Papers of Frances Tustin

  • Frances Tustin (1913-1995), child psychotherapist
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


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Observational notebooks (including loose drawings) on cases that Tustin felt taught her the most, or whom she saw most intensively, 1956-1974

Notebooks of reading notes, thoughts and memoranda to self, including:

  • 'Dr Bowlby's Seminar': reading and lecture notes, c.1940s.
  • Reading notes on: Charles Berg, War in the mind : the case book of a medical psychologist; an introduction to the practical application of modern psychology, [1941]; Susan Isaacs, Intellectual growth in young children, 1930
  • 'Baby Observation', 1951
  • 'References. Letters': reading notes on books published up to c.1957; starts with notes on Winnicott, D. W., The child and the outside world : studies in developing relationships, [1957]
  • 'Thoughts', c.1958-1960
  • 'Projective Identification. School Phobia': lecture notes, c.1960/1961
  • 'Thoughts on learning', c.late 1960s/early 1970s; includes draft letter to Dr [Wilfred] Bion seeking a discussion relating to material for her book on learning difficulties (presumably Autism and childhood psychosis, 1972)
  • 'Thoughts. Rimland Autism', c.late 1960s/early 1970s; references Bernard Rimland, Infantile autism : the syndrome and its implications for a neural theory of behavior, c.1964/5; presumably collated during the writing of Tustin's book
  • 'Rimland on Autism', c.late 1960s/early 1970s: envelope of reading notes
  • 'Observations from Books and Thoughts', undated
  • 'Thoughts', [1960s]
  • 'Nursery Observation Seminar', [1960s]: Tustin's comments on her students' discussions after the seminar
  • Untitled notebook: blank except for a plan of a building layout headed 'Ribbleston', undated

    Bundle of negatives and prints of children's drawings: some possibly for Tustin's 1972 book Autism and childhood psychosis, some possibly for her 1981 book Autistic States in Children, some for Tustin's article 'Two drawings occurring in the analysis of a latency child', Journal of Child Psychotherapy 1: 41 – 6 (1963)

    Letters to Tustin from:

  • Jaqueline Dadourian, [PROA, Buenos Aires, Argentina], 21 Sept 1994: discusses her feelings surrounding a difficult and longstanding infantile schizophrenic case
  • Prof. Elida Asso, [PROA], Buenos Aires, Argentina, 22 Sept 1994
  • Publication/Creation


    Physical description

    1 transfer box + 1 O/S item

    Acquisition note

    Given to the library at Wellcome Collection in October 2013

    Biographical note

    Frances Tustin (1913-1995) was a child psychotherapist who pioneered the psychoanalytic understanding and treatment of autistic spectrum disorders in children and adults from the 1950s. She originally trained as a teacher at Whiteland's College (now part of the University of Roehampton), and worked as a teacher there for several years.

    Tustin first became introduced to psychoanalysis while attending the course by Susan Isaacs on child development at the University of London in 1943. Inspired to train as a child psychotherapist, her plans were interrupted by World War II. In 1950 she registered for the child psychotherapy training at the Tavistock Clinic, which had been founded in 1948 by Esther Bick upon the request of Dr. John Bowlby, then Chair of the Tavistock. Tustin trained as a child psychotherapist from 1950 to 1953. In the context of her training, she underwent analysis with W.R. Bion.

    In the mid 1950s she had the opportunity to go to the United States of America for a year with her husband Arnold, who had been invited as visiting lecturer by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tustin took advantage of her stay in the USA to work at the James Jackson Putnam Center, where autistic children were treated behaviorally, by today's standards. This was Tustin's first contact with these atypical children. In her free time she engaged in what was to become an energetic study of the records on each atypical child seen at The Putnam Center to date. This research fueled her interest and curiosity as she began what was to be a lifelong process of understanding the autistic child.

    Upon returning to London, Tustin sought to work with autistic children utilizing the Kleinian technique of child psychoanalysis that she had learned in her Tavistock training with Esther Bick, Donald Meltzer, Herbert Rosenfeld and Martha Harris among others. Dr. Mildred Creak, a renowned child psychiatrist at Great Ormond Street Hospital who specialized in the diagnosis of autistic and psychotic children, referred children to Tustin for treatment, especially those in whom autism was considered to be predominately psychogenic in nature.

    It was with one child, whom she called "John", that Tustin discovered the core problematic in this type of autism: a lack of continuity "mouth-tongue-nipple-breast", due to the child's premature awareness of his separateness from the maternal nipple-breast. Tustin found that the awareness of the experience of such discontinuity in an infant who has yet to acquire the capacity to symbolize the absence and the absent object, is that of a 'black hole' filled with dangerous objects. John called this a 'black hole with a nasty prick'. Tustin learned from her work with John that, in order to protect himself against that traumatic experience of annihilation, the child attempts to freeze time and and to nullify such dangerous spaces by enclosing himself within a world of self-made soothing sensations of impermeability and changelessness. Unfortunately these autistic maneuvers profoundly hinder the child's social and cognitive development.

    After writing about her findings in several papers, published in the sixties, and with these clinically rooted discoveries firmly articulated in her mind, Tustin published her first book Autism and Childhood Psychosis in 1972. She gave numerous lectures in the UK and abroad and began supervising cases of autistic children being treated throughout the UK and Europe. By 1990 Tustin had published three more books and published many articles about her findings, and she welcomed students from all over the world to supervise their psychoanalytic treatment of autistic children.

    A prominent member of the UK-based Association of Child Psychotherapists and an Honorary Member of the Psychoanalytic Center of California, Tustin was a dedicated and inspiring teacher and an advocate for autistic children and their parents. Her contribution to the development of psychoanalysis was recognized in 1984 by the British Psycho-Analytical Society, which awarded her the status of Honorary Affiliate Member.

    For further information on Frances Tustin see the Frances Tustin Memorial Trust and Sheila Spensley's biography Frances Tustin (1995).

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    Accession number

    • 2023