Donald Winnicott

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
Jump to: navigation, search

Donald Woods Winnicott (7 April,1896 - January 28, 1971) was a pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Born in Plymouth, Devon, England, to a prosperous middle-class Methodist family; the son of Sir Frederick (a merchant) and Elizabeth Martha (Woods) Winnicott. Married Alice Taylor in 1923; divorced in 1951. Married Elsie Clare Nimmo ("Clare") Britton, a psychiatric social worker and psychoanalyst, in 1951.

Spending his childhood in Plymouth, Winnicott was one of very few famous impacting clinical psychologists who had an unturbulent childhood. Later, deciding to become a doctor, he began to study medicine at the Leys School followed by Jesus College, both in Cambridge. There was a hiatus to his studies while he served as probationer surgeon on a British destroyer in World War I. He completed his medical studies in 1920, and in 1923, the same year as his first marriage (to Alice Taylor), he got a post as physician at the Paddington Green Children's Hospital in London, where he was to work as a pediatrician and child psycho-analyst for 40 years.

Winnicott rose to prominence just as the followers of Anna Freud were battling those of Melanie Klein for the right to be called Sigmund Freud's true intellectual heirs. By the end of World War Two, a compromise established three more or less amicable groups in psychotherapy: the Freudians, the Kleinians and a "Middle" group, to which Winnicott belonged.

His career involved many of the great figures in psychoanalysis and psychology, not just Klein and Anna Freud, but many Bloomsbury figures such as James Strachey, R. D. Laing, and Masud Khan, a wealthy Pakistani emigre who was a highly controversial psycho-analyst.

Winnicott's treatment of psychically disturbed children and their mothers gave him the experience on which he built his most influential concepts, such as the "holding environment" so crucial to psychotherapy, and the "transitional object," known to every parent as the "security blanket." He had a major impact on object relations theory, particularly in his 1951 essay "Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena," which focused on familiar, inanimate objects that children use to stave off anxiety during times of stress.

His theoretical writings emphasized empathy, imagination, and, in the words of philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who has been a proponent of his work, "the highly particular transactions that constitute love between two imperfect people."

He died in 1971 following the last of a series of heart attacks and was cremated in London.


External links

Winnicott, D.W. 250, 279