Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Using Winnicott, Part I

I find no writer more felicitous to read than Winnicott. Immensely prolific, it is as if he is speaking to me spontaneously about things about which he is passionate. He is relatively jargon free, and he relatively rarely refers to other authors. His many ideas are original and profound. My favorite two Winnicottian concepts, because I find them so clinically useful, are survival and transitional space.

In The Use of the Object... (1971, Playing and Reality) Winnicott refers to the necessity of the mother surviving (that is, neither retaliating nor withdrawing) the attacks of the infant if the infant is to see her as an external subject outside his omnipotent control, thereby allowing the infant both a capacity for concern as well as a mitigation of guilt about his aggression. Likewise, in the psychoanalytic situation, the analyst surviving the analysand’s attacks (of the analyst, of the process, and of hope itself) is necessary.

In Transitional Objects and Trsansitional Phenomena (1951) Winnicott notes that a good enough mother never falls to one side of the question of whether the infant created the transitional object or found it external to himself. So, too, he intimates that the good enough analyst does not close the transitional space by imposing the analyst’s reality on the creations and observations of the patient. It is into this transitional space that play is sometimes invited, a play with words, though much like the squiggle game, to imagine together what if.., what would it be like if… and sometimes to enjoy wistfully together what has come into being through pretend.

My great admiration for Winnicott and the enormity of usefulness I have derived from his ideas made my criticism of Chap 4: Playing: Creative Activity and the Search for the Self in Playing and Reality (1971) when re-reading it with students in the TBIPS Development Course, a bit of a surprise to me. I will post next time on the use the class made of his Case Illustration.

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