A Theory of the Setting: The Transformation of Unrepresented Experience and Play

by Steven H. Cooper, PhD


The psychoanalytic setting can be defined in part by its functions. The setting operates as an auxiliary function for the analyst’s capacities, which include containment, interpretation, as a participant in play, and supervisor of the setting. The setting houses the transition from unrepresented to represented experience. The setting is a location for the dynamic transit between vital, interactive elements of both containment and interpretation of the patient’s unconscious and conscious experience. Process and non-process elements of the setting are always interacting with one another because the objects’ internal fantasies of the setting are always juxtaposed with the constant, structural elements of the setting. The author attempts to further elaborate the relationship of play to understanding unrepresented experience.

Link to Online Publication [fulltext can also be requested from the library].

The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 100:6, 1439-1454, December 2019.

About the Author

Steven H. Cooper, PhD, is a psychoanalyst and teacher well known internationally for his interest in integrating independent, Kleinian and relational thinking in his clinical work and writing. He is the author of The Analyst’s Experience of the Depressive Position: The Melancholic Errand of Psychoanalysis (2016), Disturbance in the Field: Essays in Transference-Countertransference Engagement (2010), and Objects of Hope: Exploring Possibility and Limit in Psychoanalysis (2000). He has a forthcoming book to be published by Routledge in 2021, Playing and Becoming in Psychoanalysis. A Training and Supervising Analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, he is also Associate Professor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Co-Chief Editor Emeritus at Psychoanalytic Dialogues.

Previous Posts:

Anton Hart, PhD (2020). Principles For Teaching Issues Of Diversity In A Psychoanalytic Context. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 56:2-3, 404-417.

Lawrence J. Brown, PhD (2020). Trauma and Representation. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 100:6, 1154-1170.

Penelope Moore, LICSW (2020). Incest from a Young Age … Lasting a Lifetime. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 48(1), 41-54.

Judith L. Kantrowitz, PhD (2020). A Psychoanalytic Memoir: The Analyst Enabled and Disabled by What is Personal. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 68(1), 83–100.

Cuneyt Iscan, MD (2020). Learning Along the Way: Further Reflections on Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy by Patrick Casement, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, 2019, 156pp. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 80:2, 235-239.

Anna Ornstein, MD (2020). The Relativity of Morality in the Contemporary World. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40:4, 223-233.

Sarah Ackerman, PhD (2020). Impossible Ethics. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 2020;68(4):561-582.

Cordelia Schmidt-Hellerau, PhD (2020). How Demagogy Works: Reflections on Aggression in Politically Fraught Times. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40:4, 234-242

Judy Yanof, MD (2020). A Separation: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 73:1, 172-181.

Elsa Ronningstam et al. (2020). Psychotherapeutic Treatment of Depressive Symptoms in Patients with Narcissistic Disturbances: A Review. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy50, 21–28.

John C. Foehl (2020). Lived Depth: A Phenomenology of Psychoanalytic Process and Identity. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40(2), 131-146.

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