Donald Woods Winnicott: Biography and Psychoanalytic Legacy

The mother-child relationship is the first that human beings establish and one of the most, if not the most important, for the development of the future man or woman. This bond, which begins to be forged during pregnancy, will mark the child’s model of interaction with the world and his understanding of reality as well as the social and emotional bond with others.

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

    Winnicott biography: his early years

    Donald Woods Winnicott was born in Plymouth in 1896. Son of Frederick Winnicott, a businessman and politician who would come to be regarded as a gentleman and who would transmit to his son the importance of not adhering to dogmas, and of Elizabeth Martha Winnicott, he was the youngest and the only man in three brothers. .

    Winnicott began his studies at the age of 14 at Leys College, Cambridge, then enrolled at the University of Cambridge in medicine. During World War I he was recruited and served as a surgeon. After completing his service, he was able to finish his career by specializing in pediatrics. During this race already begins to take an interest in Freudian psychoanalysis.

    In 1923 he married Alice Taylor and went to work at Paddington Green Children’s Hospital 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 is consolidated.

    Contact with Melanie Klein

    Once the analysis with Strachey was completed and he wanted to continue to understand and train in psychoanalysis and especially his links with children, Winnicott would receive the recommendation to contact Melanie Klein.

    He began to train with the author, to whom he also offered to analyze it. Klein refuses and in turn suggests that Winnicott analyze his son Eric, under his supervision. The end result was that Eric’s analysis was accepted but without Klein’s supervision. In this way, a somewhat turbulent relationship began between Winnicott and Klein, who debated between friendship and conflict. Winnicott also began working with some patients.

    Melanie Klein and Winnicott would differ in several ways, Such as whether or not to include parents in the analysis (whereas for Winnicott this was essential for Klein not because of the belief that anxiety is due to projection and introjection performed by child and it has nothing to do with the actual figure of the parent) or the importance of providing external stimulation.

    Over time, a confrontation between the followers of Melanie Klein and those of Anna Freud would occur within the psychoanalytic school of the moment, which had a different vision of psychoanalytic treatment, which although it came from the old resurfaced at this time. period in the Psychoanalytic Society of London. . In this conflict Donald Woods Winnicott would not take a stand neither for one nor for the other, to impose itself as independent with ideas which brought it closer to the two positions.

    Second World War and psychoanalytic development

    During World War II, Winnicott studied the effects of parental separation on children, also participating in child protection programs in shelters facing the risk of bombardment. He would also be interested in the changes of minors when returning to the side of their relatives.

    Some time later, he would separate from his wife, in 1949. In 1951, he would remarry Clare Britton, who would be analyzed by Klein after his former therapist emigrated to Canada. They would fail 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 has also worked with psychotic patients. This author’s opposition to treatments such as electroshock to both these types of patients and other types of patients is also well known.

    Throughout this period, his work evolved, incorporating different concepts based both on Klein’s theory, the more orthodox postulates of Anna Freud, and pediatric practice. His contribution was of great importance in the development of psychoanalysis.

    Winnicott died in 1971 from cardiac arrest.

    Contributions to psychoanalysis

    Throughout his career, Winnicott will develop his own thinking of great relevance in the psychoanalytic field, based on various concepts of both Kleinian influence and more orthodox positions in psychoanalytic work.

    Her work has focused on the dyadic mother-son relationshipConsidering the father as a support for the maintenance of the family nucleus. The mother is a key figure in the psychological development of the child, being the emotional behavior of the child that will determine whether the baby can reach his true self by serving as a helper.

    Another aspect that I would take into account is the mother’s holding or holding behavior towards the baby, which allows the baby to gain security and to feel loved by allowing him to integrate the representation of himself. and others.

    This would establish that throughout development the human being goes through different phases in which there is first of all an absolute dependence of the baby on the parents in whom he is unable to contain the anguish, because from the age of six months to begin to realize the need for them and care and express their need, until it finally moves towards increasing independence.

    A concept of great importance that Winnicott created is that of a transitional object such as that which allows the child to establish a beginning of differentiation between self and non-self and which allows him to reduce anxiety in the mother’s absence. endow them with a narcissistic libido and an object libido. Also important are transient phenomena such as stuttering, phenomena and actions that the child does for the same purpose and which allows for gradual individualization and socialization.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Ametller, MT; Díaz, M. and Jiménez, G. (2012). Psychotherapies. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 06. CEDE: Madrid.
    • Kahr, Brett (1999). Donald Woods Winnicott: Portrait and Biography. Madrid: Editorial Biblioteca Nueva.

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