It is with great sadness that we hear of the recent death of Betty Joseph in London. With her death and with that of Hanna Segal last year, something really finishes, it is the end of an era for psychoanalysis - an era of discoveries which opened up the possibility of treatment for very ill patients suffering psychosis, addiction, perversion and severe narcissistic disturbances; but most of all of an era of conviction about the method, a conviction which the newer generations are struggling to maintain. Ours is rather an age of uncertainty.
Betty Joseph during her 1985 visit to Sydney." Editor
Betty Joseph was a member of the British Society, she was formed in the Kleinian school and her journey as a psychoanalyst occurred during an extraordinary and unparalleled period of creativity in the British Society. This was mainly due to the convergence of many talents: of Bion, Bick, Rosenfeld, Meltzer, Segal, Sandler, Sohn, Winnicott and her analysts Michael Balint and Paula Heimann, just to mention a few. This period also saw the flourishing of institutions which had and continue to have a great influence on the deepening and diffusion of psychoanalytic thinking: the Tavistock Clinic and Institute, the Portman Clinic, the Cassel and Maudsley hospitals, the Brent Centre and more. Perhaps this period has something in common with Freud's times in Vienna.
As part of this ferment of ideas and working in the Kleinian tradition, Betty Joseph developed her own original thinking and her own distinctive approach which became widely influential in Britain and worldwide through her writing, her books and significantly, I believe, through her presence. Her lecturing and teaching in many countries, Australia included, influenced generations of psychoanalysts. She was our visiting analyst in the late seventies, when our society was small and quite isolated, and the impact both of her personality and her teaching, started for some of us a lifelong connection between Australia and Clifton Hill. When she was in Sydney she gave a public lecture at the Childrens Hospital in Camperdown, her paper 'Envy in everyday life'. I remember that in those days what struck me most was her courage, but I would not have called it so at the time, as it seemed perfectly natural: she said things in a totally straight way that usually one might be reluctant to say, or mostly did not think about, and often not easy to hear. She said them well, with no trace of arrogance or superiority. We learned from her what in those days felt like a revelation: to look for the patient behind the content of the material which was presented; actually this became quite a fad in our society or you can say it was taken up with such enthusiasm, at times perhaps overdone.
Among her contributions, the emphasis on the alive immediate emotional experience in the session, or what has become known as the 'moment to moment' detailed interaction between patient and analyst, as the only method conducive to psychic change, rather than intellectual knowledge: 'being' rather than 'knowing about'. This was also the way she was, part of her aliveness and the vividness of her personality. And the emphasis on the need of the patient to maintain his/ her own psychic equilibrium, despite the conscious wish to change. (I remember during a seminar in the distant seventies, a colleague was presenting a case and said that his patient was really willing to change, she commented That would be unusual). Her work on psychic equilibrium was sobering in a way, as it made us think again about the important function of defenses and the need to respect and to consider them in the wider context of the patients way of being and attempt to survive the vicissitudes of life; and also about how much truth we can all bear, and about the limits of our work. When the young members of the British Society recently interviewed her for the video " Encounters through generations" they asked what she believed are the most important qualities in being an analyst and continuing to be an analyst, her reply was: To have a sense of the truth, of the truth in relations to ourselves, as it is only that that will enable us to know what is going on with other people. Speaking of encounters through generations, her 'Workshop' which started in the late seventies in London contributed to the development of a creative and innovative next generation, including John Steiner, Britton, Feldman, Roth, and others.
It was in Vienna, in 2008, at the European Federation Conference 'The Shadow of Heritage' that Betty Joseph made what everybody thought would be her last public appearance. She was 90 by then. In 'Meet the Analyst', she spoke to a packed and moved audience, who were aware that it may have been a farewell. Not that she gave any indication of it, as her mind was as sharp and clear as ever. Later at the dinner dance, where she arrived dressed to the hilt, there was a stream of colleagues of all persuasions who came to her, to say hello, to say good bye, to thank her. Farewell, Betty.