Michael Parsons and the Logic of Play in Psychoanalysis

By Yeshim Oz, MS, LMHP 2nd Year Student Core Program

As we come nearer to the IPI weekend in January, I became curious about the guest speaker, Michael Parsons. In the age of technology, it was not difficult at all to come across tens of articles written by him by just one click. (Ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration; you have to enter your username and password to use the fabulous Pep-Web). Since I am a child therapist and play is part of my life, one of his articles, although not a recent one stood out for me: The Logic of Play in Psychoanalysis (1999).

Although there is nothing extra-ordinary about the use of play in child psychotherapy, the idea of play in adult psychoanalysis might seem a little peculiar at first. However, in his article, Parsons demonstrates beautifully how play, with its paradoxical nature, is ever-present in psychoanalysis. “The paradoxical reality” he says, is “where things may be real and not real at the same time”. Isn’t it the essence of transference? When the patient experiences the analyst as the father or mother, it is true in the sense that the patient experiences it, but it is also an illusion. As Parsons reminds us, Klauber suggested that the therapeutic value of transference does not depend on resolving the illusion but on accepting its paradoxicality. This acceptance opens up a space for the therapeutic couple to do the analytic work without undermining the experience of the patient as a mere illusion. Where is the play element in here? Parsons says, ” the play element functions continuously to sustain this paradoxical reality”. The “as if” quality of play enables the patient -and the analyst as well- to think, imagine, and play with possibilities.

Parsons continues to explain the intricate connections between play, playfulness, humor and irony and stresses the spontaneity and the importance of the analytic frame. He gives excellent examples from clinical material that show how each of these aspects emerges spontaneously from the interplay between the patient and the analyst that would deepen the analytic process.

With all its seriousness, the article evokes in the reader a sense of playfulness, which might have been long forgotten, especially for those who work with adults. As far as I am concerned, it gave me a new understanding when thinking of my young clients who often express, silently or quite loudly, how magical the therapy room (a play framework- in other words) feels to them and to me at times. I am certainly more excited now than before for the January IPI weekend with the anticipation of a playful, humorous, yet serious work.

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