Family Origins: Childhood trauma in Harry Potter and the Clinic

Event overview

The second in a new annual lecture series on “Identities in Transition”, in memory of Stephen Thomson.

A considerable amount of child and adolescent psychotherapeutic work at the Tavistock has its origins in early childhood trauma - circumstances of loss, abuse and separation from family, which very often have lasting effects. Arrangements for alternative care, for example in adoptive, foster or kinship care, are often successful in creating environments in which benign development can take place, and recovery from early damage can be achieved.

In our presentation, we discuss these family stories, both in relation to clinical practice at the Tavistock, and as they appear in the narratives of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Although some may value these stories primarily for their lively representations of a world of wizardry and magic, our view is that serious issues of trauma and the inevitable struggles to recover from its effects, provide a foundation in feeling which underlies the whole series, not only in regard to Harry’s own story (his parents were killed shortly after his birth), but also in relation to several other of the main characters.  We believe this is what, in part, explains their deep appeal for their child and indeed some adult readers. 

Margaret Rustin is a Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychotherapist, an Associate of the British Psychoanalytical  Society and a Child Analyst. She was Head of Child Psychotherapy at the Tavistock Clinic in London  from 1985 to 2007. She has published many articles, and co-edited Closely Observed InfantsAssessment in  Child Psychotherapy,  Psychotic States in Children,   Work Discussion,  and Young Child Observation . She is co-author, with Michael Rustin, of Narratives of Love and Loss: Studies in Modern Children’s Literature,  and Mirror to Nature:  Drama, Psychoanalysis and Society. and their co-authored Reading Klein was  published in 2016.  Their co-edited  New Discoveries in Child Psychotherapy: Findings from Qualititive Research,  will be published in 2019.


Michael Rustin is a Professor of Sociology at the University of East London,  a Visiting Professor at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation  Trust, and an Associate of the British Psychoanalytical Society. He has published widely on the interrelations between psychoanalyis, culture and society.  His books include The Good Society and the Inner World, Reason and Unreason, and The Inner World of Doctor Who (with Iain MacRury). Researching the Unconscious: Principles of Psychoanalytic Method, will be published in 2019. He edited, with David Armstrong, Social Defences against Anxiety:  Explorations in a Paradigm.   

We have established this lecture series in memory of our adoptive son Stephen, or Ste as he liked to be called. 

When he first came to us at the age of eight he had already been in children’s homes and foster care since he was 18 months old. He attended Daleham Gardens for two years and had psychotherapy sessions at the Child and Family Department. When he had come through adolescence, Stephen grew into an attractive and somewhat less angry young man, and by the age of 18 was a father of two. Yet he was always troubled by the legacy of his disturbed early years and sadly he found in alcohol a way to assuage the pain, leading to his untimely death in 2013 at the age of 33.

For further information about his life

Like many adoptive children Stephen had identity issues, to do with moving from a very deprived background to a relatively well-off professional middle class family. We have decided to establish this annual lecture in his memory as a way of addressing such issues in the context of a wider political and policy agenda. Identity politics has become increasingly complex. Issues of class, race, religion, gender, sexuality and age intersect in ways that can sometimes become toxic, and which also makes adolescence and the coming of age story both more protracted and more difficult to negotiate or narrate for increasing numbers of young people. 

The Child and Family and Adolescent Departments of the The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust deal with these identity issues on a daily basis, and have pioneered new ways of thinking about and working through them from a psychoanalytic perspective. So for both personal and professional reasons we are very pleased and grateful that the Trust has agreed to host these events and we are also extremely delighted that Margaret and Michael Rustin have agreed to give this year's lecture.  

Phil Cohen and Jean McNeil

Wednesday 5th June 2019

Refreshments from 6.00pm with the lecture running from 6.30pm - 8.15pm.

5th Floor Lecture Theatre

Tavistock Centre

120 Belsize Lane



The Tavistock Centre, London
5 June 2019 18:00 to 20:15

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