Child Analysis

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The term child analysis refers to the application of psychoanalytic treatment and concepts to a child with a view to understanding the psychic life and mental development of children.

The notion of child analysis first appeared in the work of Melanie Klein, in the sense that she first provided an extensive definition that is both theoretical and practical. The pioneers in the field include Sándor Ferenczi, who contributed still-original ideas on the confusion of tongues between adult and child, as well as his account of the treatment of Little Arpad, and Alfred Adler, one of the first practitioners of child analysis in Vienna.

Hermine von Hug-Hellmuth was one of the first child psychoanalysts to use play techniques, but it was only with Klein that the notion of transference and the idea of psychoanalytic treatment for children appeared. This perspective placed her in sharp opposition to Anna Freud, who believed that transference did not really exist for children owing to the parents' place in the child's life. In contrast, Klein used the transference for the "deep" interpretation of hate and envy. This controversy left its imprint on the evolution of psychoanalysis in Great Britain and led to the creation of the Independent group, which consistently upheld the importance of childhood development.

In relation to adult psychoanalysis, child psychoanalysis occupies an indeterminate position that is both peripheral and central, and that is reflected in debates about the various modes of psychoanalytic training throughout the world. It is peripheral in that not all adult analysts have the inclination or training to work with children, and not all psychoanalytic societies require that their candidates have specific training or even knowledge of the elements of mental development. It is central in that the fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis are summed up in the child: infantile sexuality, transference, the unconscious, resistance, repetition, the drives, and interpretation. The case of Little Hans, described by Sigmund Freud in "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy" (1909b) is a good example of this, even though the treatment was essentially based on observations and exchanges between Hans and his parents, in a sort of precursor to treatment proper.

In this sense, child analysis can be seen as the application of psychoanalysis in all its facets. In fact, it has not been limited to the treatment of neuroses, but has rapidly been extended to various forms of psychosis, autism, mental retardation, childhood psychosomatic disorders, the psychoanalytic observation of infants, and ethnopsychoanalysis. Donald W. Winnicott applied Klein's thinking and his own pediatric experience to a psychoanalytic approach to infants and their relational and developmental difficulties, in particular the encroachment of maternal depression on the infant's self. From this he derived a model for treating borderline states in adults.

In France, Sophie Morgenstern is credited with the first psychoanalytic use of a child's drawing. In 1958 Jacques Lacan gave an original description of the development of subjectivity in the infant, based on the notion of the mirror stage and using the concepts of privation, frustration, and castration, along with the concepts of the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. Françoise Dolto contributed a great deal to the popularization of child analysis through her analytic and pedagogical talents, and proposed the notion of the unconscious body image. Serge Lebovici, René Diatkine, Michel Soulé, Roger Misès, and Janine Simon were among the analysts most actively involved with children, through institutions that they created, such as the CMPP. (Consultations médico-psychopédagogiques [Medical and psycho-pedagogical consultations]), as well as through studies on the specific requirements of child analysis, its technique and training. Together with Michel Fain and Léon Kreisler, and working within a perspective close to that of René Spitz, Michel Soulé helped define the field of psychosomatic psychoanalytic work with infants, children, and adolescents.


   * Diatkine, René, and Simon, Janine. (1972). La psychanalyse précoce. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
   * Dolto, Françoise. (1984). L'image inconsciente du corps. Paris: Le Seuil.
   * Freud, Sigmund. (1909b). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. SE, 10: 1-149.
   * Klein, Melanie. (1975). The psycho-analysis of children. In The Writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. 2). London: Hogarth. (Original work published 1932)