My trawl through the National Library’s site, Trove, has enabled some interesting figures to emerge. One of these was the Australian born psychoanalyst Ivy Bennett – now Ivy Gwynne-Thomas. In the 1940s, 50s and probably the 60s scholarships of all kinds enabled country kids to get an education – whether high school or often enough, University. And so it was with Ivy Bennett. Born on 12 August 1919 in Wagin, a small wheat-belt farming community in Western Australia, she was the fifth child in a family of six. She grew up in Lake Grace, was one of seventeen pupils at a one-roomed, one-teacher school before gaining a scholarship to Albany High School in southern Western Australia. On her matriculation she gained a Hackett Bursary to study Modern Literature at the University of Western Australia.
As she related to a journalist at the Sunday Mail in July 1950 it was ‘out of curiosity’ that she picked a psychology unit to round off her degree and fell into a psychology career and discovered psychoanalysis. A second Hackett award – a postgraduate Scholarship – enabled her to study for a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. Plans for further study in the United States were deferred when war was declared. In about 1942 she was tapped to teach psychology to airforce recruits at the University of Western Australia.
In 1946 a British Council Scholarship enabled her to study for her Doctorate at The University of London and at the Anna Freud Clinic. The Western Australian press followed this part of her voyage, reporting her progress on each of her annual visits to Australia. She was young, attractive, representative of hope for the future. By 1950 it was clear that she wanted to train as a psychoanalyst and was planning to return home to work in Perth. She was able to extend her scholarship to train as a lay analyst at the British Institute of Psychoanalysis and returned home, finally in 1953. She established her practice as a psychoanalyst from a house near King’s Park in the centre of the city.
Although Ivy Bennett completed her doctorate in 1952 it was not until 1960 that she published it under the title, Neurotic and Delinquent Children (London, Tavistock Publications). Her research project, begun under psychoanalyst Kate Friedlander’s supervision, sought to draw together her experience in experimental psychology and her interest in psychoanalysis. It was one step towards developing, in twentyfirst century parlance, an ‘evidence base’ for psychoanalysis. For the historian Ivy Bennett’s lucid exposition of work undertaken in the ‘child guidance’ arena by practitioners who drew on Freud’s work to develop their programs shows Freud’s theories to be widening in scope and application during the first half of the twentieth century. W A White’s and Healy’s work with ‘delinquent chidlren’ in the United States aslo drew on that of Freud’s contemporary, August Aichhon, who established one of the first child guidance clinics in Vienna during the 1920s.
In England Ivy Bennet also unequivocably affiliated with Anna Freud. She was the first student at Anna Freud’s Child Guidance Centre at West Sussex. She drew primarily from work of Freud and Anna Freudians Dorothy Burlingham and Kate Friedlander as well as Cyril Burt to formulate her ideas about the causes of delinquency and neuroses in children. Her intention was to bring psychoanalysis and experimental psychology together. Together with psychoanalyst Kate Freidlander Ivy Bennett designed a project aiming to study the factors underlying the presenting problems in a cohort of children she treated at the West Sussex Child Guidance Clinic. Friedlander’s untimely death in 1949 left Ivy Bennett to continue the project alone.
Ivy Bennett’s argument, that understanding the causes of maladjustment was central to treatment, was central to her thesis. In her book an early paragraph reads,
The establishment of greater precision in our psychological understanding of the causation and development of maladjustment will possibly prove more important in the future than the invention and multiplication of remedial measures and new types of “treatment”. All these latter aim, in effect, at giving the child a new kind of human relationship to replace that which has contributed so greatly to the thwarting or distortion of his development in the past. ( Bennett, 1960, pp.3-4).
It was not about moulding a child’s character, Ivy Bennett argued. Research had revealed that developments in early infancy, if not in intrauterine life, were expressed in later stages of a child’s development. Although she does not explicitly acknowledge the work of Melanie Klein whose work was influential in this respect, nor that of John Bowlby or the independent Donald Winnicott, her inclusion of their publications in her bibliography suggests she was well aware of their work. Ivy Bennett was also following developments psychoanalytic thinking as it moved away from psychosexual factors Freud had maintained were central to child development. The capacity to manage aggression was integral to the successful development of a child, Ivy Bennett argued. She wrote,’The problem of delinquency ‘is at bottom, that of dealing with uncivilised aggression beyond the control of society and often under the individual’s own control’. The understanding the phenomenon of Aggression – in delinquency and normal life – was a particular key, far more important than solving the ‘urgent practical clinical problems involving primitive and unsocialised aggression’. ( Bennett, pp.31-33). She stressed the ‘importance of the role of consistency and continuity in the education and training of the child’. It involved understanding and working with the child’s family – parents and grandparents – as well as a child’s teachers and her community.
The War had .seen a shift amongst British psychoanalystsfrom theoretical emphasis on psychosexual factors to aggression in the aetiology of neuroses and delinquency. Although Ivy Bennett was signalling a shift in her thinking away from Freud’s psychosexual theories as central to the aetiology of delinquent and neurotic children, she appears to have been dubious, or at least choosing not to move away from it altogether. There was still more research to be undertaken about the role of aggression. The emerging field of group analysis would contribute. Illumination would come from advancing research in social psychology, cultural anthropology as well as in psychoanalysis. At this stage Ivy Bennett sustained her Freudian roots, writing
A blending, fusion and diffusion of both sexual and aggressive impulses takes place and is always present in the emotional sub-strata of community living. The success or failure of this blending or balance determines the varied nature of social life, both in its constructive and in its negative dissocial forms. (Bennett, 1960, p. 32)
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It may be that Ivy Bennett was part of a larger plan for Western Australians. In the early 1940s there had been a dream for Perth to lead psychoanalysis in Australia. In 1943 the Perth Branch of the British Medical Association drew up plans to establish the largest analytic training institute in the southern hemisphere at the University of Western Australia. This was the outcome of four years work. In 1939 psychologist Bill McCrae, well known to the Australian public as a cricketer, returned from the United States where he had studied psychoanalysis. Perhaps prevented from pursuing training due to the US practice of restricting analytic training to medical practitioners, McCrae began to work to establish a training program for lay psychoanalysts. He began lecturing and writing highlighting the usefulness of psychoanalysis in education and ‘mental treatment’. He worked in conjunction with local medical practitioners, lectured at the Adult Education Board and, with the support of the medical fraternity, encouraged the teaching of psychology at the University from an analytic point of view. Potentially these lay analysts would work along with the medical profession. A journalist from Perth’s Sunday Times newspaper appears to have drawn from the planning documents, writing:
The programme envisaged includes a school with analytically trained teachers from kindergarten to leaving standard, a wide scheme of adult and parent education, a clinic to be conducted on a no profit basis, a maternity hospital and eventually a Psychoanalytic Institute for the training of practitioners.
Further research is needed to understand these events and whether Ivy Bennett had a place in this. After all here was a youngish, attractive, talented and ambitious woman who was potentially well placed to contibute to such developments. At the very least it may well be that the war meant that McCrae’s idea was permanently shelved. It appears though that such was the interest in psychoanalysis at academic and government circles that Ivy Bennett’s proposal undertake training in England was accepted by the British Council who funded her.
Ivy Bennett’s efforts to establish herself as a lay analyst appear to have been disappointing. She made efforts to connect with colleagues in the Eastern States, presented papers at conferences of the Australian Psychoanalytical Society. There appears to be a sadness about her departure. She left Australia in 1958 to work towards full membership of the International Psychoanalytical Society. ‘I trained to that level so I could have independent recognition in Australia, she told Michelle Slarke. The profession was ‘still dominated by the prejudices I had to fight all the way – the prejudices of medical and insurance authorities against women and lay analysts’. (Slarke, 2003, p. 51). Marriage intevened. I understand that she had thoughts of returning to Australia; it was her husband’s professional opportunities that took her to Kansas in the United States where she was instrumental in the establishment of psychoanalytic training in that state. She also remembered her days at Lake Grace and has established a scholarship at the local high school to enable a young person to realise their dreams. Too.
Ivy Bennett, now in her 90s, is still alive, well and, I believe, writing about her work.