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Halfon, S. Coşkun, A. Bekar Steele, H. (2020). Imbalances and Impairments in Mental State Talk of Children with Internalizing and Externalizing Problems. J. Infant Child Adolesc. Psychother., 19(3):283-302.

(2020). Journal of Infant, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy, 19(3):283-302

Imbalances and Impairments in Mental State Talk of Children with Internalizing and Externalizing Problems

Sibel Halfon, Ayşenur Coşkun, Özlem Bekar and Howard Steele

The aims of this study were to investigate the associations between impairments and imbalances in children’s mental state talk, attachment security and abuse/neglect experiences, and to study how much of the variance in internalizing and externalizing problems was explained by mentalization problems. The sample included 100 Turkish children (M Age = 7.00 (SD = 2.01), 38% girls) referred to a outpatient psychotherapy clinic. Children were administered an attachment-based story stem task in order to code attachment security and different categories of mental state talk, including the extent of their direction (self vs other), balance, and appropriateness. Parents and teachers filled out socio-behavioral function scales. Findings indicated a significant positive association between externalizing problems and impaired mentalization. Internalizing problems were associated with mentalizing the other at the expense of one’s own mental states and underusing emotions. Attachment insecurity and adverse experiences were associated with mentalization impairments and imbalances. Finally, underuse of emotions and self-focused mental state talk predicted internalizing problems and impaired mental state talk predicted externalizing problems at trend level of significance. Qualitative analyses supported the results, which suggest that whereas children with externalizing problems suffer from severe mentalization deficits, children with internalizing problems undermentalize about themselves and emotions.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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