Pastoral Psychology

, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 27–42 | Cite as

The Hospital Room as Uncanny: Psychoanalytic Observations and Recommendations for Pastors and Chaplains

  • Nathan Carlin


This essay in applied psychoanalysis is written for the field of pastoral psychology, and it also has obvious affinities with the medical humanities. The author uses Freud’s (The uncanny. In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 17, pp. 217–256). Vintage, London, 1919/2001) “The Uncanny” to question the concept of homelike hospital rooms. Instead of making patients feel more comfortable, the authors believes that these rooms could, in some cases, actually increase the anxiety of patients. The author uses Helena Michie’s personal story of her experience of touring a birthing suite to support this argument, as well as some poetry by Billy Collins. The author, however, does not stop with identifying a problem, as he also suggests that pastors and chaplains, when they provide care for their patients, should help them identify and use their own transitional and transformational objects. These objects, of course, will be highly idiosyncratic, and it is precisely this kind of attention—attention to the idiosyncrasies of individuals—that pastors and chaplains should be giving to those in their care. While there is a growing literature on D. W. Winnicott, who coined the term “transitional object,” and Christopher Bollas, who gave us the term “transformational object,” in medical and pastoral circles, the author suggests that attention to and the endorsement of the use of transitional and transformational objects should become a part of hospital policy, if only in chaplaincy handbooks, so as to recognize what many individuals are already doing.


Hospital room The uncanny Transitional object Transformational object 



I wish to thank Donald and Karen Capps, Margaret Jordan, and William Parsons for their assistance with this essay.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Religious Studies—MS 15Rice UniversityHoustonUSA

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