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McLaughlin, J.T. (1987). The Play of Transference: Some Reflections on Enactment in the Psychoanalytic Situation. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 35:557-582.

(1987). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 35:557-582

The Play of Transference: Some Reflections on Enactment in the Psychoanalytic Situation

James T. McLaughlin, M.D.


The incessant play of nonverbal activity between patient and analyst actualizes and amplifies the primary verbal data of the psychoanalytic dialogue. Both parties must inevitably register this kinesic level of communication, and react with capacities acquired in and elaborated from earliest childhood. The analyst's apperceptive (unfocused) looking, as part of his freely hovering attentiveness, utilizes these capabilities gradually to perceive and organize patterns combining the verbal and nonverbal data. It is through the recognizing and eventual understanding of these gestalts that the analyst builds up his knowledge of his patients.

In these patterns can be identified: (a) conspicuous behaviors, idiosyncratic for the individual, which often yield to psychoanalytic inquiry to reveal their dynamic-historical antecedents; and (b) inconspicuous background kinesics, habitual to the individual, which ordinarily are opaque to analytic exploration, yet hold rich meaning. Observing these small behaviors in relation to verbal content provides evidence of their linkage to, and enactment of, pregenital-and genital-level conflicts over diadic and triadic object relations, even in highly structured personalities. These enactments combine elements of play, miming, and drama to constitute an experiential dimension that actualizes and externalizes the patients' inner life of conflict and relation to objects.

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