Donald Winnicott: An Archive of Talks on the BBC. Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, June 2013
Article from Art Therapy Online by Beth Hoyes, Helen Omand, and Debra Anna Salim entitled: A Collective Response to the Collected Works of DW Winnicott
Extract below from the chapter, “Psychoanalytic, Analytic and Object Relations Approaches” by Cathy Malchiodi
Donald Winnicott (1896-1971)
Donald Woods Winnicott was a 20th century pediatrician and psychoanalyst who studied child development.
Donald Woods Winnicott was born on April 7, 1896 in Plymouth, England. His father was a prosperous merchant, and his mother suffered from depression during Winnicott’s youth. Winnicott was the youngest child, and his recollections of his childhood are filled with memories of trying to lift the darkness in his home. This early experience with mental health problems led Winnicott toward helping other people troubled with psychological problems.
Winnicott began studying medicine at Jesus College in Cambridge in 1914, and he joined the Royal Navy in 1917. He completed his medical degree at the University of London’s St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College. In 1923, Winnicott began working as a pediatrician at the Paddington Green Children’s Hospital, where he remained until 1962.
Winnicott developed an interest in psychoanalysis and he studied under Melanie Klein, a highly influential psychoanalyst who refuted many of Freud’s theories on child development. Winnicott became a child analyst in 1935 and a full member of the British Psychoanalytic Society in 1936. Over time, Winnicott distanced himself from Klein’s work, and he developed his own theories on child development.
CONTRIBUTION TO PSYCHOLOGY
Winnicott developed several theories and concepts that helped shape the way in which psychoanalysis is practiced today. Winnicott and his wife used the term “holding” to refer to the supportive environment that a therapist creates for a client. The concept can be likened to the nurturing and caring behavior a mother engages in with her child that results in a sense of trust and safety. Winnicott believed that this “holding environment” was critical to the therapeutic environment and could be created through the therapist’s direct engagement with a client. Winnicott also believed that antisocial behaviors developed from a person’s having been deprived of a holding environment in childhood and from feelings of insecurity.
Winnicott also developed the concept of the transitional object. Transitional objects include items like security blankets, special dolls or toys, and other sentimental items. A transitional object can help a child feel safe and secure, for example, while gaining independence. Transitional objects typically spring up during childhood as children begin the process of individuation, or differentiation of self from others, but they can also help older children, and even adults, who are facing a transition of some kind.
“The Location of Cultural Experience” by Donald Winnicott in Playing and Reality
Winnicott, D. (1971) Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock.
“I have claimed that when we witness an infant’s employment of a transitional object, the first non-me possession, we are witnessing both the child’s first use of a symbol and the first experience of play” (p. 130).
“The place where cultural experience is located is in the potential space between the individual and the environment (originally the object). The same can be said of playing. Cultural experience begins with creative living first manifested in play.” (p.135)
“The potential space is at the interplay between there being nothing but me and there being objects and phenomena outside omnipotent control”. (p. 135)
The potential space happens only in relation to a feeling of confidence on the part of the baby, that is, confidence related to the dependability of the mother-figure or environmental elements, confidence being the evidence of dependability that is being introjected.” (p. 135)
“The potential space between baby and mother, between child and family, between individual and society or the world, depends on experience which leads to trust. It can be looked upon as sacred to the individual in that it is here that the individual experiences creative living.” (p. 139)
The Squiggle Foundation
The Transitional Object
“Perhaps Winnicott’s best known idea is his explanation of the child’s habit of becoming very attached to a favourite blanket or toy. Interaction with this material object tends to lessen anxiety and also help the child adapt to change. Many parents will testify that what is a smelly bit of old blanket to them may become something very important to the child. Changing this object in any way may cause the child anxiety and distress.
Winnicott emphasises that it is not the child’s highly-valued article that is (in itself) ‘transitional’, but rather that the transitional object represents an achievement in development which marks the beginning of the infant’s perception of the mother as someone outside and separate from him or herself.
The arrival of the transitional object in the child’s emotional life is highly significant, because it is a sign of ‘personal growth’ and ‘creative living’. In this way, a particular blanket, for example, comes to be regarded by the child as both an ordinary blanket and as something special and almost magical.
Good-enough care of the child involves an adult’s understanding and appreciation of this idea.”
Why Britain’s greatest psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, loved doodles?
Child-parent relationship therapy: A dialogue with Winnicott’s theory
A Critical Examination of Bion’s Concept of Containment and Winnicott’s concept of Holding, and their Psychotherapeutic Implications