Play, psychoanalysis and play therapy

The motivation here is that play is the most important means available to the child for working through his own problems relative to the world around him. We are concerned here of course with children in serious difficulty and with aberrations. Through play, these children can in fact work through and experiment with solutions and possibilities, negative as well as positive. Play is used as a diagnostic instrument for learning about the causes of the child’s frustrations, blockages or angst, prior to formulating therapy with or without the participation of a therapist.

The question of whether therapists ought to participate actively is problematic because the child’s trauma is related to relationships with his close family and immediate environment.

In the beginning, these problems were tackled by Anna Freud (1946), Axline (1947), Klein (1959), Smilansky (1968) and more recent points of view have been expressed by Winnicot (1971), Lindqvist (1977) and in particular detail by Singer & Singer (1976), etc.

Smilansky (1968) indicates, among other things, that many children need to be taught to play - both to learn to play and to learn the processes and techniques of play, through learning to see themselves as both actor and audience in their own game. Through play exercises, the child gains insight into the world of his own fantasy and imagination and in doing so, he learns about his own opportunities and limitations. (See earlier section).

Winnicot (1971) shows with his theory about the third room - which lies between the inner psychic reality and the external material world - how, through play, the child mixes the external phenomena with fictive imagined images from his own dream world.

Therapeutic attitudes and certain forms of limitation are, however, also applied to normal children.

The sources of inspiration for developments of this kind include in particular Erikson’s theory as applied in three widely different directions, represented e.g. by Heinsohn & Knieper (1978) - who see a correlation with forms of Marxist upbringing in the former DDR, Schmidtchen (1978) - who sees possibilities in connection with family therapy and treatment and Wood (1984)  - who is inspired to see correlation between these and the teaching of art and art therapy.

Wood shows how play in the form of community drawing and painting tasks for children - on the basis of a specified motif - automatically demonstrates to the teacher or therapist the psycho-dynamic terms in the process itself, thus reflecting the participants’ (children’s) inability or lack of will to be personally active. These psycho-dynamic terms can later be discussed or analysed.




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