Wilfred Bion: Biography And Most Important Works

Wilfred Bion was one of the most important psychoanalysts in history. His contributions have made him the most original and influential author of the most recent psychoanalysis.
Wilfred Bion: biography and most important works

Wilfred Bion was born in Mathura (India) on 8 September 1897 and died in Oxford on 28 August 1979. He studied medicine, but was soon seduced by psychoanalysis. His work gave birth to a theory on the ways of thinking of the human being.

Bion distinguished himself for the application of psychoanalysis to patients suffering from psychotic disorders. He initially based his work on the studies of Melanie Klein and Sigmund Freud. He later developed his theoretical field even expanding some concepts previously developed by Klein.

His work on soldiers who were victims of the Second World War represented one of his main contributions  in the field of group psychology. Read on to find out why Wilfred Bion is one of the most important figures in the history of psychoanalysis.

Life of Wilfred Bion

Wilfred Bion was born and lived until the age of 8 in India. He grew up in a wealthy family, whose source of income came from the colonization of those lands, at the time under the rule of the British Empire.

Later, his parents sent him to England to study at a boarding school. Here he distinguished himself for his athletic skills, particularly in swimming and water polo. Regarding his stay in boarding school, Bion claimed that he missed his parents and India.

He took part in both world wars. He actually participated as a volunteer in the First World War, receiving an honor of valor of merit and the French Legion of Honor. During the Second World War, however, he worked as a military psychiatrist at the Nothfield hospital.

In those years he came into contact with the theories of Melanie Klein and other prestigious psychoanalysts. He also worked with Donald Winnicott and Herbert Rosenfeld. All this thanks to his employment at the Tavistock Clinic.

Bion’s work proved so important that it earned him the title of president of the British Psychoanalytic Association. In his later years he worked in California and devoted himself to spreading his theories on the treatment of psychosis.

Girl with delusional disorder

Bion and his theory of thought

Wilfred Bion argued that the human being has an innate tendency to knowledge. A spark that pushes you to learn new things from yourself, from others and from the world.

According to Bion, thought gradually becomes a thought machine due to the accumulation of perceptions, sensations and experiences. It is the container / contained theory. The child experiences sensations and emotions that he does not tolerate and expels them; the mother or whoever fulfills her function has the task of assuming and processing them.

Then, the mother shares that processing with the baby in the way he is able to manage or understand. Later, the child internalizes these thoughts and shapes his thought system.

Eventually, he will learn to form his own impressions, giving meaning to the lived experiences. This, according to Bion, would represent the engine of cognitive development.

Well, the primitive elements will take root if the child or the adult is not able to elaborate them by giving meaning to things, and this because of the anxiety that this emptiness produces. Anxiety that the little one will tend to manifest in the form of symptoms such as: hallucinations, somatizations, etc.

The role of the therapist would therefore become that of container, as it collects the anxiety that the patient carries with him. In this sense, the patient’s psychic structure needs support to elaborate the most primitive aspects rooted in him. The therapist would represent the facilitator able to make it possible.

The main works of Wilfred Bion

Wilfred Bion wrote two very important works, both as an expression of his thought and for the development of psychoanalysis. They are:

  • Experiences in groups and other essays . This essay represents a new contribution to the conception of groups from a psychoanalytic perspective. It presents the Kleinian concepts of the defense mechanism and projective identification.

In addition, it emphasizes what is said and unspoken in therapy, including silences, which allows us to understand the apparently more difficult behaviors to decipher during the session. Finally, it introduces the concept of group mentality.

  • Learning from experience . In this book Wilfred Bion highlights experience and learning and related problems. He claims that the very fact of learning causes suffering in relation to the emotional experience. It poses a reflection on the importance of restructuring ideas about the origin and nature of thought. Furthermore, he explores cognitive activity in psychotic patients, based on his experience, from a psychoanalytic point of view.

In this last book he exposes his original theory of thought. At the beginning he talks about the formation of thought in people with psychosis. In this sense, Bion explores his own work. And it also does so in a self-critical key, recovering the factor of limitations that could interest the analyst.

Woman covering her face

Talking about Bion means talking about an author who, through the originality and depth of his studies, has managed to broaden the perspective of psychoanalysis. Currently, an increasing number of analysts, psychologists and psychiatrists refer to his legacy.

His contributions, therefore, are still today a point of reference within the current in which they developed.

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