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Winnicott, D.W. (1968). Playing: Its Theoretical Status in the Clinical Situation. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 49:591-599.

(1968). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49:591-599

Playing: Its Theoretical Status in the Clinical Situation

D. W. Winnicott

In this paper I am trying to explore an idea which has been forced on me by my work, and also forced on me by my own stage of development at the present time, which gives my work a certain colouring. I need not say that my work, which is largely psychoanalysis, also includes psychotherapy, and for the purpose of this paper I do not need to draw a clear distinction between the uses of the two terms.

When I come to state my thesis I find, as so often, that it is very simple, and that not many words are needed to cover the subject. Psychotherapy takes place in the overlap of two areas of playing, that of the patient and that of the therapist. Psychotherapy has to do with two people playing together. The corollary of this is that where playing is not possible then the work done by the therapist is directed towards bringing the patient from a state of not being able to play into a state of being able to play.

Although I am not attempting to review the literature I do wish to pay tribute to the work of Milner (1950), (1955) who has written brilliantly on the subject of symbol-formation. However, I shall not let her deep comprehensive study stop me from drawing attention to the subject of playing in my own words. Milner (1955) relates children's playing to the concentration of adults, and I find I have done the same:

When I began to see … that this use of me might be not only a defensive regression, but an essential recurrent phase of a creative relation to the world …