Sunday, 1 January 2017

An Accused ‘Witch’ and her Inquisitors. Katharina Kepler (1546–1622). Ulinka Rublack conducts: Inner Circle Seminar 240 (November 2017)

An Accused ‘Witch’ and her Inquisitors
Katharina Kepler (1546–1622)
Johannes Kepler’s Defence of his Mother
in her ‘Witch’ Trial
The Disharmony of the World
Johannes Kepler (15711630)
Ulinka Rublack
Inner Circle Seminar No. 240
introduced by
Anthony Stadlen
November 2017
[date to be announced]
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Ulinka Rublack
Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) was the great astronomer whose Laws developed Copernicus’s thinking and were explained by Newton in his theory. When Kepler’s mother Katharina (1546–1622) was incarcerated and put on trial in Tübingen, accused of being a witch, he moved to live near her, and devoted himself to studying law so that he could defend her in court with the most convincing arguments he could muster. Against all odds, he won the case. Katharina was cleared of the charge of witchcraft. But she has continued to be misrepresented and maligned over the centuries. For instance, Paul Hindemith, in his own libretto for his 1957 opera about KeplerThe Harmony of the World, while ascribing to her a real clairvoyant gift, invents what seems an unhistorical split between mother and son in which she deplores his natural-scientific investigations as desecration and he rejects her alleged magical-mystical practices as superstition. (In fact, Kepler embodied a vision of the oneness of religion and nature, in which there was no such split.) Hindemith’s opera associates Katharina with the moon, and by implication with lunacy, even if at the end it assigns her supposed moonshine’ activities a legitimate place in the cosmos. And Arthur Koestler, in his book The Sleepwalkers: A history of mans changing vision of the Universe (1959), called Katharina an ‘old hag’, ‘a hideous little old woman, whose meddlesome and evil tongue, together with her suspect background, predestined her as a victim’.

The research of Ulinka Rublack, Professor of Early Modern European History at St Johns College in the University of Cambridge, has challenged this tradition of denigrating Katharina. Professor Rublack shows, in her book The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Keplers Fight for his Mother (2015), that Kepler brilliantly argued and demonstrated in the trial that his mothers behaviour needed no demonological explanation of the kind proposed by her inquisitors; on the contrary, her conduct was socially intelligible in ordinary human terms, as the understandable conduct of an older widowed woman in her social situation. In this way of seeing and presenting the phenomena, Kepler anticipated Laing and Esterson’s twentieth-century work with women diagnosed as schizophrenicreported in Sanity, Madness and the Family (1964), which we have been studying in the Inner Circle Seminars.

In todays seminar Ulinka Rublack will guide us through her research findings. She and the composer Tim Watts will also introduce us to extracts from both Hindemiths opera and Watts’s own new opera Keplers Trial (2016), ( at her instigation and with her collaboration as a response to Hindemiths unhistorical treatment of Katharina in his opera.

The seminar is being held to synchronise with a performance of Keplers Trial at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which participants are recommended to attend.  

Is this merely an historically fascinating episode? Or is the inquisitorial method of the witch’ trials four hundred years ago still alive, as Szasz, Laing and Esterson insisted, in the methods of diagnosis and treatment prevalent in our present-day clinical psychiatry? And is the continuing disparagement of Katharina Kepler a paradigm of that continuing hegemony of the calculative machination’ of natural-scientism that Heidegger documented and deplored? All the concerns of our other seminars are unified in todays enthralling subject. Your contribution to the discussion will be warmly welcomed.

Professor Ulinka Rublack was born and raised in Germany, but has taught at Cambridge for nearly twenty years. Her research interests focus on sixteenth and seventeenth century culture, its visual and material aspects, the European Reformation, gender and society as well as methodological concerns.

She is editor of the Oxford Concise Companion to History. Her previous monographs include Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Early Modern Europe, also published by Oxford University Press, which explores the relation between dress and identities in the period, won the Bainton Prize and was one of six books nominated for the Cundill Prize, the largest non-fiction history book prize in the world.

Ulinka Rublack is sole founder of the Cambridge History for Schools outreach programme; she is a co-founder of what became the Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies and has served on its working party for over ten years. She has been a full member of three European research networks and most recently served as a member of the steering committee of the AHRC-funded network on the history of luxury, led by Giorgio Riello. She has been visiting scholar at the Maison de l'Homme, Paris, and her books have been translated into German and Chinese. One of her aims is to explore and interpret the past in novel ways by collaborating with other scholars as well as with artists and makers. She has co-curated the Fitzwilliam exhibition Treasured Possessions and curated its exhibition A Young Man's Progress (March - September 2015), which resulted from her collaboration with an artist and fashion designer in response to Renaissance fashion images. Further information is available on her tumblr The First Book of Fashion.

Professor Rublack has recently been awarded grants to collaborate with composer Tim Watts and video artist Aura Satz to create art work which responds to the story of Johannes Kepler and his mother. She is also co-investigator of a Swiss National Foundation grant to explore the relationship of materiality, objects and emotional communities in the early modern world. She has recently been appointed as Gender Equality Champion for the University. She combines her busy career with raising two children.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  +44 (0) 7809 433 250
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

Black Notebooks: Martin Luther and Martin Heidegger. The role of ‘World Jewry’. Inner Circle Seminar 238 (24 September 2017)

Martin Luther

Martin Heidegger

Black Notebooks
Martin Luther and Martin Heidegger
‘World Jewry’ and the ‘uprooting of all being from Being’
500 years after Luther posted his 95 theses

Francesco Alfieri   Anthony Stadlen
Inner Circle Seminar No. 238
Sunday 24 September 2017
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In eight Inner Circle Seminars over the last few years we have immersed ourselves in the detailed reports of the seminars that the philosopher Martin Heidegger gave between 1959 and 1969 in the home of the Swiss psychiatrist and Daseinsanalyst Medard Boss at Zollikon near Zurich, retracing them after fifty years almost to the day. We have also started to explore the discussions between Heidegger and Boss which were the ground from which the seminars sprang.

In today’s seminar we step back even further and look at Heidegger’s Black Notebooks. It is here that, according to his brother Fritz, Martin Heidegger is most authentically himself and his real philosophy is to be found. Yet twenty-six short entries in these Notebooks have been the occasion of yet another Heidegger scandal. How seriously should we take this scandal’? 

It has long been known that Heidegger was a paid-up member of the Nazi party from 1933 to 1945; that he was Nazi Rector of Freiburg University; that he told students: The Führer alone is the present and future German reality and its law’; and that in 1949 he said: Farming is now a motorised food-industry, in essence the same as the manufacture of corpses in gas chambers and extermination camps.’ Was he ‘philosophically’ trivialising Nazi mass murder? But did he not have warm relationships, and even at least two love affairs, with Jewish students and colleagues? Did he not have a friendship, even after 1945, with Martin Buber? Granted, he had complained before the war about the Jewification’ of Germany, but perhaps he meant this metaphysically’? Heidegger was, it was said, a great thinker, and not ‘anti-Semitic’ as his granddaughter Gertrud says his wife Elfride was to the end of her life.

The rumours, rather than the reading, of the Black Notebooks with their sprinkling of twenty-six remarks about Jews have shaken this view. Peter Trawny, in two influential books, has claimed the Notebooks prove Heidegger was indeed an anti-Semite’. But if we take this word in the non-religious sense of Wilhelm Marr in the nineteenth century, or in the pseudoscientific, biological’, racial sense of the Nazis in the twentieth century, then the Notebooks show unequivocally that Heidegger insisted, with justification, that he was not an ‘anti-Semite’. In the Notebooks he denounces ‘anti-Semitism’ as ‘foolish and reprehensible’, and he attacks Nazi ‘racial’ doctrine as itself part of the same destructive ‘calculative’ ‘machination’ and ‘uprooting’ of which he accuses not only Weltjudentum (‘World Jewry’) but also the Bolsheviks, the Americans, the English, in fact almost everybody except traditional non-Bolshevik Russians, Martin Heidegger, and of all people Lawrence of Arabia, an enemy of Germany in the first world war! He insists that his discussion of the role of ‘Weltjudentum is not to do with ‘race’, but is ‘a metaphysical questioning of the kind of humanity that can with downright abandon undertake the uprooting of all being from Being’. He sees his teacher Husserl, a convert to Christianity, as handicapped from attaining true insight by the inescapable fact that he is, still, a Jew; but this is presumably a cultural, not a racial, judgement; or if, in some Heideggerian sense, it is racial’, this is not the Nazi biological concept of race’.  

Trawny simply disbelieves Heidegger, and calls him an anti-Semite anyway. But why should we not believe Heidegger? Why should we not believe T. S. Eliot, who saw ‘freethinking Jews as more deracinated than free-thinking post-Christians and thought Judaism a not very portable’ religion, but revered Martin Buber (as did Heidegger) and denounced ‘anti-Semitism’ as, from the Christian viewpoint, a ‘sin’ and a heresy’?

Why should Heidegger and Eliot not criticise Judaism?

Judaism differs from Christianity in many ways. The notion of a Judaeo-Christian tradition’ is a nineteenth-century politically correct euphemism. It blurs the differences between these religions. Christianity asserts and Judaism rejects: Original Sin’; the divinity of Jesus; the Resurrection; the overcoming of Torah (law) through faith in Jesuss saving presence. Why should each of these religions not, in a civil and civilised way, while recognising the right of the other to its position, nevertheless advocate its own position and oppose the other?

Heidegger sometimes opposes Judaic views from a Christian viewpoint and sometimes opposes both Judaic and Christian views from a Greek viewpoint. Sometimes, in traditional Christian or post-Christian fashion, he  says things which are almost unthinkingly critical of Judaism. In Being and Time, and also in the Black Notebooks, Heidegger casually uses the term ‘pharisaic’ in its conventional Christian sense, as if the Pharisees had not been one of the most innovative and liberal groups in history. Even after the Shoah, Heideggers Christian theologian colleague Rudolf Bultmann, who bravely opposed Nazi ‘anti-Semitism’, gives in his book Primal Christianity (recommended by R. D. Laing in The Divided Selfan account replete with what are, from a Jewish perspective, ignorant assumptions about the inferiority of Judaism. This is standard European culture, even at its most sublime, as in Bachs Passions. Such anti-Judaism is not experienced as a doctrine to be adopted or not: it is an unquestioning presumption about the way things are. It presumes that a Jew can be saved by converting to Christianity; indeed, there must remain enough Jews to be converted at the end of time. ‘Anti-Judaism’ is not yet Wilhelm Marrs 19th-century invention, ‘anti-Semitism’, far less the Nazis’ development of it into an absolute biological doctrine of race’, although ‘anti-Judaism’ undoubtedly prepared the ground fo‘anti-Semitism’. For the Nazi ‘anti-Semite’, the worst kind of Jew is the one who converts to Christianity, or is an assimilated German, because he is tenacious and harder to persuade there is no future for him in Germany. Nazi anti-Semitism is absolute, simply because the Jews are an incompatible and unacceptable race; there is no reason to disbelieve Heideggers denunciation of such anti-Semitism’. But when, in the Black Notebooks, he accuses the Jews themselves of traditionally pioneering the same kind of ‘calculative’ manipulation of raceHeidegger displays the ‘anti-Judaic’ prejudice that the Jews are a race, forgetting, if he ever registered, that some of the greatest Jews were converts to Judaism, and that there are Jews of all races.

Here it is crucial to examine the role of Martin Luther in Heidegger’s (and European) thinking. Heidegger began training as a Catholic theologian, but married a Protestant woman and underwent a religious crisis. At the beginning of Being and Time, he lists the current crises in the foundations of the natural and human sciences: for example, the dispute between formalists and intuitionists in mathematics, the questions raised by relativity in physics, and so on. But he does not mention the names of the protagonists in these crises: Hilbert, Brouwer, Einstein, et al. Only in relation to one of the sciences does Heidegger mention a proper name: the  ‘science’ of theology and its transformation by Luther’s  ‘insight’ into the primacy of faithWe shall study the importance of Luther, as well as of his precursor Paul, in Heidegger’s thinking, five hundred years after Luther posted his ninety-five theses at Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. For Luther, the Jews were the archetypal children of the devil, whose essence was evil calculative machination. Did this also influence Heidegger? Certainly, in an early lecture course on the phenomenology of the religious life, he extolled the authenticity’ of Pauls vision of community life in Primal Christianity.  

But why should Heidegger not be opposed to Judaic ideas? In fact, he is opposed in many respects to both Judaism and Christianity, which, like Nietzsche, he sees as itself Judaic. Heideggers religion is essentially Greek. He may be right or wrong, but why should he not be free to argue his case? 

And what, if any, are the implications of all this for the everyday practice of psychotherapy? Can Heidegger’s thinking help us improve our practice, as the Zollikon seminars make clear he hoped? It would seem so. But is he correct that  psychoanalysis is in essence ‘calculative machination’, as many existential psychotherapists also seem to think? In the Black Notebooks he writes of it in these terms, but in the Zollikon seminars he is more nuanced, presumably under Boss’s influence. Existential therapists generally seem closer to his Black Notebooks position. If ‘calculative machination’ is all they can see in psychoanalysis, are they not by that token guilty of it themselves? Is this an unacknowledged anti-Judaic tendency of existential therapy in general?

The Daseinsanalyst Gion Condrau expressed irritation that people mentioned what he called Heidegger’s ‘political error’. Condrau told me that Boss told his trainees they must not, in the Zollikon seminars, question Heidegger about his Nazism. But Heidegger, if only for a short time, saw his so-called ‘political error’ (and is ‘error’ the right word for a grave moral wrong?) as grounded in his philosophical thinking. Might not existential or daseinsanalytic therapy, also explicitly grounded in his philosophical thinking, be a ‘therapeutic error’? In this seminar, I do not wish to argue this, but rather to be open to this possibility. I hope that the consensus of participants in our seminars on Heideggers Zollikon seminars, that his thinking is indeed a fundamental and beneficent contribution to a more human and less alienated psychotherapy, will survive such questioning and be confirmed by todays seminar also.

We are fortunate to have, as invited speaker, Professor Francesco Alfieri, Franciscan Monk at the Vatican and personal assistant to Professor Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, himself private assistant to Martin Heidegger from 1972 until Heidegger’s death in 1976, whom Heidegger entrusted with the monumental task of bringing out the 102 volumes of his Collected Works. Professors von Herrmann and Alfieri have written a book, already a bestseller in Italy and soon to appear in German and English versions, in which they seek to do justice to Heideggers position in the Black Notebooks.   

Your contribution to the discussion will be warmly welcomed.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, Durrants rock, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  +44 (0) 7809 433 250
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

A Most Worthwhile Thing. 1. Freud’s First Case Study. Who was its ‘Heroine’? Fact or Fiction? Richard Skues conducts Inner Circle Seminar 237 (9 July 2017)

Sigmund Freud, 1891

A Most Worthwhile Thing
(‘Psychotherapy is one of the most worthwhile things in the world
                                                                 Thomas Szasz, 2007)

1. Freud’s First Case Study (1892)
Who was its ‘heroine?
Was Freud truthful?
Are his claims substantiated?

Richard Skues
Inner Circle Seminar No. 237
introduced by
Anthony Stadlen
Sunday 9 July 2017
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In this seminar the brilliant historian Richard Skues will reveal, and help us discover for ourselves, his paradigm-changing research findings on Freuds first case history. This is the first in a new subseries of Inner Circle Seminars, ‘A Most Worthwhile Thing, which will give evidence for Thomas Szasz’s affirmation in his 2007 Inner Circle Seminar:

‘Psychotherapy is one of the most worthwhile things in the world.

During twenty-one years of seminars we have criticised much in the great cases of psychotherapy; but this was the lively self-examination of a noble tradition – not a matter of Killing Freud’ [one book’s title], or of promoting biological or compulsory psychiatry. We have criticised the corruption of psychotherapy by its confusion with clinical psychiatry and by the mystifying language of mental health’ and mental illness’. But this is not an attack on psychotherapy itself.

Our new seminar subseries will demonstrate the great value and achievements of psychotherapy, and among other things provide psychotherapists themselves with authentic evidence for their discipline and craft, and for its often astonishing and unpredictable outcome, as opposed to the alienated, institutionalised, mechanistic, box-ticking demands to justify their practice as evidence-based’ and outcome-focussed’.

We start (where better?) with Sigmund Freuds first significant case history (1892): his hypnotic treatment of a woman who had difficulty breastfeeding. The philosopher and historian of psychiatry Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen has claimed that the patient was none other than Freuds wife Martha, thus entailing contradictions allegedly due to an alleged deviousness of Freuds that would be ethically preposterous.

Why has Borch-Jacobsens claim not attracted more attention? Would it not be scandalous if Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, were so fraudulent?  The answer is that it has become a commonplace in recent decades to assume that Freud was indeed a liar and a fraud, so that Borch-Jacobsen can draw on this by now paradigmatic presumption to find, circularly, yet more evidence for this presumed paradigm.

It is in this sense that the work of Richard Skues, one of the worlds most serious and respected Freud scholars, is paradigm-changing. A superb teacher, he will facilitate our researching in the seminar itself, with the help of our iPhones, tablets, etc., the questions:

(1) Who was the patient?
(2) Was Freud truthful?
(3) Can his claims of therapeutic success be substantiated?

This seminar is one of the most important of all since our seminars began 21 years ago.


Freud said that his theories were dispensable and (he used the English phrase) ‘open to revision’. To understand and evaluate psychoanalysis we should, he said, examine and ‘judge’ his small number of detailed individual case studies and analyses of specific dreams and slips. The case studies in particular he offered explicitly as true accounts, in which he strove for accuracy in all respects except the minimum disguise necessary for confidentiality. To change any other detail would be, he said, an ‘abuse’. And one should make clear what had been disguised.

For most of the twentieth century, nobody questioned Freud’s truthfulness at this basic level of reporting. His interpretations of what he reported were ridiculed by many as wild, crazy, far-fetched, absurd, the theories of a charlatan; but his honesty as a reporter of facts was unquestioned. And psychoanalysts such as Kanzer and Glenn, in their book Freud and His Patients (1980), argued that, like the plays of Sophocles and Shakespeare, Freud’s case studies would never be replaced as paradigms from which psychoanalysts and others would learn their craft, whether by agreement or dissent.

However, since the 1970s, philosophers, journalists, and even some historians have claimed that Freud, far from being an accurate reporter, was a liar and fraud whose case studies were fiction, even on one occasion portraying a patient who never existed.

This constitutes a grave crisis for psychoanalysis, and for psychotherapy generally. If the case studies which Freud said we should take as embodying his most fundamental discoveries are discredited as fraudulent, what then?

Leading Freudian and, significantly, Jungian analysts have pleaded that all case studies are necessarily fictional; that ‘narrative truth’, not mere ‘historical truth’, is what counts; that, in fact, we are all fictions; and that, for example, Freud’s living ‘Wolf Man’ patient was an ‘impostor’, while the ‘real’ Wolf Man existed precisely in the pages of Freud’s immortal case study and nowhere else. This hardly seems a satisfactory resolution of the crisis.

But why is this also a crisis for other forms of psychotherapy, such as Jungian and existential? Are they not independent of Freudian psychoanalysis? No. For example, the pioneer existential therapists (Binswanger, Boss, Szasz, Laing, Esterson) were all psychoanalysts. They would have been horrified at the schizoid way existential analysis and psychoanalysis are taught today as if they were in mutual contradiction. Boss and Holzhey wrote: ‘Daseinsanalysis wants only to be a purified psychoanalysis’: purified, that is, of natural-scientistic ‘metapsychology’. For what they saw as the phenomenological discoveries of Freud and later psychoanalysts, they had deep respect. They saw existential therapists who were ignorant of psychoanalysis as simply incompetent. Such therapists are likely to use vulgarised psychoanalytic ideas in any case, but without realising they are doing so, and without insight into their origin. In this sense, psychoanalysis and existential analysis stand or fall together.

Was Freud a fraudulent fictionaliser, or was he a conscientious chronicler, or perhaps a bit of both? This is what Richard Skues will help us decide on Sunday 9 July.

As explained above, this is not merely an historical footnote, but is of immediate practical urgency for us as therapists. As a true teacher, Richard Skues will not lecture us on his own views of the matter. Rather, he will show that we ourselves have the means to find the answer.

You are encouraged to bring smartphones and tablets so that we may participate in active research together. If you book, you will be sent a copy of Freud’s first case study as an email attachment.

Your contribution to the dialogue will be warmly welcomed.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £120, others £150, some bursaries; coffee, tea, mineral water, Durrants rock included; payable a month in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled

Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  +44 (0) 7809 433 250

For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

Laing & Esterson. 8. The Heads. 50 years on. Hilary Mantel and Anthony Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 236 (18 June 2017)

Laing and Esterson
Sanity, Madness and the Family
50 Years On
Family 8: The Heads

Dame Hilary Mantel   Anthony Stadlen
Inner Circle Seminar No. 236
Sunday 18 June 2017
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hilary Mantel
R. D. Laing
Aaron Esterson

Why is this nowadays rarely read or even referenced book of 1964 so important? It is, after all, absent from almost all discussions either of the family or of schizophrenia. The extremely rare discussions of it patronise it, as if they had long passed beyond it; but without having begun to understand it, let alone catch up with it.

And yet it is so fundamental, and so simple.

R. D. Laing and Aaron Estersons research, reported in this masterpiece of 1964 and continued by Esterson in his profound The Leaves of Spring: A Study in the Dialectics of Madness (1970), was a concrete embodiment of the theoretical work of their most advanced and radical contemporaries of the 1960s: Jean-Paul Sartres Critique of Dialectical Reason and The Question of Method; Thomas Szaszs The Myth of Mental Illness; and Martin Heidegger and Medard Bosss Zollikon Seminars.

Sartre highly esteemed Laing and Esterson’s work on families. Szasz had enormous respect for Esterson; he thought this book was on a higher level than Laing’s other books; he also thought Stadlens research following up the eleven families important. Heidegger would surely have loved the book, though it is unlikely he knew it; it embodies that straightforward openness and humanity he tried to convey in his Zollikon seminars, though he might well have asked: Why drag in Sartre? Professor Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann of Freiburg, Heidegger’s personal assistant whom he entrusted with editing posthumously his 102-volume Collected Works, and his wife Frau Dr. Veronika von Herrmann, particularly admire Laing and Esterson’s work. But almost all Daseinsanalysts, existential therapists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists  and of course psychiatrists – ignore it.

What did Laing and Esterson say that was so simple: too simple for ‘professionals’ to understand?

We believe that the shift of point of view that these descriptions both embody and demand has an historical significance no less radical than the shift from a demonological to a clinical viewpoint three hundred years ago.

Thus they introduced their great phenomenological descriptions of eleven families of ‘schizophrenics’. But, more than fifty years on, the ‘clinical viewpoint’ still reigns supreme. ‘Existential’, ‘Lacanian’, ‘Laingian’, ‘humanist’, ‘person-centred’ therapists and a galaxy of similarly impressively titled therapists love to call themselves ‘clinicians’.

The great and the good, including younger members of our royal family, seek ‘parity’ for ‘physical’ and ‘mental health’. This is well-intentioned but confusing. Indeed ‘it is good to talk’ – but not in this mystifying, pseudo-scientific language. 

Have Laing and Esterson been proved wrong? They wrote:

‘Nobody can deny us the right to disbelieve in schizophrenia.’

Why, then, do most psychiatrists and psychotherapists claim Laing and Esterson said ‘families cause schizophrenia’? They can not have understood, if they have ever remembered, if they have ever read, the first sentences of the second edition (1970) of the book:

There have been many studies of mental illness and the family. This book is not of them, at least in our opinion.’

Hilary Mantel wrote that ‘the simple words the people speak’ in Laing and Esterson’s book gave her, when twenty years old, the courage to write her own books, which have been internationally acclaimed. Her introductions to the seminars in this series have enthralled participants with their sensitive understanding of, and deeply perceptive insight into, each family in turn.

As she has written:

Some of us need a little push, before we recognise we have the right to pick up a pen. In my case it came from a book by the psychiatrists R. D. Laing and Aaron Esterson, Sanity, Madness and the Family... The people in it seemed close enough to touch... Each interview is a novel or play in miniature. So many of these family conversations seemed familiar to me: their swerves and evasions, their doubleness... For most of my life I had been told that I didn't know how the world worked. That afternoon I decided I did know, after all. In the course of my twenty-one years I'd noticed quite a lot. If I wanted to be a writer, I didn't have to worry about inventing material, I'd already got it. The next stage was just to find some words.

Hilary Mantel, at least, had no difficulty understanding what Laing and Esterson were talking about:

All the patients profiled in the book are young women. I know their names are pseudonyms, but over the years I've wondered desperately what happened to them, and if there's anyone alive who knows, and whether any of them ever cut free from the choking knotweed of miscommunication and flourished on ground of their own: Ruth, who was thought odd because she wore coloured stockings; Jean, who wanted a baby though her whole family told her she didn't; and Sarah, whose breakdown, according to her family, was caused by too much thinking.


Anthony Stadlen, through his historical research, is able to answer some of Hilary Mantels questions. He continues to interview the eleven families in the twenty-first century. Today, in the eighth of eleven seminars, we shall explore Chapter 8, on Jean Head and her family, with the help of Esterson’s original tape recordings on which the book is based; of photographs; and of Stadlen’s reports and recordings of his discussions with Jean and her family: Jean herself, her husband, her father, her brother, her sister-in-law, and her foster-brother.

Your contribution to the dialogue will be warmly welcomed.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £120, others £150, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  +44 (0) 7809 433 250
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.