Transitional relating and the capacity for play in treatment

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1 Scopus citations


Based on an understanding of Winnicott's (1953/1975) notion of transitional relatedness and transitional phenomena as representing the use of play, illusion, and soothing capacities, I created a novel transitional object early memory probe that elicits a qualitative experience of current capacities for transitional relatedness. Working from a set of assumptions first articulated by Mayman (1968), early childhood memories are considered psychological reconstructions organized around unconscious object relations that are projected into the structure and content of early memories. It has been possible to assess patients' current capacities for transitional relatedness through the guise of past transitional object attachments. Two empirical studies (Fowler, Hilsenroth, and Handler, 1995, 1998) have demonstrated that greater levels of creative play and fantasy involved in the patient's memory productions are associated with the patient's greater capacity for transitional relatedness as evidenced by greater use of metaphor and use of the therapist as a soothing illusion. Thus, early memories are linked to self and other object relations structures, as well as to their expression in relationships-the prototypic transference relationships. This thesis, supported by empirical findings, is precisely what makes early memories so rich and revealing of patients' character structure, core conflicts, and potential transference enactments. Two clinical examples provided evidence for their use in complex treatments with adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-223
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Personality Assessment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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