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(p. 107) A Note on Regression and Reassurance 

(p. 107) A Note on Regression and Reassurance
(p. 107) A Note on Regression and Reassurance

Donald W. Winnicott

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Subscriber: null; date: 23 October 2018

A note from Winnicott’s papers, dated 1955.

One way of examining the concept of regression is to put up against it the concept of reassurance.

We start off by assuming that reassurance is not part of the psycho-analytic technique. Most of the psychoanalytic case histories are characterised by the absence in them of reassurance. The patient comes into the analytic setting and goes out of it, and within there is no more than interpretation: correct and well-timed.

In teaching psycho-analysis we must continue to speak against reassurance. It is a countertransference phenomenon.

As one who does analysis and uses analytic technique in diagnostic therapeutic interviews, I can say that one experiences a curious but definite switch over when passing from other work to that which is strictly analytic.

As one looks a little more carefully however one sees that this is too simple a language. It is not just a question of reassurance and no reassurance. As a matter of fact I use very little indeed of actual reassurance in analytically oriented therapy, it is rather a matter of allowing oneself to be a more reassuring kind of person. Even this is not true—one allows the parent, or child, to get reassurance wherever it can be got, but one practically never reassures.

As a matter of fact the whole set up of psycho-analysis provides reassurance, especially the reliable behaviour of the analyst, and the transference interpretations constructively using, instead of wastefully exploiting, the moment’s passion.

This matter of reassurance is much better discussed in terms of countertransference. Reaction formations in the behaviour of the analyst are harmful not because they appear in the form of reassurances and denials but because they represent repressed unconscious elements in the analyst, and these set limits to the analytic work.

(p. 108) What would be said of an analyst’s inability to reassure—one would say that the analyst, a suicidal, had no hope whatever of a successful outcome to the analysis. Only in nearly all cases there is another way of using words, so that actual reassurance is not the best way of conveying the belief that must exist in the analyst if work is to be done at all.

There is no value to be got from describing regression to dependence with its concomitant environmental adaptation in the analytic setting in terms of reassurance, just as there is a very real point in considering these matters in terms of countertransference.