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Tuesday, March 1

An Introduction to Clare Winnicott: Her Life and Work

 “Not only do we hold a consistent idea of the client as a person, but we hold the difficult situation which brought him to us by tolerating it until he either finds a way through it or tolerates it himself. If we can hold the painful experience, recognizing its importance and not turning aside from it as the client relives it with us...., we help him to have the courage to feel its full impact; only as he can do that will his own natural healing processes be liberated.”

 Clare Winnicott

Unknown to most social workers in the U.S., Clare Britton Winnicott (1907-1984) was one of the leading British social workers of the 20th Century. Beginning her career working with evacuated children with special needs during WWII, she became a leader in the postwar movement to transform child welfare services in England, directing the first course to train social workers in child welfare practice. During the war, she worked along side Donald Winnicott, the noted pediatrician and psychoanalyst who she married in 1951. While training a generation of leaders in British child welfare, she entered psychoanalysis with Melanie Klein and psychoanalytic training at the British Psycho-Analytical Society.

 However, in 1964 her career took a dramatic turn when she entered government service to coordinate all child welfare training in Great Britain. In this role, she organized programs to train thousands of workers in the child welfare system. Retiring in 1971, just months after her husband’s death, she was awarded the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) honor for her leadership in child welfare. In her last years, she remained active with a busy psychotherapy practice and editing her husband’s voluminous writings.

 With the exception of one paper published concurrently in England and Social Casework in 1955, Clare Winnicott’s writings rarely crossed the Atlantic. With her great intellect, passion and common sense, she addressed a range of issues involving children, child welfare policy, social work education, and psychotherapy with adults. After many years, I have complied many of her writings along with letters and interview transcripts in a new volume: Face to Face with Children: The Life and Work of Clare Winnicott (Karnac, 2004) available at Politics and Prose bookstore in DC and online at Amazon.com and BN.com. Encompassing a career of a social worker who excelled at multiple levels of social work practice, from the inner world of the mind to the environmental realities of poverty, war and family breakdown—Clare Winnicott’s life and work helps us transcend the inner/outer and micro/macro splits which have bedeviled our profession. To learn more about Clare Winnicott and sample her writings, visit www.clarewinnicott.net.

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