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The Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildReview - The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child
Volume 63
by Robert A. King, Samuel Abrams, A. Scott Dowling, Paul M. Brinich (Editors)
Yale University Press, 2009
Review by Rudy Oldeschulte
Dec 29th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 53)

The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child has provided -- for 63 years now -- a fascinating mixture of clinical, theoretical, and historical essays related to children, their development, and current trends in psychoanalysis.  This annual began publication in 1945 under the editorship of Anna Freud, Heinz Hartmann, and Ernst Kris.  Today it continues this tradition of highlighting work that is relevant to those with an interest in the psychoanalytic perspective, be they child and adolescent therapists, psychiatrists, or psychologists. 

The perspective of the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child continues to cast a wide net, incorporating efforts from other disciplines such as literature or research work in infant psychology.  For example in this volume, analyses of two works from children's literature -- Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and the writings of William Steig, are included. These inclusions will not only provide interest for readers, but also widen the annual's usefulness to a larger field of child and adolescent practitioners.

This volume of the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child is divided into six sections, including Contributions from Developmental Psychology, Clinical Contributions, Applied Psychoanalysis, and Historical Contributions.  Also included is an interesting summary of work done by a study group on 'Transformations in Psychoanalysis,' which contributes a unique view of therapeutic action in work with children and adults. 

The opening essay of this volume provides a summary of work with 'assisted-conception' families, demonstrating the cultural change that has occurred in our society -- utilizing science in our quest for children as an alternative to adoption -- and what this means emotionally to the parents and the children. The authors provide insight into the developmental tasks that face the children brought into this world through assisted reproductive technology.  The issues that the parents face, as well as 'facilitators' that help foster the relationships, are described, with generous use of clinical vignettes to illustrate the developmental challenges.

Several individuals collaborated to write a provocative essay on the need for recognizing (and utilizing) the developmental aspects of diagnosis in psychiatry and psychology. Despite the unwieldy title of the paper, (Equifinality, Multifinality, and the Rediscovery of the Importance of Early Experiences: Pathways from Early Adversity to Psychiatric and (Functional) Somatic Disorders), the authors make important distinctions between the 'disorder-centered' approach to diagnosis -- current in psychiatry today - and that of a 'person-centered' orientation - the former engendering much dissatisfaction within the ranks of practitioners, and the latter which attempts to include the developmental dimension that is essential for clarity in psychiatric diagnosis.  The emphasis counters the current ahistorical trend -- an approach that categorizes people rather distinctively, presuming unique etiology for specific disorders - and suggests instead a descriptive approach -- a developmentally aware approach, one commented on by Anna Freud decades ago, that would appreciate "...the very multiplicity of factors which determines growth...."

Clinical contributions are offered on a variety of situations encountered in therapeutic work.  The first essay describes work with a preschool child that has suffered early abuse in his life and the modifications necessary in treatment as a result of these experiences.  Another essay takes us on a fascinating tour of the use of defenses to meet developmental challenges that arise with respect to loneliness in adolescence.  Adolescent attachment issues are highlighted in another -- clinical challenges that arise in relation to immigration and relocation. This work highlights the parallels of the normal negotiation of the adolescent's relationship with their parents and the tasks inherent to relocation. 

The essays put forth in this year's Psychoanalytic Study of the Child present a continuing look at the clinical and the theoretical facets of child psychoanalysis.  Many papers in this volume offer important and thoughtful contributions to the literature.  Characteristic of the work of some of the leading practitioners in the field, these papers offer a provocative sampling of the many ways in which analytic understanding of developmental theory, therapeutic work with children and adolescents, and the revisiting of historical contributions remain relevant today.


© 2009 Rudy Oldeschulte


Rudy Oldeschulte trained in psychoanalysis with Anna Freud and her colleagues in London, and in law at DePaul University. He now teaches ethics, psychology, and law.


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