Reflections on Countertransference and the Holding Environment in Psychodynamic Social Work Practice



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University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work


The British object relations theorist D.W. Winnicott contributed to psychoanalytic theory and practice through his extensive work in pediatric care. Winnicott emphasized a child’s interaction with the environment, and postulated that “…human infants could not start to be except under certain conditions” (as cited in Buckley, 1986, p. 239). One of these necessary conditions for growth and development is achieved through the activity of holding. Winnicott believed the caretaker’s ability to adapt to the infant and the infant’s physical and psychological needs defined the concept of the “good-enough” parent. The “good-enough” parent is an essential component of the holding environment (St. Clair, 2004, p. 70). The concept of the holding environment also extends to other people and social structures of the child’s life such as the family, the school, and other social systems all contributing to a child’s ability to achieve healthy development (Applegate & Bonovitz, 1995). When the child’s holding environment allows her to express creative gestures without unnecessary impingements, the self naturally evolves (Fonagy& Target, 2003). When this occurs, the child eventually develops a true self, Winnicott’s term for health (Winnicott, 1960). Thus, the conditions of the child’s holding environment highly contribute to the development of her true self. In the following paper, I will use Winnicott’s concepts of the holding environment, countertransference, and true self/false self to explore my psychodynamic social work practice.



Kara A. Cavel, Perspectives on Social Work, Psychodynamic Social Work, Social work, Perspectives on Social Work, Psychodynamic Social Work