A Critical Companion: Superego across the life cycle

Book tickets

Organised by:

Manchester Psychoanalytic Development Trust

09 July 2022

Time: 09:00 - 17:00

Price: £65 - 100

Location: online


Saturday 9 July, St Thomas Centre, Ardwick Green North, Manchester M12 6FZ
and also online

The superego is a central concept in psychoanalysis. Freud described it as the heir to the Oedipus Complex, linking it with the introjection of parental injunctions and restraints.

Following the title of this conference, it is ‘critical’ in two ways. The version with which most immediately springs to many people’s minds is that of a harsh critical voice in one’s mind, a judgmental, moralising, persecutory presence which undermines and distorts the individual’s capacity to assess reality and come to balanced judgements about themselves and others. There can be a fundamentalist character to this voice, or internal presence, dominating and absolutist in nature. This is a critic who is anything but companionable. How destructive a force it is will be influenced by individual familial experiences and innate personality factors.

The second version is a superego which reflects more positive aspects of parental figures which are internalised as protective, benign, and forgiving. This more approachable internal object or presence can be turned to when the individual is considering matters of conscience, morals, and ethics. This form of the superego can support one to think about complex questions on how we treat others, what actions we take, and how we manage our desires and our guilt. In this sense, it can be a helpful and necessary companion, critical to how we conduct our life.

Chair: Vic Sedlak
The day will be chaired by Dr Vic Sedlak, a Training and Supervising Analyst in the British Psychoanalytical Society and President Elect of the British Society. His book, The Psychoanalyst’s Superegos, Ego Ideals, and Blind Spots: The Emotional Development of a Clinician (London: Routledge) was published in 2019.

Conference Timetable

08.45-9.15 – Registration

09.15-9.30 – Welcome & Introduction

The Superego in Infancy and Young Childhood: some Benign and Pathological Developments – Anjali Grier
Anjali Grier reflects on the superego in infancy and young childhood. She’ll discuss some clinical vignettes from her own experience of working psychotherapeutically with parents and infants in a perinatal service, and under-five year olds in private practice, in the context of Kleinian and post-Kleinian theories.

A psychoanalyst and member of the British Psychoanalytical Society, Anjali Grier is a child and adolescent psychotherapist, and a member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists. She has had many years of experience working in NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and in a Perinatal Service. She is in full-time private practice in London.

10.30-10.45 Break

Emotional Insecurity and Bodily Protection: Developmental Complexities in Adolescents with Complex Medically Unexplained Symptoms – Louise Allnutt
Drawing on Bick’s concept of second skin (1968) and Klein’s understanding of the early superego, this paper will explore two case examples of adolescents who developed crippling physical symptoms at the moment of transition into secondary education. The paper will explore the development of physical symptoms as possible second skin defences against an internal persecutory super ego, that contributes to the struggle to separate and grow psychologically. Both patients were seen in the context of a specialist service for adolescents with complex medically unexplained conditions.

Dr Louise Allnutt is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist at University College Hospital in London where she primarily works with adolescents with complex medical conditions. Louise has a long-standing interest in complex trauma and its impact on development. She is the course lead for ‘Understanding Trauma: Principles and practice’ at the Tavistock where she also runs supervisions and a workshop on trauma and early development for trainee child psychotherapists.

11.45-12.00 – Chair: comments and online questions

12.00-12.45 – Lunch

Questioning the Superego – Penelope Garvey
Penelope Garvey outlines the differences between Klein’s early harsh superego, her normal mature superego and the extreme forces from the deep unconscious that constitute what has been variously named; the ‘abnormal superego’, the ‘ego destructive superego’, the ‘envious superego’ and the ‘ego splitting superego’. She discusses the importance of being able to recognise the kind of superego we are up against and raises questions about the limits to its modifiability by psychoanalysis.

Penelope Garvey lives in Devon and is a training and supervising analyst of the British Psychoanalytical Society. She qualified initially as a clinical psychologist and has worked in the NHS as well as in private practice. She teaches in the UK and abroad, particularly in Ukraine. She is one of the co-authors of The New Dictionary of Kleinian Thought (2011) and co-editor with Kay Long, of The Klein Tradition (2018). She has recorded an introductory course on Melanie Klein and a follow-on lecture on the Oedipus Complex for the Institute of Psychoanalysis e-learning series.

13.45-14.00 – Break

The Normalisation of Cruelty: Reflections on Psychological Impact of Neoliberalism – David Bell
David Bell explores the increasing destructive impact of Neoliberalism on our world. It acts to undermine the social contract of welfare and replace it with a world dominated by a hateful superego which divides humanity into the deserving and undeserving, making those whose socio-economic situation has deteriorated feel themselves to be personally responsible. This world of barely concealed cruelty supports a kind of narcissism that isolates us from social structures and has supported the destruction of psychiatric services in term of both quality and quantity – this has had a catastrophic effect upon those suffering from mental illness and on those who provide their care. Dr Bell will show how the understanding of perverse mental states provided by the work of Klein and her followers can deepen our understanding of this peculiar transformation.

Dr David Bell (retired) established and led Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust’s Fitzjohn’s Unit, a service for the most complex and severe adult referrals. He lectures and publishes on subjects including the development of psychoanalytic concepts, the work of Freud, Klein, and Bion and the psychoanalytic understanding of severe psychological disorder. He has deeply involved himself in interdisciplinary studies – the relation between psychoanalysis and literature, philosophy and socio-political theory. He is one of the UK’s leading psychiatric experts in asylum / human rights.

15.00-15.15 – Break

15.15-16.15 Plenary: Chair and Speakers

16.15 – Chair: closing remarks and finish.

The conference will be a hybrid event with both in-person (covid permitting) and online delegates.

CPD certificates will be issued on completion of conference evaluation form

In-person delegates – £100
In-person students/trainees – £75
Online delegates – £90
Online students/trainee delegates – £65
(Please note that in-person delegate tickets include lunch and refreshments)

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