Elizabeth Spillius, psychoanalyst with an understanding of psychoanalytic work with children, died aged 92

The Guardian recently printed an Obituary of Elizabeth Spillius, a psychoanalyst who brought the ideas of Melanie Klein to a new generation of analysts, therapists, social workers and students. She died aged 92 last month. 

Spillius began exploring the work of Melanie Klein in 1951 and recalled thinking: “This is it – the approach for me!” She was fascinated by the way Klein had developed a method of observing children at play, through which they could express their ideas and feelings, often before they could be articulated in words. This is central to the way that psychoanalytically trained child psychotherapists work today.

These detailed observations led Klein to develop a view of the importance of the unconscious fantasies the child’s play expressed – an inner world full of figures interacting in both loving and aggressive ways, and she regarded this as a useful model for understanding the unconscious mind of the adult as well. Elizabeth continued to study Klein’s ideas, becoming one of Britain’s leading psychoanalysts and one of the world’s leading Kleinian scholars. Her great gift was to illuminate and clarify Klein’s theories for herself, and for the next generation of psychoanalysts, as well as psychotherapists, social workers and university students.

In 1949 she joined a project studying 20 East End families. Her fieldwork led to the groundbreaking theory that the internal culture and social organisation of a family depended on the particular way they were connected with the network of people and organisations outside the family. She described her findings in her book Family and Social Network(1957). It established the framework for the study of the postwar family, and is still in use today.

Read the full obituary here