▸  Biographical Sketch

 ▸  Biographical Narrative


Michael Guy Thompson, Ph.D. (born 1947), spent his childhood in Havana, Cuba where his family was part of the small ex-patriot American community in the glory days of the pre-Castro, Fulgencio Batista era. After the Castro revolution, at age 14, he and his family returned to their native Tennessee in 1960, where he attended the Baylor School for Boys in Chattanooga. After high school he was drafted into the Army and served in the U. S. Army Security Agency in Vietnam and, later, finished his tour of duty in Washington, D. C. Dr. Thompson’s experiences in Vietnam ignited his interest in existentialism and the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Martin Heidegger, which he has continued to develop and write about since.

On release from service in 1970 he moved to San Francisco, at the height of the transition from the Beat to Hip countercultural movements inaugurated by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and others. During this time he experimented with hallucinogenic drugs and other forms of consciousness-raising techniques, including meditation practices, phenomenology and psychoanalysis. During this period he was introduced to the work of the radical Scottish psychoanalyst, R. D. Laing, whose integration of existential and psychoanalytic thinking mirrored Dr. Thompson’s intellectual development. After studying for two years at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco he decided to abandon his graduate studies and relocate to London in 1973 in order to work with Laing and his colleagues at the Philadelphia Association.

Dr. Thompson’s seven years in London were seminal in his intellectual and professional development. During the 1970s Laing was the most famous psychiatrist in the world, renowned for his unconventional approach to working with schizophrenia. After having trained as a psychoanalyst at the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1960, Laing created his own institute, the Philadelphia Association, where he developed his experimental treatment program at Kingsley Hall as well as a unique training institute devoted to integrating phenomenology and psychoanalysis. Laing, along with Timothy Leary in the U.S. and Stan Groff in Czechoslovakia, became internationally renowned for the use of LSD in the research into the causes of schizophrenia and other psychotic states. Dr. Thompson became an integral part of Laing’s work and lived in one of the post-Kingsley Hall therapeutic communities, Portland Road (see Thompson, 1997, on this website’s list of publications for Thompson’s account of his experiences at Portland Road), for four years while he was training as a psychoanalyst.

In 1980 he returned to San Francisco where he subsequently founded Free Association, Inc., a psychoanalytic salon devoted to integrating phenomenology and psychoanalysis based on his experiences in London. During this period Dr. Thompson published his first two books: THE DEATH OF DESIRE: A STUDY IN PSYCHOPATHOLOGY (1985) and THE TRUTH ABOUT FREUD’S TECHNIQUE: THE ENCOUNTER WITH THE REAL (1994). In each of these well-received books (see reviews elsewhere on this website) Dr. Thompson explored how the phenomenological philosophical tradition provided a more personal perspective on the theory and practice of psychoanalysis, less wedded to the prevailing medical model of conventional psychoanalytic thinking. In 2004 he published his most recent book, THE ETHIC OF HONESTY: THE FUNDAMENTAL RULE OF PSYCHOANALYSIS (2004), where he examines the relationship between authenticity and psychoanalysis from a phenomenological perspective.

In 1998 he joined the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California (PINC) in San Francisco, a recently established psychoanalytic institute that was devoted to a comparative theoretical approach to psychoanalytic training and education. There Dr. Thompson became a Personal and Supervising Analyst and Faculty Member and helped develop PINC’s curriculum, where he introduced a more existential reading of Sigmund Freud. 

Dr. Thompson has been very active in the wider American psychoanalytic community since returning to California in 1980 and has presented his ideas about integrating phenomenology and psychoanalysis at numerous professional conferences over the past three decades. During this period he has served as President of the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education (2000, 2001), as well as the Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology (2003) in San Francisco. He continues to be involved with varied psychoanalytic organizations. 

In 2013 Dr. Thompson organized the R.D. LAING IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY Symposium that convened at Wagner College on Staten Island, New York, in order to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of R.D. Laing's death, featuring speakers who, like himself, worked personally with Laing. This resulted in Dr. Thompson's decision to inaugurate ongoing annual symposia, under the aegis of Free Association, Inc., that convene at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California to honor and continue Laing's legacy. These meetings are intended to bring attention to Dr. Thompson's plans to open a residential therapy center in the San Francisco Bay Area, GNOSIS RETREAT CENTER, modeled on Kingsley Hall and its offshoot, Portland Road.

The Wagner Laing Symposium resulted in a new publication, THE LEGACY OF R.D. LAING: AN APPRAISAL OF HIS CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE (2015), published by Routledge, featuring selected papers from the Wagner College conference. In 2016 Dr. Thompson published another book, THE DEATH OF DESIRE: AN EXISTENTIAL STUDY IN SANITY AND MADNESS (also published by Routledge), a completely revised and expanded revision of the original 1985 edition featuring Dr. Thompson's work with Laing and his experience at Portland Road.

In addition to his publications Dr. Thompson serves on the editorial boards of several professional journals, including Psychoanalytic Psychology, the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, the Journal of European Psychoanalysis, and The Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis. He is the author of more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, and book reviews on phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and schizophrenia, as well as five books, all integrating phenomenological and existential themes into his reading of psychoanalytic theory and practice. Dr. Thompson is currently preparing a new book, HAPPINESS AND CHANCE, that will explore the role of risk and desire in the therapeutic process.

Dr. Thompson is both a prolific author and popular speaker and has lectured extensively throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, Spain, and Australia over the past thirty-five years. He continues to be involved in a number of diverse psychoanalytic organizations (see his Curriculum Vitae, located elsewhere on this website), including the International Psychoanalytic Association, the College of Psychoanalysts (UK), and the Philadelphia Association, London. He currently practices psychoanalysis in San Francisco and lives in Marin County, California.