XP07A - Main, Thomas Forrest (1911-1990) psychiatrist and psychoanalyst


Thomas Forrest Main was born on 25 February 1911 in Johannesburg, his father, a mine manager, having emigrated there from England. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 his mother returned to Tyneside with Main and his two sisters, while his father stayed and joined the South African army. Main won a scholarship to the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1922, where he was regarded as an excellent scholar with particular interests in poetry and classical music and was also an outstanding rugby player. At the age of 16 he won a scholarship to the Medical College of the University of Durham, graduating with Honours in 1933 and obtaining his doctorate in 1938. While at medical school, Main met his future wife, Agnes Mary (Molly) McHaffie, and they married on 27 February 1937. Main had read The Interpretation of Dreams when he was still at school and he was greatly influenced by James Spence, paediatrician at Newcastle medical school. This decided him to specialise in psychiatry and having gained a Diploma in Psychological Medicine from Dublin in 1936, he obtained a post as consultant psychiatrist at Gateshead Mental Hospital in Northumberland.

During the Second World War, Main became convinced about psychoanalysis and he had a year's analysis with Susan Isaacs. His interests in the Army were in the areas of officer selection, the handling of delinquents and misfits and the maintenance of morale. He advised on morale in the North African campaign but, after a contretemps with Field Marshal Montgomery in which he was accused of attributing cowardice to Monty’s men, he returned to become psychiatric adviser to the 21st Army Group, planning for psychiatric services for the Normandy invasion. He studied the morale of paratroopers by training with them, making several jumps and visiting the front line in France in order to experience battle conditions at first hand. A Lieutenant-Colonel by the end of the war, Main went to work at the Northfield Army Hospital for the treatment of war neuroses, where the idea of the therapeutic community was born. While there he was head-hunted for the Cassel Hospital for Functional Nervous Disorders and became Medical Director there in 1946. He worked there for some 30 years where he conceived the term ‘therapeutic community' and developed the idea, involving the whole community in consultation.

Training as a psychoanalyst under Dr Michael Balint, he was supervised by Anna Freud, Melanie Klein and Paula Heimann. Tom Main was also the architect of the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine, of which he was made Life President. He also became vice-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, co-editor of the British Journal of Medical Psychology and had many other honours including various fellowships and travelling professorships. His eldest daughter, the psychoanalyst Dr Jennifer Johns, persuaded him to publish the most important of his papers in his book The Ailment and other Psycho-Analytical Essays, which was published shortly before Main died in Barnes, London on 29 May 1990, aged 79.

ReferencesHayley, T.T. (1991). Thomas Forrest Main (1911-1990). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 72:719-722.
Malcolm Pines, 'Main, Thomas Forrest (1911-1990)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [accessed 6 Dec 2004:].

Published by the The Archives of the British Psychoanalytical Society,
With support from The Wellcome Trust
Listed by Andy Blake
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Updated 29 August 2008

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