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J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 2005 Winter;53(1):159-87.

Affects, agency, and self-regulation: complexity theory in the treatment of children with anxiety and disruptive behavior disorders.

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  • 1University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, USA.


In an increasingly unsettled and violent world, with swelling numbers of children who are abused, abandoned, or neglected, emotionally if not physically, and an increasing population of aggressive preschool children with anxiety and disruptive behavior disorders who cannot be contained in ordinary settings, psychoanalysts can make a contribution. Early intervention is essential. In very early childhood, new procedural memories for interacting with others and for regulating affects can be formed more easily than they can ever be again. Intervention should aim toward helping the child develop a sense of agency, establish moral standards, assume self-responsibility, and attain the capacity for emotional regulation. The principles of complex dynamic systems can inform psychoanalytic treatment strategies, as demonstrated with five children whose cases are presented.

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