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Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch

Oct 15, 2023

"Instead of the analyst being in a position where they know something about the patient, they are with the patient. As Winnicott says in his late work, if you are a philosopher in your armchair, you have to come out of your armchair and be on the floor with the child playing. I don’t think that one should act that out with an adult patient- however  it is that approach to actually being with the patient, listening to the patient’s words, listening to their state of mind without preconceived ideas. That’s almost impossible, but  Winnicott says that psychoanalysis is an objective study, an objective way of looking at things without preconceived ideas, without preconceived notions. It links with what you said about ‘normative’ - if we go into the consulting room feeling that our patients need to be as we are or need to fit in some kind of norm, then I don’t think this is psychoanalytic. I think it is against the whole aim of psychoanalysis.”


Episode Description: Jan begins her conversation with Joel by sharing her background in theater and the steps she took to train as an analyst. She describes what drew her to Winnicott and how she sees him as broadening, not replacing, Freudian thinking. She distinguishes her understanding of Winnicott from others who believe that, by speaking of the importance of the environment, he minimized constitutional factors and the unconscious. She interprets what he meant by the environment in terms of the ‘psyche-body’ and the mother’s unconscious. Jan discusses a paradox in Winnicott in that he offers a positive theory of health while also being uniquely non-judgmental and non-pathologizing. She concludes with a controversial observation that a five times weekly in person training analysis is essential to achieve a deep regression that will familiarize analysts with the primitive parts of their personalities so they will be able to accept and deal with those parts of their patients' personalities.


Our Interviewer and Guest:

Joel Whitebook, PhD is a philosopher and psychoanalyst.  He is on the Faculty of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and was the founding Director of the University's Psychoanalytic Studies Program.  In addition to many articles on psychoanalysis, philosophy, and critical theory, Dr. Whitebook is also the author of Perversion and Utopia (MIT) and Freud: An Intellectual Biography (Cambridge).


Jan Abram, PhD is a training and supervising analyst of the British Psychoanalytical Society and in private practice in London. She is Visiting Professor of the Psychoanalysis Unit, University College London, and is currently Vice President of the European Psychoanalytic Federation for the Annual Conferences. She is President-Elect for the EPF to start her term in March 2024. She is a Visiting Lecturer and supervisor at the Tavistock Clinic, in London. In 2016, she was a Visiting Professor for the University of Kyoto, Japan, where she resided for a writing sabbatical. Jan Abram has published several books and articles notably: The Language of Winnicott, Donald Winnicott Today (2013), The Clinical Paradigms of Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott: comparisons and Dialogues (co-authored with R.D. Hinshelwood 2018); The Surviving Object: psychoanalytic clinical essays on psychic survival-of-the-object (2022) and her second book with R.D. Hinshelwood: The Clinical Paradigms of Donald Winnicott and Wilfred Bion: comparisons and dialogues (2023).


Learn more about Jan Abram 


Recommended Readings:

Abram, J. (2007) The Language of Winnicott: A Dictionary of

Winnicott’s use of terms Routledge


Abram, J. (ed) (2016) André Green at the Squiggle Foundation Routledge


Abram, J. (2008) Donald Woods Winnicott (1896 – 1971): A brief introduction Education Section Int J of Psychoanal 99: 1189 - 1217


Abram, J. (2021) On Winnicott’s Concept of Trauma Int J of Psychoanal 102: 4 10