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Tirelli, L.C. (1989). Some Observations on the Relationship between Language and Verbal thought in a Psychotic Adolescent. J. Child Psychother., 15(1):113-125.

(1989). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 15(1):113-125

Some Observations on the Relationship between Language and Verbal thought in a Psychotic Adolescent

Luisa Carbone Tirelli


Wilfred Bion sees the development of “verbal thought” as central to the process of integration described by Klein as the core of the depressive position. This gradual process is paralleled, in the baby, by an increasing awareness of himself as a whole object, and an increasing awareness of the existence of external whole objects.

The baby may fight against the development of this awareness in order to avoid painful feelings of inadequacy, depression and guilt. He might inflict destructive attacks on his budding capacity to perceive psychic pain. The pain could be too intense and intolerable because external reality is particularly frustrating or because the baby is too weak to tolerate the frustration. If the latter, this may be a consequence of trauma such as physical illness or of the fragility of his internal equipment. The development of “verbal thought” is therefore intimately related to the capacity for integration. This, in turn, is intimately related to symbol formation and the capacity for abstract thought, which is essential for the acknowledgement of psychic reality.

Bion discusses the development of language in schizophrenic patients, which takes place in individuals incapable of integration within themselves and with the external world. He writes (Bion, 1967):

Language is employed by the schizophrenic in three ways: as a mode of action, as a method of communication, and as a mode of thought. He will show a preference for action on occasions when other patients would realise that what was required was thought; thus, he will want to go over to a piano to take out the movement to understand why someone is playing the piano.

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