Dr Hanna Segal: Psychoanalyst who was inspired by Melanie Klein and contributed hugely to the field of cultural studies

Hanna Segal was an outstanding psychoanalyst, teacher and writer, and a remarkable human being.

In the course of her long working life she made important and lasting contributions to the theory and practice of psychoanalysis, as well as the field of cultural studies. She was greatly influenced by the work of Melanie Klein, and became the foremost exponent of Klein's theoretical and clinical approach.

Hanna Segal was born in 1918 in Lodz, in Poland, to a well-to-do assimilated Jewish family. Her father was a successful lawyer who spoke many languages and had a deep interest in literature and art. Segal shared his intellectual gifts and his broad cultural and political interests. Her mother was a beautiful woman who supported the family during some of the difficult times they were to experience. Segal was deeply attached to an older sister, who died at the age of four from scarlet fever. She said that she felt her sister was the only person who had truly loved her, and the experience of this loss remained with her throughout her life. When she was 12 the family moved to Geneva, where her father became the editor of one of the publications of the League of Nations.

Segal thrived in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of pre-war Geneva, and in its international school. She developed a passion for literature and read extensively with an increasing depth of understanding, absorbing the work of many of the most important French and German philosophers. Here she first read Proust and discovered the work of Sigmund Freud. Her reading, particularly of Freud, led to the realisation "that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, more fascinating than human nature. And human relations."

Segal remained attached to herPolish roots, and at the age of 16persuaded her parents to allow her to return to Warsaw to complete her education. The difficult political situation in Poland led to her involvement in Socialist groups, and while on a visit to Geneva in 1936 she tried to sneak out of the house to join the Republican fighters in Spain, but was stopped by her parents. When her father was expelled from Switzerland on political grounds she joined her parents in Paris in 1939. There, she met her future husband Paul Segal, a student of mathematics who she had known as a child in Poland, and she briefly continued the medical studies she had begun in Warsaw.

At the time of the German occupation of Poland, Segal, like many young Polish émigrés, felt a passionate desire to return to Warsaw. She fought to get on the last train back to Warsaw but was turned away. She remarked ruefully that none of the friends who had gone back survived: had she returned, she too would have been killed. As the Germans marched on Paris in spring 1940, the family fled across France and found places on the last Polish boat heading for England.

Segal completed her medical studies in Edinburgh, where the university had created a faculty for Polish medical students. She met Ronald Fairbairn, who introduced her to the work of Melanie Klein. She was immediately gripped by the depth and insight of Klein's writing, which spoke to her own interests and experiences. Fairbairn had encouraged her to train as a psychoanalyst and she moved to London, where she worked at the Paddington Children's Hospital, and later in rehabilitating Polish soldiers, many of whom were suffering from mental illness.

Segal persuaded Klein to accept her as a patient, and she joined the psychoanalytic training programme, qualifying at 27, the youngest member of the British Psychoanalytical Society. She emerged as a gifted clinician and teacher, and a highly sought-after training analyst and supervisor. She inspired generations of students and analytical colleagues in Britain and throughout the world. In her writings she made major contributions to child analysis, the theory of symbolism, and the psychoanalytic understanding and treatment of severe borderline and psychotic patients. Like Conrad, a Polish writer Segal admired, she showed a remarkable command of English, and a capacity to communicate complex ideas cleary accessibly.

Segal was part of an inspired group of psychoanalysts which included Herbert Rosenfeld, and Wilfred Bion, who were absorbing and developing the work of Freud, Abraham and Ferenczi, and the next generation which included Klein, Riviere, Isaacs and Heimann. Their pioneering work with more seriously disturbed patients was built upon Klein's understanding of primitive mental mechanisms.

Segal's showed how Klein's work offered a new and deeper understanding of the way the child's "internal world" of phantasies gradually evolved out of the child's experience of his or her important early figures. These unconscious phantasies continually influence, in turn, the child's perceptions of, and interaction with, the external world. This model of the internal world and its dynamic relationship with external relationships allowed for the development of a greater understanding of the psychology of infancy and childhood. Our knowledge of these mechanisms, which remain active in adult life, is valuable in understanding some of the disturbance and suffering encountered in adult patients.

Segal explored how, from the beginning of life, the individual develops mechanisms for coping with pain and anxiety, whether arising from the experience of need, or loss. Some involve attempting to satisfy needs, and having to face the inevitable pain, frustration, anger and guilt which are part of human experience. Other responses involve attempting to obliterate thinking and the experience of pain, turning instead to omnipotent phantasy to evade reality. In her paper Psychoanalysis and Freedom of Thought (1981), Segal wrote, "Freedom of thought... means the freedom to know our own thoughts... the unwelcome as well as the welcome, the anxious thoughts, those felt as 'bad', or 'mad' as well as constructive thoughts and those felt as 'good' or 'sane'. Freedom of thought is being able to examine their validity in terms of external or internal realities. The freer we are to think, the better we can judge these realities, and the richer are our experiences."

Segal's intellectual, cultural and political interests were broad, and she used her psychoanalytic knowledge to write important papers on literature, aesthetics and socio-political studies. She was passionately opposed to nuclear arms, and her paper "Silence is the Real Crime" (1987) was an important and original contribution to the debate.

Segal rose to great eminence. She was President of the British Psycho-Analytical Society and Vice-President of the International Psychoanalytical Association. She held the Freud Memorial Chair at University College, London and was awarded the Sigourney Prize for contributions to psychoanalysis. Her passion for life included a deep interest in art, artists and writers. She enjoyed good food, company and wine. She enjoyed travelling, with a gift for vivid description of her adventures and the people she had encountered.

Her family were immensely important to her; she took great pride in the achievements of her three talented sons, and the arrival of daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her husband Paul had supported her professional life by taking on many of the household tasks. He developed Parkinson's disease, and 18 years ago Hanna and Paul moved to live with their son Michael and his wife, who provided them with devoted care, which was particularly important after Paul's death in 1996.

Hanna Segal believed passionately in the freedom of thought as a fundamental human value, and she exemplified this ideal both in her work and in her life. For this she was respected, valued and loved by those who had the privilege of knowing her, working with her, or being helped by her.

Hanna Maria Poznanski, psychoanalyst: born Lodz, Poland 20 August 1918; married 1946 Paul Segal (died 1996; three sons); died 5 July 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea