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Donald Woods Winnicott: biography and psychoanalytic legacy

Donald Woods Winnicott: biography and psychoanalytic legacy

June 1, 2023

The mother-child relationship is the first that the human being establishes and one of the most, if not the most, importance for the development of the future man or woman. This bond, which is beginning to build during pregnancy, will mark the pattern of interaction of the baby with the world and their understanding of reality as well as social and affective bonding with others.

This type of relationship has been studied from different perspectives, such as psychoanalysis, being Donald Woods Winnicott one of the authors who focused his work on her. In this article we are going to make a brief review of the biography of this important author.

  • Related article: "History of Psychology: authors and main theories"

Biography of Winnicott: his early years

Donald Woods Winnicott was born in Plymouth during the year 1896 . Son of Frederick Winnicott, merchant and politician who would get the consideration of Sir and who would convey to his son the importance of not being tied to dogmas, and Elizabeth Martha Winnicott, was the youngest and only male of three brothers.

Winnicott began studying at the age of 14 years at the Leys College in Cambridge, and later enrolled at the University of Cambridge, in the career of medicine. During the First World War he was recruited and served as a surgeon. After completing his service he was able to finish his career, specializing in the pediatric branch. During this race and begins to show interest in Freudian psychoanalysis .

In 1923 he married Alice Taylor, in addition to going to work at the children's hospital in Paddington Green where he would work for about forty years. That same year would begin to be analyzed by James Strachey while his career as a pediatrician was consolidating.

Start contact with Melanie Klein

Once concluded the analysis with Strachey and interested in continuing to understand and be trained in psychoanalysis and especially in their relationship with children, Winnicott would receive the recommendation to contact Melanie Klein.

He started to train with the author, to whom I would propose that he also analyze him. Klein refused and would propose that Winnicott analyze his son Eric, under his supervision. The final result was that Eric's analysis was accepted but without Klein's supervision. In this way a somewhat convulsive relationship between Winnicott and Klein began, which was torn between friendship and conflict. Also, Winnicott started working with some patients.

Melanie Klein and Winnicott diverged in various aspects , as the need or not to include parents in the analysis (while for Winnicott it was essential for Klein not due to the belief that the anguish is due to the projection and introjection performed by the child and this has nothing to do with the real figure of the parent) or the importance of the provision of external stimulation.

Over time, a confrontation between the followers of Melanie Klein and those of Anna Freud would arise within the psychoanalytic school of the moment, which had a different view of the psychoanalytic treatment, which, although it came from the past, resurfaced at this time in the Society Psychoanalytic of London. In this conflict Donald Woods Winnicott would not take a position by neither, establishing itself as independent with ideas that brought him closer to both positions.

World War II and psychoanalytic development

During the Second World War Winnicott studied the effects of the separation of parents in children, also participating in programs of accommodation of minors in places of reception before the risk of bombings. He would also be interested in the changes of the minors when they return to their families.

Later he would be separated from his wife, in 1949. In 1951 he would remarry Clare Britton, who would be analyzed by Klein after emigrating to Canada his previous therapist. They would not be able to establish a good relationship, considering the first that the second was a bad analyst and the second that Clare was too aggressive to be analyzed.

Donald Woods Winnicott also worked with psychotic patients . It is also known the opposition of this author to treatments such as electroshock both these and other types of patients.

During all that time his work evolved, incorporating different concepts based on Klein's theory, Anna Freud's more orthodox postulates and pediatric practice. His contribution was of great importance in the development of psychoanalysis.

Winnicott died in 1971 because of a cardiac arrest.

Contributions to psychoanalysis

Throughout his career, Winnicott would develop his own thought of great relevance in the psychoanalytic field, based on various concepts derived from both the Kleinian influence and more orthodox positions within the psychoanalytic work.

His work focused on the dyadic mother-child relationship , considering the father a support for the maintenance of the family nucleus. The mother is a fundamental figure in the psychological development of the child, being the emotional behavior of the child that will determine if the baby can reach his true self by serving as auxiliary.

Another aspect that would take into account is the holding or maintenance behavior of the mother to the baby, which allows the baby to acquire security and feel loved allowing him to integrate the representation of himself and others.

It would establish that throughout the development the human being goes through different phases in that there is at first an absolute dependence of the baby towards the parents in which it is not able to contain the anguish, so from six months start to be aware of the need of these and their care and express their need, until finally it is advancing towards an increasing independence.

A concept of great importance that Winnicott created is that of transitional object as that which allows the child to establish a differentiation between the ego and the non-ego and which allows him to reduce the anxiety in the absence of the mother to the child. provide them with narcissistic libido and libido . Also important are transitional phenomena such as babbling, phenomena and actions that the child does with the same purpose and that allow the progressive individuation and socialization.

Bibliographic references:

  • Almond, M.T .; Díaz, M. & Jiménez, G. (2012). Psychotherapies CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 06. CEDE: Madrid.
  • Kahr, Brett (1999). Donald Woods Winnicott: Portrait and biography. Madrid: New Library Editorial.

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