Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

“To Be Alone In The Presence of Another,” Winnicott (1958)

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 23, 2012

Therapy offers, as Winnicott eloquently says, a patient “to be alone in the presence of another.”  Deep relationships offer this as well. This is the  luxury of experiencing one’s internal world, while a caring person is present in the room, but not intrusive into one’s internal process. Parents provide this for their children, or at least most do. They allow their children to play, without interruption, but they are in the room, or in the house, representing a caring person who is content knowing that their child is entertaining himself. This model of relationships is especially critical to those who feel that their internal worlds are constantly disrupted by an intrusive other. “I want to kill my wife,” Ward, forty-one, says to me, not looking for a response, but wanting to experience his own feelings in my presence. To say, or even to think, “you don’t really want to kill your wife,” would invade his internal space of feelings and fantasies. This tolerant approach allows Ward to explore his frustrations, anger and disappointment with his relationship. To intrude, or to interrupt, would cause him to question his feelings leading to internal confusion and harsh superego judgment. Indeed, the art of deep relationships is to allow the other to be alone in your presence. A lay person might say this is about  “giving him space,” and Winnicott would add-on by saying, yes, but while you are physically present. Winnicott shines again.

9 Responses to ““To Be Alone In The Presence of Another,” Winnicott (1958)”

  1. Jon said

    In the world of technical design and problem solving, it always helps to talk the problems through with someone. Most of the time, the colleague need only be a passive set of ears, as the speaker is really solving the problem for themselves. The act of need to get one’s thoughts together enough to vocalize them becomes the catalyst for solutions.

    Human problems are in general much more difficult than technical problems; however, it seems that Winnicott is advocating a similar general approach. Let a patient “be alone in the presence of another,” can be understood to mean having the patient express their thoughts and feelings in your presents. In such a way, a patient can become the source of a solution to their own problems. It feels very familiar.

  2. Shelly said

    May I respectfully disagree? One DOES need to speak with another with some careful and well thought-out interaction, otherwise it is as if one is simply speaking to oneself or to perhaps to an acquaintence. A patient can always tell if the therapist is paying attention or not (or the speaker can always tell if his audience is engaged or not), and does not expect to solve his own problems. He wants the interaction with the therapist (friend, partner, wife, etc…) and doesn’t just want to be talking to himself. If he feels that he is talking to himself, he will feel unheard and lonely. It is not simply a matter of being present or not. It is a matter of being involved with the patient and letting him know that you care about the outcome of the interaction.

    • Of course you can respectfully disagree. That is the fun of this blog!!!! You are describing the art of human interaction. That is, there is a fine line between being present, being engaged, versus being intrusive. I think we agree, but I am only highlighting the idea that some engagement involves being present, interested, but not interfering with the rolling out of imaginative ideas. The feeling of caring comes from the sense of patience that the person feels that you are allowing him his space, while you are there and you care about him/her. To sum up, of course you can disagree, although in this instance, I think we agree. We are talking about different facets of the relationship. Thanks.

  3. Dan said

    Yes this post resonates so much..Sometime even analysts , a training one at that. will try to talk over , etc, etc. real annoying not to mention lack of personal strength if not professional competency , ie sticking to ‘abstinence/ silence’ roles especially in analytic therapy.
    Dr Vollmer, just curious , whats your view of Bion , and do you use or find helpful his school of thought in terms of psychoanalytic theory/technique?

    • Shirah said

      Thanks, Dan. Your question about Bion is too general. Like all great thinkers and writers, I appreciate some of his ideas, but not all of them.

  4. Dan said

    Can i ask which one you dont appreciate ? are you more classical/orthodox analyst then ? thanks

  5. […] In other words (written by another therapist and blogger, Dr. Vollmer): […]

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