On January 15, 2011, Rosalind Chaplin Kindler, MFA, RDT spoke to the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc on “The Mutual Influence of Child and Adult Psychoanalytic Treatment: An Examination of Differences and Similarities between Psychoanalytic Work with Children and Adults.” Kinder noted that child and adult therapy mutually influence and inform one another. Contemporary psychoanalytic theory, incorporating infant research on development and attachment, informs adult treatment with ideas about spontaneity, improvisation, and playfulness, giving language to an engagement that long existed in child treatment. [What I had previously, when working with children, called going by the seat of my pants, I can now call improvisation.]
While talking has been privileged in adult treatments, children have always used action and play. Enactments, recognized by Relational therapists as an essential part of treatment, have long been recognized as common in child treatment. The therapist articulates experience for the child, making connections between feelings and events; might be able to detoxify the event, feeling, or thought in such a way as to bring them into the treatment from dissociation.
Differences include those of volition. Children are commonly, but not exclusively, brought by someone else into therapy; adults are only sometimes coerced. Patterns and expectations may be less entrenched in children. They may be living contemporaneous trauma of misattunement and unresponsiveness in their environment and therapists are present to intervene. Authenticity is the standard with children. A greater flexibility is required of the therapist, sometimes seeing the child with the parents, sometimes alone. Parents, teachers, children may all have competing needs and agendas, while alleviating distress remains a common denominator. There is no one theory or technique for every child or family, and one must also consider one’s own proclivities.
Reminding the audience that what is psychoanalytic is how you think about the material, Kindler includes the parents in the process of child therapy. She informs parents that she, the therapist, is going to try to understand the meaning of the child’s behavior and convey that to the parent. Because pathological accommodation [Brandschaft] can compromise developmental strivings in order to maintain attachments, it is imperative that child therapists help parents develop the capacity to self reflect and to think about the unique child’s experience and developmental needs. Kindler will explain to a parent, e.g. one who complains that a child is ‘manipulative’, that children have a limited repertoire to get their needs met and ask the parent to consider both the lengths a child will go to as well as what the child hopes for. Together parent and therapist can puzzle through to try to find the meaning of the child’s behavior.
Treatment of children requires directly addressing their relational context. Without intervention, parental attitudes might impede the child’s development. Facilitating the parent’s capacity to mentalize the experience of the child is an essential part of treatment. Helping parents develop a capacity to self reflect can also help shift their few of the child. We hope to aid parents in understanding the child in a new way.