Donald Woods Winnicott was born in Plymouth in 1896. He studied medicine, and went on to become a paediatrician. A few years after qualifying as a doctor, Winnicott started work at the Paddington Green Children’s Hospital, where he would continue to work for the best part of his career.
Already deeply interested in child psychology, Winnicott decided to go into analysis with James Strachey, an analysis which lasted 10 years. He was later analysed by Joan Riviere, and started his analytic training in 1927. From the beginning impressed by Melanie Klein’s ideas, Winnicott at first seemed likely to become part of the Kleinian group. However, he could not agree with some of Klein’s key concepts, such as her formulation of the death instinct and the role of envy in psychical development. As hard as he tried to persuade her to reconsider certain elements in her theories, she was equally stubborn to budge an inch, and equally unconvinced of Winnicott’s own theoretic innovations. Instead he became a prominent member of the Independent, or Middle Group, and introduced many very important psychoanalytic ideas, such as transitional objects – objects situated liminally between the child’s imagination and the external world – and the ‘good enough,’ rather than the ideal, mother.
Winnicott died in 1971, at the age of 74.