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Davis, M. (1991). Play and symbolism in Lowenfeld and Winnicott. Free Associations, 2(3):395-421.

(1991). Free Associations, 2(3):395-421

Play and symbolism in Lowenfeld and Winnicott

Madeleine Davis

In her biography of Margaret Lowenfeld which appears as the introduction to the book of Lowenfeld's selected papers entitled Child Psychotherapy, War and the Normal Child (1988), and which is reproduced in this journal in shortened form, Cathy Urwin has brought splendidly to life not only Lowenfeld herself but also the social context, including the prevailing attitudes to child health, that formed the background to her work. It was a context shared by Donald Winnicott, who was Lowenfeld's exact contemporary; and this, together with the fact that each brought to child psychiatry a training in the medicine of childhood, does much to explain how the two came so close together in their ideas about the play of children and its therapeutic value. In fact they interwove with each other over a period of many years: their association goes back to at least 1928, when Winnicott was for a time on the board of Lowenfeld's Clinic for Nervous and Difficult Children, which later became the Institute of Child Psychology (ICP).

When looking at play in the work of Lowenfeld and Winnicott it is necessary first of all to follow Winnicott's admonition to ‘make a distinction between the noun “play” and the verbal noun “playing”’. He made this distinction, he said, because child psychoanalysts had been ‘too busy using play content to look at the playing child, and to write about playing as a thing in itself’.

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