Child analysis, an intensive form of psychotherapy, helps children progress onto the path of normal development. Children who are stalled in their development, who function immaturely or who have regressed may benefit. Children may present with difficulties in learning, friendships, daily functioning, and/or relationships with parents and siblings. They may experience a variety of behavioral and emotional symptoms including the following:

  • separation anxiety
  • school and other phobias
  • sleep, eating or toileting disturbances
  • depression
  • temper outbursts or emotional withdrawal.

Child analysis may also be helpful in helping children cope with their reactions to trauma, parent loss and/or adoption when less intensive forms of psychotherapy have not been successful. An evaluation of the child by a child analyst can determine whether or not child analysis might be beneficial.

What happens in child analysis?

In analysis, the therapist and child work together through play and conversation to understand multiple aspects of the child’s problems: effects of the child’s internal world and the past on the present, present relationships within the family, school and peer group and, eventually, the present relationship with the therapist. Psychoanalysis recognizes that the unconscious affects thoughts, feelings and behavior. The therapist helps the child find new ways to cope more adaptively and may explore the origins of the child’s difficulties. Focusing on the current relationship with the therapist leads to an understanding of the dynamics of the child’s other relationships. The child learns to think about the connections among his thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The analyst meets with the child or adolescent four times weekly. In addition, the therapist works closely with the child’s parents.

What kind of research supports the use of child analysis?

Peter Fonagy and Mary Target (1996) conducted an outcome study of 763 cases of children and adolescents treated at the Anna Freud Center over the last 40 years. In general, they found that children with more severe emotional problems as well as younger children did best in more intensive treatment, including child psychoanalysis.

For further information about child and adolescent analysis or if you have a question about a particular issue in psychological development, please feel free to contact me.

Shoshana Shapiro Adler, Ph.D.

Reference: Fonagy, P. & Target, M. (1996). Predictors of outcome in child psychoanalysis: a retrospective study of 763 cases at the Anna Freud Centre. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 44:27-77.