Reading Winnicott…

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A review done for the Association of Child Psychotherapists – The Bulletin, Issue No. 224, September 2011. 

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Caldwell, L. and Joyce, A. (2011) Reading Winnicott.  Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.  (The New Library of Psychoanalysis: Teaching Series)

 The editors of this work – Leslie Caldwell and Angela Joyce – intended to write a ‘scholarly introduction’ to the ideas and work of Winnicott for ‘advanced students’ and practitioners.  They have done far more in this incredibly well integrated contribution – establishing the history of Winnicott’s work, the development of his ideas within the larger psychoanalytic realm, and the application of his ideas to not only our clinical thinking, but also to our understanding of development. 

Details of the dramatic changes in his theoretical understanding of children and development, and his practical application of psychoanalytic ideas to the clinical situation are eloquently contextualized with the historical shifts taking place in not only the British system of thought, but also within the international psychoanalytic environment.

Winnicott’s desire to have psychoanalysis meet a greater audience was evident throughout his career.  The editors comment early in this book on Winnicott’s large interest in social affairs and the ‘lives of ordinary people.’ Winnicott did achieve this goal in his work with non-analysts and in his publications with non-analytic journals  and magazines, as well as his radio broadcasts.  The immense impact within the psychological (psychoanalytic and psychiatric) field was perhaps felt most in Winnicott’s emphasis on play – as an essential part or element of creative living.  This impact is also evident in our conceptual understanding of ‘normal development’ –  in several theoretical schools, in paediatric work, in formulations about treatment of delinquency,  and brief psychotherapeutic efforts, to name just a few.  Play as a criterion of health has permeated our socially accepted notions of psychological wellness, influenced our views about ‘cure’ within our clinical work with patients, shaped our diagnostic considerations . 

I would add here that this contribution of Caldwell and Joyce has opened up access to an even wider audience of professionals and scholars, in that it made the ideas of D.W. Winnicott available to those that have not had the luxury of (or the time for?) studying the intricacies and nuances of psychoanalytic developmental thought.  The potential for fusing his ideas with those of other disciplines is greatly enhanced as a result of this publication.  To this end, Winnicott’s very particular perspective on development, and especially his thoughts on the importance of play – of developing the capacity for concern, of empathy and in turn, democratic citizenship – each of these have been embraced in the recent writing by the philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum – a work that is concerned with education and ultimately democracy.[1]  Nussbaum cites Winnicott’s belief in the importance of play in shaping democratic citizenship, drawing on play as a ‘precondition’ of developing concern.  This capacity to “…imagine what the experience of another might be like” (in play) is crucial to the developmental unfolding of concern, of empathy, and ethics. Providing this basis through the developing capacity for play is fundamental for a healthy democracy.  It is in play, Nussbaum states, that empathy and reciprocity is developed – and in turn these activities have enormous  developmental consequence in the confidence and trust within the child.  As Winnicott emphasized, these components of play, of concern, and of empathy are critical to the shaping of citizenship within a democratic society. 

The focus on Winnicott’s distinctiveness in this work by Caldwell and Joyce affords all of us a unique opportunity to apply his ideas and his work to our conversations in a widening range of disciplines – and gives us a new appreciation of this individual’s extraordinary gift for understanding the development of human character. 

Rudy Oldeschulte


[1] Though Nussbaum’s* work was published prior to the publication of Reading Winnicott, I am referring to the need for such works as Caldwell and Joyce’s Reading Winnicott to clarify psychoanalytic thought for scholars in diverse disciplines of study.  *Nussbaum, M.C. (2010) Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton University Press. 

Rudy Oldeschulte

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  1. Pingback: Reading Winnicott… | Free psychology

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