The Institute was initiated during 1946 by a group of major persons of the Tavistock Clinic including Elliott Jaques, Henry Dicks, Leonard Browne, Ronald Hargreaves, John Rawlings Rees, Mary Luff and Wilfred Bion, with Tommy Wilson as chairman, funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Other well-known people that joined the group later were J. D. Sutherland, John Bowlby, Eric Trist, and Fred Emery. Kurt Lewin was an important influence on the work of the Tavistock, according to Eric Trist, who expresses his admiration for Lewin in his autobiography.
One of the most influential people of Institute was the psychoanalyst Isabel Menzies Lyth. Her seminal (1959) paper 'A case study in the functioning of social systems as a defence against anxiety' inspired a whole of organisational theory emphasizing unconscious forces that shape organizational life.
Many of these founding members of the Tavistock Institute went on to play major roles in psychology. John Rawlings Rees became first president of the World Federation for Mental Health. Jock Sutherland became director of the new post-war Tavistock Clinic, when it was incorporated into the newly established British National Health Service during 1946. Ronald Hargreaves became deputy director of the World Health Organization. Tommy Wilson became chairman of the Tavistock Institute. Eric Miller during 1969 became director of the Group Relation Program and in this function he later developed the design of the Nazareth-Conferences.
The Institute is located in Tabernacle Street in Islington, London.
Many well-known psychologists and psychiatrists have worked for the Tavistock Institute over the years, and it became known as a major proponent in Britain for psychoanalysis and the psychodynamic theories of Sigmund Freud and his followers. Other names associated with the Tavistock are Melanie Klein, Carl Gustav Jung, J. A. Hadfield, Beckett, Charles Rycroft, Wilfred Bion, and R. D. Laing.
According to its website, the Institute engages in educational, research, and consultancy work in the social sciences and applied psychology. Its clients are chiefly public sector organisations, including the European Union, several British government departments, and some private clients. The Institute owns Human Relations, the international social sciences journal. It also edits the journal Evaluation.
It provides two Master of Science (MSc) degree courses:Advanced Organisational Consultation, jointly with City University, London
Leading Change and Organizational Development, jointly with the National School of Government and the University of Birmingham
The Tavistock Institute was one of several organisations that emerged from the Tavistock Clinic. This is a source of much confusion, though the facts can be ascertained from the historical account of the Tavistock by Eric Trist, one-time chairman of the Institute.
The Clinic is now part of a National Health Service trust, while the "Tavistock Institute", which once did research of many topics and was funded by many sources, is now a not for profit organization.
The name "Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology", which was the name used for the original parent body, is now used to refer to an organisation that grew out of that parent body but now specialises in couples relationships by the section name of the Tavistock Relationships.
The Tavistock Institute is often associated with conspiracy theories, the most popular of which associate it with The Beatles.
The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories notes that the Tavistock Institute has been named by some theorists in their worldviews, including having a part in "The most extravagant anti-Illuminati conspiracy theory" of John Coleman "known as [the] 'Aquarian Conspiracy'. This totalitarian agenda culminates in the Illuminati 'taking control of education in America with the intent and purpose of utterly and completely destroying it.'" By "'means of rock music and drugs to rebel against the status quo, thus undermining and eventually destroying the family unit'." The Huffington Post also mentioned this idea "from popular conspiracy theorist Dr John Coleman", saying that "The Tavistock Institute is a publicly known British charity founded in 1947, but conspiracy theorists believe the Institute's real purpose is to similarly engineer the world's culture." The Post looks at Coleman's claim that the popularity of The Beatles was an Illuminati plot to advance the "Aquarian Conspiracy".
The Citizens Electoral Council of Australia, a minor far-right party (and part of the LaRouche movement), has alleged that the Institute, acting by the orders of the Royal Family, was responsible for the Port Arthur massacre of 1996, in which 35 people were killed by Martin Bryant.