criticism.

Joseph deftly showed in an analytic context how the medium is in part the message: the manner and form in which we talk, listen, respond (or fail to) can be as revealing as the actual content of what we say. She greatly encouraged fellow analysts to get their own ears much closer to the ground.

Such meta-attention – analysis of the analysis – could be of considerable service, enabling practitioners to see how they were unwittingly drawn into collusions, perhaps pulled into an unconscious drama instigated by the patient (or by the analyst's own preference for avoiding pain and difficulty). Joseph did much to show that the basis for psychoanalytical understanding lay as much, if not more, in grasping the "enactments" in the consulting room as in the patient's reports of the past or events outside. She liked to keep interpretations simple and direct. Where her friend Hanna Segal might attempt to talk directly of the deepest unconscious fantasy or draw more freely on patients' personal histories, Joseph preferred to stay close to the immediate situation.

A risk was that this style could become the be-all and end-all; Joseph clarified that she was not against "history" in analytic interpretations, but wary that it could be wheeled in too soon or distractingly. If she was renowned as a kind of miniaturist, a Jane Austen of clinical details, she was also alert to, and wrote eloquently about, what she and Klein called "the total situation" of the transference.

Joseph's work became an indispensible part of analytic education. Described as "the analyst's analyst", she was instrumental in disseminating Kleinian thought and technique to sceptical colleagues. She received many accolades, including the Sigourney Award of the International Psychoanalytical Association and a distinguished fellowship at the British Psychoanalytical Society.

Betty Joseph, psychoanalyst: born Birmingham 7 March 1917; died 4 April 2013.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London