Play, Free Association and Enactment: the Levy Goldfarb lecture

March 3, 2020

Levy Goldfarb lecture 

Presenter: Eugene Mahon, MD

​In this lecture I define childhood symbolic play, free association and enactments as distinct entities despite the important strands of connective tissue that binds them psychologically. To Freud’s definition of play being the same as fantasy except for play’s need to use props and playthings to actualize itself, I add action as an obvious but yet nevertheless neglected component. I suggest that the potential for free association begins with the achievement of formal Piagetian cognitive processes in early adolescence and that it needs no props or actions to set it in motion since words and ideas generate further spontaneities in a creative flow of associations. In adult psychoanalytic process enactments enlist the props and playthings of play again as a too abstract, exclusively verbal free associative affective process fails to express the whole affective analytic communication. I illustrate all of this with psychoanalytic process from a four to six year old child in analysis, that same child again age twelve to fourteen and fully able to free associate creatively and productively, and then from an adult analysis in which free associative process failed to carry the full burden of affective meanings and enactment was enlisted to play a profound role in the full expression of analytic affective communication. In adult analysis I suggest that enactment is a creative regression to the play mode of props, playthings and action to express what words alone could not communicate.

Eugene Mahon has published many articles on a great diversity of psychoanalytic topics and is the author of four published books: A PSYCHOANALYTIC ODYSSEY; RENSAL THE REDBIT; BONESHOP OF THE HEART; SUCH STUFF AS DREAMS ( in press). He is a training and supervising analyst at Columbia Psychoanalytic Center for Training and Research. He is a child and adult psychoanalyst and practices in New York City.


After attending this session, participants should be able to:

1. Recognize the the role of play as a form of communication in child analysis.
2. Describe the role of Piagetian cognition (especially formal cognitive achievements) in the development of the capacity for free association.
3. Explain the role of development in the understanding of clinical work with enactments in adult psychoanalytic process.


This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with the accreditation requirements and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint providership of American Psychoanalytic Association and Association for Psychoanalytic Medicine. The American Psychoanalytic Association is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.