A Plea to “See Into The Life of Things”: Thinking Psychoanalytically About Later Life

Susan Maciver, Tom Russ

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Freud (1905) famously wrote that analysing older adults – people over fifty – was not advisable and, until the last decade or so, with the notable exceptions of Erikson (1950) and King (1974), later life has continued to be relatively neglected by psychoanalytic thinkers. More recently, mercifully, this has begun to change and there have been a number of publications reflecting psychodynamic approaches to thinking about and working with older people (Waddell, 2002; Evans & Garner, 2004; Davenhill, 2007 ; Quinodoz, 2009; Russ, 2011). The last article describes the first of two study days on working with older people provided by the Working with Older People Interest Group at the Scottish Institute of Human Relations (SIHR).

In this chapter we contribute to the growing literature in this field by illustrating both the potential of working with older people individually and taking psychoanalytic thinking into institutional settings such as care homes. Because psychoanalytic work with older people has been marginalised for so long, we have found the opportunity for interaction with others interested in such work invaluable. In this chapter we aim to explore the stresses associated with ageing. These stresses are many and varied, and may include, for example, the loss of career and status, of health and faculties, of partners and friends through illness or death, together with other unwanted changes in personal circumstances. We illustrate the impact of these stresses as they present in individuals, and systemically at an organisational level. Since relatively little clinical material has been written in this area we draw a number of our illustrations from literature, especially Shakespeare’s King Lear. We move from thinking about case studies of fictionalised, composite, or anonymised clients and their relatives to thinking about the impact on staff of working with older people whose functioning and capacity to communicate may be seriously impaired. Throughout the chapter, we refer to Bion’s ideas on containment, and Bowlby’s on attachment, which we consider crucial in understanding and responding to older people. In the final section, we draw together thoughts about projective processes in highlighting the use of projective identification as an unconscious means of communication and Menzies Lyth’s work in examining the defences against anxiety inevitably and unconsciously adopted by workers in contact with vulnerable people, particularly the residents of care homes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaking Spaces
Subtitle of host publicationPutting Psychoanalytic Thinking to Work
EditorsKate Cullen, Liz Bondi, Judith Fewell, Eileen Francis, Molly Ludlam
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherKarnac Books
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9781780491653
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Psychoanalysis
  • Psychodynamic


Dive into the research topics of 'A Plea to “See Into The Life of Things”: Thinking Psychoanalytically About Later Life'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this