Martha Harris

For the footballer, see Martha Harris (footballer).

Martha Harris, née Dunlop (1919–1987) was a British Kleinian psychoanalyst of children and adults. From 1960 to 1980 she was head of the Child Psychotherapy service at the Tavistock Clinic, taking over from Esther Bick, who had established a foundational method of disciplined infant observation. Harris was responsible for the subsequent expansion in the number of English and international trainees at the Tavistock, and for laterally developing the training into what became known as the Tavi Model.[1] This model, in which infant observation continues to play a pre-eminent role,[2] has been adopted, with modifications, in other European countries and in South America: such as the GERPEN in France,[3] the six Martha Harris Study Centres in Italy,[4] and the São Paulo Mother-Baby Study Centre in Brazil.[5]

Life and work

Martha Gemmell Dunlop was the eldest of four children born to Gabriel Dunlop, a farmer, and Margaret McLure, who had run her own tailoring company. She was born on her parent's farm at Beith, Ayrshire, though the family moved to Turner's Hill, Sussex when she was eight. She read English at University College London from 1939 to 1940, teaching in secondary schools for the remainder of World War II. She married Harry Thompson, a Forestry Commission ecologist, in 1941; they divorced in 1949.[6] After the war she read Psychology at the University of Oxford.[7] She taught in schools and at Froebel College before training as a psychologist at Guy's Hospital, then as a psychoanalyst at the British Psychoanalytical Society, where she was a training analyst. She had supervision with Melanie Klein,[8] Wilfred Bion and Esther Bick, and personal analysis with Herbert Rosenfeld.[9] At the Tavistock she introduced the Work Discussion Seminar,[10] and the Personality Development Course.[11] By contrast with the procedures of other trainings, she put in practice a principle of assisted self-selection for analytic candidates.[12] The training model that was being developed at the Tavistock at that time was considered highly influential.[13] An international conference in Harris’s honour was held in Paris in November 2010.[14]

With her second husband, Roland Harris, she developed a schools' counselling service in London, which became the Tavistock Schools Counsellors' Course,[15] leading to special or protected time within the school setting for individual children or small groups.[16] After Roland Harris died in 1969, Martha Harris married the psychoanalyst Donald Meltzer; together they taught widely throughout Europe, Scandinavia, South America, parts of North America, and India.[17] In 1976 at the request of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development they collaborated on A Psychoanalytical Model of the Child-in-the-Family-in-the-Community, written for multidisciplinary use in schools and therapeutic units.[18] In the late 1970s Martha Harris invited Wilfred Bion back to London from California to give a series of lectures at the Tavistock.[19]

Martha Harris and Donald Meltzer established the Roland Harris Educational Trust, a UK registered charitable organisation which for 30 years published psychoanalytic works under the imprint Clunie Press.[20] After Meltzer's death in 2004 this activity continued as the Harris Meltzer Trust (UK registered charity no. 1113827).[21]

Martha Harris wrote newspaper articles and books for parents on child development, in addition to many papers on psychoanalytic training and clinical work. Thinking about Infants and Young Children (1975) has been translated into French, Spanish and Italian.

Main publications


  1. S. Hoxter, review of Collected Papers of Martha Harris and Esther Bick, Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 14a: 101–106 (1988); D. Dawes and M. Boston (eds.), The Child Psychotherapist (London: Wildwood House, 1977). Harris’s description of the model, ‘The Tavistock training and philosophy’ (1977), is reprinted in The Tavistock Model: Papers on Child Development and Psychoanalytic Training by Martha Harris and Esther Bick, ed. M. H. Williams (London: Harris Meltzer Trust/ Karnac, 2011), pp. 1–24.
  2. See M. Rustin, 'Esther Bick's legacy of infant observation at the Tavistock – some reflections 60 years on', Infant Observation, 12(1), p. 32; J. Sternberg, Infant Observation at the Heart of Training (London: Karnac, 2005); originally described in M. Harris, ‘The contribution of observation of mother-infant interaction and development to the equipment of a psychoanalyst’ (1976, reprinted in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011), pp. 117–132.
  3. "Psychoanalytic research group for the study of children’s development"
  4. "Centro Studi Martha Harris"
  5. See M. P. Melega et al, Looking and Listening (London: Harris Meltzer Trust/ Karnac, 2012).
  6. Martha Harris née Dunlop (1919–1987), Psychoanalytikerinnen. Biografisches Lexikon.
  7. M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011) p. ix.
  8. Melanie Klein's opinion of Martha Harris is recorded in J. Gammill, 'The role of Martha Harris from the beginning of the GERPEN', in M. H. Williams (ed.), Enabling and Inspiring: A Tribute to Martha Harris (London: Harris Meltzer Trust/ Karnac Books, 2012), p. 39
  9. 'About Martha Harris', in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011), p. ix
  10. See M. Rustin and J. Bradley (eds.), Work Discussion: Learning from Reflective Practice (London: Karnac, 2008); originally described in M. Harris, ‘The individual in the group’ (1978), reprinted in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011), 25–44.
  11. See G. P. Williams, in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2012), p. 12; M. Waddell, in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2012), p. 267
  12. G. P. Williams, in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2012), p. 14; V. Sinason, in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2012), p. 237
  13. D. Houzel, 'A psychoanalytic revolution from a speculative to an empirical point of view', in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2012), pp. 33–38; D. Meltzer, ‘Martha Harris and the Tavistock course’, in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011), pp. 345–46; G. P. Williams, in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2012), p. 12; M. Rustin, ‘Introduction’ to Collected Papers of Martha Harris and Esther Bick (Perthshire: Clunie Press, 1987), ix–xiii.
  14. "Homage to Martha Harris"
  15. See J. Whitehead, "A History of Woodberry Down School"; the pilot study is documented in M. Harris, 'Consultation project in a comprehensive school' (1968), reprinted in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2012), pp. 317–344); M. Harris, 'Teacher, counsellor, therapist: towards a definition of the roles’ (1972), reprinted in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2012), pp. 305–316).
  16. E. Blandy, in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011), p. 101
  17. See R. Li Causi and M. Waddell, 'An appreciation of the work of Donald Meltzer', Journal of Child Psychotherapy 31(1), pp. 3–5; I. Freeden, obituary, Journal of the British Association of Psychotherapists vol. 43(19), p. 88; 'About Martha Harris', in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2012), p. ix.
  18. A. Hahn (ed.), Sincerity and Other Works: Collected Papers of Donald Meltzer. London: Karnac, 1994, p. 387.
  19. F. Bion (ed.), The Tavistock Seminars (Karnac, 2005). On Martha Harris' use of Bion's ideas in psychoanalytic training see her papers 'The individual in the group' (1978, reprinted in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011), pp. 24–55); 'Towards learning from experience in infancy and childhood' (1978, reprinted in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011), pp. 171–188); 'Bion's conception of a psychoanalytical attitude' (1980, reprinted in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011), pp. 45–50); and 'Growing points in psychoanalysis inspired by the work of Melanie Klein' (1982, reprinted in M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011), pp. 65–92).
  20. For information about the history and work of this charity see "Clunie Press"
  21. "The Harris Meltzer Trust"

Further reading

External links

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