Wimbledon Guild interview with Brett Kahr

We talk to Professor Kahr about his new book and his keynote presentation at Wimbledon Guild Counselling Training’s 2022 Conference: Reflections on the Pandemic, Covid-19 and Trauma

Professor Brett Kahr has worked in the mental health profession for more than 40 years. He is Senior Fellow at the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology in London and Visiting Professor of Psychoanalysis and Mental Health at Regent’s University London.

After serving for many years as Trustee of Freud Museum London and of Freud Museum Publications, he has now become the museum’s Honorary Director of Research.

We caught up with Professor Kahr to talk about his new book Freud’s Pandemics: Surviving Global War, Spanish Flu, and the Nazis (Karnac Books, 2021), inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic and to discuss his keynote presentation at our online 2022 Conference: Reflections on the Pandemic, Covid-19 and Trauma, Saturday 12th March 2022. 

We are delighted that you will be presenting your new paper, “Unmuzzling Experts While Curing ‘Covidiots’:  How Psychotherapists Can Prevent the Next Pandemic”, at our online conference next year. Could you tell us something more about the concept of “unmuzzling health professionals”?

Throughout this heart-wrenching coronavirus pandemic, we have received an overwhelming amount of data from politicians and public health officials about how to manage this dreadful global health crisis. However, in spite of the fact that broadcasters have reported a great deal about the decline in mental health, and in spite of the fact that members of the psychotherapeutic profession have never worked so hard, our insights about the unconscious roots of self-destructiveness and other-destructiveness have not become at all central to the narrative surrounding Covid-19. We know that many people contracted the virus quite unexpectedly, but many others have continued to spread this awful infection as clinical acts of aggression. 

I believe that the psychotherapeutic and counselling professions have a great deal of insight to contribute towards a better understanding of the hidden unconscious and behavioural factors underlying what we might conceptualise as “unconscious viral transmission”.

During the pandemic, you have been delivering online lectures for Wimbledon Guild, Confer, The Freud Museum London, and the Viktor Wynd Museum, to name just a few organisations. What has it been like for you delivering your work online over Zoom?

I presented my very first public lecture back in 1979, in front of a live audience, so I must confess that switching to Zoom in 2020, more than 40 years later, proved rather a challenge at first, never having used a laptop before! 

Fortunately, the wonderful technologically savvy team at Freud Museum London offered me a veritable masterclass in Zoom and I presented a fund-raising talk to help the museum, entitled “How Freud Would Have Handled the Coronavirus: Lessons from a Beacon of Survival”, which became the basis of my most recent book. 

Naively, I presumed that the attendees would consist predominantly of the London “regulars”, but, to my great surprise and delight, we attracted colleagues from India, Iran, Pakistan and all over the world. And no one had to hop on an aeroplane! I have now become quite used to this new form of communication and it has permitted us all to meet some very intelligent individuals overseas with whom we would have had little or no contact in pre-pandemic times.

Please tell us about your new book, Freud’s Pandemics:  Surviving Global War, Spanish Flu, and the Nazis, which has just been published.

Over the last year, we have heard a great deal about everyone’s “lockdown projects”. Some people have finally learned how to speak Italian fluently or have dusted off their old violin. I devoted much of my time to the writing of a new book on Freud’s Pandemics: Surviving Global War, Spanish Flu, and the Nazis, to help inaugurate the new “Freud Museum London Series” in association with the re-launched Karnac Books. 

It will not be widely known that during his long lifetime Sigmund Freud endured not one pandemic but, rather six, of many varieties, including the so-called “Spanish Flu”, which claimed the life of his beloved daughter Sophie Freud Halberstadt in 1920. 

Freud also had to endure decades of anti-Semitic abuse and professional shaming, as well as 16 years of cancer treatment, not to mention the invasion by the Nazis. Any other person who experienced such trauma might have passed by their own hand, but Freud always maintained great emotional sturdiness. 

In this book, based on oral historical and archival research, as well as on a close reading of Freud’s untranslated letters, I have crafted a narrative of his six pandemics. I have also explored how he might have dealt with Covid-19 and, also, what lessons we may continue to learn from this iconic genius.

What are you most looking forward to about Wimbledon Guild Counselling Training’s 2022 online conference?

I believe that the 2022 conference will be my sixth lecture for Wimbledon Guild over the last 20 years. I have always had a wonderful time speaking to colleagues at this esteemed organisation. No two institutions attract the same type of audience, but those at Wimbledon Guild always respond with tremendous compassion and wisdom, and I hope that we can all learn a great deal from one another. The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated much of world thought due to massive traumatisation; therefore, no one can claim true expertise about the psychological impact of this awful illness or about the best ways in which to promote psychological prevention, but I do hope and trust that we can all pool our well-analysed minds at this conference and begin to craft a plan about how psychotherapists and counsellors can share our skills and insights even more fully in years to come.

Wimbledon Guild Counselling Training’s 2022 online conference: Reflections on the Pandemic, Covid-19 and Trauma is on Saturday 12th March 2022. View the programme and book tickets.