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Pearl King    ( Pearl King )


Comments on Face to Face with Children — The Life and Work of Clare Winnicott
edited by Joel Kanter



I first heard of Clare Winnicott as Clare Britton, when I was working at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, after the war. I was told that she was a gifted and sensitive P.S.W. who had been working with Donald Winnicott on a wartime hostels scheme for difficult children. Their work together was being published in the first Volume of a New Social Science Journal called Human Relations in which I also had a paper published
I thus knew Clare Winnicott before I met Donald Winnicott, when she was assimilating her experiences in Oxfordshire with Donald. Our paths crossed again when she had created the first Child Care Course, which she ran in the London School of Economics from 1947 to 1958. The course covered child development, paediatrics, legal issues in child welfare, and Sociology. Clare taught a class entitled "Care of the Deprived Child". Donald contributed ten lectures each year to the Course, from its inception. It was the beginning of a creative partnership, and all who knew them were happy when in 1951 they were married.
During the next few years I saw more of Donald than of Clare as I had asked Donald to supervise my child patient which lasted two years. After that Clare asked me to be an external Examiner for her Child Care Course for a few years. This was when I saw Donald and Clare operating together, playing and sparking each other off, until Donald withdrew from our discussions, and I heard him playing his piano in another room, I thought he was in their kitchen. I began to experience Clare's special blend of seriousness and fun, augmented by a subtle blend of the mischievous.
During the years that followed, I had much to do with Donald, but little contact with Clare, who had started in 1954, to train as a psychoanalyst with Melanie Klein as her Training Analyst and was qualified in 1960 shortly before Melanie Klein died. I was therefore grateful to Joel Kanter for his introduction to her papers entitled "CLARE WINNICOTT: HER LIFE AND LEGACY". Kanter describes this volume, as a collection of Clare's papers, talks, and interviews, which are expressions of both Clare's professional work and her personal life — in many respects he thinks that the two are perhaps inseparable." This was most apparent in her relationship with Donald Winnicott, but it also applied to her professional relationships with students and colleagues in the Child Care field, who often became close personal friends.
In 1964 Clare accepted an appointment as Director of Child Care Studies at the Home Office, for seven years. In this position, she was able to organize the nation's efforts to train child care workers on all levels. These staff included "relatively uneducated residential staff, professionally trained caseworkers, and managers and administrators of social agencies." During that period, the number of child care officers had grown from 174 to 805 in 1971, when Clare left the Home Office.
In 1968 Clare initiated an emergency two year training course for child care workers who lacked professional backgrounds. They had one year of a fully funded twelve month residential course, followed by a second year back with their agencies, but with their work being supervised by their Course tutors and with discussion groups and tutorials with their training Group colleagues. This brought in people from a different class backgrounds, who had brought up children, or who were changing their occupations having been nurses, teachers, in the forces or unemployed .
I think that it is amazing that the traditions of the Home Office gave way to permit Clare to be so creative. One colleague described her generosity of mind and spirit, constantly sharing her knowledge and wisdom with others drawing out their potential. He described "her ability to unlock and unblock people to enable growth to take place. This was infectious."
After 7 years, and just before Clare's position at the Home Office was abolished, on January 1 st 1971, Clare was awarded an O.B.E. for her contributions to child care. But three weeks later on January 22nd 1971, her husband died in his sleep. Joel Kanter quotes Brett Kahr's description of their last evening together: "Winnicott spent his last evening alive with his beloved wife, Clare, watching a comic film on television about old cars, entitled "Good Old Summertime". When the film ended, Winnicott murmured to Clare, "What a happy- making film!" In all likelihood, these were the last words that Winnicott spoke to his wife. Clare then fell asleep, and when she awoke she found her husband dead, seated (next to her) on the floor, with his head snuggled on the his armchair" [Kahr, 1996 pp.128-129].

Clare wrote "In the short space of six months I had lost my husband and my work".

Clare then assumed a new position as Head of the Social Work Department at the London School of Economics, responsible for training the new profession of Social Workers, which had replaced the specialist training Courses, for e.g. the abandoned Child Care courses. Clare felt that this could be like returning to a place where she had spent so many productive years. Sadly, the social climate had changed and Clare found herself confronted with a rebellious student body that "viewed her as an ageing member of the establishment". and who were disinterested in a more psychological approach to understanding the children in their care.
Eventually, after Clare had moved away from her work in the London School of Economics, she had more time to build up her psychoanalytic practice. As she was known to be a Kleinian who also cared about children, she soon built up a good practice, being referred a number of child therapy students from the Tavistock Clinic and the British Association of Psychotherapists.
Clare had acknowledged Klein's "fantastic memory for detail" and her "feeling of strength behind you". But she was greatly troubled by many aspects of her technique, including "Klein's lack of personal civility, her disregard of environmental influences, her impersonal interpretive style, and her insistence on focusing on only the negative aspects of the transference"
"Sadly in January 1974, Clare was diagnosed with a melanoma on her foot. It was removed surgically, but required 35 operations". She continued her Clinical work, for many years, writing papers and addressing meetings, in spite of her bandaged foot. In 1979 she was invited to read a paper at the New York Congress of the International Psychoanalytical Association entitled "Fear of Breakdown: A Clinical Example" (C. Winnicott 1980)
It was during this time that I began to think more about Clare's contributions to Donald's success and creativity. As far back as 1946 he had written to her: "My work is quite a lot associated with you. Your effect on me is to make me keen and productive." Clare herself described very poignantly how they played their way through problems and towards creative solutions.
For them, playing was an essential part of their enjoyment of life: it was an experience and always a creative one. She wrote: "We played with things, we played with ideas, tossing them about at random with the freedom of knowing that we need not agree, and we were strong enough not to be hurt by each other" One of the themes they played with in this way was the precariousness of Donald's health and possible death. There is no doubt in my mind that Clare helped Donald to stay alive for many years. I think that they both knew this.
I would like to describe some of the concepts, that Clare formulated to help her students with their child care studies, when they tried to understand what was happening in the families they were trying to help and which probably came into existence "as a creative solution to a problem" as described above. Clare organised "holding environments" that facilitated "maturational processes". In this work Joel Kanter saw her ideas as overlapping with those of Donald Winnicott with benefit to them both. For her work provides Winnicott's ideas with both a greater appreciation of the origins of his thinking and also with new ideas about its creative application to clinical work. Clare's concept of herself as a "transitional participant" in the families that she works with, together with the concept of "counter-transference" to help her and her students to understand their responses to their clients, would also make sense to those in psychoanalytic practice.
Clare Winnicott died on 15th April 1984, and as I was the President of the British Psychoanalytical Society, I was asked to speak at her Funeral on April 25th 1984. I concluded what I said about her as follows: "Clare was always so alive and interested in what was happening around her and to her friends. She never gave up, and just before she went into hospital for the last time, she went to see a play aout T.S. Eliot, whose work meant so much to her."

So right to the end she was on the side of life, aware of her impending death, as if she was echoing Donald's private prayer about his death: "O God! May I be alive when I die!" Clare herself had the capacity to create, with her friends, a transitional space where it was permissible to play, even about the most serious matters, and this capacity she transmitted to her friends and colleagues, to their great enrichment. Thus we will remember her."

Joel Kanter has woven together so many diverse events, ideas, tasks, achievements that are all part of Clare's life, and at the same time he has managed to depict the essential inter-relationship between Clare and Donald which kept the importance of playing and enjoying each others company as the context within which the struggles of their lives took place. I am grateful to him.



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