Donald Winnicott and Stephen Mitchell’s Developmental Tilt Hypothesis Reconsidered

by Steven H. Cooper, PhD


In this paper, the author revisits Stephen Mitchell’s important developmental tilt hypothesis in light of his treatment of Winnicott’s most creative contributions to psychoanalysis. It is the author’s contention that neither Winnicott’s focus on play as the central factor in the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis nor his role, along with Bion, of creating an ontological turn in psychoanalysis were accounted for in Mitchell’s reading of Winnicott. The author argues that in Mitchell’s useful attempt to redress some of the ways that regression had been concretized in psychoanalytic practice and theory, he overlooked Winnicott’s complex view of holding and the mutual elements of regression that occur between patient and analyst in play. Play embodies tensions between the symmetrical and asymmetrical elements of the analytic relationship in ways that Mitchell did not consider in his developmental tilt hypothesis.

Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 31(3), 355-370, June 2021.

Link to Online Publication [fulltext can be requested from the library]

Discussion of this article can be found in the following publications:

About the Author

Steven H. Cooper, PhD, is a psychoanalyst and teacher well known internationally for his interest in integrating independent, Kleinian and relational thinking in his clinical work and writing. He is the author of The Analyst’s Experience of the Depressive Position: The Melancholic Errand of Psychoanalysis (2016), Disturbance in the Field: Essays in Transference-Countertransference Engagement (2010), and Objects of Hope: Exploring Possibility and Limit in Psychoanalysis (2000). He has a forthcoming book to be published by Routledge in 2021, Playing and Becoming in Psychoanalysis. A Training and Supervising Analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, he is also Associate Professor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Co-Chief Editor Emeritus at Psychoanalytic Dialogues.

Previous Posts:

Elsa Ronningstam, PhD (2021). Cultural Function and Psychological Transformation of Silence in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. In Dimitrijevic, A. and Buchholz, M.B., eds. (2021). Silence and Silencing in Psychoanalysis: Cultural, Clinical, and Research Perspectives. Routledge, pp. 105-127.

Paola M. Contreras, PsyD (2021). The Magical and the My-Person in Psychoanalysis During the Covid Pandemic. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 68(6): 1113-1126. Open Access, DOI: 10.1177/0003065120981733

Don R. Lipsitt, MD (2020). In Freud’s Pocket: A Totem of Medical Ambivalence? American Imago, 77(4): 738-751.

Rachel Brier, EdD and Anna Ornstein, MD (2020). Tracking Changes in the Disruption/Repair Sequences: Important Aspects of Clinical WorkPsychoanalysis, Self and Context.

Rodrigo Barahona, PsyaD (2020). Living the Non-Dream: An Examination of the Links Between Dreaming, Enactment, and Transformations in hallucinosis. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 89:4, 689-714.

Sarah Ackerman, PhD (2020). A Diagnosis for Psychoanalysis in the 21st Century: Freud as Medicine. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 89:4, 667-688.

Lora Tessman, PhD (2020). Review of Ghost in the Human Psyche: The Story of a ‘Muslim Armenian’ , by Vamik D. Volkan. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 56(2-3):457-464.

Steven H. Cooper, PhD (2019). A Theory of the Setting: The Transformation of Unrepresented Experience and Play. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 100:6, 1439-1454.

Anton Hart, PhD (2020). Principles For Teaching Issues Of Diversity In A Psychoanalytic Context. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 56:2-3, 404-417.

Lawrence J. Brown, PhD (2020). Trauma and Representation. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 100:6, 1154-1170.

Penelope Moore, LICSW (2020). Incest from a Young Age … Lasting a Lifetime. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 48(1), 41-54.

Judith L. Kantrowitz, PhD (2020). A Psychoanalytic Memoir: The Analyst Enabled and Disabled by What is Personal. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 68(1), 83–100.

Cuneyt Iscan, MD (2020). Learning Along the Way: Further Reflections on Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy by Patrick Casement, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, 2019, 156pp. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 80:2, 235-239.

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