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Durban, J. (2014). Despair and hope: on some varieties of countertransference and enactment in the psychoanalysis of ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) children. J. Child Psychother., 40(2):187-200.

(2014). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 40(2):187-200

Despair and hope: on some varieties of countertransference and enactment in the psychoanalysis of ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) children

Joshua Durban

This article attempts to deal with the feelings of despair and hope in the analyses of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) children. The analyst’s therapeutic despair and hope might reflect both the child’s split-off and fragmented primitive unconscious phantasies regarding traumatic breakdown, as well as his or her hidden search for reparation. This autistic reparation involves the phantasised acquisition of bodily and mental coverage and containing forms. These phantasies are deposited in the analyst and are manifested in various, sometimes hallucinatory, states of body and mind. The analyst’s ability to move freely between states of despair and hope is thus a crucial factor in maintaining mental space, in reaching for a better understanding of the child and in promoting his development. Using clinical material drawn from two analyses of a young girl and a male adolescent, the article describes the analyst’s countertransference reactions of somatic hallucinations and the phantasies regarding ‘the virtual child’. These represent both the child’s attempts to use the analyst’s mind in order to get rid of catastrophic fears of breakdown and change as well as to convey various means of phantasised autistic reparation and hopes for a benign psychological birth. All these are part of the process of ‘mantling’, in which the child acquires advanced forms of psychic coverage replacing previous autistic objects and autistic sensation shapes. In addition, an attempt is made to differentiate between false and true hope in the process of emergence from autistic encapsulation.

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