The Freud Museum

Events Archive

27 October 2007

Trauma & Disruption In Early Childhood - Developmental Consequences

Anna Freud's Legacy 1982 - 2007

Memorial Conference
Saturday 27th October 2007 9.30am-4.30pm
at University College London WC1

Morning: The Theoretical Yield

Inge Pretorius
(Child Psychotherapist, Anna Freud Centre)
Anna Freud and the "maturation, adaptation and structuralisation" of the child's mind

Peter Fonagy and Mary Target
(Directors, Anna Freud Centre)
Finding new ways of applying Anna Freud's principles 25 years on

Chair: Joan Raphael-Leff (Psychoanalyst)

Afternoon: Child Psychotherapy Today

Ann Horne
(Child Psychotherapist, Independent perspective)
Entertaining the body in mind: thoughts on incest, the body, sexuality and the self  Clinical Commentary 1

Anne Alvarez
(Child Psychotherapist, Kleinian perspective)
Clinical Commentary 2

Viviane Green
(Child Psychotherapist, Anna Freudian perspective)
Plenary Discussion
Models of therapeutic change in child psychotherapy:
theoretical differences and cross-fertilisation

Chair: Avi Shmueli (Psychoanalyst)

Conference Report

25 years after her death, Anna Freud's contribution to psychoanalysis has been long-lasting and profound. Her theoretical understanding of child development, psychic conflict and the mechanisms of defence, and her developmental approach to child psychoanalysis, influenced generations of analysts and researchers. This conference reassessed Anna Freud's legacy, showing new directions in which her work has been developed, including innovative work taking place at the Anna Freud Centre itself and surprising connections with other analytic traditions.

The conference was opened with a wide-ranging review by Inge Pretorius, a Child Psychotherapist at the Anna Freud Centre who is also the honorary archivist. Using original photographs and film material, Inge gave a fascinating and visually arresting account of Anna Freud's ideas on the "maturation, adaptation and structuralisation" of the child's mind, weaving historical and theoretical sources of information seamlessly in her presentation. From the Jackson nursery in Vienna, through work with traumatized children during the war, to the research projects and technical innovations of the Hampstead Clinic in the 60s and 70s, Anna Freud showed her commitment to psychoanalytic theory in all aspects of her work. Two of the current directors of the centre, Peter Fonagy and Mary Target, brought the story up to date in their joint presentation "Finding new ways of applying Anna Freud's principles 25 years on". They looked at the theoretical and clinical continuities between Anna Freud's work and present activities, the developing institutional affiliations with Yale University, UCL and the NHS (National Health Service), and the new work being done at the centre on attachment theory, neuropsychoanalysis and mentalisation theory (of which the speakers are the leading proponents). Finally, in accordance with the theme of the day, Peter Fonagy spoke of the most recent research on genetic vulnerability and susceptibility to trauma, bringing the account not only up to date, but looking into the future at new possibilities of research.

The afternoon session followed a different format from the morning, consisting of a clinical presentation by Anne Horne (a child psychotherapist belonging to the 'independent' group), followed by clinical commentaries from Ann Alvarez (Kleinian perspective) and Viviane Green (Anna Freudian perspective). In a profound and in many ways disturbing account of a case of sexual trauma, Anne Horne explored a number of important themes: the child's relationship to their body and how this is integrated into the sense of self ('personalisation' in Winnicott's sense); how the child is represented in the mind of the mother and recognizes herself in the mother (Winnicott's 'mirroring' function of the mother); and the question of infantile sexuality. She argued that infantile sexuality, into which adult, perverse sexuality can intrude, "is proto-sexuality, the capacity for passionate, sensuous and wholehearted relationships with both sexes, but is miles away from adult sexuality". Commenting on the case as presented, Ann Alvarez emphasized the more 'systemic' approach practiced at the Tavistock Clinic, in which attention would have been given to the abusive mother's psychopathology and other family members; while Viviane Green suggested that more information about the patient's developmental stage would have been useful (the level of ego functioning and so on), as well as attention to psychological deficits from which the young patient may have suffered. She defended Anna Freud's approach (often criticized as 'superficial' and not working with 'primitive anxieties') by pointing out that it is not only anxiety but other vulnerabilities that may make it impossible for children to overcome traumatic events.

The most delightful and encouraging thing about the afternoon session was the warmth, openness and spirit of collaboration in which these exchanges took place, a warmth which extended to the plenary discussion that followed immediately afterwards

We would like to thank the Anna Freud Centre for their collaboration on this memorial conference and especially Joan Raphael-Leff, who was not only the driving force behind the event, but also expertly chaired the morning session. Thanks also to Jen Black at the Centre for her administrative support and to child psychoanalyst Avi Shmueli for his thoughtful contributions as chair of the afternoon session.

Additional Notes
The fascinating plenary discussion brought out a number of issues and questions from the audience which are worth comment. These were (1) the nature of child sexuality, (2) the importance of 'narcissism' in the light of attachment based ideas about mental functioning, and (3) the relevance of neuroscience for psychoanalytic theory.

(1) Freud's ideas about childhood sexuality are as disturbing now as they were 100 years ago, if not more so. It is not simply that childhood sexuality is different from adult sexuality, and that child sexuality is a more innocent (though passionate) 'sensuality'. The disturbing paradox Freud asks us to contemplate is the adult nature of child sexuality and the infantile nature of adult sexuality. A charming example of this involution of adult and child is depicted in the award winning film 'Me and you and everyone we know' by Miranda July. In the film, a hard boiled career woman is excited by the fantasy of 'poop going back and forth forever' between the bottoms of her and her online contact, which is signified by the symbol ))< >(( that is sent to her email. On arranging to meet, she is mortified to discover that the progenitor of the exciting fantasy is a four year old little boy. Adult and child sexuality are not the same but, in a strange way, they are not different either. In the same film a similar misunderstanding occurs with two teenage girls and an older man. We know the destructive effects that ensue when adult sexuality intrudes on the child, but that does not make it easier to specify the difference between the two or what constitutes the traumatic effect of sexual abuse.

(2) So much emphasis is now put on attachment and relationship that narcissism, including primary narcissism, is now sometimes seen as an unfortunate by-product of bad parenting, rather than as one of the poles of an ineluctable conflict that is part of the tragedy of being human. How can we look at history and deny it? To think that babies are solely 'object-related' from the start seems to me a triumph of hope over experience - despite the so-called evidence provided by baby-videos. Imagine the strain on a baby if it did not have the capacity for narcissistic withdrawal.

(3) The findings of neuropsychology are fascinating - but how relevant are they to psychoanalysis? Peter Fonagy showed images of neural circuits which indicated chemical changes in the brain that correlated with both attachment (love) and addiction. At the same time it was shown that there was a de-activation of judgemental systems in the brain, indicating the truth of the proposition that 'love is blind'.

To see these visual correlates is certainly exciting, but does it tell us more than what we already know, and is it not the case that we can only interpret these patterns because of other, psychological, sources of information? The relation between love and addiction is a commonplace of popular culture in some ways, but Freud can add more. In On Narcissism Freud suggests two broad categories of human love: the narcissistic type and the 'anaclitic' ('attachment') type. Within the same parameters, a number topics suggest themselves, such as the relationship between narcissism and addiction, which might be the focus of neurological research. In my view, psychoanalysis can set the agenda for neuroscience as much as the other way round.


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