Nicola Sugden

Integrating the history and philosophy of D.W. Winnicott’s consulting room

‘Play’ has been an important tool in child psychoanalysis almost since its emergence. D.W. Winnicott (1896-1971) wrote extensively on the role of toys and play in psychoanalytic theory and practice, putting forward models of child development and creating diagnostic and therapeutic games based on his case work. These elements of Winnicott’s work evolved alongside his distinctive understanding of the nature of reality. Winnicott argued that a healthy human state of being requires the acquisition of an ability to play, to use a “third realm” of creativity to mediate between external objective reality and the internal domain of subjective experience.

I propose that this worldview is not only vitally important to the historian seeking to understand Winnicott’s theories, but moreover that it provides an ontological framework through which a reflexive approach to historical investigation can be developed. Thus a Winnicottian ethic of play pervades my research on Winnicottian practices, and the philosophy and history of Winnicott’s consulting room integrate through a mirroring of material and method.


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