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  • Writer's pictureMarian Wiener-Margulies

Laughing Matters: Play and Creativity During Candidacy

An article from The Candidate Connection Newsletter - January 2014 / Volume 16, Issue 1

In the last newsletter edition, I wrote about “creativity during candidacy.” Candidates and seasoned analysts weighed in on the question, “what constitutes creativity during candidacy?” They also shared their thoughts on the question, “how much room and time is there for creativity to unfold during analytic training?” In this second article, you’ll be introduced to the concept of play in the creativity mix. We’ll first discuss play and development, and then explore the connection between play and creativity. And finally, how play and creativity are woven into the experience of analytic candidacy, making for a rich, satisfying, pleasurable training experience, and a constant source of inspiration.

Play and Its Role in Development Through play, children do much of their learning. During play, children exercise their developmental muscles—physical, mental, emotional, and social. They learn about themselves and their environment, they build social and emotional skills and intelligence, and they learn to think symbolically and manipulate symbols in ever increasing ways. Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget (1962) dedicated much of his adult working life to watching children play. He used the concepts of assimilation and accommodation to describe how children constantly expand their knowledge. Children, he argued, are always assimilating new information like the sponges they are, and then through the process of accommodation they are able to make room for the new by modifying their already existing structures. This process allows them to adapt to their environment, and leads them to increasingly higher stages of mental organization.

As a parent, developmental psychologist, and child play therapist, I’ve also observed that play is the work of child- hood, and has an enormous impact on growth and development. We see play in action in the earliest months of life in such parent-infant games as peek-a-boo. Play continues as the toddler builds with blocks or entices his parent to play hide- and-go-seek. Preschoolers later play “house” or “doctor” or pretend to be a superhero or fairy princess. Play during the school years becomes more elaborate and nuanced, whether the child is playing a sport, a musical instrument, creating art, or acting on stage.

Another aspect of play is the motivation to master a difficult task, perhaps by completing a challenging puzzle or making a paper airplane fly.

Not only does learning take place in all these activities, but joy and pleasure infuse this play. When children are fully engaged in play to the extent that they lose a sense of time, that is when they feel most joy. This state of mind is similar to the “flow” experience Mihaly Csik- szentmihalyi so eloquently describes in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990).

Play & Creativity Creativity emerges out of play experiences such as trying out new ideas or trying on new roles (e.g., fantasy, pretend play, drawing, painting, and imagining). Children are the real experts in the art of play and creating. Picasso had it right when he looked to children and their art for inspiration. “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child,” Picasso reflected.

Donald W. Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst and pediatrician and author of the classic 1971 book, Playing and Reality, believed that play involves full imaginative engagement between one’s inner and outer life. He also believed that the play space between these two worlds of experience is the source of all creativity.

I see play and creativity as twin concepts, one feeding off the other and somehow inextricably linked. Phyllis Greenacre in her classic 1959 paper, “Play in Relation to Creative Imagination,” stated that creativity is “the capacity for or activity of making something new, original or inventive, no matter in what field.”

Creativity emerges out of playful experiences, when the mind is allowed free reign to explore and roam. In this process, different parts of our mind can meet in fresh and new ways within ourselves and with others. With this freedom to explore comes the freedom to create and to be creative in our work and in our play.

Play & Creativity During Candidacy How does all this relate to analytic training? How can children serve as our teachers in the art of play and creativity in our training? How can we see the arduous and lengthy training process as a play- ground to explore, imagine possibilities, and fully immerse ourselves so that we feel entirely swept up in the experience?

We saw that creativity is intimately connected with play, and that play is often suffused with joy. I believe that the analyst at play experiences joy. The best fertilizer for welcoming one’s own sense of playfulness contains large doses of child-like curiosity, wonder of every- thing around us, and a sense of awe of the person before us. Also, we might fol- low the lead of children who greet each day with questions, imagination, and exploration. Further enriching the soil of play is our willingness to welcome into the analytic play space all our uncertainty, ambiguity, and not knowing what is unfolding at any given moment, nor what lies ahead.

In allowing ourselves to have a playful attitude as we go about our training, we also help our patients nurture their own playfulness. This, I would argue, is as much a healing agent as is our patients’ discovery of their own voices and sense of agency.

Analytic Training as a Launching Pad Ideally, parents provide their children with a safe space that supports growth. As parents provide firm boundaries and certain limits, children are free to explore, experiment, play, and create. Gradually, with gentle nudges from their parents, children leave the nest and take flight. Similarly, analytic training ideally provides candidates with the necessary structure, support, and safety to allow play and creativity to unfold and flower. Windows of opportunity for play and creativity during training are abundant.

Take, for example, the training analysis, where the experience of play and opportunity to create begins. Where else can you talk and have someone listen so fully and carefully—not just with two, but with three ears—attending to what you say and what you don’t say, where your mind can run free and play. The analytic setting offers a play space where the adventurer within can explore with a sense of curiosity and wonder; where it’s okay to question and doubt, take risks, get lost, and be found. The analyst’s own playfulness certainly can be liberating; however, giving oneself the freedom to express oneself and play is only limited by one’s own fears.

In supervision, we also find ample room for play. With the guidance of our supervisor, we might see something missed, a stone left unturned, a rupture needing repair, a silence left golden. In this exchange, our minds begin to expand and we play with new possibilities and ways of seeing and working with our patients. We learn to “imagine” how it feels to be in their skin, what the tears they shed feel like, to describe the texture of their sadness. We begin to see who our patients are capable of becoming, just as parents begin to imagine the potential of their child.

In all these spaces, and with all these resources, we gain greater awareness of our child-like capacity to play. Gradually, as we free ourselves to play more within the frame, as we express ourselves creatively in our work and in our play, the scaffolding of theory and technique becomes second nature. We begin to build our own internal scaffolding, which then becomes flexible and elastic enough to support new and different ways of thinking. The antithesis of play is rigid thinking which closes off other ways of seeing, and serves as blinders that obscure the true spirit of analysis. I also think the emotions of fear and shame get in the way of freeing oneself to play and create. It is not only as analysands that we experience freedom and pleasure, but also in our move to the other side of the couch, as analysts in training. In this capacity, we also experience a freedom to play and feel pleasure inherent in analyzing.

Laughing Matters It is no surprise that just as play is often not taken seriously, the laughter that often accompanies play and expresses joy is not always welcomed into the consulting room. In fact, it is sometimes frowned upon. Perhaps the thinking here is that analysis is serious work and no laughing matter! However, laughter is a quintessential human emotion and it offers release of tension and provides connection. It provides a ‘leavening agent’ and an important addition to the mix of play and creativity during training. Laughter is good medicine and a valuable asset to your analyst’s toolkit. A spirit of playfulness and the laughter that often accompanies it is a useful prescription for not only our patients and analysands, but also for you as an analyst in training.

Play With Others Inspires Creativity

The friendships formed and the collegial bonds cemented with fellow candidates make it possible to have playful experiences in and outside of analytic training. These bonds may be formed via such experiences as a candidate-run work- shop, a candidate committee, or attending a gathering for candidates at an annual APsaA meeting.

As we progress from candidate student-fledgling analysts to well-seasoned and experienced analysts, we do well to take along with us our play tools: a sense of curiosity and wonder, the freedom to explore and question, and the aspiration to learn and create. We also now have another set of tools which we acquire during training. These analytic tools give us the freedom to play with our thoughts and feelings, draw on, but not wed ourselves too tightly to theory, be open to surprise, and embrace all the uncertainty and ambiguity that is a given in our work. Among these tools is also the sense that we are always learning, whether it be from our ever expanding analytic selves, from our patients, or from our colleagues and mentors. Not to be left out of our toolkit is the sense of joy infusing our work and our play, which makes it possible to pursue the work we do well beyond the retirement age.

As candidates we can choose to tap our well of creativity, take risks in expressing our voices, and fully enter analytic training, using it as a potential playground. In fact, all the spaces we occupy during analytic training can become virtual playgrounds with creative sparks flying within ourselves, and between ourselves and others whom we encounter during this magical and mystical journey.


Candidate Connection Volume 16
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