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Creativity And Play

  Defining creativity has posed an interesting challenge to psychologists and psychoanalysts. Freud, for example, saw it as an act of sublimation of sexual instincts—an explanation which falls frustratingly short of a satisfactory definition of a highly-regarded human attribute. D.W. Winnicot, from the British school of psychoanalytical objects-relations thought, put forward a more complex theory: that there is a potential space between mother and baby which is where the baby learns to play; playing is seen as a prerequisite for creativity. Winnicott thought that a healthy relationship to reality was a creative one. Those of his patients who were compliant with reality and felt that they had no impact on it were mentally ill and full of feelings of futility and that nothing mattered.

Having located play as an important aspect of illness and recovery, Winnicot also discovered that the psychoanalytic ideas of inner and outer reality did not adequately cover the experiences of playing and creativity. For Winnicot playing leads to cultural experience, appreciation and creation and is the missing link between inner and outer reality. The mother creates the potential space by giving the baby sensitive, loving management when the child is separating out from the mother—the phase when the baby moves from experiencing the world as an extention of itself to realizing its separateness. If the baby has a poor experience, then Winnicot sees that there is little space left for anything but introversion and extraversion. The job of the psychoanalyst or therapist is to give the patient back this area to play in. MJ

Further reading D.W. Winnicot, Playing and Reality.



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