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The Existential Moment: The “Good Enough Mother”

As Mother’s Day fast approaches this May, many likely think about celebrating our mothers and acknowledging their love, guidance, and sacrifices. Mother’s Day is a day to honor and appreciate their enduring presence in our lives, giving heartfelt gifts, sharing memories, and enjoying precious moments together.

On the other hand, we almost assuredly don’t think of the British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott (1991) and the concept of the “good enough mother.” So, let’s do that.

The “good enough mother” (later “good enough parent”) concept is not just a cute catchphrase but a powerful view into the parent-child relationship. It describes a mother who provides an environment that meets the child’s needs adequately but not perfectly, allowing the child to experience and manage frustration in a safe setting. This approach, often overlooked or assumed, plays a pivotal role in helping children develop resilience and independence as they learn that the world will not always cater to their needs immediately or perfectly. Winnicott argued that being a ‘good enough mother’ is crucial for healthy emotional and psychological development, as it balances care and challenge, enabling children to grow into well-rounded adults.

Existential-Humanistic (E-H) therapy is experiential and relational. To that end, first, focus on and nurture the relationship. The therapist’s engaged presence mirrors the attunement that a “good enough parent” provides. This attitude helps ensure the therapist is deeply connected and responsive, creating a safe, nurturing atmosphere that supports client exploration, facilitating understanding of significant personal issues and fostering growth and self-discovery.

The quality of the relationship and the broader environment are points of emphasis. The therapeutic container in E-H therapy, emphasizing connection, safety, and acceptance, reflects the secure and nurturing environment of a “good enough parent.” This setting allows clients to express vulnerabilities freely, fostering a relationship where the therapist meets the client where they are, enhancing engagement and supporting the client’s personal evolution and narrative reconstruction.

Finally, echoing Irvin Yalom’s succinct point, “it’s the relationship that heals,” the therapeutic relationship in E-H therapy is central to its effectiveness, similar to the developmental nature of the parent-child bond. This principle emphasizes the importance of a supportive and empathetic relationship in fostering client healing and personal evolution, highlighting the therapy’s relational focus as central to its transformative power.

An early “Happy Mother’s Day” to all of you Moms. And a note of acknowledgment and appreciation to all of you therapists doing powerful relational work.

Reference:

Winnicott, D. W. (1991). Playing and Reality. Routledge.

Links to Related Blog Posts:

Read more posts about the therapeutic relationship and the interpersonal dimension in E-H therapy.

Read more posts about relational and the experiential in E-H therapy on EHI’s blog.

Read all the Existential Moment series posts on EHI’s blog.

Existential Moment Author: Scott Gibbs, LMFT, EHI Board Member-at-Large | Website: www.mscottgibbs.com | Twitter: @Novum_Organum

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