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Vitger, J. (1984). On Holding. Scand. Psychoanal. Rev., 7(2):210-219.

(1984). Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 7(2):210-219

On Holding

John Vitger, M.D.

Holding is both a modern as well as a complex concept and phenomenon. There is much of interest to discuss in relation to holding. My task here is to set the stage for discussion by presenting some of the aspects I pay especial attention to regarding holding.

The concept holding has evolved from a background of the further development of psychoanalytic theory from being centred around the three-person oedipal situation to the two-person mother-child situation, from being centred around conflict to centred around defect, from theory on drive and structure to theory on object relation, and from ego-psychology to self-psychology. It has originated from a need to describe the analytic situation from a standpoint where we, in the transference, have a reactivation of a developmental earlier situation than is usual in classic psychoneuroses, a situation where there is a need for something other than interpretation and its preliminary stages of confrontation and clarification, namely a need for replication of the mother attitude with empathy, identification, understanding without words, and patience to let development and growth occur, all characteristics of what we now call holding.

The concepts stems from Winnicott (1960), who in a large part of his work deals with the early mother-child relation including especially the holding function of the mother. The word alludes to the reaction of the normal mother to hold her little child in her arms, thus giving it security and warmth and not least psychic security. Mother and child so to speak merge into a unit and the child borrows the strength and calm of the mother and the mother on her side perceives directly the condition of the child and its needs and responds to that. It goes from the complete need satisfaction and protection to gradual developmentally adapted frustration and exposure of the child to the influences of the world, so that the child, concurrently with its maturing, increasingly becomes able to process outer and inner stimuli and react adequately on those, and thus increasingly make itself independent, which with the words of Winnicott demands a “holding-environment”, created and secured by a “good-enough” mother.


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