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Forth, M.J. (1992). The Little Girl Lost: Psychotherapy with an Anal-Retentive and Soiling Four Year Old. J. Child Psychother., 18(2):63-85.

(1992). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 18(2):63-85

The Little Girl Lost: Psychotherapy with an Anal-Retentive and Soiling Four Year Old

Mary J. Forth

Introduction

In his poem The Little Girl Lost, William Blake describes the experience of the lonely Lyca who has become separated from her parents, and has “wandered long”. She says:

“Sweet sleep come to me

Underneath this tree

Do father, mother weep?

Where can Lyca sleep.

Lost in desert wild

Is your little child

How can Lyca sleep

If her mother weep?”

from: Songs of Experience, 1792.

The poem continues with Lyca being rescued by a “kingly lion” who keeps her safe with the other animals until her parents are guided to her. As in most of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, the theme concerns the contrasting states of the human condition from blissful, happy innocence to the most painful and disillusioning impact of environment and the demands of growing up and taking one's place in society. These thoughts provide a backcloth to my work with a four year old whereby it became apparent throughout the twenty-one months of psychotherapy that she had experienced a very real loss of parental preoccupation; this had prompted her to turn to her own body products as a way of holding onto her object and maintaining a form of psychic equilibrium, as well as providing a means of controlling those affects aroused by the lost object, principally sadness and anger. Obviously, this had serious consequences both for her emotional development and her object relationships.

It is helpful to consider the symptom of anal retention and soiling in the context of the child's development. Anna Freud's (1965) description of the developmental line “from wetting and soiling to bladder and bowel control” mentions four stages: (1) complete freedom to wet and soil; (2) a significant shift from the oral to the anal zone so that anal products become highly connected with libido and aggression; (3) bowel and bladder control is accomplished through identification with mother, though dependent on positive relations with her, and finally (4) where the child achieves autonomous

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