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Sandler, A. (1990). Comments on Phobic Mechanisms in Childhood. Scand. Psychoanal. Rev., 13(1):1-15.

(1990). Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 13(1):1-15

Comments on Phobic Mechanisms in Childhood

Anne-Marie Sandler

In July 1976, a Symposium was held in London by the International Association for Child Psychoanalysis, on the topic of ‘Fears and Phobias in Childhood’. At that meeting, two cases of the analysis of young children were presented.. There was, in addition, a panel discussion on the subject, and the meeting ended with a summing up by Anna Freud. It is the remarks she made then that I want to take as the starting point for this paper. In spite of the excellence of the presentations and discussions in 1976, I (as well as many others) did not feel substantially wiser in regard to phobias after the meeting than we had been before it. Anna Freud herself indicated her disquiet by starting her final comments with a criticism of the title of the Symposium. She suggested that a title ‘Fears, Anxieties and Phobic Phenomena’ would have been more appropriate than ‘Fears and Phobias’. Psychoanalysis, she said, had always distinguished between ‘fear’ and ‘anxiety’, ‘fear’ relating to a person's attitude towards real dangers threatening from the outside and ‘anxietybeing a reaction to internal threats arising from, as she put it, “clashes between the drives and internal opposing forces”. Fears do not develop into phobias, she said, but anxiety can do so. To ignore the distinction between fears and anxieties, and

“to treat the effect of external and internal threats under one and the same terminological heading is not a step forward in our theoretical position, but rather implies the reverse” (p. 86).


Anna Freud Lecture, Vienna. Also presented to the Swedish Psychoanalytic Society, October, 1989, on the occasion of being appointed an honorary member of the society. This article was first published in The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (1989), 44:101-114. The permission of the publisher (Yale, University Press/Albert J. Solnit, M.D., New Haven) to republish is gratefully acknowledged.

One of these cases was subsequently published (Tyson, 1978).

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