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Sandler, A. (1984). On Interpretation and Holding. Scand. Psychoanal. Rev., 7(2):161-176.

(1984). Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 7(2):161-176

On Interpretation and Holding

Anne-Marie Sandler, Lic. es Sc.

When I was approached to give this paper I was not only honoured by the invitation but also excited by the challenge of the topic to be discussed. When I sat down to write the paper, however, I realized that my task was not going to be as straightforward as I had expected. I realized that most people, including myself, assume that they possess a relatively clear and simple idea of what is meant by ‘holding’. But when one does more than scratch the surface, it becomes clear that ‘holding’ belongs to that class of concepts which are ‘elastic’, which change their meaning according to the context in which they are employed (J. Sandler, 1983). And certainly the concept as used in the literature covers a wide spectrum of meanings.

There is little doubt that the analytic situation, as developed by Freud, with its constant setting, its regular hours, its somewhat ritualised external trappings, provides the patient with a feeling of safety, a sense of being held. Winnicott was very aware of the relevance of the analytic setting to the patient, and gave special importance to it. For some particularly disturbed patients, he would arrange the cushions on the couch in a very special way, so that they would find the cushions placed in the way they preferred. As we all know, Winnicott (1965) introduced the term ‘holding environment’ as a metaphor for certain aspects of the analytic situation and the analytic process. The term derives from the maternal function of holding the infant, but taken as a metaphor, it has a much broader application, and extends beyond the infantile period—where the holding is literal and not metaphorical—to the broader caretaking function of the parent. Winnicott transferred this concept to an aspect of the analyst' function with full awareness of the analyst' capacity to exercise a caretaking role. But for Winnicott this caretaking was always more than simple support and the provision of a reliable and reassuring presence. As Winnicott remarked, it “often takes the form of conveying in words, at the appropriate moment, something that shows that the analyst knows and understands the deepest anxiety that is being experienced, or that is waiting to be experienced”.

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