‘Vera Roboz was a follower of Szondi…’

Vera Roboz, nee Groak, is listed as an Australian psychoanalyst in the online dictionary of women psychoanalysts, Psychoanalytikerinnen: Biografisches Lexikon. The web-page Geni shows that Vera to have been born in Budapest in 1912, the third and youngest child and only daughter of Erno Groak, a prominent physician and Irma Groak, nee Pollatstek. Vera’s brother, Bela, born in 1901 and, also a physician, perished in the Ukraine in 1943. Irma Groak and Gyula Groak also died during the war years.Vera and her husband Pal Roboz emigrated to Australia via Vienna in 1957  following the Hungarian uprising against Russians. At that time Pal Roboz was a leading paediatrician in Budapest and Vera, the head of the Department of Criminal Psychology at the Remedial Teacher’s college in Budapest. ( Boros: et al; Psychology and Criminal Justice…)

The Lexicon entry  mentions that Vera Groak was a follower of Leopold Szondi, a psychologist whose theory of fate analysis was predicated on intergenerational transmission of a familial unconscious. Szondi seems to have provided an alternative theory of development to that of Freud and Jung, a third based upon the notion of a familial unconscious.

So who was Szondi?

My account here is drawn from an internet search, and an exploration of Youtube… I am open to correction here and apologize for errors. My acquaintance with Szondi is very new. I have put links to the sources I have used.

Leopold Szondi ( 1898 -1984) was a Hungarian born psychologist and the creator of Fate Analysis and the Szondi Test, a projective test akin to the Rorscharch test. For Szondi human fate is  constituted by the elements as self-, character-, social-, mental-, spiritual- fate. In a short account of Szondi’s life, Dr. Enikő Gy. Kiss from the University of Pecs, notes that”Szondi’s   theory of object choice – „ object choice guided by the ancestors”-, which he later named genotropism, was published in 1937.

Szondi ‘came to the concept of genotropism through the discovery of the choice of illnesses. In pursuance of the research they have gathered data of a thousand child and their fifteen thousand relatives. The examination of family trees had helped him realize the similarities between illnesses amongst the families of spouses. According to his observations the traumas and sicknesses were often the consequences of the familial genotype and not due to other factors. This way the familial heredity is responsible for the sickness of the primarily weak organ. In Szondi’s concept, not only the choice of illnesses but also the choice of occupation, spouses and friends is also due to its familial heredity. These thoughts have lead to the notion of the familial unconsciousness, which is rooted in the latent familial heredity everyone carries along. The familial unconsciousness appears in our choices, and according to Szondi’s concept, our fate is a continuous line of the choices we make”.( Kiss).

Vera Groak appears to have  joined Szondi’s laboratory shortly around the time of the publication of his work “Analysis of Marriages in 1937. An attempt at a theory of choice in love.’ This work even made it into a Sydney based Australian paper called ‘The World’s News’ in 1940. Szondi did not get much publicity in Australia in 1940. News from Europe was hard to get by then. The war was underway.

However the journalist explained it thus:

Dr. Szondy holds that real harmony and understanding between two persons, particularly those who are married to each other and must consequently betogether all or most of the year, year after year, are possible only when the couple belong to the same Instinct Group. That is, they must have suffered through experience or vicariously the same hurts and pains. They must have similar sympathies for those things and
persons to whom sympathy is due. They  must have the same biological urges and psychological suppressions and complexes. And they must have come into the world with the same intuitive instincts, which can only come through genetic inheritance from their forebears. The last is most important of all.


Others in Vera’s group were Ferenc Mérei, Klári Sándor, György Garai, Zsuzsa Kőrösi and Imre  Molnar. Her future husband, Pal Roboz, a paediatrician also joinedSzondi’s  laboratory and the work with disabled children. The training program also involved psychoanalytic treatment, exploring with the patient the meaning of his object and life choices. The intention of freeing the patient from the constraints of  familial unconscious patterns down generations to greater freedom of choice…

In 1944 Szondi went from Hungary to Belsen on the Kastner train. The original intention was for the train to go straight to Switzerland but it was diverted to Belsen where the passengers remained for six months. Eventually after negotiations with Eichmann a ransom was paid for him and the other 1300 odd passengers. The train eventually ended its journey in Switzerland. Szondi lived in Zurich for the remainder of this life.Vera Groak Roboz and her husband appear to have remained in Hungary.

In later life Szondi recorded an interview with Jaques Schott,  which can be found here. It’s interesting viewing, ( with a transcription in German and then. for me, into English, with the aid of an online translation feature)  not least for Szondi’s description of his life’s work. He also remarks upon the criticism he received about his rather Calvinistic approach… implying a sort of asceticism and attempt at anonymity. Overall though, it is an interesting story.

Seeking refuge in New Zealand from Europe – 1938.


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there was great difficulty in getting permission, to get in anywhere, and I don’t know what preliminaries were made, but they picked New Zealand first, which would have been largely my father’s choice, I think, he was a passionate hiker, or what do you call it in Australia, bushwalkers, and a field naturalist, and he’d spent most of his free time either walking in the hills or rowing, or on trips on the Danube, or various lakes, and he was prominent in a movement, which still exists, called the (Die Natural Frionde?), that’s German for “Friends of Nature”, which was a Swiss based movement, to give moderately priced outdoor holidays for people who probably wouldn’t be in a position to take them, otherwise, as an answer to the problems of the modern industrialised world…

(Dr George Geroe on his parents, Clara and Vilmos Geroe, 23 August 2013).


Siegfried Rothmann had his application repeatedly declined. The explanation he received from the naturalisation officer, who was R. A. Lochore, was that his wife’s anti-social behaviour was a problem. The behaviour regarded as anti-social was Mrs Rothmann’s attempts to establish a psychoanalytic practice without gaining a New Zealand medical degree first. In fact, she was legally entitled to do this. Eventually, thanks to the assistance of prominent New Zealanders Jim Roberts and Bob Semple, the Rothmanns did obtain their naturalisation. The Rothmanns were not alone in encountering such difficulties. Refugees and other aliens who were thought not to have adequately participated in the war effort had their applications declined in 1946 and 1947. 

Beaglehole, Ann. A Small Price to Pay: Refugees from Hitler in New Zealand 1936–46 . Bridget Williams Books. Kindle Edition.

(I wish to thank Karin Ruppeldt for drawing my attention to this publication and for her contribution to this post).

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In 1938 five psychoanalysts wishing to flee from Nazi Europe applied for entry visas into New Zealand: Eva Rosenfeld, Erszebet Kardos, Endre Peto, Edit Gyomeroi and Clara Lazar Geroe. All of them were trained and experienced as child analysts. Four, from Budapest, were members of the Hungarian Psychoanaytical Society. Eva Rosenfeld, a former patient of Freud’s, had worked with Anna Freud in Vienna, where members of the group had met together for seminars with Anna Freud herself. Clara Lazar, a specialist in pedagogic and child analysis, held an appointment with the International Psychoanalytical Society to give lectures to educationalists. The group’s New Zealand contact, made through Ernest Jones in London, was a psychiatrist, Dr Stuart Moore from Dunedin on the South Island. Stuart Moore called upon Dr Mary Barkas for assistance. Barkas, born in Christchurch, was medically trained, and a former Associate member of the British Psychoanalytical Society. She had left New Zealand to train under Dr Otto Rank in the late 1910s and had returned to in the early 1930s. She had given up clinical work by then but continued to support the refugee analysts as they sought to enter her country.

Amongst Clara Geroe’s correspondence is  a  copy of a letter to Dr Moore, dated 2nd December 1938.  Moore chose to delete the names of the participants in these conversations over the future of the five. It is clear though that the writer – perhaps Mary Barkas- was well acquainted with the local culture. How Clara Geroe obtained this letter is a mystery. Perhaps it was forwarded by Ernest Jones as he sought to assist the group’s plans.

The letter begins:

I discussed the matter with [the Minister]’. He had wondered whether their situation was as urgent as that for the Austrians or Germans – even though they were likely ‘to have a rather thin time’.

It merited pressing on.

On the whole I think it is worth taking some risk in the matter. We can assume I think that genione refugees will prefer personal safety than starvation and the risk of personal violence in Fascist countries’.

The writer was sympathetic to the injustices and local constraints the five would face. Their misfortune, as the New Zealand historian Ann Beaglehole has carefully established in her 2015 book, ‘A Small Price to Pay’ was that they were applying for entry into a country of just over a million settler colonials, into a culture resistant to any other immigrant group than British.

None would be able to work as medical practitioners, the writer continued. They would be required to work ‘as lay/an objectionable term/ non medical psychologists or get a footing here as teachers’, If necessary they would spend a year at a local teacher’s training college. They should be younger than thirty five years, and ‘recognized by the relevant people with personal knowledge of them in England’. Despite their qualifications and experience, ‘it should be clear that apart from a few cases only the briefer and shallower forms of psychotherapy are at present acceptable to NZ professional and public opinion’.

The letter writer was clearly knowledgeable about the needs of New Zealanders and their limitations. Child work was sorely needed. It would be a great thing if an analyst with an educational interest was granted entry… someone similar to Susan Isaacs, the British analyst who had visited the country with the New Education Fellowship in August 1937.A woman had better prospects than a man, the writer said. It would be easier for her to make her way, without being perceived as competing with local people for work.

They could win themselves a reasonable financial and societal status within a few years’, the writer continued. ‘Teaching is one of the least crowded of professions – little resentment will be caused by bringing in a few able foreigners’. Support could build up slowly as knowledge spread.

Perhaps, upon reading this letter, Clara Geroe began thinking about her strategy.  If she was able to emigrate to New Zealand she  would start small, she wrote to Ernest Jones in London. That way, the local people would begin to know and trust her work.  Ernest Jones, so strongly committed to seeing as many European analysts settled, wherever they could find a place, supported her view. In his mind the group’s applications and New Zealand’s acceptance them was a foregone conclusion. At least that is what he wrote to them. If anything he had to keep hope alive. It may have been better for everyone had he apprised himself of the realities of the Dominions’ positions. Even the British Government knew better than to prevail upon its former colonies to accept the refugees that no-one else wanted.

Moore’s correspondent seemed surprised that anyone of the analysts would actually choose New Zealand as a destination. If the applicants were not too desperate and ‘could pick and choose’, wouldn’t they ‘be inclined to head for England or the USA’ ? 

But then again, ‘should a well qualified applicant have financial backing, I would be inclined to say by all means come to NZ and set up as a /child/ psychologist. As a starting point I would say one in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch – I am not sure about Dunedin’. This was Stuart Moore’s hometown. ‘It is a small city and you are able to take most of the work that is there….’

In the longer term Stuart Moore was to advise against the group’s migration, suggesting that New Zealanders would not accept their contribution. It was too small, too conservative, too British…

Beaglehole notes that only about 1100 European Jews were accepted into New Zealand prior to Kristallnacht, in November 1939. New Zealand seeking to protect its British Settler culture, closed its doors. The Australian government which had undertaken to accept 30,000 refugees – later halved this intake to 15,000 – eventually accepted about 7000. None of the group was accepted into New Zealand. But amongst the 1100  luckier ones who got accepted to New Zealand was a 5 year old John Steiner with his parents and a baby brother, as refugees from the Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. John Steiner was raised in Wellington until his age 26 and trained at Otago Medical School. He became interested in psychoanalysis as a student. His friend, the son of a professor in education, had the complete works of Freud, which Steiner borrowed and read through. He left New Zealand in 1959 to the US and then the UK, and became a distinguished psychoanalyst in Kleinian tradition.

Encouraged by the ever optimistic Ernest Jones Clara Geroe, Kardos and Peto turned their attention to Australia. But despite strong representations from Duncan Hall, the League of Nations Secretary for the Colonies, none of their applications was accepted by the government. Clara Geroe eventually arrived in Australia on her husband’s application in March 1940. Eva Rosenfeld emigrated to Britain. Edit Gyomeroi wound up in Ceylon. Erszebet Kardos and Endre Peto, who married in 1941, remained in Hungary. Tragically Erszebet was murdered when the Nazis reached Budapest in 1944. She left behind her husband, Endre Peto and their two year old daughter, Agnes. The Peto family, Andrew, with his second wife, Hannah and little Agnes, aged eight, finally reached Australia in 1950.


Mary Barkas, Women Psychoanalysts in Great Britain, https://www.psychoanalytikerinnen.de/greatbritain_biographies.html#Barkas accessed 7 March 2019.

Copy of letter to Stuart Moore dated 2 December 1938. writer not identified. (Geroe Correspondence).

Letter from Clara Lazar Geroe to Ernest Jones, c. March 1939. (Geroe Correspondence)

Ann Beaglehole, A Small Price to Pay: Refugees from Hitler in New Zealand 1936–46. Bridget Williams Books, 2015.

Louise London, Whitehall and the Jews, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Christine Vickers and George Geroe, 23 August 2013. (transcript  in possession of the author).

An Elegy for Elizabeth Kardos – ‘A contribution to the theory of play’.


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In January 1955, the Hungarian born and trained psychoanalyst – and refugee -Andrew Peto, read a paper to the Annual Conference of the Australian Society of Psychoanalysts, in Adelaide, South Australia. Written by his late wife, the child analyst, Elizabeth Kardos, ‘A Contribution to the Theory of Play’ was the summation of her ideas developed over the previous decade’s work as a child analyst in Budapest. As Peto explained in his introduction, Elizabeth died shortly after the Nazis arrived in Budapest in 1944. She left  behind her daughter, Agnes, born in 1943. In 1945, Agnes, together with a woman, named only as ‘Mrs Andrew Peto’ was the subject of an application for admission to Australia. Andrew Peto, described as a psychoanalyst and physician, was the subject of a separate application. The Peto family, Andrew, his second wife, Hannah, and daughter finally made landfall in Australia, at Perth, on 28 April 1950. They travelled on in Melbourne where they stayed with Clara Geroe and her family. By 1951 the family had moved to Sydney.

Prior to the war, in early 1939, Andrew Peto and Elizabeth Kardos were part of a group of European analayts that applied for visas to New Zealand. But that government refused them – perhaps reflecting the advice of  Dr Stuart Moore who stated that psychoanalysis would not find much support in that country.

The group had to turn elsehwhere.   Encouraged by Ernest Jones, and perhaps by the information that the Australian Government would accept 30,000 refugees, the Geroe family applied, successfully, for a Visa to Australia. Kardos and Peto also applied, following the Geroes, to  Australia House in London.  But while the Geroe application, made in her husband’s name was being considered, Kardos and Peto were advised that a previous application, made directly to Australia, would be considered only in Australia.  On 13 January 1940 the Geroe family was advised their application was successful- not because Clara Geroe was a psychoanalyst nor, especially, because she had a child. Vilmos Geroe, a qualified accountant with experience in a factory making fire-proof bricks provided the grounds for  acceptance.

It is unlikely that Peto and Kardos were ever  serious contenders for visas. None of the psychoanalysts who applied for Australian visas were successful. At the time, the Australian Branch of the British Medical Association was strongly campaigning against the admission of European qualified doctors. In the meantime, Mr Carrodus, head of the Department of Interior, and charged with the administration of refugee matters, cut the proposed intake to 15,000. The government preferred British migrants.

Peto did not stay long in Australia. He and his family departed for New York in October 1956, six and a half years after their arrival.  During his time in Australia Peto had worked with Geroe, Frank Graham and Roy Coupland Winn to establish the Australian Society of Psychoanalysts in 1953, drawing together the interests of the newly formed  Sydney Institute of Psychoanalysis (1951) and the Melbourne Institute. He conducted seminars, wrote papers, provided supervision and took on a trainee, Maida Hall. Janet Neild, a child analyst who had begun her training with Clara Geroe, moved from Melbourne to Sydney for further education and supervision with him.

The reason commonly given for Peto’s departure centres around the BMA’s reluctance to recognize Peto as a medical practitioner. But upon  considering the opening lines of his paper, it is to wonder about the trauma Peto carried with him along with the rejection of this new country in which he had tried to settle.  It may be that he saw Australia as a stop along the way to the United States.  But the question remains. What if… the Australian Department of Interior had been less locked into its preference for British migrants? And What if… the BMA had been more open? There are clearly more stories to tell.

Here is a link to the introduction to Kardos’ paper – Peto’s elegy to the brilliant woman who was his wife. An original copy is in Geroe’s archive.

The end of the dream: Clara Lazar Geroe and the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1940- 1945


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On 17th August 1940 the Sydney based psychoanalyst Roy Coupland Winn wrote to Clara Geroe,the Hungarian trained psychoanalyst who had arrived in Australia on a refugee Visa five months earlier. ‘Considering the fact that there seems little likelihood of starting an institute in Melbourne, why not practise in Sydney? You, [Siegfried] Fink and I could commence a clinic’. Fink was a German born psychoanalyst, also refugee, who had arrived in 1938. Winn continued:  ‘It may be a mistaken idea but I think that three analysts would make more rapid progress than two, just as two than one; I am of the opinion that analysts tend to advertise and feed each other, partly because as the practice of each is necessarily small each has to send any overflow that arises to be done by others; thus each also receives advertisement from each other’.

It was a tempting offer.  Clara Geroe and her family had landed in Melbourne on the strength of a promise, a donation of five thousand pounds by a benefactor, Lorna Traill, for the commencement of an institute for psychotherapy.   The family was on its way to Sydney, she wrote later.  A place like Buda, with hills all around but close to the sea. But a Melbourne based psychiatrist Dr Paul Dane – a man with a dream – had  argued, successfully, that the Traill funds were to be used to establish an institute for psychoanalysis along the lines of the British one headed by Ernest Jones. In Melbourne.  Dane had written to Jones about it. Jones, in turn, always a supporter of psychoanalysis, particularly if it was a medical enterprise, encouraged its development. But the donation had not materialized. Traill had withdrawn her offer. Negotiations were continuing. Geroe had had to wait it out.

In her reply to Winn Geroe said that the Melbourne group had managed to retrieve a thousand pounds from Traill.  Another five hundred pounds was  promised if the Institute was opened on the benefactor’s birthday. It was barely a viable figure but Ernest Jones had given the project his blessing. Sydney though would be sidelined.  It would be only a Melbourne Institute for Psychoanalysis, Geroe continued. Not the Australian Institute originally envisaged. Geroe would have preferred to start small she wrote in her notebooks. She would have liked to have built up a following before launching such a complex project as an Institute. But Traill had made the condition  that an institute was founded with the funds. Geroe could do no more than shrug her shoulders and comply.

The Melbourne Institute for Psychoanalysis was duly opened on 11 October 1940, Lorna Traill’s birthday. Roy Winn made the long journey from Sydney to attend. Judge Foster from the Children’s Court led the proceedings. A coterie of psychiatrists – Reg Ellery, Norman Albiston, Albert Phillips among them, all attended along with  local educationalists, nurses and workers from the Children’s Court Clinic. In July 1941 Geroe was made a member of the British Institute of Psychoanalysis and appointed as a training analyst. Jones, one might say, had captured the Australian Dominion for his Empire.

All the while Geroe was bitter, sad, and upset about having to leave the intellectual, cafe culture of Budapest. She was trying to settle into Melbourne,  in a land on the other side of the world, far from the pastoral beauty to which she was accustomed. As far as she was concerned Melbourne was a back-water. If her husband’s decision to leave Hungary and Nazi Europe was prescient, Geroe was a trailing spouse. She was not accepted by the Australian government on the basis of the work as a psychoanalyst. In fact none of the six psychoanalysts with whom she had applied for a visa, first to New Zealand and when that was refused, to Australia, were considered eligible for entry. Her husband’s experience as an accounts manager in a factory making magnesium bricks was most probably the reason for the family’s acceptance. That, and his decision to seek the assistance of a local Sydney solicitor, Eric Jones who, somehow, managed to obtain visas for the family.  Their own application  made directly to the Australian government through Australia House in London had failed two weeks earlier. The Geroe family left Budapest on 20 January 1940.

On Friday  20 April 1945, about four years after the opening of the  Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis, three of the Board members met with Clara Geroe, at the office at 111 Collins Street, the rooms rented from the Union Bank of Australia by Dr Paul Dane.  Dane, the founder of the Institute, along with psychiatrists Guy Reynolds and Albert Phillips had called the meeting ‘to deal with the matter of the renewal of Dr Geroe’s agreement with the Institute’.

Geroe was employed by the Institute as its resident training analyst on  14 January 1941.  Her  second two year  contract expired on 14th January 1945.  By April 1945 it was clear that the Institute’s financial position was such that ‘it could not be renewed’.  At this stage it was agreed that Clara would continue at the Institute for a salary of four guineas a week. Of this she would pay three guineas a week a rent for the use of the rooms, telephone and so on. Five hours of her time would be devoted to the Institute’s Clinic, providing services on behalf of the Institute.

Matters did not improve. On 3rd August 1945, another meeting was held, this time to discuss Dr Paul Dane’s decision to resign as Chair of the Board. The Institute’s financial situation was more than  perilous: Dane, it appeared, had fallen behind in his rental payments – perhaps  a result of his absence through illness.  He owed forty five pounds to the Institute. But Clara and her husband, Vilmos,  a trained accountant, had compiled a financial statement and proposal showing that the Institute could continue  for a further thirteen months. ‘It was decided to carry on’, the psychiatrist Reg Ellery noted in the Minutes. He continued, ‘Dr Geroe proposed to continue her work for the Institute without a fee’. This, of course, ‘was willingly agreed to’.  Geroe took on Dane’s share of the rent and his rooms, with the proviso that he could return at any time. Frank Graham, Geroe’s first trainee was elected as a member of the Board.

On 23 September 1945 a third meeting was held between Geroe, Graham, Ellery and Guy Reynolds. Paul Dane had decided to take twelve months leave of absence on consenting to withdraw his resignation as Chairperson. An Acting Chairperson, Albert Phillips,  was appointed.  Clara Geroe was elected to the Board and, along with Dane and Graham,  approved as a subtenant of  111 Collins Street.

Most importantly Clara Geroe was recognized by the Board as ‘no longer an employee of the Institute but  ‘voluntarily agrees to give without any renumeration the same services [to the Institute’s Clinic]  as heretofore; and that her previous agreement with the Institute is null and void since 3rd August 1945’.

And so Clara Geroe’s psychoanalytic career, begun in Hungary in 1926, entered its longest phase.




Roy Winn to Clara Geroe 17 August 1940

Clara Geroe – draft reply to Winn, c August 1940

Clara Geroe, notebooks in English language, c. 1940.

Minutes of the Board of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis – No 20, 20 April, 1945;

No 21 undated; No 22, 3 August 1945; No 23, 28 September 1945.

Child Evacuation Planning: Clara Geroe’s suggestion – 1942.


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From 1939 as Japanese forces made their way south through China and the Asian peninsula towards Darwin, the Australian government became concerned about the  vulnerability of the coastal cities to Japanese bombing.The plans, overseen at a Federal level by the Minister for National Emergency Services, Mr Heffron, were delegated to each state government.  In New South Wales State Cabinet approved its plan on 31 December 1941. In Victoria, the southern most state on the mainland, planning was coordinated by the Department of Emergency Services. The plan was that in the event of a bombing raid on the coastal towns  via enemy ships offshore, children up to the age of  fifteen years would be evacuated from coastal towns to safety in the country.  There was to be no compulsion about these plans, the government was quick to assure people.  Parents could choose whether to have their children evacuated, or  remain with them.

In his letter to the Victorian Department of Emergency Services dated 11 December 1941, Dr Paul Dane, Chairman of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis, offered assistance from Dr Clara Lazar Geroe. A Hungarian trained psychoanalyst, Geroe was appointed to Membership of the British Psychoanalytical Society and accredited as a training analyst in July 1941. She had brought her focus on childhood development and education from Hungary. And through her connection with Anna Freud, by then living in London, she had learned of the realities of the evacuation program in London. Despite the danger from the bombings many children had remained with their families, Geroe wrote. The problem was the resulting stress and exhaustion, not to mention the trauma, faced by these children. Anna Freud’s Hampstead ‘Rest Home’ for children had been a solution. Staffed by teachers, social workers,  child psychoanalysts  and psychologists, Freud had created a space for children to recover and heal. On the basis of this knowledge Geroe urged that a similar institute be developed in Melbourne.

Geroe was able to present her proposal to the Evacuation Committee – but in the end there was no invasion or bombing in the southern regions of Australia. But Dane’s letter, and Geroe’s notes, both found in Geroe’s correspondence highlight the peril in which Australians felt themselves to be enduring in the early 1940s.




Excavating the History of Psychoanalysis in Australia : Ivy Bennett’s Memoir.


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The Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy has just published my article about the history of psychoanalysis in Australia.





‘Psychoanalysis and the worship of Baal’. Dr Reg Ellery’s views on psychoanalysis and the Establishment: 1928.


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What did Australian medical pracitioners think of psychoanalysis in the 1920s? Dr Reg Ellery, one of the upcoming young turks of the profession chafed at the conservatism of his elders and, apparently, did not hesitate to call them on it. In 1928 he published an article in The Medical Journal of Australia on the subject.

Reg Ellery,  was born in Adelaide in 1897 completed his medical training at the University of Melbourne and in 1923 was appointed to the Victorian Lunacy Department as junior medical officer at Kew Hospital for the Insane. Next year, says his biographer, he was ’embroiled in public controversy. In retaliation against his hastily imposed reforms to their negligent routines, the general medical staff made a series of accusations against him. The affair culminated in a royal commission (1924) which found the allegations to be unfounded. For his part in stirring up trouble, the Lunacy Department authorities transferred Ellery to Sunbury Hospital for the Insane’. He also became interested in Freud’s work. It did not add to his popularity amongst the extremely conservative medical establishment…

Still, Ellery continued to speak his mind, seeking ways to provide better treatment for mentally distressed people other than the asylum. Freud’s theory and clinical practice he believed, could be practised in outpatient clinics. To his mind patients could recover from their psychological malaise through the talking cure. The opposition of older colleagues to such new ideas was Ellery’s major frustration. Ellery wrote:

Upon the dauntless head of Sigmund Freud, a man as full of wisdom as of years, whose nearest neighbour is now death, has fallen the manifold objurgations of many. But those who decry psychoanalysis , seem in mnay respects like the ancient Hebrew prophets who, when the children of Israel made molten images and worshipped in the house of Baal, the phallic god, rent thier garments and put ashes on their heads and sought out the idolators with their swords. Their cries were loud in the land and their zeal was hardly abated. And so it is with the modern traducers of Freud. For the Jewish doctor appears to have taken the place of the older deity and certain idolatrous physicians have become learned in his ways, substituting the consulting room for the ‘grove’ and using the ritual of ‘free association’. Their symbols are the symbols of sex. The libido is their lord. So our modern Elijahs and Jehus gird up their loins and light the torches of their indignation with fiery words and call down the ridicule and the wrath of outraged righteousness upon all who bow down before Baal-Freud.

Psychoanalysis, Ellery explains to those who survived the reading of his first paragraphs,  ‘is primarily a technique for the investigation of the human mind. It is a key to the boudoir of the subconscious, unlocking the door on desires which had ever been secret and on motives which have lain hidden in the innermost closets of the mind, the discovery of which are necessary for the development of the individual. it is thus the basis for the new philosophy and already has transformed the the moribund body of academic psychology into a freshs and living organism.  As Ferenczi puts it, “Psychiatry which whas formerly a museum of abnormalities nefore which we stood in uncomprehending amazement, has become through Freud’s discovery a fertile field of scientific research, susceptible of coherent comprehension”. It is secondarily a form of therapy’.

Not only has psychoanalysis reoriented our knowledge of psychiatry, Ellery continues, it can be used to treat  the milder psychoses as conduct and behaviour is explained on the basis of the unconscious. ‘Truth has never been acceptable in its nakedness’, Ellery continues. Darwin’s doctrine had a similar effect, challenging the idea of human proximity to the angels with the notions of simian ancestry. Freud has added further to our discomfort, Ellery adds. And indeed while he does not assert the truth of all of Freud’s doctrines, ‘his penetrating views on all the important questions of belief and behaviour have given us an insight into herd history and sociology, the value of which is scarcely realized….Each year the domains of psychiatry broaden, linking up with those of social hygiene, and education, and sociology’.

Psychoanalysis is here to stay – despite the catcalls of the brotherhood, Ellery concludes. ‘Though Freud’s followers be still regarded as the priests of Baal, the cat-calls of the callow minded clerics and all the shouts of tin-horn psychologists will not succeed in demolishing that which is primarily a technique for the investigation of the human mind, and with it that immense study in psycho-pathology which they so proudly call civilization”.





Ellery, Reg  (1928), Psychoanalysis and the worship of Baal, The Medical Journal of Australia, September 8, 1928, pp. 303-304.



Distance Psychoanalysis: A Review


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In 2011 I published a review of Dr Carlino’s book, ‘Distance Psychoanalysis’  on this site. I am interested in the way developments in technology can help people who live a long way from metropolitan areas to have access to treatments they may need. Dr Carlino highlighted issues clinicians should consider. Unfortunately in the first version I described Dr Carlino as ‘Brazilian’. He is not. He was, he wrote to me, born in Argentina. I apologize for this error. I now republish the review with the correct information.


In his book, Distance Psychoanalysis, published in 2011 Argentinian Psychoanalyst Ricardo Carlino argues for the integration of communication technology into psychoanalytic method. Dr Carlino who qualified as a medical practitioner 54 years ago and as a psychoanalyst 45 years ago now resides in Mexico City where he is a professor of Psychoanalytic Technique at the Institute of Psychoanalytic Education of the Psychoanalytic Society of Mexico (SPM).

By now an entire generation has been brought up in a social milieu where digital technology is the norm.  Baby Boomers who thought they ruled the world are now ‘digital immigrants’. They hold in their minds a history of psychoanalytic practice based on close physical proximity between patient and analyst ( ie in the same room). Yet, like the current generation, they face the challenges and changes wrought by the internet, the world-wide web and electronic communication.  Psychoanalytic practitioners need to explore the way this will impact upon practice and to develop a framework within which they could practice. In the longer term, Carlino argues, communication technology will enable people living in remote regions to get access to this and other treatments.

It’s an interesting – and important – idea and one I will be exploring in more detail as I work my way through Carlino’s book. For the time being, though, I will leave you with this article from today’s online edition of the Australian daily, ‘The Age’, showing just how deeply modern communication technology has altered the world.

Ricardo Carlino, Distance Psychoanalysis: Theory and Practice of Using Communication Technology In The Clinic, London, Karnac Books, 2011.

Statement on marriage equality: Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of Australia – September 2017


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Right now the Australian Government has decided that everyone who can vote will be sent a letter asking whether they approve of ‘marriage equality’. This means that we have tick a box, either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, on whether we think people who are in same sex relationships should, by law, be allowed to marry one another, thus enjoying the same legal rights as heterosexual couples who choose to marry. It has been challenged in the High Court, but alas, the vote is continuing. The debate that has emerged is bitterly divisive and distracts from real issues such as the government’s ability to govern,climate change and, in generally the going on being of the world.

Two colleagues from the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association in Australia have drawn up a statement which was released by the Association today – 19 September 2017.

                                             The right to marry is a basic human right.

Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists support marriage equality 2017

Members of the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of Australasia (the PPAA) are in a unique position to observe the impact of discrimination, in all its forms, and the contribution of such discrimination to a variety of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidality. The PPAA respect the rights of allpeople— regardless of sexual orientation, religious belief, age, gender, ability, lifestylechoice, cultural background or economic circumstances – to live with dignity and safety,and to enjoy healthy relationships in all their diversity. This position is, of course, consistent with The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/edumat/hreduseries/hereandnow/Part-5/8_udhrabbr.htm Therefore, we support marriage equality as a step toward the reduction of discrimination based on sexual orientation in Australia. PPAA Position The Council of the PPAA:  supports initiatives to remove legislative discrimination against people based on their sex, sexuality or gender identity  supports the right to marry as a basic human right  recognises the right of all LGBTIQ clients, employees, volunteers, families and communities to be free of prejudice and discrimination and to have the same rights under Australian law  believes that social inclusion is an integral aspect of a healthy society, while exclusion and discrimination contribute to increased mental health problems and unnecessary suffering  recognises that enshrining human rights in law and addressing discrimination and prejudice are essential to promoting positive mental health for all Australians
On this basis, the Council of the PPAA, on behalf of its members, supports marriage equality – the right of all Australians to access marriage with their partner of choice, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation.


It has long been known, both in Australia and elsewhere, that risk of serious anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidality is significantly increased for the LGBTIQ communities. In part, this is related to the frequently reported experience of explicit discrimination from being part of a minority group. However, both research and clinical observations indicate that the impact of institutional discrimination, wherein LGBTIQ people are excluded from participation in mainstream groups, activities and customs, plays a significant and damaging role. PPAA support marriage equality as a step toward redressing the institutional discrimination implicit in the historical exclusion from access to marriage of LGBTIQ people.

The Importance of Recognition

The PPAA recognises that discrimination in all its forms is damaging. Members of our associations in all states and New Zealand encounter the impact of discrimination against LGBTIQ individuals and communities in their daily work with patients. While it is our view that it will take generations to completely redress this deeply embedded, and often unconscious discrimination, we support any actions to remove institutional discrimination based on sexual orientation. It has long been recognised that members of LGBTIQ communities suffer an increased risk of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide. (1,2,3) Stonewall, a UK organisation which promotes equality for people of diverse sexual orientations, reports that “lesbian, gay and bisexual people are more likely to have experienced depression or anxiety, attempted suicide or had suicidal thoughts, and self-harmed than men and women in general” (4). For example, gay and bisexual men report moderate to severe levels of depression and anxiety at double the rate of men in general, with even higher rates of reported depression (49%) among lesbian and bisexual girls. They further report (5) that in 2012, 3% of gay men had attempted to take their own life, compared to 0.4% per cent of all men during the same period. Research from Australia (6) and elsewhere in the western world (7) is consistent with these findings. Unsurprisingly, experiences of bullying are disturbingly common in the lives of LGBTIQ members of our communities. Stonewall reported (8) that 55% of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools. Of significance, they report a noteworthy proportion (35%) of gay young people who are not bullied still suffer high levels of depression, compared to 5% of young people generally. There is a growing body of research and clinical experience which suggests that a significant contribution to the adverse mental health impact of belonging to the LGBTIQ communities occurs via exclusion and alienation. In the research literature, this has been referred to as “minority stress” (9) a model which postulates that members of sexual and other minorities are at greater risk for health problems,
because they face greater exposure to social stress related to prejudice and stigma (10,11). Stigma-related experiences can include verbal and physical assault, social and employment discrimination, and the expectation of discrimination regardless of actual discriminatory circumstances (12,13,14). In Australia, the existence of institutional discrimination contributes to this alienation and minority stress, and we would argue, as our colleagues have done elsewhere in the world (15,16,17), that the removal of discrimination in relation to access to marriage is a crucial step to reducing the adverse impact of institutional discrimination. Implications and effects of the voluntary non-binding postal poll and the associated campaign on LGBTIQ people and their families.
We hold serious concerns about how this issue of marriage equality has been raised via a public campaign and a non-binding postal vote which unnecessarily exposes already vulnerable people to divisiveness, derision of their personal and intimate relationships with consequent emotional stress, where the deleterious effects on the mental health of many such individuals is well known.

We cannot presume to speak on behalf of all our members, but we can say that our members are concerned with the hostility, negative publicity and misleading advertising material which has arisen around the issue of marriage equality. We understand this to be damaging to people who identify as LGBTQI and their families, leaving them more vulnerable to further denigration, invalidation and ‘othering’ that they are already exposed to. With this in mind we can also say that our members are concerned to protect and nurture the well-being of children and couples of same sex unions.

Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of Australasia (the PPAA) PO Box 4098, Homebush South, NSW 2140 theppaa.com

The PPAA is a federated body member associations in most Australian States and New Zealand. Its members come primarily from professional backgrounds in psychology, medicine, psychiatry and social work


The Member Associations of the PPAA are a resource for mental health support for those suffering discrimination:

New South Wales Institute of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy: nswipp.org Victorian Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists: vapp.asn.au Association for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy of Western Australia: appwa.org.au Queensland Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association: qppa.com.au

New Zealand Institute of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy: psychotherapy.co.nz


1. Rosenstreich, G. (2013) LGBTI People Mental Health and Suicide. Revised 2nd Edition. National LGBTI Health Alliance. Sydney

2. Mereish EH, O’Cleirigh C, Bradford JB. Interrelationships between LGBT-based victimization, suicide, and substance use problems in a diverse sample of sexual and gender minorities. Psychol Health Med. 2014;19:1–13.

3. Mays, V. M., & Cochran, S. D. (2001). Mental health correlates of perceived discrimination among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1869 – 1876.

4. Stonewall Health Briefing: Mental Heath (2012) http://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/Mental_Health_Stonewall_Health_Briefing__2012_.pdf

5. Stonewall Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey (2013) http://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/Gay_and_Bisexual_Men_s_Health_Survey__2013_.pdf

6. Rosenstreich, G. (2013) LGBTI People Mental Health and Suicide. Revised 2nd Edition. National LGBTI Health Alliance. Sydney.

7. Branstrom, R, (2017) Minority stress factors as mediators of sexual orientation disparities in mental health treatment: a longitudinal population-based study. J.Epidemiol. Community Health. (Published Online 2 January 2017)

8. Stonewall School Report: The experiences of gay young people in Britain’s schools in 2012. (2012). http://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/The_School_Report 2012_.pdf

9. Meyer IH. (2003) Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psych Bull. 2003; 129: 674–697.

10. Sattler FA, Wagner U, Christiansen H. (2016) Effects of minority stress, group-level coping, and social support on mental health of German gay men. PLoS ONE 11.

11. Branstrom, R, (2017) Minority stress factors as mediators of sexual orientation disparities in mental health treatment: a longitudinal population-based study. J.Epidemiol. Community Health. (Published Online 2 January 2017)

12. Akhtar, S. (2014): The mental pain of minorities, British Journal of Psychoanalysis 30:2, 136-153 14. Domenici, T., and Lesser, R. C.,

13. Domenici, T., and Lesser, R. C., 1995. Disorienting Sexuality: Psychoanalytic Reappraisals of Sexual Identities. New York: Routledge.

14. Hatzenbuehler ML, McLaughlin KA, Keyes KM, Hasin DS. (2010) The impact of institutional discrimination on psychiatric disorders in lesbian, gay, abisexual populations: A prospective study.” Am J Public Health. 100: 452– 459.

15. Buffie W C. (2011) Public Health Implications of Same-Sex Marriage. Am J Public Health.101: 986– 990.

16. Perone AK (2015) Health implications of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell vs. Hodges marriage equality decision. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health 2, 196–199.

17. Meyer, I. (2016), The Elusive Promise of LGBT Equality. Am J Public Health. Vol 106, No. 8 Beyond Blue, 2013. LGBT People: Mental Health & Suicide. Available from: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/defaultdocument-library/bw0258-lgbti-mental-health-andsuicide-2013-2ndedition.pdf?sfvrsn=2

Australian Federal Parliament, 2004. Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004. Available from: https://www.aph.gov.au/binaries/library/pubs/bd/2003-04/04bd155.pdf

Relationships Australia, https://www.relationships.org.au/national/submissions…/marriage-equality-statement


The Freud Conference, Melbourne 2017 – some reflections and a celebration


Every year during the 80s, around the Easter long weekend, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists and anyone else with an interest in the psychoanalytic ideas would schlepp from Melbourne to the Victorian coastal town, Lorne, for the annual Freud Conference. They  stayed at Cumberland House, an old, elegant guesthouse within walking distance of the township and  close enough to the beach for morning and evening strolls. Some people had honeymooned there.   By day everyone attended lectures on Freud and Co. in the assembly hall. On Saturday night  the entire conference, divided into groups of various sizes and affiliation, converged on the township for dinner.The guest speaker was usually someone  internationally known for their work in applied psychoanalysis. Among them was Juliet Mitchell whose 1974 book ‘Psychoanalysis and Feminisim’ remains a seminal work, the political activist and psychoanalyst Joel Kovel, and British psychoanalytic historian John Forrester. By the end of the 80s The Freud Conference was ‘a must’ on the psychoanalytic community’s yearly calender of conferences, seminars and meetings.

There was always a sense of summer just finished. Sometimes daylight saving had not ended, giving everyone an extra hour of warmth and sunlight. When Easter occurred in  late April, chilly Antarctic winds and rain warned that winter was drawing near. Lorne though always reminded people that it is a town made for summer. Walks on the beach might give way to indoor conversations by late autumn. But the racks of tired looking beach clothing and gift shops that threaded along the shopping strip nearby never changed. For Conference members it was de riguer to spend lunchtime in a cafe contemplating one lecture or another and, of course, there was always ‘The Transference’ and various dual relationships to navigate. Melbourne’s psychoanalytic community is a small one. Lorne, luckily, had enough restaurants to accommodate everyone.

The first Freud Conference, held in 1977, emerged from the work of political science professor Alan (Foo) Davies at the University of Melbourne. Davies had begun the Melbourne Psychosocial Group comprised of psychoanalysts, academics and students. Sometimes referred to as ‘The Melbourne Group’, its members sought to explore the intersection between political processes and leadership with  psychoanalysis anthropology and sociology. Two of Davies’ discussion group, Douglas Kirsner and Ron Gilbert organised the Freud conference as a kind of spontaneous ‘lets go to the beach and talk about psychoanalysis and politics’ event. It was intended to be slow, with time for reflection discussion and socialising between lectures. It brought together members of all disciplines interested in psychosocial issues. As with the Melbourne psychosocial  group’s monthly Monday meetings, the conference was open to anyone who was interested in exploring the relationship between psychoanalysis and society.

Twenty-two years later, after Douglas Kirsner and Ron Gilbert decided they no longer wished to organise the conference, Christine Hill took up the challenge. She brought together member representatives of the main psychoanalytic bodies to form a small committee. The conference which had long since moved from Lorne to Melbourne found a regular venue at the Treacy Centre in Parkville. During the last five years the conference has moved to a new venue: The University of Melbourne’s Brain Centre which also houses the Cunningham Dax museum. And rather than filling the entire weekend the conference is held on the third Saturday in May. It’s webpage can be found here.

2017 marks the Freud Conference’s fortieth year and there will be a bit of a celebration. Hopefully there will be a gathering of the old hands, and, more than likely, a speech or three. But the business of the Conference will be its theme:

‘Psychoanalysis in the Technoculture Age: The Challenges of the Black Mirror ‘.

Speakers will be Allessandra Lemma who will be speaking from London and Dr Heather Wood. Here is some more detail.

“Two internationally renowned psychoanalysts will explore the impact of virtual reality on adolescent development and sense of body; the allure  of internet sex and compulsive usage; and the increase in paedophilic sexual interests via the internet. From the broader to more specific view, psychoanalytic and socio-culturalissues over 40 years will be linked”.  An initial mailout will occur in January.

Saturday, 20th May
Conference Program
Melbourne Brain Centre,
Royal Parade, Melbourne.
Sunday 21st May
Anniversary celebration lunch,
The Boulevard Restaurant,
121 Studley Park Rd, Kew.
Further information: