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Hadley, D. (1991). “Confusion of Tongues” Revisited. J. Child Psychother., 17(2):61-70.

(1991). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 17(2):61-70

“Confusion of Tongues” Revisited

David Hadley


In this paper I wish to explore the impact of child sexual abuse upon the inner world of the child and trace the implications of this for investigative and therapeutic processes. I shall draw upon two main sources in my thinking around these issues: Ferenczi's paper (Ferenczi 1933) entitled Confusion of tongues between adults and the child - the language of tenderness and of passion, and some therapeutic work with an abused girl, focussing upon one session in detail.


Marie was 4 and had, by her own report, been interfered with sexually by her father on an access visit. She first told her mother and later others that he had stuck his fingers up inside her bottom and hurt her whilst he was bathing her. Medical examination offered confirmatory physical evidence of damage to the vagina and suggested that penetration had taken place on a number of occasions. A disclosure interview using ‘anatomical’ dolls followed and I was told that this suggested Marie had been penetrated by father's penis, that she had witnessed and possibly been involved in sexual activities of a perverse kind between father and his girlfriend. The level of the child's distress and confusion, however, made it difficult to be sure what had taken place beyond what she had first stated. There was some question as to whether Marie's younger sister had been abused as well, but this was deemed unlikely.

Mother had been separated from Marie's father for two years and, following the disclosure, was persistent in seeking therapeutic help for Marie and herself. She was concerned about Marie's soiling, wetting, nightmares and sleep disturbance since the disclosure. Also she felt out of her depth in knowing how to deal with Marie who was very quickly angered or upset by minor setbacks and found it difficult to accept comfort from her mother.

Father had been interviewed by the police and denied the allegations. Police and social workers were convinced the abuse had taken place but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. It had been decided that access would be denied to father.

Although enraged and distressed by what had happened, mother was clear that there had also been a loving relationship between father and daughter. Circumstances were such that mother believed that the abuse was likely to be a relatively recent development following father's relapse into alcohol abuse.



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