Everyone likes Donald Woods Winnicott. He relates easily to all the work of Psychoanalysis as well as Analytic Psychology (Jungian Analysis). By bringing our focus to Winnicott as an historical center point, we may compare his work to Freud, Reich, Klein, Bion, Kohut, Jung, relational psychology, affect theory and attachment theory. Winnicott was a remarkable clinician and a writer whose literary voice often creates an image of a thoughtful, intimate disclosure, such as a conversation over tea in the kitchen. For instance, he begins his third chapter in Playing and Reality with this provocative, intriguing sentence: “In this chapter I am trying to explore an idea that has been forced on me by my work, and also forced on me by my own stage of development at the present time, which gives my work a certain colouring.”
Winnicott translates psychological terminology into unpretentious prose. He solidified key thoughts into single, startling sentences, which he develops into paragraphs, as much a poet as a prose writer. One suspects Winnicott struggled with organization, having more a mosaic, intuitive than linear mind. Casual as his style appears, the craftsmanship of individual sentences and often paragraphs condense his thought into a tight clinical structure with an intense focus on the infant/mother couple and the necessary steps toward a formation of a self.
Winnicott was considered an unlikely candidate for enduring fame. Paul Roazen, the gadfly of Psychoanalysis, having interviewed Winnicott, was later puzzled by his posthumous popularity. Roazen considered the more “academic” practitioners a more worthy choice. There is something about Winnicott’s attitude that pokes fun at pretension and undermines the self important seriousness of the “Analyst”. He proclaims in one of his “startling” sentences, “Psychotherapy has to do with two people playing together.”
It makes sense to me that we take time to read Winnicott because of his enduring relevance and his extraordinary, observant care, the result of half a century as a pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Having studied for five years with Melanie Klein (1935-40) and analyzed one of her sons, Winnicott came to differ with Klein and define himself through his agreements and disagreements, a process Klein and her group found unacceptable. The Kleinians, for instance, put a high priority on delivering the exact interpretation. In contrast, Winnicott encouraged the clinician to be patient enough to allow patients to arrive at the interpretation on their own, without stealing away that pleasure. Klein focused on the unconscious phantasy of the infant as the central work, while Winnicott protested that there was no such thing as a child, only a child/mother.