Who better to write a book on who is arguably Britain's most important post-WW2 psychoanalytic writer, than Britian's most widely-read contemporary psychoanalytic writer? As any psychoanalytic psychotherapist will testify, contemporary therapy would be no where near what it is without Donald Winnicott. Adam Phillips (himself a practicing child and adult therapist) has said that, without having immersed himself in Winnicott's writings in particular, he could not have developed his own style and begun disseminating his own unique brand of psychoanalytic writing. This immersion is here more than evident. Phillips goes into comprehensive detail, displaying a thorough awareness of both the man and his ideas, yet never so abstractly that we lose track of the larger journey that is explicated through the various chapters of the book. Winnicott's major theoretical concepts are elaborated from first principles - the True/False Self dichotomy, Holding vs. Interpretation, etc. - interwoven with illuminating biographical information. Clearly deeply researched and intellectually considered, Phillips's Winnicott is just that: personal yet never polemic, distanced yet thought-provokingly involved. The book is rare - how many other biographies inspire one to go out and find others by the author *and* his subject? Although the reader new to psychoanalytic jargon might become unstuck in more than one or two places, these are moments worth suffering: for the trainee and the fascinated layperson alike, the book remains - quintessentially - unmissable.
Until I picked up this book, I knew next to nothing about D W Winnicott, the pioneering paediatrician and psychoanalyst. But Adam Phillips (himself a child psychotherapist) corrects that gap in my knowledge with this affectionate - though not uncritical - exploration of a very significant figure in the history of child psychiatry and psychology.
Given that Winnicott had a preference for plain language, it is regrettable that Phillips' preface and fairly lengthy introduction are rather dry in style, which may put off more casual readers. Fortunately, his writing style is more easily manageable in the main body of the book.
As Winnicott's focus was always on child developmental issues, it is more than appropriate that Phillips considers not only the facts of Winnicott's upbringing, but also Winnicott's own view of it (as expressed in published comments).
One particular chapter especially grabbed my attention. This is the one which looks at Winnicott's observations about children evacuated from their homes during World War II. Phillips examines how these unfortunate (and damaging) circumstances gave Winnicott the opportunity to learn a great deal about children's behaviour. What fascinates me personally is the parallel between these wartime experiences (and discoveries) and my own interest in the situation of children removed from their homes and placed in psychiatric units (of the kind that existed - broadly speaking - from the 1950s through to the mid-'90s).
Also of special interest for me, given how little I knew of Winnicott previously, is how familiar many of his ideas appear. Many parents will be familiar with some of his concepts from child rearing self-help books and parenting 'experts'.
The author has succeeded in bringing his subject to life on the page, revealing a good deal about Winnicott's possible motivations, hopes and aims. Given how empathetic and caring a figure Winnicott appears to have been, it is perhaps disappointing that these aspects of his approach were less influential (arguably) in children's post-war mental health care than were his theoretical contributions.
I first read this when taking a counselling course; I found it remarkable that in the notoriously fractious world of Psychoanalysis, he had few detractors. This commendably brief introduction makes clear our indebtedness to Winnicott, the child of Plymouth Brethren parents (I am the Grandchild of two). Phillips is usually a writer of brio and delights in paradox; admirable then that he has eschewed this in writing plainly about a thinker of exemplary kindness and a powerful influence of the so called British School, or Object Relations theorists (for 'Objects' read 'Subjects', I for one find this clearer). Not that it is an easy read, since he is not as straightforward a writer as one supposed, something that is cleverly identified; this is a rich, articulate recapitulation of some subtlety, 'positioning' its subject as a radical rather than the benign quietist of yore. He was influenced as much by his work as a paediatrician as by Freud and Klein. He developed many key concepts especially relevant to child analysis: the 'Good-enough mother'; the True/False Self distinction and the notion of the Transitional Object. These are stimulating and useful ideas that are emblematic of a humane influence that Phillips is carrying on. For a short book this one admirably traces the development of Winnicott's ideas, especially as he veered modestly away from Freud and Melanie Klein. In fact it is clear the Phillips thinks him as subversive a thinker as Wilfred Bion, who is admired for this [I wish Adam Phillips would write a similar book about the comparably influential Bion, who is highly rated by the profession but almost unknown outside it and possibly the most underrated intellectual I have read). But that is another matter]. An indispensable guide to the ideas of a great and a good man. The sort of book Phillips, with his catholic, empirical concerns is ideally equipped to write; molto in parva indeed!
Wow. Adam Phillips shows how it should be done with an extremely well researched, lucidly written and creatively presented account of the life and work of D. Winnicott. Phillips manages to extract and present what is useful and good from the body of work, deftly weaving his most significant contributions with rigorous critique within a cogently presented theoretical context. I've just finished reading it for the second time and I must say, I'm very grateful that this book has been written, as I now have a solid feel for Winnitott's developmental and psychoanalytic model. What's I found most valuable of all was the way Phillips portrays Winnicott's attitude and personality - it's hard to not get a sense for the man and, as daft as I must sound, DW comes across as a real Dude, especially considering all the Kleinian / Freudian silliness that was going on in British Psychoanalytic Society at the time he presided. A great book and an enjoyable read.
Engrossing and so cleverly written account of Winnicott ideas and life. The book works as a strong bond making tool between the most fundamental of psychoanalytical theory and W's ground breaking work.