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:
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:
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).