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Pestalozzi, J. (2003). The symbolic and concrete: Psychotic adolescents in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 84(3):733-753.

(2003). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 84(3):733-753

Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy

The symbolic and concrete: Psychotic adolescents in psychoanalytic psychotherapy

Julia Pestalozzi

Unique disturbances in symbolisation are characteristic of the pathology of schizophrenia. Drawing on the case vignette of a psychotic adolescent, the author discusses theoretical problems in the symbolisation process in general and then in psychosis, in particular the relation between ‘concretism’ as a thought disorder and other psychotic defences. The ability to symbolise on the one hand and to maintain sufficiently stable ego boundaries on the other hand are examined in their relation. The author's clinical experience supports her hypothesis that there is a close relationship between the impairment of the symbolisation process in the adolescent or adult psychotic patient and his/her inability to engage in symbolic play as a child. Special attention is paid to the role of early trauma and consequent pathology of object relations for disturbances of symbolic play in childhood. Regression to concrete thinking is understood as the chance of the psychotic patient to give some meaning to reality in an unreal, delusional world and as his/her last chance to communicate at all. Conclusions are drawn for psychoanalytic techniques in the treatment of patients who are deeply regressed in this respect. Special attention is given to the particular circumstances and challenges of adolescence and to providing psychoanalytic psychotherapy to adolescent psychotic patients.

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