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Rycroft grew up in Dummer in Hampshire, where his family owned most of the village and his father was "the local representative of both Church and State" . He studied economics and history at Trinity College, Cambridge. He became interested in psychoanalysis and moved his interest to medicine, studying at University College, London and training at Maudsley Hospital.
He was a critic of contemporary psychoanalysis, believing it to be rigid and formulaic. He believed that the ideal of rationality proposed by modern psychiatry alienated the adult from his or her creative inner processes. His work with dream analysis stressed the positive aspects of imagination, and thought imagination could be beneficial to psychic development. In 1968 he resigned from the British Psychoanalytical Society, feeling that "the real power in the Society belonged to people of whose values I did not approve (...) their ways of conducting business and engaging in controversy were entirely alien to me". .
Rycroft was a consultant psychoanalyst at the Tavistock Clinic from 1956 until 1968, and for a period of time was an assistant editor of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and a training analyst with famed Scottish psychologist R.D. Laing.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1973.
His best known book is a Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (1968). Other works include:
- Imagination and Reality,
- Anxiety and Neurosis, Reich (1971),
- The Innocence of Dreams (1979),
- Psychoanalysis and Beyond (1985) and
Rycroft wrote extensively in a wide range of magazines, including The Observer and The New York Review of Books.
- Rycroft, Charles (1985). Psychoanalysis and Beyond, Chatto & Windus., p200
- Fuller, Peter (1985). Introduction to Psychoanalysis and Beyond, Chatto & Windus., p18-21
- Rycroft, Charles (1985). Psychoanalysis and Beyond, Chatto & Windus., p206
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