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Otte, M.J. (1999). The Child Psychoanalyst as Clinician: The Perils of Parental Projection. Ann. Psychoanal., 26:201-217.

(1999). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 26:201-217

The Child Psychoanalyst as Clinician: The Perils of Parental Projection

Mary Jane Otte, Ph.D.

All parents use their children for narcissistic purposes, but when the child's raison d'être is primarily to satisfy parents' narcissistic wishes and needs, serious problems occur for the child in terms of ego development, individuation, and the structuralization of the mind (Brodey, 1965). Children who are used narcissistically are especially in need of analysis; often, however, their parents are the ones who are the most conflicted about the possibility of their child changing. Consciously parents may be quite supportive of treatment, but unconsciously they may be very frightened because their child's healthy progress would represent a serious loss of a function the child provides for them (Weiss, 1995). The purpose of this essay is to discuss a particular child's struggle to free herself from the narcissistic entanglement with her mother (by using what I have termed “developmental rage”), the parents' struggle to allow the child to have the treatment she needed: and the analyst's struggle to bear the projections of the child and the parents. Although the child was helped considerably, the parents were destabilized in a manner that caused them to terminate the treatment prematurely. I hope this case example and discussion will contribute to the child analyst's understanding of why these cases are so difficult. It is also meant to underscore the necessity of working carefully with parents and considering whether a case of this sort should be taken into analytic treatment when the parents are adamant about not needing treatment themselves.

The patient was Rachel, an attractive five-year-old girl with long, curly, dark hair. In her presentation there was a curious combination of age-appropriate childishness and adult sexuality. The impression of precocious development was conveyed by her curvaceous, slightly overweight body, seductive demeanor, and overbearing attempts to be in control. Rachel's parents brought her to treatment because of their concern about her practice of compulsive masturbation.

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