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Hitchcock, J. (1978). The Major Neuroses and Behavior Disorders in Children: By Melitta Sperling, M.D. New York: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1974. 442 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 47:454-455.

(1978). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 47:454-455

The Major Neuroses and Behavior Disorders in Children: By Melitta Sperling, M.D. New York: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1974. 442 pp.

Review by:
John Hitchcock

This book is a posthumous collection of papers, most of them published elsewhere over some twenty-three years. The volume might have been more usefully and accurately entitled Collected Papers, because the reader notes considerable overlap and repetition, and the superimposition of sections and subsections seems forced.

Dr. Sperling strongly advocates the simultaneous psychoanalytic treatment of mother and child for virtually the entire range of psychopathologic, including psychosomatic, conditions from which children suffer. She bases this position on the theory that the symptomatology or disordered behavior in the child is a result of unconscious identifications and expectations that the mother has for the child, which the child unconsciously reflects. Most child analysts would conclude that this theory underemphasizes the role of the psychic apparatus of the child. Ego development, including defense formation, is sufficiently established even in very young children to require that the intrapsychic dynamics of the child remain the central focus when psychopathology is present, even if the work must be carried out by parents or others. Since these views are so controversial it becomes particularly important to learn the grounds on which Dr. Sperling bases her beliefs. Given the presumably inherent problems in converting clinical data into communicable language, the reader looks for at least "bare bones" information about the treatment, such as length of sessions, their frequency, duration of treatment, and other easily stated "basics." These data are not reported.

One bit of information which is offered was disturbing. On page 243, the author advocates the simultaneous treatment of mother and child without the child's knowledge that the mother is in treatment. This is an approach with which this reviewer strongly disagrees. To maintain that the child does not know of such emotionally powerful events is to deny that the child knows at some level all the other phenomena, such as sexuality, which psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts, including Dr. Sperling, maintain that children know. If it is thought desirable to pursue a particular therapeutic approach with a child, the child needs to know directly and consciously the dimensions of that approach, including the fact that the mother is being treated concurrently.

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