The squiggle was Donald Winnicott's technique of communicating with children through drawing, in psychotherapeutic consultation. First he would make a "squiggle," a twisted or wriggly line spontaneously drawn on a piece of paper. The child then adds elements to the drawing, and the analyst and child comment on its meaning. The analyst then transforms the child's drawing, and the analyst and child further comment on the drawing. This interview diagnostic is based on the idea of testing a therapeutic response.
Winnicott described the game first in 1958 and later more fully, with a series of case studies, in 1971. During his career as both pediatrician and psychoanalyst, Winnicott developed techniques in his work with children that were at once diagnostic and frequently therapeutic, based on his view that creative communication and play both occur in the "third area" or "area of experiencing"—the space between persons where contributions from each overlap.
Winnicott's concept of the "third area," "transitional area," or "area of experiencing" derives from his thinking about the infant's development from the early illusory stage of omnipotence to the stage of recognizing objective reality, and is linked to his ideas about transitional objects and phenomena. An earlier example of communicating with and observing an infant is given in his description of the "spatula game" (Winnicott, 1941).
In both games, Winnicott observed the responses of all parties in the interaction: in the spatula game, the responses of mother, baby, himself, and any observer; in the squiggle game, his own and the child's spontaneous actions and comments.
His description of the squiggle game is exquisitely detailed: how he met the child and introduced the game, how he took pains to diminish possible anxiety, and how he allowed the child, if the child wished, to decline this invitation to play.
Winnicott discovered that this technique, in the setting provided by him, provided reference to current emotional difficulties and also to their roots in developmental and structural reality. The clinical descriptions given in his writings are detailed and give an insight into the mind and work of this unique psychoanalyst and pediatrician. Winnicott's widow, Clare, described Winnicott's own enjoyment of his private squiggles, which he would draw after work each day. A collection of them is held in the Archives of the British Psychoanalytical Society.
Winnicott's description of his technique has inspired other analysts, who have found it useful, although some analysts have leveled the criticism that his spontaneity and his own particular facility for communicating with children were idiosyncratic and are difficult to reproduce.
Melanie Klein also made use of play as a technique, though she used her technique in ongoing psychoanalysis rather than in diagnostic or therapeutic consultations. Anna Freud as well made use of play with children.
See also: Technique with children, psychoanalytic; Winnicott, Donald Woods.
Winnicott, Donald. (1941). The observation of infants in a set situation. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 22, 229-249.
——. (1958). Symptom tolerance in paediatrics. In his Collected papers: Through paediatrics to psycho-analysis (pp. 101-117). London: Tavistock Publications. (Origin-ally published in 1953)
——. (1968). The squiggle game. In Voices: The art and science of psychotherapy, 4 (1).
——. (1971). Therapeutic consultations in child psychiatry. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.
squig·gle / ˈskwigəl/ • n. a short line that curls and loops in an irregular way: some prescriptions are a series of meaningless squiggles. • v. [intr.] wriggle; squirm: a worm that squiggled in his palm. ∎ [tr.] squeeze (something) from a tube so as to make irregular, curly lines on a surface. DERIVATIVES: squig·gly / ˈskwig(ə)lē/ adj.