Elective: D.W. Winnicott

Adult Psychoanalytic Training (APT)
2021-22, 2nd Trimester — Fridays, 3:30-5:00pm
Matthew Brooks, MSW LICSW


In this course, we will take an in-depth look at Winnicott’s contributions to psychoanalysis by reading, discussing and debating a selection of his papers. While many of his core concepts (the holding environment, the good-enough mother, transitional objects, the true and false self, the use of an object) are already familiar to us, Winnicott’s process of shaping his ideas and integrating them into psychoanalytic theory and practice, including in dialogue with Freud and Klein, bears close attention. Winnicott also deserves our critical thought. Are his ideas inclusive from our current point of view? Are there assumptions and beliefs in his work that need to be challenged?

Winnicott’s body of work is expansive, idiosyncratic, and resists summarizing or paraphrasing. His writing is both clear and accessible, and elusive and highly personal. Winnicott is at this point everywhere in psychoanalysis, and increasingly appears in culture and society. While there is a great deal of good commentary available about Winnicott (some of which we will note) this course is an opportunity to hear from Winnicott himself.

If time and interest allow, I encourage you to listen to some of Winnicott’s radio broadcasts, which were aimed at new parents and those who cared for them. These broadcasts, about 60 in all, began in 1943 (i.e., predating his psychoanalytic writing); the last were in 1962. Oxford University Press has made a few available online, beginning with talks from 1949:


The readings for this course are on PEP-WEB, contained in four books of Winnicott’s collected works as indicated.  While many of his papers were published in journals, sometimes reprinted, the page numbers below refer to the cited books in which they are collected.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

  1. describe Winnicott’s major contributions to psychoanalytic theories of development and clinical process, and utilize them in assessing patients and their presenting concerns.
  2. evaluate Winnicott’s ideas in the context of their own growing knowledge base and clinical skills, in order to create the most effective approaches to treatment.

February 18, 2022 — Early development and primitive mental states

[31 pages]

[31 pages]

From his earliest work, Winnicott was preoccupied with understanding psychic life not only as the traditional psychoanalytic realm of solitary unconscious instincts and conflicts, but as a world shaped by the constant interplay between fantasy and reality, between the mental work of projecting and imagining, and the influence of the environment, especially the earliest relationship with the maternal figure. This session’s papers lay the groundwork for his career-long consideration of these dynamics; they also introduce us to Winnicott’s writing style, which is in some ways inseparable from his thinking and requires engagement on its own terms.

Winnicott, D.W. (1945). “Primitive emotional development” in Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis. London: Hogarth Press (1975), pp145-157.

Winnicott, D.W. (1949/1953). “Mind and its relation to the psyche-soma.” in Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis. London: Hogarth Press (1975), pp243-254.

Winnicott, D.W. (1956). “Primary maternal preoccupation” in Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis. London: Hogarth Press (1975), pp300-305.

February 25, 2022 — Klein’s influence

[34 pages]

[34 pages]

Winnicott was, throughout his career, in dialogue with his peers and colleagues, especially Melanie Klein. Winnicott found much in Klein’s theories that enlivened and enlarged his own views; he was also often at odds with what he saw as Klein’s avoidance of external reality as a factor, and her commitment to instincts and destructiveness. The work we read in this session illustrates the seriousness with which he responded to her ideas about the nature of psychic life, and incorporated them into his own, and how seriously he took his own goal of articulating developmental theory.

Winnicott, D.W. (1954). Ch 21, “The Depressive Position in Normal Development” in Collected Papers, pp262-277.

Winnicott, D.W. (1963). “The development of the capacity for concern” in The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. London: Hogarth Press (1965), pp73-82.

Winnicott, D.W. (1962). “A personal view of the Kleinian contribution” in The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. London: Hogarth Press (1965), pp171-178.

March 4, 2022 — Transitional phenomena and play

[29 pages]

[29 pages + 16 suggested]

In his works on play, beginning with his early conceptualization of the transitional object, Winnicott ranged far and wide over his theories of psychic life and functioning. In these papers, which also convey a sense of Winnicott’s ability to connect with (and interpret to!) children, we see Winnicott exploring the nature of objects, processes of internalization and growth, and the nature of the potential, transitional spaces we inhabit. In these works we see Winnicott expressing the centrality of freedom, empathy and creativity in developing fulfilling lives.

Winnicott, D.W. (1951). “Transitional objects and transitional phenomena” in Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis. London: Hogarth Press (1975), pp229-242.

Winnicott, D.W. (1971). Chapter 3: “Playing: a theoretical statement” in Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock Publications, pp38-52.

Suggested Reading:

Winnicott, D.W. (1971). “Case V: Robert.” in Therapeutic Consultations in Child Psychiatry. London: Hogarth Press, pp89-104.

March 11, 2022 — Separateness and connection

[27 pages]

[27 pages + 19 suggested]

The papers we read for today are from Winnicott not just the theorist but the clinician. While they show his personal style, they also illustrate his understanding of what happens in the clinical encounter, and how it reflects and recapitulates the developmental and psychic themes of our patients’ lives. In these papers we find references to regression, dependence, aliveness, holding, isolation, and relating. We also see Winnicott building up his own ideas over time, giving us a chance to question the ways his theories shaped psychoanalytic practice.

Winnicott, D.W. (1960). “Ego distortion in terms of true and false self” in The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. London: Hogarth Press (1965), pp140-152.

Winnicott, D.W. (1963). “Communicating and not communicating leading to a study of certain opposites” in The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. London: Hogarth Press (1965), pp179-192.

Suggested Reading:

Winnicott, D.W. (1960). “The theory of the parent-infant relationship” in The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. London: Hogarth Press (1965), pp37-55.