Infants, Mothers, Creativity and Psychotherapy

We have learned in recent decades just how much social interaction influences infant development, including the actual structure and function of the brain as well as patterns for self concept and interpersonal relations that continue to influence us over the arc of life. Jung was not particularly drawn to an exploration of the psychology of infancy but a number of his students were, including Michael Fordham in London and Erich Neumann in Israel, each of whom approached the infant from completely different perspectives but who shared an appreciation for the newborn as existing in a state of psychic wholeness. This wholeness contained the blueprint for the course of each individual’s life and also learned through the accumulation of experience. The idea of wholeness in infancy was also central to the thinking of pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. Among his many contributions to our understanding of early childhood (including giving us the concept of the “transitional object”) was the idea of potential space, an term he used to refer to the creative, paradoxical experience that is both fantasy and reality, within and without, self and other. The capacity to be able to “play” creatively in this intermediate space is essential in a unique way for infants to develop their ability to encounter outer reality – but it is also the source of all our truly creative ideas and projects regardless of our stage in life. This is about holding things open, remaining curious, not knowing the answer but allowing questions to emerge and ripen so that choices and directions for growth can become clarified. One of the potential contributions of psychotherapy or analysis is the provision of a relationship conducive to tapping this area of formative, undefined experiencing that gives us access to the incredibly healing powers of the psyche, dipping into the wellspring of early life and of our cultural history to bring back what is needed so we can progress further toward becoming our true self.

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