Obituary: Nina Coltart

A. H. Brafman
Sunday 17 August 1997 23:02

Nina Coltart was one of the most admired and liked psychoanalysts in Britain. For 35 years she was an active member of the British and international psychoanalytic community and she played a major role in extending the influence of analytic ideas outside that world.

For 10 years, from 1972, she was the Director of the London Clinic of Psychoanalysis. Here she fostered solid relationships with the world of psychiatrists and doctors who referred patients for analysis and she developed a team of medical and psychologist analysts who valued the climate of co-operation and respect she was able to create and sustain. She was involved with the academic and administrative activities of the British Psychoanalytical Society of which, besides being a member of several committees, she was a Vice-President.

Privately, she had a heavy caseload of patients, trainees and supervisees, but she also became renowned as an assessor of patients in need a psychological help. She conducted some 3,000 such consultations, and helped many young professionals to build their practices; but, equally important, both referrers and patients spoke with gratitude of her contribution.

Orthodoxy, however, was not really acceptable to Coltart and she moved on to a wider application of the psychoanalytic theories she valued. She was a keen participant in the world of psychotherapy, gave much support to the Arbours Association in London, and supervised and taught members of other training organisations. Her lectures, papers and, later, her books were valued for their insights, phrased in language devoid of jargon, dogma or pretentiousness.

Nina Coltart was born in 1927 in Kent, where her father was a GP. Together with her younger sister Gill, they were evacuated to Cornwall in 1940, where they lived with their maternal grandmother. Nina spoke with warmth of their nanny, who had earlier looked after their mother. When she was 12, her parents died in a train accident when on their way to visit the girls.

Nina studied at Sherborne School and went on to Somer-ville College, Oxford, where she obtained a degree in English and Modern Languages. She was passionate about literature and her books covered many walls in her house. Her writing shows not only the breadth of her knowledge, but also the style of one who has lived with the written word.

However, she was determined to become a doctor and she applied to the only medical school that might excuse her lack of mathematical knowledge. In fact, St Bartholomew's granted her an Art scholarship, whilst urging her to improve her mathematics - she had scored only 7 per cent in the test. She went on to become the first woman editor of the Bart's Journal.

After qualification, she worked as a psychiatrist, but found that she was more interested in her patients' emotions and life experiences than in the medical conditions her colleagues focused on. She applied for training in Psychoanalysis and was analysed by Eva Rosenfeld. She qualified as an Associate Member of the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1964, became a Full Member in 1969 and a training analyst in 1971.

Nina Coltart considered herself to have a religious temperament. Having been a devout practising Christian from her late teens, in her late twenties she stopped believing in God. This led to a spiritual search and she found Buddhism. She supported the monastery at Great Gaddesden in Hertfordshire, and helped to found the Buddhist monastery at Chithurst in Sussex, besides chairing the Hampstead Buddhist group for many years.

She wrote three books, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1992), How to Survive as a Psychotherapist (1993) and The Baby and the Bathwater (1996). These all convey her rich personal clinical experience in her own distinctive voice. She was much sought after as a speaker and had a busy lecturing schedule. She liked travelling and she lectured in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Sweden. She was also a skilled calligrapher and enjoyed opera and embroidery.

In spite of her social skills, her light-heartedness and sense of humour, Nina Coltart was a very private person. She had a large number of people whom she helped in many different ways. She had friends and a wide network of colleagues, but she always described herself as valuing and enjoying living alone.

Nina Elizabeth Cameron Coltart, psychoanalyst: born Shortlands, Kent 21 November 1927; died Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire 24 June 1997.

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