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Imaginative Play in Child Psychotherapy: the Relevance of Merleau-Ponty's Thought

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In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the use of imaginative play in child psychotherapy, yet the theoretical conceptualization of the meaning of play is lacking behind its application in practice. In search of a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of imaginative play, the author turns to Merleau-Ponty's ontology and to his phenomenology of structure, of the lived body, of perception, and of expression. In light of his work, play is an embodied mode of being in the world and a body-world phenomenon. Imaginative play in particular exemplifies the human order in that it enables the child to create and re-create his own meanings within his play world. In a therapeutic context, the evocation of play imagery and the expressive shaping and reshaping of play meanings lead to surprising insights and new discoveries relevant to the child's life-world. A central therapeutic value of imaginative play lies in its promise for facilitating change and healing. A clinical case illustration of a young boy is provided, and the meaning of his imaginative play is exemplified in light of Merleau-Ponty's thought. Some implications are drawn for the theory of play in child psychotherapy.

Affiliations: 1: University of Ottawa

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