BACP talks to author and psychoanalytic psychotherapist, Judith Edwards, about the things that inspire her

Tell us a little more about what you do
I am a child and adolescent psychoanalytic psychotherapist, retired but still supervising the cases of others, which is the best thing to do after having been in the room yourself for more than 40 years. I have written fairly extensively too, starting with a memoir, Pieces of Molly, and then a book called Being Alive: building on the work of Anne Alvarez. My new book, Grandmotherland, grew out of my own family difficulties with grandchildren, widening out into cultural as well as personal issues.

Is there a spiritual aspect to your work?

Perhaps I can quote Bion and his idea of ‘O’.1 This is a state which is reached by quieting your own mind. It is something which happens in meditation. I practise daily to achieve a state of mind where ideas can come through, hopefully unimpeded by my own egoic preconceptions. It helps me gain insight about what to do, and what not to do. This does provide invaluable inspiration beyond the domain of your own knowledge.

To be quiet and observe what is going on, rather than striving for your own meanings and projecting them onto the patient, can be useful. These meanings will occur later when there has been time to reflect on whether they are relevant (often they may not be). It is important not to burden our patients with ‘insight’ before they are ready to receive it. This was something I found in my own practice, and then discovered was part of Winnicott’s thinking.

What moves you in life?

The power of music, art, and especially film, to offer us more facets of experience. I wrote a paper, ‘Sifting through the Sands of Time’, about Guzman’s film Nostalgia, and I wrote a paper with the sculptor Antony Gormley and the social anthropologist, Hugh Brody, about their film Inside Australia.
My contact with Gormley had begun when I interviewed people viewing his statues called ‘Seeing and Being Seen’ on the South Bank. Gormley expressed the view, echoed by his wife, that there should be a psychotherapist on hand to help viewers unpack the meanings inherent in his work, and the work of others.

Are there any wellbeing practices or rituals that sustain you?

Meditation, as I said. I also share daily appreciations with a friend in another part of the country. This truly forms a helpful spine to my lived life as a retired person who is writing and thinking, and finding a meaningful life ‘post-work’. I find it inspiring, too, to make contact with ‘strangers’ who often offer other facets of experience, and I also value communicating with my strong circle of good friends.

Tell us about a mystical or memorable moment in your life

I was once sitting quietly in a wood and realised that our world is one of facets, and that we each contribute via our own small facet. I discovered many years later that the great psychoanalyst and paediatrician, Donald Winnicott, had the same kind of experience, and this encouraged me to value my own small perspective on our vast world.

Who has inspired you?

After being a publisher’s editor, I was a primary school teacher and wondered why many of my little pupils (aged five to seven) were not able to receive teaching. Their minds were full of more troubling matters. I then heard Jeanne Magagna, now a good friend, talk about ‘love learning’ as opposed to ‘plug learning’. She said she had originally been a nursery school teacher, so I made the decision that child psychoanalytic psychotherapy would be a good route to follow. After much deliberation, I applied for the child and adolescent psychoanalytic psychotherapy training course at the Tavistock Centre, having met by ‘accident’ my tutor, Eileen Orford, at the Centre’s revolving door.
I also read Winnicott, Bion, Klein, Freud and Anne Alvarez, and my favourite novelist is Marilynne Robinson, who has also spoken at the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

Do you have a favourite spiritual book?

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche is a spiritual classic from one of the foremost interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism to the West. It is a gentle, humane and eloquent guide, full of love and compassion, and I reach for it whenever I feel the need for some enlightenment on my own spiritual journey, and that of my family.

A favourite quote?
‘All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.’ (Arthur Schopenhauer).

A favourite piece of music?
The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams.

What does the word ‘divine’ mean to you?
Something which exists outside our small self and can influence us beyond our own small ‘hill of beans’, as Humphrey Bogart talks about in Casablanca.

Download pdf file of the interview here.


This article first appeared in the January 2023 issue of Thresholds, published by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. ©BACP 2023.