Winnicott at the BBC. Newcastle, June 2018

Squiggle North East held 4 weekly seminars that gave participants the opportunity to listen to live radio broadcasts that Winnicott recorded for the BBC in 1957. These radio broadcasts were the basis for his book “The Child, the Family and the Outside World” in which Winnicott introduces the idea of the ‘ordinary good mother’ and her immense contribution to the individual and society through being devoted to her baby.

The seminars held at Hawthorn Psychotherapy Group, Gosforth were hosted by Jo Askew (Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist), Katy Purdy (Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist) and Jo Montgomery (Counsellor) and proved popular, with a reserve list for spaces.

The format for each seminar was a brief introduction and listening to the broadcast followed by group discussion. The chapters of the book were made available to participants to read in advance of the seminars.

Participants were from a variety of backgrounds enriching the thinking of discussions which were lively and often deeply moving. Discussion allowed time to consider Winnicott’s ideas and reflect on, amongst other things, the relevance in today’s world where family structures differ from the time in which Winnicott made the recordings. Participants were able to apply some of the ideas to help their thinking around their own practice and indeed their own experiences as infants and/or as parents.

We began with “The Baby as a Going Concern” in which Winnicott makes clear his belief that “It is when a mother trusts her own judgement that she is at her best.” Winnicott helps the mother understand that babies feel their own urge towards life and growth, so mother’s role is to tend to the conditions, to provide a suitable environment in which the baby can develop.

Week two asked the question “Why Do Babies Cry?” Winnicott answers by explaining there are four types of crying: Satisfaction, Pain, Rage and Grief and addresses each type in the chapter. We learn how crying serves the infant, how it develops his personality and how mothers can view the crying in the ordinary experience of caring for their infant.

Then came “The World in Small Doses.” That is to say the ‘real’ world, that the mother introduces to her baby a little bit at a time. Winnicott explains why this gradual introduction of reality into the child’s imaginative world is crucial in ensuring the acceptance of such does not result in the loss of the reality of the personal imaginative or inner world. Mother’s role here is to be sure in herself of what is real and not real in order to help the infant, the result being that “the world is woven into the imagination, and the inner life of the baby is enriched with what is perceived in the external world.”

Finally, we considered “Instincts and Normal Difficulties.” In this chapter the ordinary experiences of the instinctual excitements of body and mind are explored along with some of the ways in which infants may try to dampen down the intensity of these feelings which may appear problematic to a mother. Again, Winnicott aims to help the mother worry less about ‘right or wrong’ and to allow a steady and natural developmental process take place. “Tremendous forces are at work, yet all you need to do is to keep the home together, and to expect anything. Relief will come through the operation of time.”

Feedback for the seminars was extremely positive, especially around bringing Winnicott’s ideas to life through case examples.

“The discussions were helpful.”

“I was very interested in thinking in more detail about the nuances of early infant/mother interactions.”

“It’s been fun and stimulating.”

Hearing Winnicott’s voice added a new dimension to his work, where words on a page came alive and one could really get a sense of ‘where he was coming from.’ There is much about the quality of Winnicott’s voice that added to the seminars, with all participants never having heard the recordings before.

The final seminar allowed for reflection and contemplation across the whole series.

Reference: D.W.Winnicott, (1957) The Child, The Family and the Outside World. Penguin Books


Jo Montgomery

June 2018