The Anna Freud Foundation

Is knowledge of child development of value for psychoanalysts?
What are your views and experiences?

Many analysts feel that knowledge of child development enhances their clinical abilities.  Others view it as a potential encumbrance, and others still feel that it is neither the one nor the other. 
Please forward your points of  view and experiences to
Your response may be quoted in full or properly extracted before posting.  If you choose to be anonymous please express this in your reply. 
We hope to evoke further responses as successive views are published.


 I have read the question about the relevance of child development and I am somewhat puzzled. Our theory started as one derived from "infantile sexuality" and certainly did not end there. Ego development, added depth, diversity  and additional dimensions to our theory and our treatment options. Certainly there is "development" beyond early childhood, ie latency, adolescence and adulthood (a new and growing area for inquiry). But I think we have to acknowledge that this "onion" has many layers and early childhood is one of them and cannot be ignored. Our comments to patients are often "couched" in the language of early development. When we talk of "defenses", we are talking of early development. "Adolescence", according to some authors, has been labelled the "second separation individuation" period-and the language used to describe this period is reminiscent of the early S-I dynamics. Behavior is multiply determined and I do not think we can ignore the early childhood component. However, at the same time, therapy has to be "focused" on progressive movement and not regressive movement. Acknowledgement of early CH factor does not exclusively mean "regressive". Obviously, this comment comes from a child and adolescent psychiatrist and psychoanalyst..
Chester M. Berschling, MD
Pittsburgh, PA

Luckily, my psychoanalytic education coincided with the popularity of Margaret Mahler (I had the chance to be in a seminar with her) and so her work on separation-individuation had a great impact on my classical training. Understanding my adult patients in terms of their childhood development has been enhanced. Many patients have experienced trauma in the earliest years and their rapprochement was fraught with difficulty. Along with Anna Freud's Metapsychology Assessment paper and her concept of developmental lines, Mahler's research casts light on how the ego develops. Studying child development brings a new dimension to understanding the adult analysand. Winnicott's 'good enough mother' explains the repercussions of inadequate mothering, and how a person's life is shaped by the depressed mother, the unavailable mother, the mother who does not protect the child. The oedipus complex is effected by each parent and its resolution depends on the safety of childhood. In sum, I thing that understanding childhood development, including the new brain studies, makes adult psychoanalysis more possible and more productive than ever.
Jane Hall

My introduction to psychoanalysis was by way of child development.  Working as a pediatrician I was puzzled and intrigued by childhood psychological disturbances and fascinated by the babies I cared for.  I found a pathway to understanding through the writings of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud and others and in conversation with analytically oriented pediatricians such as Bob Furman and Marshall Klaus.  I now view child development as one of the "basic sciences" of psychoanalysis, an irreplaceable and ever growing requirement of understanding of the human psyche. I refer to child development in all its aspects, physical and cultural as well as psychological. The analyst must especially keep the physical underpinnings of psychology in mind, must keep "the body in mind," and there is no better way to do this than to revisit and learn from the infant, the toddler, the school age child, the adolescent. Important as it is, child development is not primarily important to me as a way to understand my patients' conflicts, but as a window without which I cannot see into what lives today.  We all live as the infant, child and adolescent within us and cannot comprehend our adult self if we cut off a portion of who we are from our considerations.
Scott Dowling

 The invitation to this dialogue is as exciting as it is important. In my opinion knowledge and interest in Child development is a salient component of any analyst's work; we are always meeting the developmental history and story of a given patient, regardless of the patient's age. The analyst's counter-transference and reverie is also in the room as the analyst remembers and reflects on his developmental events.I was so fortunate to have Dr. Al Solnit as my friend and mentor late in 1960 when I was a student in new haven. Dr. Solnit impressed upon me the importance of studying at the Yale Child Study Center before moving on to psychoanalysis with adults.Knowledge of Child development (and family systems) has deeply influenced the way I listen to patients and greatly enhanced my work.
Rina Freedman, NCP, Los Angeles.

Miss Freud had a well balanced and thorough answer to the question
 we are addressing. She has published her opinion (1965) in her book
 Normality and Pathology in Childhood, The pages which contain her
 I notice that other contributors to this discussion praise direct
 child observation but offer neither examples nor explanations for
 their opinions. In contrast, Miss Freud points out that
 psychoanalytic discoveries made during child observation are made
 only by people who are already analytically trained and that
 observations are inferred and NOT able to be conceptually validated.
 Observation of child behavior with inferred explanations of its
 meaning is an exercise in reinforcement of preconceptions.

 My own experience has been that child observation can be useful, if
 one is under the guidance of someone experienced. It is difficult to
 apply the information offered in clinical settings. Inferred
 similarity, resulting during observational comparisons, can help in
 the choice of content of questions asked of patients.

 It is not possible to predict future symptoms during child
 observation: see page 207 in Miss Freud's book. Only in verbal
 children who can answer questions can one draw conclusions about the
 meaning of behavior. For example see Ernst Kris' 1951 paper SOME
 COMMENTS AND OBSERVATIONS ON AUTOEROTIC          ACTIVITIES ( PSC 6:95-116) He actually asked children what they were thinking while masturbating.

 Observer's memory-alerted attention/perception (i.e. consciousness)
 draws the observer to similarities that support theory oriented


One of the key elements of an adult treatment is the construction of a life narrative. The human tendency is to retroactively structure our memories in such a way as to give our lives and our sense of self meaning and continuity. Our patients remember their past in order to understand their present, but what they remember and how they remember is not static. How memories are constructed is influenced by the present moment and by transformations in the course of development. We cannot know all the facts of our patientsí past, much less their childhood sensations, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. However, we can be aware of the cognitive and emotional advances, central conflicts, fantasies, and patterns of interactions typical of each major developmental period. This knowledge allows us to be more fully attuned to our patientsí process of selection of childhood memories and to the transformations in their meaning and significance. A developmental perspective allows for a much deeper understanding of the narratives our patients have constructed, and offers a way to examine them and to make room for alternative interpretations and change.

Ellen Shustorovich, PhD
New York, New York

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