04 February 2022

Manuela Utrilla (1935-2022)

Manuela Utrilla:  A generous and fertile Delta of life

By Milagros Cid

I don’t know if there is any task more painful and at the same time more comforting than composing an emotional memory of someone as beloved as Manuela was. She left us on 4 February 2022 with the serenity, courage and wisdom that marked her professional and personal history, leaving a great void   in our hearts and in the institutional life of the APM.

I will try to present a brief portrait of her professional life, which will be inevitably incomplete and panoramic, since it was so wide and versatile.

After completing her studies in medicine at the Complutense University in Madrid and following a brief period with Lopez Ybor, she decided to continue her training outside of Spain, where there were other opportunities and a different social and cultural atmosphere.

She began her career in Brussels, in the Neuropsychiatric Center of Brussels (CNP) with Professor Titeca, where she became familiar with the severe pathologies of psychiatric in-patients investigating the interaction between mental disorders and electroencephalographic alterations. In this sense, as Freud did, she went from neurology to psychoanalysis.

To begin her training as a child psychiatrist she moved to Geneva where she trained with J. de Ajuriaguerra. Once qualified as a child psychiatrist, she was the head of the team at a Pedagogical Medical Center (CMP).

She received her doctorate in medicine and her qualification as a child psychiatrist at the University of Geneva, a qualification that was necessary to work as a child psychiatrist in Switzerland.  

During this time, she created a day hospital for autistic children (Eole, after the Greek god of the wind). These experiences and her work on multidisciplinary teams familiarized her with group and institutional processes which have been the object of numerous publications translated to various languages. (Some of them are currently edited in French, English, Italian and Greek.)

In parallel with these activities, she trained as an analyst in Geneva where she was supervised by M. Roche, and in Lyon, at a top-rated analytical center, where she was supervised by J. Cosnier, J. Bergeret, and J. Guillain, among others, thanks to the smooth exchange that then existed between Geneva and Lyon and between Lyon in Paris. S. Lebovici and other Parisian analysts regularly visited Geneva and Lyon, in a climate of intellectual stimulation that produces a certain nostalgia.

Her contact with R. Diatkine, who regularly visited Geneva to train in child psychoanalysis took place in this context, which was complemented by frequent scientific exchange meetings in Paris.

With R. Diatkine and S. Lebovici she also became familiar with the practice of child psychoanalytic psychodrama.

She was a professor at the school of Social Studies in Geneva.

During this period, she moved to New York to study first-hand the theories and work of M. Mahler. She spent a month collaborating with Mahler’s team, which included P. Kernberg and A. Bergman, who were known for their work on child psychoanalysis and autism, respectively.

When she returned to Madrid, she continued practicing psychodrama with groups in the Child psychiatry department at La Paz Hospital under the direction of Dr. Vicente and at La Concepción clinic where Dr. Rallo’s psychiatric department represented a psychoanalytic reference and training center, organizing at the same period several groups in private practice, which many of us had the privilege of attending.

She also collaborated as a teacher at Prof. A. Fernandez’s university chair, giving classes on group theory.

In the Madrid Psychoanalytic Association (APM) from the very beginning she carried out an important work in training and institutional tasks. She was a committed supervisor and analyst. I believe that her clinical acuity, her finesse, and her capacity to understand unconscious processes  were related to her freedom of thought, that she talk about so often, in addition to her poetic way of thinking, perceptible also  in her scientific writings,  in a privileged harmony with her solid and rigorous theoretical and clinical personal training,

Through her close working and friendship with D. Widlöcher, she promoted the organization of   a clinical group with the Psychoanalytic Association of France (APF), the APM-APF group, or the APF-APM, depending on where the group was meeting, once a year. This group lasted more than 10 years and left an unforgettable memory for its dynamism and richness in its participants.

Her profound institutional commitment developed both in the APM, where she held different positions of responsibility serving as Secretary, Director of the Institute, Director of the Journal, Director of Publications, and President; as well as in the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) where she was Chair of a Sponsoring Committee for the Psychoanalytic Society for Research and Training (SPRF), member of the Committee for Study of the Rules, and European Representative to the Board of the IPA.

In the European Psychoanalytical Federation (EPF), under the leadership of E. Sechaud, she was representative for Latin America, in contact with Latin American Psychoanalytical Federation (FEPAL) to plant the seed of what would later become the Spanish Language Psychoanalysts Encounters. For many years, she was also co-chair of the free clinical groups at all EPF Conferences, as well as participating as a principal speaker in various EPF congresses.  

She collaborated actively with European Society for Child and Adolescent Psychoanalysis (SEPEA), where she was a member of the Board of Directors for many years and served as a representative of SEPEA to its equivalent Swiss society (ASUPEA), carrying out intensive training activity in conferences and supervision, specifically in Versailles, where she travelled regularly to direct a group of clinical case development. She was named Member of Honor of the SEPEA, which gave her enormous satisfaction.

Her extensive written scientific work, demonstrated by her many books (15 as sole author and 22 in collaboration) and more than 100 articles published in national and international scientific publications show her creative versatility and her intense intellectual curiosity. She always approached different topics, interweaving her intense intellectual curiosity with her clinical practice and her integrated and living meta-psychology.

In addition to her extensive professional career in the field of psychoanalysis, I would like to highlight other important elements of her vital attitude and her love of life, which would not be the exclusive domain of science.

She was a tireless traveler, an avid reader, an intrepid swimmer, a passionate music-lover, and an imaginative and colorist painter, as well as being an excellent host, faithful friend, and world-spanning chef, to the delight of her friends.

Her activity as a writer has also been demonstrated in various books of poetry, one of which she wrote in French, entitled Delta: la mort d’une rivière? (Delta: the death of a river?) where she unfolds in a beautiful way certain reflections on life and death from a serene and vital perspective, which at this moment is so comforting to read.

She also wrote two novels, with a third that was practically completed, and various books of poetry. These books were only published under her name after she retired from her clinical practice due to her conception of analyst-patient ethics. Her book on Melancholic constellations is pending publication and is expected for September, a date which Manuela looked forward to with impatience and delight after a long germination period. She was also preparing another on countertransference, in an extraordinary demonstration of her capacity for thought and her love for knowledge and investigation.

I hope that this portrait serves as a small homage to the figure of our beloved, admired, and respected colleague and friend Manuela Utrilla, who has enriched us so much with her vitality, her knowledge, and her wisdom. Along with the pain of her loss she has left us, in addition to her important scientific legacy, a beautiful and deep life lesson, expressed in the first stanza of a poem she wrote:


La mort n’est pas une solitude

Mais un jardin fleuri

Au fond de l’Ocean

Ou viennent s’enlacer les Deltas de la vie


Death is not a solitude

But a blooming garden  

At the bottom of the Ocean

Where the Deltas of life come to embrace

A few words for Manuela, in the name of the Executive Board of the Madrid Psychoanalytical Association (APM)

From the Executive Board of the APM, we would like to express our deep sorrow over the loss of our beloved Manuela Utrilla.

Manuela was a great psychoanalyst and a great person, an example of creativity, love of knowledge, and passion for psychoanalysis. She was a tireless worker and a dedicated advocate for the ideals that she believed in and transmitted to those around her with enthusiasm and generosity. She embarked on, and embarked us on, An Odyssey of Thought, which would allow Weaving Dreams, eventually landing in a port where “wisdom emerges when the love of knowledge and the knowledge of love unite”, in the words of Raimon Panikkar, which she made her own when her book An Odyssey of Thought was published.

Remembering together the beautiful and profound words she so generously shared with us, and which could not help but move those who heard them, we recall her final statement in the tribute offered to her by the APM. Manuela said: “Without limits, there is no thought, without thought there is no freedom, and without freedom there is no love”. We believe that Manuela is one of those human beings who leave a deep footprints in those of us who had the pleasure and good fortune to know her, listen to her, and learn from her, and in those footprints we can continue walking together.

Many thanks, dear Manuela, for your important legacy.

Mercedes Puchol

President of Madrid Psychoanalytical Association

Manuela Utrilla Roblès

Le Bureau de la SEPEA a la grande tristesse de faire part de la disparition, le 4 février 2022, de sa collègue et amie le Dr Manuela Utrilla Roblès, Membre Titulaire Formateur de l’Association Psychanalytique de Madrid et Membre de la SEPEA.

Née le 29 août 1935 en Espagne, Manuela Utrilla obtient sa licence en médecine à Madrid en 1961.

En 1962, elle part pour Bruxelles où elle travaille comme Assistante en électroencéphalographie, devient Directrice Adjointe du Service d’électroencéphalographie du Centre Neuropsychiatrique de Bruxelles et écrit son mémoire de Doctorat sur les liens entre toxicomanie et schizophrénie.

En 1966 elle part pour la Suisse, afin d’effectuer une spécialisation en psychiatrie et psychothérapie infantile à l’Université de Genève, notamment avec les Pr. J de Ajuriaguerra, René Diatkine, Gaston Garrone et René Henny. Médecin assistant dans le service de psychiatrie du Pr Julian de Ajuriaguerra, elle dirige ensuite un hôpital de jour pour enfants psychotiques et autistes dans la région genevoise et enseigne à l’Institut d’Études Sociales de Genève, tout en étant chercheuse boursière du Conseil de l’Europe pour l’investigation des institutions thérapeutiques. Elle occupe plusieurs postes de responsabilité et d’enseignement au Service Médico-Pédagogique de la Ville de Genève, tout en se formant à la psychothérapie de groupe et au psychodrame analytique.

Parallèlement, elle entreprend une analyse personnelle et une formation analytique à la Société Suisse de Psychanalyse, qu’elle termine en 1982.

Durant toutes ces années, elle a également suivi les activités du futur Groupe Lyonnais de la Société Psychanalytique de Paris, ainsi que les divers Séminaires de Perfectionnement, Congrès Psychanalytiques de Langue Française et Congrès de la Fédération Européenne de Psychanalyse.

En 1983, elle rentre à Madrid où elle est nommée Professeur à l’Université de Madrid et Membre Associé de l’Association Psychanalytique de Madrid (APM) en 1983, puis Membre Titulaire en 1986, Membre chargée d’Enseignement et Directrice de l’Institut de Psychanalyse de l’APM en 1993. Jusqu’aux dernières années de sa vie, elle a participé très activement à la direction et au développement de l’Association Psychanalytique de Madrid tout particulièrement en psychanalyse de l’Enfant et de l’Adolescent.

Elle a également dirigé la Revue de Psychanalyse de l’Association Psychanalytique de Madrid, développé l’enseignement et la pratique en psychosomatique à Madrid, parcouru le monde pour découvrir les différentes manières dont étaient organisés les soins dans les institutions psychiatriques, participé aux activités de la Fédération Européenne de Psychanalyse (FEP) et de l’Association Psychanalytique Internationale (API) pour coordonner les formations psychanalytiques en Europe du Sud…

Ses liens avec la communauté francophone de psychanalyse sont multiples et fidèles. Membre de la Société Suisse de Psychanalyse avant de rentrer en Espagne et de devenir Membre de l’Association Psychanalytique de Madrid, elle a participé régulièrement et activement aux Congrès des Psychanalyse de Langue Française, travaillé tant avec la SPP qu’avec L’APF, et avec diverses organisations dans le champ de la psychiatrie infanto-juvénile, de la thérapie familiale, du psychodrame et de la thérapie institutionnelle.

Enfin, elle a donné une place toute particulière à sa collaboration avec la SEPEA, dont elle était très fière d’être membre, puis membre d’honneur. Outre sa collaboration scientifique à nos rencontres, Manuela a accepté plusieurs charges institutionnelles. Notamment, en tant que membre de notre Conseil d’Administration, elle a assuré pendant plusieurs années les liens entre la SEPEA et l’ASUPEA, société suisse « sœur » de notre association européenne.

Manuela Utrilla laisse une œuvre écrite considérable, non seulement dans le domaine de la psychanalyse – vingt livres personnels et autant de contributions à des ouvrages collectifs – mais également dans le domaine de la littérature – deux romans – et de la poésie – quatre recueils de poèmes.

Nous disposons de plusieurs de ses articles en français, notamment dans la Revue Française de Psychanalyse, la Revue Française de Psychosomatique, les Libres Cahiers pour la Psychanalyse et Le Coq Héron. En revanche, nous n’avons accès qu’à un seul de ses livres, publié grâce à Elsa Schmid-Kitsikis dans sa collection aujourd’hui disparue : « Traiter l’enfant en institution. Le point de vue d’une psychanalyste ». … Et nous serions bien contents de pouvoir découvrir dans notre langue, par exemple : « Qui sont les coupables ? Parents, enfants et thérapeutes. Interactions », « Psychodrame analytique d’un enfant asthmatique », « En tissant des rêveries. Rencontres avec parents et enfants », « Corruption, limites et psychanalyse », ou « Une odyssée de la pensée. Influences, liberté de penser et violence » ou encore « Leaders et leaderships », « Psychanalyse et mal-être de l’homme dans le monde actuel », « Convulsions dans les institutions psychanalytiques » en trois tomes, et enfin son dernier livre « Constellations mélancoliques dans l’odyssée de la pensée », avec la collaboration de Sabin Aduriz et de Milagros Cid.

Lors de l’hommage que lui a rendu l’Association Psychanalytique de Madrid en octobre 2021, le Dr Milagros Cid Sanz dit que l’écriture de Manuela est une ode à la vie psychanalytique, où l’auteur « montre que penser est bien différent d’approuver, de discuter ou de classifier… penser, c’est créer ». « … Sans limites – écrit Manuela – il n’y a pas de pensée, sans pensée, pas de liberté, et sans liberté, pas d’amour ». Elle voit dans l’écriture de Manuela son optique sur l’éthique et la psychanalyse, une réappropriation du savoir du corps, de la sexualité, des affects, du langage, de l’imagination et du désir. Elle souligne aussi la poésie et l’humour qui imprègnent son approche des situations, son équilibre permanent entre comédie et tragédie, illusion et réalité, avec « … sa manière exquise d’échapper à ses désillusions avec l’espoir qu’il ne s’agisse pas seulement d’utopies… »

Manuela était porteuse de lumière, de chaleur et d’amour. Elle avait un respect de l’autre et une délicatesse dans la relation humaine qui nous manquera cruellement, mais qui nous servira aussi désormais d’exemple de ce que la psychanalyse peut apporter de meilleur à l’humanité.

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