Psychoanalysis Unit


The Problems of Guilt

02 December 2022–04 December 2022, 3:30 pm–1:00 pm

conference image mantis

Registration is Open: This year, the UCL Psychoanalysis Conference is once again online. Covid and humanity continue to co-evolve; there is some way still to go before it is entirely safe to gather in-person in large numbers. The invasion of a country, like Russia’s of the Ukraine, is different from the invasion of a cell by a virus.

Event Information

Open to



Psychoanalysis Unit

Click Here to Register 

Protean forms and sources of guilt have been known since antiquity.  Today we investigate them with psychoanalysis. In Civilization and its Discontents - a decade after World War I - Freud felt he needed to emphasise the difference that he saw between guilt and remorse (or regret) [1]. In Freud’s view, guilt is a manifestation of the destructive drive which, he had felt driven to conclude, was intrinsic to living things, certainly to human nature. As well as aggression, pleasure in cruel punishments, in inflicting death, it can have a thallium-like quality, producing a deadly feeling which is the negative of what is necessary to feel oneself fully alive.

Therefore, achieving a realistic sense of guilt and responsibility is difficult: guilt always seems either too much or too little, too severe, or too indulgent, the wrong kind, or misdirected.   The avoidance of guilt and responsibility can be tempting, even imperative.  Guilt persecutes inwardly:  it prompts evasion, self-righteousness and blame of others.  It figures in extremes of violence, suicide, or grandiose paranoid delusional states. Guilt plays a great part in individual life and in the affairs of nations and peoples. However, it can lead to great undertakings in the endeavour to repair, create and make reparation.

The main papers in this year’s Conference will examine some of these forms of guilt in the fine detail that psychoanalytic treatments can offer.

The main papers and keynote speakers will be:

On ‘Guilts’, ‘Innocences’ and Responsibility Nicola Abel-Hirsch (British Psychoanalytical Society, UK)

Guilt and its Disavowal Eileen McGinley (British Psychoanalytical Society, UK)       

On Bearing Guilt: A clinical exploration Fakhry Davids (British Psychoanalytical Society, UK)

These will ask: What makes guilt difficult to bear? What causes guilt?  What enables an individual to feel more at ease with guilt and thereby thoughtful about what occasions it?

Since guilt is ubiquitous and powerful in determining mental life, it has innumerable ramifications in our feelings of right and wrong action, punishment and forgiveness, belief in a jurisprudence of a God - or otherwise.

The Parallel Panels can focus on only some of these. Topics will include: 

  • the great sensitivity of infants and children
  • notions of the maternal and paternal superego
  • vulnerability to the acceptance of blame and false accusation
  • guilt as a stimulus for efforts to repair, creativity, reparation, and reconciliation.
  • punishment and guilt-seeking as seen in forensic settings as well as universally, for example, as Dostoevsky understood in Crime and Punishment.
  • the part of guilt in denial, propaganda, and in schisms including wars and oppressions in and between groups, gangs, religions, cultures, nations, and peoples.

More details of format, scope, content, contributors, and chairs of the parallel panels will be posted on the website by late September. If you want to make a contribution, write to us ASAP at events.psychoanalysis@ucl.ac.uk  with an abstract/synopsis of your idea/ proposed contribution. We cannot promise there will be space in the Programme, but we do guarantee its careful reading, and, after asking your consent, its possible inclusion in the Conference Pack.


The Clinical Seminars

Some clinical seminars on the afternoon/evening of Friday 2 December, will be in-person, either at Senate House or seminar leaders’ consulting rooms.

If there is demand, more in-person clinical seminars may be offered. We will continually review safety, adapt plans accordingly, and keep you informed. If you decide to attend an in-person clinical seminar do bear in mind that the Conference on Saturday and Sunday will be on-line only. Next year, we hope all to be in-person once again.

The Clinical Seminars Leaders include Nicola Abel-Hirsch, David Bell, Irma Brenman-Pick, Donald Campbell, Fakhry Davids, Peter Fonagy, Gigliola Fornari Spoto, Mary Hepworth (formerly Mary Target), Francesca Hume, Daniel Pick, Vik Sedlak, David Taylor, and David Tuckett

Chairs and other Contributors will include Liz Allison, David Bell, Catalina Bronstein, Donald Campbell, Serena Heller, Mary Hepworth, David Taylor and others to be announced. 

[1] Respectively Schuld and Reue in the original. See for example p.491 in Freud, S. (1930) DAS UNBEHAGEN IN DER KULTUR. GESAMMELTE WERKE: CHRONOLOGISCH GEORDNET 14:421-506