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Arfelli, P. (2002). Affective Response and the Analyst's Freedom in Work with Traumatized Adolescents. Am. Imago, 59(4):447-458.

(2002). American Imago, 59(4):447-458

Affective Response and the Analyst's Freedom in Work with Traumatized Adolescents

Patrizia Arfelli

“I shall write it in my diary tonight.”


“That a burnt child loves the fire.”

—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

To Ambra, Irina, and all my other “second-rate children”

Clinical work with adolescents who come to us after traumatic experiences involves a total availability of the therapist as a human being, a readiness to accompany patients along the painful path of psychic change and to suffer for them and with them, even to immerse oneself concretely in the emotional catastrophe that once overwhelmed them.

The analyst who works not simply in an office but also in public institutions (such as a hospital or juvenile court) knows very well that emotionally absent and indifferent—if not actively negligent and abusive—parents (who are always too absorbed by their own suffering to listen to children's needs) plough a furrow in their sons’ and daughters’ psychic worlds. This injury, often compounded by complacency or denial, will inevitably remain open and, in successive periods of life or particularly critical moments (such as adolescence), give rise to severe neurotic symptoms, narcissistic pathologies, or even to psychic death, to suicide of the self.


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