Winnicott on Ocular Psychoneuroses of Childhood

The featured paper is ‘Ocular Psychoneuroses of Childhood’ by Donald Winnicott, originally published in 1944. This is a brief paper in which Winnicott reviews some conditions of the eye and interprets them using his interpretation of psychoanalytic theory. He organises the paper into sections on psychoneurosis, depression, psychosis and the eye as symbol. In the first section on psychoneurosis he suggests that the eye rubbing that occurs in blepharitis may have an emotional compoment and in the process, comments on his perspective on dealing with symptoms

‘One must be able to note symptoms without trying to cure them because every symptom has its value to the patient, and very frequently the patient is better left with his symptom’

He also comments about the guilt of seeing in ‘hysterical blindness’. In the section on depression he suggests a possible relationship between some types of squint and a form of regression in which the visual perceptions of infancy are sought. In psychosis he cites a case study and suggests an interpretation which involves left and right handedness extending to the eyes in a case of an external squint and argues that ‘reintegration of the personality’ may effect an improvement although not expanding on this further. In the final section on the eye as symbol he suggests that the eye takes in and expels material in a vein similar to his previous paper on ‘Appetite and Emotional Disorder’ and gives the following example:-

‘There are those who read the newspapers to gain information, but many expect the paper to put out before their eyes the things they are already thinking and feeling and, in fact, they cannot be said to take much notice of the actual information supplied’

While quotes such as these are memorable and the material in the chapter interesting, as in previous papers by Winnicott reviewed here, there are no citations of other pieces of research, much of the material is speculative and generalisations are made on the basis of single cases. This necessarily means that Winnicott’s papers are a starting point for exploration of the numerous stated hypotheses if practical lessons are being sought. Alternatively Winnicott’s paper can form a starting point for reflections on practice as a result of his clinical experience and philosophical enquiries into clinical practice.


Donald Winnicott. Ocular Psychoneuroses of Childhood. 1944. The Transactions of the Opthalmological Society. Vol LXIV. Reproduced in D.W.Winnicott. Through Paediatrics to Psychoanalysis. The International Psychoanalytical Library. The Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis. 1978.


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The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


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