I. Analytical Psychotherapy for Children and Adolescents
A mental disorder is the result of an unconscious conflict that has not yet been processed by the psyche. The child tries to keep the painful or socially undesirable thoughts and memories out of the conscious mind by activating and using various so-called defence mechanisms. We use defence mechanisms to protect ourselves from feelings of anxiety or guilt, which arise because we feel threatened. They are not under our conscious control, and they are involuntary. They can be expressed e.g. through aggressive behaviour, oppositional defiance or eating disorders. This means that the conflict is not being dealt with. It stays present within the child and continues to influence all feelings, thoughts and especially relationships into which the child or adolescent enters.
Accordingly, it is the current main inner conflict on which we concentrate in therapy, like a specific problem area that leads to the current troubles, symptoms and diseases or it can be a mental illness or problems affecting the psychological balance of the child or adolescent. These pathological structures can hold them back from completing their age-specific developmental tasks at present.
The therapist will try to find the root of these mental illnesses and issues within the safe space of the therapy room. By gaining insights into one’s internal psychic structures and processes, through the help of the therapist the child can work on these conflicts to restore psychological well-being.
There are differences between the therapeutic approaches when working with children and adolescents.
The main psychotherapeutic tool for adolescents is the verbal intervention and free association. Free association means that the adolescents can express their thoughts freely and without having to censor themselves. Through guidance, the adolescent will learn to “look within themselves” and gain introspective abilities to recognise their own feelings, thoughts and experiences, understand causal relations and triggers and learn how to process them. This leads to better integration, an inner relief and resolution of the symptoms.
By contrast, in child psychotherapy it is not the spoken language that we focus on, but rather the child’s free play, using different kinds of materials, depending on the child’s age of course. These methods are the equivalent to the free association of the adolescent's therapy. The free play is seen as the “via regia” to helping psychologically struggling children to stabilise themselves emotionally, process traumatic events and restore a healthy development. In order for the child to feel safe, accepted and daring to look at frightening experiences, a trusting, protecting and supporting relationship between the patient and therapist is indispensable.
Within the free play, the individual toys are the child’s words and the play his/her language. Through the medium of arts and crafts, the child can express his/her mental state and “talk” about the things that preoccupy him/her. The therapist can take up on these issues, reflect on them and put them into words. Through the positive relationship that develops between the child and therapist through play, corrective emotional experience are possible for the child. These very experiences of the therapeutic reactions and emotions are necessary for the child's self-development. They also promote the child's cognitive development, reduce dysfunctional thought processes and enable the child to handle inner conflicts more competently.