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Barrows, P. Canham, H. (2003). Editorial. J. Child Psychother., 29(1):1-3.

(2003). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 29(1):1-3


Paul Barrows and Hamish Canham

With one exception, the papers in this number of the Journal are devoted to exploring the concept of the Oedipus complex. The exception is the paper by the Rustins which continues the ‘applied’ theme from a previous number. It is the first of three papers that will be published over the course of 2003, corresponding to the three volumes of Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials.

The Oedipus complex has remained a central concept in both psychoanalytic theory and practice. Despite having been written about extensively, we feel that the papers in this volume contribute a new perspective and illustrate a significant shift in emphasis. There are two particular areas to which we would draw the reader's attention.

Firstly, the classic view of the Oedipus complex has tended to stress its negative dimension and to emphasize the painful aspect of the child's struggle in having to come to terms with the impossibility of realizing its incestuous desires and being excluded by the parental couple. This is summed up by Britton in the following terms:

In the phantasied tragic version of the Oedipus complex the discovery of the oedipal triangle is felt to be the death of the couple: the nursing couple or the parental couple. In this phantasy the arrival of the notion of a third always murders the dyadic relationship.

(Britton 1989: 100)

But this is far from being the whole story. In the same paper Britton also notes how essential it is that the child successfully negotiates this configuration as:

The acknowledgement by the child of the parents' relationship with each other unites his psychic world …

(Britton 1989: 86).

Clearly, such an acknowledgement depends upon the child actually having the experience of encountering a well-functioning parental/oedipal couple, although it may be that this only finds expression in the single parent's mind. A common thread through many of the papers in this volume is the deleterious impact of the lack of such an encounter in external reality and, by implication, the positive nature of the oedipal experience. However difficult it may be for the child to bear the feelings associated with exclusion, the absence of such a couple is potentially even more problematic for the child's emotional development, whilst its presence (and survival) may be deeply reassuring.

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