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Krimendahl, E.K. (1998). Metaphor in Child Psychoanalysis: Not Simply a Means to an End. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(1):49-66.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(1):49-66

Metaphor in Child Psychoanalysis: Not Simply a Means to an End

Elizabeth K. Krimendahl, Psy.D

The therapist is reaching for the child's communication and knows that the child does not usually possess the command of language that can convey the infinite subtleties that are to be found in play by those who seek.

—Winnicott, 1971 (p. 39)

This article arises out of my efforts to make sense of analytic work with older child patients who communicate almost exclusively through highly organized play metaphor. I suggest that in work with some children, particularly those with narcissistic disturbances, dramatic play should be viewed, not simply as a parameter for adapting adult psychoanalytic technique to a population with less mature verbal and cognitive skills, but as a route to therapeutic change in and of itself. I give an overview of how dramatic play and interventions within the play metaphor have been viewed in child analytic treatment historically and in the contemporary literature, present clinical material, and discuss some of the technical issues inherent in this type of work and what is mutative in it.

What do I mean by “dramatic play”? Drama is defined in Webster's Dictionary as “intended to portray a life or character or to tell a story usually involving conflicts and emotions through action and dialogue and typically designed for theatrical performance.” In the analytic literature, the term is used most often to describe the vivid imaginary play of preschool-age children, which has rich storylines and character development. The play I describe in this article involves face-to-face action and dialogue in which both analyst and patient participate fully, with no displacement onto dolls, puppets, or other figures.

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