Psychoanalysis Unit



The MSc offers teaching on a broad range of psychoanalytic theories and their applications. The programme aims to bridge the gap which can exist between psychoanalysis as conceived by professional psychoanalysts, and as presented in most academic psychoanalytic studies programmes. While other programmes tend to emphasise non-clinically based theories and non-intensive clinical practice, the MSc programme provides a comprehensive introduction to current psychoanalytic thinking and practice, rooted in the history and development of ideas and with attention to the application of psychoanalytic ideas to other fields. While maintaining a clinically informed perspective, the degree programme is academic, concerning itself with theoretical issues as these relate to the clinical context. 

Programme Overview

The degree programme is made up of four taught modules, incorporating a range of seminar series which are organised by experienced psychoanalysts or academics who are expert in the field concerned. Each seminar series consists of between four and ten 1.5 hour seminars which may be taught by the coordinator or by invited lecturers. The largest single element of the teaching programme is a firm grounding in the works of Sigmund Freud.

The programme begins with seminars introducing the nature of the discipline and outlining how it differs from other psychological disciplines. Students are also given an overview of the major theoretical and clinical works of Sigmund Freud, which continue to be taught (and referred to in other seminars) throughout the programme. Further seminar series cover the central ideas contributed by Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion, D.W. Winnicott and Jacques Lacan. There are taught seminars on themes such as Trauma, Psychopathology and Sexuality, which are approached from a variety of contemporary perspectives. A number of seminar series are offered to demonstrate the application of psychoanalytic ideas to other disciplines, including philosophy, literature, and cinema.

Students accepted onto the Foundation Course at the Institute of Psychoanalysis in London can request to access the MSc in its Foundation Course Pathway, which allows students to be assessed by UCL on the Foundation Course material to count for one module of the MSc Theoretical Psychoanalytical Studies. Those given approval to take up this option register for the Foundation Course, in place of MSc module PSYCGT13. Further information regarding the MSc Foundation Course Pathway can be found in the Programme Structure and the Foundation Course Pathway FAQ sections.

Aims of Programme

The Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies MSc aims:

  • To give a grounding in the nature, history, content and context of psychoanalytic theories, as used by practicing psychoanalysts. Hence to educate students about one area of systematic psychology.
  •  To develop the ability and readiness to evaluate critically the claims, theories and nature of evidence in the area of psychoanalytic theory.
  • To provide teaching that benefits from a) our position as a leading research department with links to scholars in other first rate universities, b) our collaboration with the British Psycho-Analytical Society, to provide first class teaching bridging clinical, theoretical and research perspectives.
  • To select our students, provide them with guidance, teach them and assess their work, fairly and with care, so they will make the best of their academic potential.
  • To provide a challenging and supportive intellectual environment that is international and culturally diverse.

Students taking the Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies MSc should, specifically:

  • Gain an outline understanding of the medical and cultural context in which psychoanalysis began, together with its development over the following century
  • Become familiar with the major theoretical and clinical works of Sigmund Freud
  •  Become aware of the central ideas characterising different theoretical groupings emerging from Freudian psychoanalysis including those deriving from Jacques Lacan and modern French psychoanalysis, Melanie Klein, the British Independent Group and the British Contemporary Freudian group.
  • Undertake thematic teaching that addresses concepts such as trauma and psychopathology, looking at these areas from a variety of theoretical perspectives.
  • Study psychoanalytic thinking in relation to psychopathology, clinical technique, philosophy, and the applications of psychoanalytic ideas to other disciplines, including cinema and literature.
  • Through being taught by practicing analysts, become aware of how theory is rooted in clinical work.

Students entering this programme come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some enter the programme after undertaking psychotherapy training to deepen their theoretical understanding. Others come to it with little knowledge of psychoanalysis, perhaps considering training in the future, or wanting to relate psychoanalytic ideas to theoretical study in related disciplines.

Over the last sixteen years the programme has accepted applicants who have previously worked or studied in the following areas: Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Philosophy, Psychiatry, English Literature, Fine Arts, Women's Studies, Economics, Politics, Social Science, History of Philosophy and Science, Anthropology, Theology, Film, Media and Cultural Studies, Law, Journalism, Investment Banking, Television and Radio Production, Publishing and Marketing.

Our applicants range in age from graduates coming straight from university, to more mature individuals who are maybe looking to either change career direction or enhance their current career by deepening their understanding of the subject. The programme attracts many International students and in the past students have come from India, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Singapore, America, Greece, Taiwan, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, as well as the UK.


The MSc is not a clinical programme, but provides an interesting background to formal clinical training and some students pursue this option. Many students continue with their academic studies at doctoral level either at UCL or elsewhere. The Psychoanalysis Unit runs an MPhil/PhD in Psychoanalytic Studies and has over twenty five doctoral students. The Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology runs both an MPhil/PhD and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Other students have gone on to do training in Psychotherapy, Child Psychotherapy or Counselling. Others return to their professional careers.

Some career advice can be offered to students in individual discussion with the Programme Director and Programme Tutor, who may be able to arrange for the student to have further discussion with colleagues, or to obtain fuller information about options (e.g. professional training or study for a PhD) from relevant sources. Students should also be aware of the careers advice available through UCL Careers Office.

Clinical Training

Applicants should be aware that the MSc Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies is a non-clinical programme. Although the programme certainly provides a valuable background to clinical training in psychoanalysis or psychotherapy, and we are in a good position to offer advice on this progression, it is a nevertheless a different undertaking.

It must also be emphasised that this is a university programme conforming to the standards and customs of University College London, run by the Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology at UCL. Thus, although the programme is taught primarily by psychoanalysts belonging to the British Psychoanalytical Society, it is not part of the range of educational courses offered by the Society itself. In particular, it must be understood that this is not a clinical training in psychoanalysis, such as the Society itself offers. The Society does, however, certainly welcome applications for training from students or graduates of this programme, who need not be deterred by being younger or less clinically experienced than many who train to become psychoanalysts. Any applicants who might be interested in exploring this possibility are welcome to contact Dr Liz Allison, Dr Christine English, or the British Psychoanalytical Society directly, to discuss the options.