Several accounts of Dr Clara Geroe, Australia’s first Training Analyst, have appeared in the public domain during the last thirty years. Two of these are oral history interviews with Dr Harry Southwood, the first and, for some time the only, psychoanalyst in Adelaide South Australia published in 1994 and, in 1995, a similar interview with Melbourne based Dr Frank Graham. Both were undertaken by Dr Wendy Brumley and published in the Australian Journal of Psychotherapy as was Deidre Moore’s Memoir of her analysis with Geroe, in 1998. This was also published in the British Journal of Psychotherapy in 1999. These impressions of course add to an emerging portrait of Geroe in addition to that provided by her son, George Geroe and in the memories of those who were either her patients or supervisees.
While trawling through archival material in the State Library of South Australia I came across another oral history interview, this time undertaken by Dr william Andrew Dibden as part of a larger project on the history of psychiatry in South Australia. I have blogged about this previously here. That post mined Dibden’s interview with Dr Harry Southwood to introduce ‘Dr Charlie Winter’, a German doctor whose training had included analysis with German Psychoanalyst Hans Sachs. In this post I am picking up the threads of this same interview to provide another glimpse of Clara Geroe. First, though, I will follow Dibden’s process as he begins tracing Southwood’s career.
The interview reads as a meeting between two old friends and colleagues who together have lived the evolution of psychiatry; from the days, said Southwood, when ‘the word “psychiatry wasn’t known. I never heard the word”Psychiatry” in 1939. I might have read it, but there was no Psychiatry in Australia”. Southwood became interested in ‘psychiatry’ when he attended lectures in psychological medicine given by a Dr Rogers, commonly known as “Daddy Rogers”, who lectured in forensic medicine. ‘Not’, said Southwood, ‘Psychological medicine’. He continued. ‘He was one of those traditional gentlemen aristocracy doctors of the city of Adelaide and he had a private practice which was, I gather, largely what we’d call today ‘psychiatric’.
Southwood may have been referring to Richard Sanders Rogers, listed in the Australian Dictionary of Biography as an ‘orchidologist and physician’, born in Adelaide in 1861 and who died in 1942. Upon reading the entry in the Dictionary of Biography one learns that after completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Adelaide Rogers qualified in medicine in Edinburgh and returned to practice medicine in Adelaide. He was a consulting physician at the Royal Adelaide Hospital from 1897. A member of the South Australian Medical Board in 1910-40, he was president in 1932-38. Rogers was the first superintendent (visiting) of Enfield Receiving House (1922-36), superintendent (visiting) of Northfield Mental Hospital (1929-36), and honorary consulting psychiatrist to all State mental institutions (1939-42).
Southwood graduated in medicine, became a General Practitioner in a small practice and subsequently gained a Bachelor of Science – a way of increasing his psychological knowledge. The course he completed combined physiology and psychology. He was appointed as a Medical Officer at Enfield Hospital in 1939, just before the commencement of the war and was able to combine this with private practice. He became interested in ECT and built his own machine – ‘originally made out of a gramophone’.
Southwood’s interest in Freud began when he read some of Freud’s work as a schoolboy. As a general practitioner he tried to apply what he had learned, taking detailed histories in the course of his work,
trying to understand just how it was [the patient] got into the mess they were in…It was simply the idea that of we could understand all about it, we could find a better way of coping with whatever the problem was. And they were all fairly simple things, looking back on them. People would never come to a Psychiatrist those days, I suppose. They weren’t going to a psychiatrist then. They were only going to a GP because they had headaches, or they couldn’t sleep, or they had indigestion or something. And it was only talking to them and finding out that perhaps they were more worried about their mother or worried about their husband, or worried about because they were frightened of getting pregnant, or whatever it might be. That’s where I was at at that time.
After reading an article by Roy Coupland Winn, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, again around 1939, Southwood related, he wrote to Clara Geroe. Perhaps it was several years later than this as Clara Geroe did not arrive in Australia until March 1940. He did not receive a reply. A year later he wrote again saying something along the lines of
‘Dear Dr Geroe
I understand that analysis begins from the moment of one’s first contact with one’s analyst…I wrote to you a year ago and haven’t heard from you since. I presume that has caused [some analytic crisis]. I would be interested to know if there is any prospect of a reply’.
‘She rang me up’, Southwood continued. It was, he learned,
characteristic of Clara – she wouldn’t write for a year, then suddenly she’d ring you up and make you think it was an immediate crisis. Anyway she rang up and said she was sorry she hadn’t answered my letter. I think her system was not to answer anyone’s letters but if you wrote two or three times she’d think you meant business. Anyway we eventually got into communication and I…went off to Melbourne and started my analysis with her.
At this time training was not well organized Southwood explained. The Melbourne Psychoanalytic Society was a ‘sort of unofficial branch of the British Society. But it was after the war and everything was chaotic and so on’. Subsequently Southwood had supervision with Clara Geroe. ‘I used to analyse someone in Adelaide as best I could and I’d take my notes across to her every month or so. And we’d have long talks’, discussing all that had transpired between himself and the patient and what he did and should have done. His dated his training years from 1946 to 1953 and was eventually made an Associate Member – of what is not specified in the interview, perhaps the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis. He was, he recalled, the first to achieve this. Frank Graham, another doctor, who was Melbourne based, followed.
Transcript of Interview with Dr Harry Southwood by Dr Andrew Dibden for Psychiatry in South Australia Oral History Project, dated 3 November 1979. PRG 842/1/2, State Library of South Australia
Harry Southwood with Wendy Brumley (1994), Interview, Australian Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol.13, Nos 1 and 2, pp. 1-19.
Frank Graham with Wendy Brumley(1995), Interview, Australian Journal of Psychotherapy, vol. 14, Nos 1 and 2, pp.1-14.
Deidre Moore (1998), A memoir of my psychoanalysis with Dr Clara Geroe, Australian Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol.17, Nos 1 and 2, pp. 178-191.
(1999) British Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 16, No.1, pp.74-80.
COPYRIGHT… Christine Brett Vickers This piece is entirely based on my research. You are welcome to use it with the appropriate acknowledgement.