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O'Shaughnessy, E. (1981). A Commemorative Essay on W.R. Bion's Theory of Thinking. J. Child Psychother., 7(2):181-192.

(1981). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 7(2):181-192

A Commemorative Essay on W.R. Bion's Theory of Thinking

Edna O'Shaughnessy

When W.R. Bion died in 1979 his own work, in his lifetime, had changed psycho-analysis. He made clinical discoveries which led him to formulate new concepts and original theories over a wide spectrum of fundamental psychoanalytic problems. Because of its close connection to new ways of working with patients, I have chosen as the topic of this commemorative essay Bion's work on thinking.

Bion formulated a theory of the origins of thinking. He posited an early first form of thinking, different from but the basis for the development of, later forms. This first form of thinking strives to know psychic qualities, and is the outcome of early emotional events between a mother and her infant which are decisive for the establishment—or not—of the capacity to think in the infant. Bion's theory, which carries the interesting implication that knowledge of the psychological precedes knowledge of the physical world, represents a new understanding of thinking as one of the fundamental links between human beings, a link which is fundamental also for the forming and functioning of a normal mind. Throughout Bion connected his work on thinking to analytic technique and so made possible clinical advances with patients of all ages.

It is not easy to convey the rare originality of Bion's thought. He expressed himself in austere propositions with a high yield of exact meaning. They repay the reader's repeated return, as, for diversion, do his occasional and lastingly funny jokes. My plan is first to summarize some of the main aspects of his work on thinking and then give clinical illustrations of its use in child analysis.

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