The subject of this monographic issue was inspired by an hypothesis which the three authors of one of its papers had shared from their own work: that the real object of the so-called “supervisions” within healthcare and social institutions is not so much the clinical case, or the quality of the provided service, or the staff support, but rather the institutional container. In my view this discourse could apply to all social organisations, even those from the private and commercial sector, where other methods – such as organisational consultancy, executive coaching etc. – might be assimilated to supervision as a way to “take care of the container”.
The concept of an “institutional container” is not a new one, even though from a quick survey of the literature it seems that it did not undergo a deep inquiry, except in sociological studies and in applications to groups. Furthermore, when mentioned it is generally conceived as a “thing” or a frame, with relatively little attention to its functions and particularly to its relationship with the “content”. Paraphrasing Winnicott, I would suggest that there is not such a thing as a “container”, separated from a linkage to the content. In the meaning used in the following articles this concept is seen more as a dynamic process than a structure, and its origins go back to Bion’s studies on the mind’s function of containing emotions in early relationships and in the development of thought; other contributions from the psychoanalytic field are the concepts of “holding” (Winnicott, 1965), “deposit” and “encuadre” (Pichon-Rivière, 1960; Bleger, 1967), “institution as a defence” (Jaques, 1955; Menzies, 1961), and “institution-in-the-mind” (Armstrong, 1997).
The psychological function of containment and the related model of container/contained relationship (♀↔♂) are explored in the following articles starting from Bion’s insights in Learning from Experience (Bion, 1962), where he traces the containment process back to the early relationships between the mother and the infant. As Obholzer suggests (1996), these relationships imply processes of projective and introjective identification, which in favourable conditions promote for the infant the experience of being “contained” by the mother, helping the creation of his/her inner world and the development of the capacity for thinking. The Bion (1962) concept of container and contained are crucial at this stage of development…. The baby experiences a state of distress or ill-being while not being clear what the problem is – merely the fact that there is a problem. The mother recognizes that the baby has a problem Read more