Send to

Choose Destination
Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2004 Apr;13(2):237-54.

Psychoanalysis and the early beginnings of residential treatment for troubled youth.

Author information

Committee on Human Development, and the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Chicago, 5730 South Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


One of the intentions of Aichhom, Redl, Wineman, Bettelheim, and Anna Freud in their writings about group care was to advocate for the need to simplify the lives of youths who had known only chaos, to create an atmosphere in which everything has a purpose and predictable positive responses were given unconditionally. Recent efforts, such as those by Greenberg et at, have focused on building community-wide early interventions to forestall later emergence of emotional or behavioral disorders. The efforts also mark a shift away from punishment and exclusion for troubled children at school to more inclusive systems of positive behavioral interventions and support by providing a place to achieve academic and social behavioral success. Contemporary social policy regarding residential care for troubled children reflects the belief that a child's development is inevitably enhanced by residence ina family environment. This belief in the value of home and family, so central to contemporary child welfare policy, has been challenged by the recognition that some family situations are not conducive for growth. Redl and Wineman observed that the children who ended up in residential treatment had used up all community treatment resources and soon became the children that nobody wants. Eventually, the homes that produced them, the communities in which they lived, the schools they attended, and the neighborhoods in which they played were unwilling to tolerate their disruptive and disturbing behavior. The chaotic lives of the parents of these children hindered effective monitoring and management,which limited the family's ability to spend time with children, teach conflict-resolution skills, or communicate consistent behavioral expectations. Walker suggested that divorce, abuse, poverty, drugs, and other forces that interfere with normal parenting increasingly disrupt advantaged and disadvantaged families. Vogel and Bell and Spiegel observed that some troubled young people become the family scapegoat. Within these families, therapeutic efforts directed either at the troubled child or the whole family often fail to resolve conflict. Among these families, placement of a child in a therapeutic milieu provides refuge for children and permits parents to marshal their own resources in an effort to restore their own lives. Although many young persons with severe personality disorders meet the criteria formerly acceptable for residential care, such treatment facilities have proved particularly vulnerable to the effects of funding declines and increasing regulatory demands. Increasing visibility of pediatric pharmacology has lessened the impact of a child's disruptive behavior and may have facilitated decreased length of treatment. If, as Bettelheim maintained, psychological symptoms are a response to a world felt as overwhelming, early return to community in the absence of a young person's enhanced awareness of his or her own situation and impact on others may exacerbate return to care. As Rinsley observed, the pathologic family organization that led to the need for residential treatment is not likely to be significantly ameliorated by short-term, system-focused programs. Traditionally, the efforts of the long-term milieu settings have been aimed at restructuring complex and ingrained pathologic influences that have become embedded in family dynamics and have led to maladaptive behaviors in youngsters. The psychodynamic milieu approach emphasized the nuances of relation-ships and meanings ascertained from every interaction with other young people and with adults. This enhanced awareness of a child's impact on others through the marginal life-space interview, together with enhanced awareness of one's own wishes and thoughts as provided by the milieu and individual therapy, may offer the best means for helping a young person return successfully to the community. Although it is increasingly difficult to support young people in long-term milieu therapy, the concerns initially expressed by Anna Freud and her Viennese colleagues, continued in the work of Bettelheim, Ekstein, and Redl, suggest that attention to a child's understanding of self and experience and focus on the interplay of dynamics between the child and the social milieu continues to offer an important means for therapeutic change. This remains true, even at a time when pressure for "mainstreaming" children with special needs together with financial constraints and reliance on psychopharmacology have altered more traditional understanding of the provision of residential psychodynamic treatment for troubled young people.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center