February 9, 2023

There are some well-known play therapy quotes that are widely accepted as factual statements.

But are they true??

You might be surprised to learn the story behind your favorite play therapy quotes.  There's an update from the original post on one of these quotes PLUS I added another origin story on one of my favorite play therapy quotes of all-time.

A Year Of Conversation...

I'm guilty of using this one in the past, but after doing a little more research,  I was surprised to learn its origin story is a bit different than we might think. 

This quote is a favorite among play therapists because it perfectly communicates the idea that play is a language.

Do you know the one I am talking about?

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. ~Plato
But is that what Plato really said? 

There is no evidence that Plato said this (AT ALL).  

According to Quote Investigator,  "The earliest significant match known to QI was contained in a short pamphlet published in 1670 titled 'A Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaving the University Concerning His Behaviour and Conversation in the World' by Richard Lingard."

Quote Investigator teaches us that the original saying translates more specifically from "play" into "game."  At the surface, you might shrug and still feel like it is close enough to convey the same meaning.

However, upon further examination, you learn that Lingard was referring to gambling games, like dice. 

So, what the author was actually saying was that if you can learn a lot about a person's character by how they respond to losing a small or large sum of money in a gambling game. 

And, for the record, the timeframe was actually seven years.  

Quote Investigator goes on to explain that "it seems that the much closer version shows up in the 1857 book titled 'A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs'

"An hour of play discovers more than a year of conversation."

However, this publication does not have Plato as the author.  No author is credited in that version.

And then, according to Quote Investigator,  around 1958, Plato was assigned to this quote.  And then again, and again and again.  

Maybe it sounds Plato-esque.  But given that Plato was born 428/427 BC and died around 348/347, you might think that there would be more evidence to support that theory. 

Sorry to burst your play therapy bubbles, but this one is FICTION

Speaking of Research...

What about this one? 

Play is the highest form of research.  -Albert Einstein

That one has to be true, right?

Again, not exactly.  

The researchers at Quote Investigator looked into this one as well and found that , "In 1962 the journal "Childhood Education” published an article titled “Play is Education” by N. V. Scarfe that contained the following passage: "All play is associated with intense thought activity and rapid intellectual growth. The highest form of research is essentially play."

Quote Investigator reports that Einstein did say this:

“The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. This combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.”

That doesn't have quite the same catchy ring to it though.  

And according to Quote Investigator, what happened was that Scarfe made the statement that the highest form of research is essentially play AND THEN followed that with the words (quoted above) that Einstein actually said.  

And as a result, people who read the article misattributed Scarfe's words for Einstein's.

So...you can use this quote if you want.

But you should tag N.V. Scarfe instead of Albert Einstein. 

Repeating Something Doesn't Make It True

The most recent quote to make the rounds is seemingly popular because it sounds scientific enough to be true.

You may have seen this one: "Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain—unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10 and 20 repetitions!"~Dr. Karyn Purvis

UPDATED:  Thanks to another play therapist, Dore Steinert, I can add the source of this misquoted quote.  Listen to this clip from Dr Purvis where she says something VERY similar to that quote listed about that we see all over social media.   But there is an important difference from that quote and what she actually said is in this video around the 0:46 mark:

Now what we know from research is that it takes 400 repetitions of an act or a learning skill, 400 times, to get one new synapse. Or -would you like to know an option - there's an option.  OR, 12 repetitions with joy and laughter and you get a synapse because there's a release of a chemical dopamine.

This part is still true though: 

Another play therapist, Kamini Verma,  reached out to the Karen Purvis Institute of Child Development for clarification in 2019.  This is the exact written response that Ms. Verma received from their office:

“This was indeed said by Dr. Purvis. Sadly, before she gave us the reference she became terribly ill and passed away. We have not been able to locate this, so the source went to the grave with Dr. Purvis.”~Karen Purvis Institute of Child Development 

New: The Story Behind another favorite play therapy quote

If you have any training in child-centered play therapy theory, you have probably heard this saying

You can not give what you don't possess. 

In The Art of the Relationship, Dr. Garry Landreth says, “you can’t accept another person’s weaknesses until you are able to accept your own.”  This concept is restated as rule of thumb number five in the Child Parent Relationship Training manual as “You can’t give what you don’t possess.”

This one is true, but here's the rest of the origin story:

This saying, “you can’t give what you don’t have” is a derivative of a Latin rule regarding property known as the Nemo Dat Rule.  In Latin, nemo dat quod no habet is translated to : no one gives what they do not have. This legal principle was applied to the sale of goods meaning quite literally that you are unable to sell an item if it does not belong to you.  You must have literal ownership of something to be legally able to sell it (or give it away).

I believe that they ways in which play therapists have adapted this saying from the literal version into the more abstract, but equally meaningful version, is so brilliant.  This is probably my favorite play therapy related quote of all -time and the one that I use most often in my practice.  I love it so much, I made it into a coloring page!  Get it for free here

So before you post a quote, remember this one:

"Don't believe everything you read on the internet." ~Abraham Lincoln

Always do your own research before you post something as fact.  And as always, use what is useful and discard the rest. 

Are there other famous quotes that have an interesting back story? Please share them with me. 

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About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

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