Professor Brett Kahr.
Copyright © 2020, by Professor Brett Kahr.
Please do not quote without the permission of the author.
Amid this extraordinary chapter of world history, as Britons queue for groceries, ever fearful of being slaughtered by a lethal, coronavirus enemy, I strongly suspect that the Second World War, marked by food rationing, civilian mobilization, and numerous fatalities, may well be on all of our minds.
I recently watched the talented actor Gary Oldman deliver a sterling performance as Winston Churchill in the excellent film, Darkest Hour, released in 2017, which I found quite inspiring. Certainly, the parallels between wartime Great Britain and our contemporary corona-infested landscape resonated quite chillingly, and I must confess that I derived much comfort from watching Mr. Oldman embody the strong and decisive leadership of Mr. Churchill.
In spite of his considerable bravery and fortitude, back in the 1940s, Churchill and his government took very little interest in the subject of mental health. At that time, the country boasted only a tiny handful of psychoanalysts, and most people regarded these Freudian advocates with tremendous suspicion. But one woman, in particular, toiled relentlessly, in true Churchillian fashion, and made a vital, game-changing contribution to the emotional welfare of families during a time of great tragedy.
Born in 1903, Enid Flora Albu studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the University of London. Not long after her graduation, she married Robert Nathaniel Eichholz, a lawyer, and became known as Enid Eichholz.
Once the Nazi menace began to surge across Europe in the 1930s, Mrs. Eichholz opened a school near Lewes, in the county of Sussex, for Jewish refugee children. This experience whetted her appetite for being helpful and charitable. And, consequently, after the outbreak of the Second World War, Mrs. Eichholz began to work for the Family Welfare Association, providing assistance to families in need of food and other necessities. In effect, she became an untrained social worker of sorts, assisting at citizens advice bureaux in the nation’s capital.
Before long, Enid Eichholz came to appreciate that Londoners, in particular, needed not only food and refuge but, above all, emotional support, as many women and children suffered tremendous abandonment, and loneliness, and depression, and, indeed, bereavement, having lost their sons and husbands and fathers.
In an effort to provide even greater assistance, Eichholz founded a Family Discussion Bureaux, a small offshoot of the larger Family Welfare Association, and pioneered marital psychotherapy and family psychotherapy for those in distress. With great organisational brilliance, Eichholz soon attached herself to some of London’s leading psychoanalysts, such as Dr. John Bowlby, who provided great encouragement and who invited Eichholz and her newly formed team to affiliate themselves to the Tavistock Clinic. Indeed, one of the Tavistock-based psychoanalysts, Dr. Michael Balint, proved so helpful and so delightful to Mrs. Eichholz, as a teacher and adviser, that she divorced her husband and married this man in 1953 and became known thereafter as Enid Balint.
This creative and inspiring woman also trained, subsequently, as a psychoanalyst in her own right and brought great wisdom and experience to her fledgling organisation, which, over time, flourished and eventually became known as Tavistock Relationships, which remains, to this day, the most impressive and sophisticated and accessible of mental health institutions, offering thousands of sessions of couple psychotherapy and couple psychoanalysis annually to partners in distress.
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Enid Balint, then a very elderly woman in her eighties, and I enjoyed the privilege of speaking with her about the early history of psychoanalysis in the United Kingdom. She shared her knowledge with generosity, and she impressed me as a woman of deep intelligence, kindliness, and sanity.
Some years later, while researching the early history of couple psychoanalysis, I discovered a little-known essay that she had written in 1944, during the height of the war, in which she reported, “When the flying bombs first began to fall most of us disliked them considerably.” Whether this attitude represented true courage or, perhaps, the use of minimisation as a form of denial, one cannot know with full certainty. But whatever the emotional state of this pioneering woman at that time, she, like many Britons, soldiered through with considerable fortitude in true Churchillian fashion and made a great contribution to the development of couple and family mental health, which persists to this day.
Thus, during this time of global pandemic, as we derive inspiration from clear-minded world leaders such as Winston Churchill, let us also remember Enid Eichholz (later Enid Balint), who has certainly inspired me and my colleagues, and whose name we have enshrined in our consultancy organisation.
(This material derives from Professor Brett Kahr’s Enid Balint Memorial Lecture, delivered in 2016 at the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships in London, under the chairpersonship of Susanna Abse, and, also from his subsequent plenary address, presented at the seventieth anniversary celebrations of Tavistock Relationships in 2018. Professor Kahr has published fuller versions of this work in the journal Couple and Family Psychoanalysis (Kahr, 2016) and in the Journal of the Balint Society (Kahr, 2019)).
Eichholz, Enid (1944). Londoners and the Flying Bomb: (From the Point of View of the C.A.B. Worker.). Social Work, 3, 91-95.
Kahr, Brett (2017). “How to Cure Family Disturbance”: Enid Balint and the Creation of Couple Psychoanalysis. Twenty-first Enid Balint Memorial Lecture 2016. Couple and Family Psychoanalysis, 7, 1-25.
Kahr, Brett (2019). Before Enid Was Enid: The Birth of Couple Psychoanalysis. Journal of the Balint Society, 47, 57-65.