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The Life and Thought of Harry S. Guntrip.

Dobbs, T. (2007).

Faith, Theology, and Psychoanalysis: The Life and Thought of Harry S. Guntrip. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications. Paper. 190pp. $22.00. ISBN: 1-59752-846-3.

Trevor M. Dobbs, Ph.D., is core faculty in the Marriage and Family Therapy department at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, CA. He is also Faculty and Supervising and Training Analyst at Newport Psychoanalytic Institute, Tustin and Pasadena, CA.

Dr. Dobbs traces the development of the clinical and theological thinking of Harry S. Guntrip beginning with his tutelage under philosopher John MacMurray and continuing through the over 1000 hours of analysis with W.R.D Fairbairn and 150 hours of analysis with D.W. Winnicott. The readers' imagination is catalyzed toward mesmerizing curiosity by the unparalleled privilege for Guntrip to be in relationship with all three of these seminal thinkers of the twentieth century.

In the first part of the book, Dr. Dobbs adopts Carlo Strenger's and previously T.E. Hulme's interpretive schema of understanding psychoanalysis, philosophy and religion as conceptualizing lived experience between the polarities of Classicism and Romanticism. Hence, the "stoic and pessimistic" Classicism of Kant and Hegel shaped the orthodox rationalism and Calvinism of religion, and the psychoanalytic theories of Freud, Klein and Hartman. Likewise, the "spontaneous and optimistic" Romanticism of Rousseau and Kierkegaard yielded religious pietism and revivalism and the psychoanalytic thinking of Ferenczi, Winnicott, and Kohut. Quizzically, Dobbs also considers Fairbairn a romanticist, and in so doing does not develop the Calvinistic influences on Fairbairn which are embedded in his retention of an aggressive, drive-like affect in the repressed "internal saboteur" of the anti-libidinal ego and the repressed, seductive, but ultimately dismissive libidinal ego. Nonetheless, I found this section to be eminently satisfying for its explanatory contextualization of divergent streams and personalities within psychoanalytic thought and history.

Part two chronicles the history of the British Independent Tradition in England, the psychology and theology of John MacMurray, Fairbairn's theological roots and impact on Guntrip, the influence of Winnicott on Guntrip and Guntrip's relationship with Fairbairn and Winnicott, This is the heart of the study and a collation of sources by the author affords the reader an appreciation for the formation of Guntrip's theological beliefs and his psychoanalytic thinking and practice.

The careful and clarifying distillation of some of MacMurray's thinking in Chapter 4 is quite welcome to psychologists and psychoanalysts who are more likely familiar with Martin Buber, MacMurray's friend. The following quotations which Dobbs culls as influential in Guntrip's development are exemplary of the pragmatic philosophy of MacMurray: "All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action, and all meaningful action for the sake of friendship." "For if reason is the capacity to act in terms of the nature of the object, it is emotion which stands directly behind activity determining its substance and direction, while thought is related to action indirectly through emotion, determining only its form, and that only partially." "Is he [she] an instrument for keeping me pleased with myself or do I feel his [her] existence and his [her] reality to be important in themselves? The difference between these two kinds of love is the ultimate difference between organic and personal life. It is the difference between rational and irrational emotion. The capacity to love objectively is the capacity which makes us persons."

The author confirms his familiarity with MacMurray by working with primary sources. By contrast, his 39 references to Sutherland (of 53 total) in Chapter 5, and 41 references to Goldman (of 44 total) in Chapter 6, belie less familiarity with primary and secondary sources for Fairbairn and Winnicott respectively. The absence of reference to Phillips (1988), Birtles and Scharff (1994), Kahr (1996), Skolnick and Scharff (1998), Rodman (2003), and Hoffman (2004) demonstrates the limitations of his methodology and possibly limits the horizon for understanding these complex individuals. Notwithstanding, Dr. Dobbs has achieved the welcome outcome of summarizing the origins and evolution of the twentieth century discovery/rediscovery of the "personal" through the contributions of these four descendents of renewal theologies from the past half millennium of Christian church history.

In the third and final part of the book, Dr. Dobbs offers his interpretive analysis of "Guntrip's theology as internal object to his psychoanalytic psychology" (p. v). Here as elsewhere, he aids the reader with appreciating the vicissitudes of Guntrip's internal world through poignant and empathic descriptiveness, "Guntrip never regressed to the degree that ... would have allowed him to depend upon Winnicott to hold his collapsed, fragile and weak ego. This is the tragedy not only of Guntrip's analysis, but of his very life" [emphasis in original] (p. 181). He expounds Guntrip's "implicit theology within his psychoanalytic psychology. The experience of grace (embracing the bad), is made 'perfect' (telios: Greek for 'mature'), through the dependency of the weakness" [emphasis in original] (p. 182).

He proposes that Guntrip could never regress to dependency upon another because he "employed" the Hegelian dialectic that ensnared him in "intellectual abstraction." He suggests that a "Kierkegaardian spirit" of paradox which he attributes to Winnicott whereby one enters "a situation without knowing what will happen and without being able even to predict the outcome," was "the missing piece from Guntrip's analytic experience where he ultimately was never able to give up control of 'knowing' and thereby enter into a regression to dependence on Winnicott at this paradoxical level" [emphasis in original] (p. 175).

My critique of Dr. Dobb's explanation for the tragedy of Guntrip's analysis is that if Winnicott utilized a Kierkegaardian faith, Winnicott may have foreclosed upon the knowledge of Guntrip's aggression which remained unanalyzed. Hopkins (1998) describes a parallel understanding of Winnicott's analysis of Masud Khan that culminated in a similar tragic outcome. Perhaps the double paradox here is that the Trinitarian theology of Hegel which assumes a type of "destruction and survival of the object" was where Winnicott (1968) arrived at the end of his life's work with his paper "Use of an Object."

The history of philosophy, religion, and psychoanalysis teaches us that a dynamic dialectical conversation between the classicist and romanticist positions, while difficult to achieve and impossible to maintain, is the intermediate space of mature dependence. Dr. Dobbs, like Harry Guntrip, appears to tilt toward the romanticist polarity and has few words of appreciation for Classicism: orthodox rationalism, Calvinism, and what seems to be his preferred descriptor of many things evangelical--fundamentalism.

Absent these critical considerations of Dr. Dobbs' theological and philosophical sensibilities, this work adroitly advances into the psychoanalytic unconscious of the repressed Judeo-Christian origins of object relations theory and practice. Following in the train of Oskar Pfister, Ian Suttie, William Meissner, Ana Maria Rizzuto, Randall Lehmann Sorenson and many others, Dr. Dobbs narrates the soulish center of psychoanalytic thought beginning with Bruno Bettelheim's reminder that in Freud's mother tongue, his pronunciation accented the first syllable of psychoanalyse, i.e., "the soul."

His condensations of the thought of MacMurray, Fairbairn and Winnicott are succinct and executed with masterful clarity. He leads us to gratitude for the life of Harry Guntrip who gifted us with access to understanding Fairbairn's paradigm-shifting eschewal of impersonal drive theories concomitant with his exposition of the innateness of the universal human desire to be in relationship. Guntrip's abundant self-disclosures in spite of his "schizoid core" as chronicled by Dobbs, compel us to appreciate and learn from this enigmatic docent of psychoanalytic object relations and philosophical and religious Romanticism.


Birtles, E. and Scharff, D. eds. (1994). From Instinct to Self: Selected Papers of W.R.D. Fairbairn, Vol. 2. Northvale, NJ: Aronson.

Hoffman, M., (2004). "From enemy combatant to strange bedfellow: The role of religious narratives in the work of W. R. D. Fairbairn and D. W. Winnicott." Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 14, 769-804.

Hopkins, L. (1998). "D. W. Winnicott's analysis of Masud Khan: A preliminary study of failures of object usage." Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34, 5-47.

Kahr, B. (1996). D. W. Winnicott: A biographical portrait. London: Karnac.

Phillips, A. (1988). Winnicott. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rodman, F. R. (2003). Winnicott: Life and Work. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.

Skolnick, N. and Scharff, D. (Eds.) (1998). Fairbairn Then and Now. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.

Reviewed by LOWELL W. HOFFMAN, PhD
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Author:Hoffman, Lowell W.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2007
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