FAQs about child & adolescent psychoanalysis

questionsHere are some commonly asked questions about child and adolescent psychoanalysis, including the role of the parents, what is a psychoanalyst, scientific studies, costs, what to expect and medication.

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Q. What is child and adolescent psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalysis is a form of intensive psychotherapy conducted four or five times a week in appointments lasting 45 or 50 minutes. The goal of child or adolescent psychoanalysis is to restore a troubled child to the path of healthy, progressive development. This treatment is not a “quick fix.” Instead, it helps the child/adolescent overcome troubles and delays while building deep, long lasting strength and resilience.

In the analyst’s room younger children can play with toys such as puppets, animals, toy cars and houses or draw, paint, or model with clay, as they talk. Play, activity, and words are all ways children express their inner world. Adolescents usually just talk.

Whatever activity or kind of verbal expression the child chooses, the analyst observes, listens, and works to understand and share this understanding. Often the child or adolescent finds quick relief from the acute anxiety and symptoms. Further growth comes as the analyst is able to help the children and adolescents verbalize their problems in a way that they were incapable of doing on their own. Exploring the relationship with the psychoanalyst and its similarity to important family relationships can free the child from reactivity and allow more intentional, self-directed action and growth.

Q. What is the role of parents?

Parents are, of course, the most important adults in a child and adolescent’s life. That centrality is key during psychoanalytic treatment. Regular communication between the psychoanalyst and parents (or other responsible adults) is essential. In the case of an adolescent, ongoing regular contact between parent(s) and psychoanalyst may or may not occur, depending on the individual situation.

Q. What (or who) is a child and adolescent psychoanalyst?

Child and adolescent psychoanalysts are highly trained and experienced mental health professionals. In addition to prior education and training, psychoanalysts have subsequently completed additional years of education and training at a psychoanalytic institute approved by The American Psychoanalytic Association. That education includes academic seminars, a personal analysis, and supervision of the psychoanalytic treatment of adults and children by an experienced psychoanalyst.

Q. Are there any scientific studies that demonstrate the success of child psychoanalysis?

Among the growing number of studies, a landmark study of 763 youth treated with intensive and non-intensive therapy was conducted at The Anna Freud Centre in London in collaboration with the Yale Child Study Center. For children with severe emotional disorders, researchers found intensive treatment over a long period of time was more effective than shorter therapies, or a combination of therapy and medications.

Q. Why does it cost so much? How can I afford it?

Psychoanalysis does require an important investment of money and time. Because of the commitment involved, many child and adolescent psychoanalysts modify their fees. Affordable psychoanalysis is also available through all training Institutes affiliated with the American Psychoanalytic Association.

Q. What is the difference between psychoanalysis and other forms of psychotherapy?

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is similar to psychoanalysis, but is less intensive and more focused on immediate situations, not deeper change. Cognitive therapy works with the patient’s rational thought patterns on resolving particular symptoms. Behavioral therapies seek to modify behavior with rewards and/or consequences. In contrast, psychoanalysis works by uncovering the sources of the child or adolescent’s difficulties in their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral histories, finding new, healthy solutions to these deep problems, and integrating these solutions into the patient’s life story.

Q. What can I expect from child or adolescent psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalysis helps people of all ages be more active and engaged in their own lives. It helps people recognize and manage their feelings, and also their strengths and weaknesses. It helps people free themselves from inner constraints, while helping them accept who they are and become who they want to be. Psychoanalysis helps children and adolescents stay on a course of healthy, progressive development.

Q. Should my child be on medication or in psychoanalysis?

Careful evaluation of each child is needed to decide on the best treatment. But psychoanalysis and medication are not mutually exclusive. Some children in psychoanalysis may also require medication. Unfortunately, today, many children receive only medication without the equally important element of psychotherapy, which promotes longer lasting growth.

Psychoanalysis for children and adolescents

Leon Hoffman, M.D., editor
309 East 49th Street, New York, NY 10017

© 2003 the American Psychoanalytic Association, all rights reserved