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Playing, Mourning, and Becoming in Psychoanalysis (Steven Cooper, PhD - Boston)

  • 17 Oct 2021
  • 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM (UTC-03:00)
  • Virtual meeting


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In a series of recent papers, Dr. Cooper has tried to advance our understanding of play in relation to particular forms of transference-countertransference responsiveness that emerge in analytic work. He defines playing as a form of responsiveness that involves a shift from more formal interpretation about defense, self-states, unconscious fantasy or transference to one that employs humor or irony regarding the content of fantasy, idiomatic language used to express affect or ideas, or the analyst’s more personally revealing reaction to the patient’s recruitment of him as an internal object.

His focus in this talk will be on highlighting a few of the particular qualities of play that activate the power of the analytic situation to facilitate mourning of depriving or frustrating objects. Dr. Cooper is not speaking about losing objects who have died or left the patient. Rather, his focus is on attachment to frustrating or unavailable objects whom patients cling to through conscious and unconscious fantasy. Through several clinical vignettes and analysis of a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, he will try to feature how play emerges in moments of subtly shifting experiences of loss and waste that have been previously enacted in the patient’s life and in the transference-countertransference with the analyst. Through newly discovered forms of play, these processes are occurring now in real time between patient and analyst and less through frozen memorialization of what never was.


Steven Cooper, Ph.D. is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge Health Alliance. He served as Joint Editor-in-Chief of Psychoanalytic Dialogues from 2007-2012 and is now Joint Chief Editor Emeritus.  Steven is the author of four books in psychoanalysis, the latest of which, “Playing and Becoming in Psychoanalysis” will be published in early 2022.

Steven is an occasional film and arts commentator on WBUR, local National Public Radio affiliate in Boston. He has served on the editorial boards of The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, and Contemporary Psychoanalysis and is currently on the editorial board of Psychoanalytic Dialogues and Contemporary Psychoanalysis.  He maintains a full time private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this presentation participants will be able to:

1) Identify the emergence of play in the therapeutic situation

2) Apply concepts of play in facilitating your patient’s ability to separate from frustrating and self-defeating relationships.  

3) Make use of contemporary theories of intersubjectivity and enactment in relation to how play was defined by Winnicott.

Associated Reading

Cooper, S.H. (in press) The play of mourning. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn.

Cooper, S. H. (2021) Toward an ethic of play. Psychoanalytic Q. 90: 373-397.

Cooper, S. H. (2018) Playing in the darkness: Use of the object and use of the subject. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 66(4):743-765.

Davies, J. M. (2004) Whose bad objects are we anyway? Repetition and our elusive love affair with evil. Psychoanal. Dial. 14: 711-732.

Parsons, M. (1999). The logic of play in psychoanalysis. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 80(5):871-884.

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

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