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Lebovici, S. (1974). Observations on Children who have Witnessed the Violent Death of One of their Parents: A Contribution to the Study of Traumatization. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 1:117-123.

(1974). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 1:117-123

Observations on Children who have Witnessed the Violent Death of One of their Parents: A Contribution to the Study of Traumatization

Serge Lebovici

Many children have been involved in tragic incidents as a result of certain major historical events. Reports of such incidents multiplied after the Second World War. However, nowadays there are obviously fewer observations on children who have witnessed the death of their parents.

It should also be borne in mind that psychiatric services are not always consulted in such cases, even though there may be every indication that a specific situation is traumatizing, in the most obvious sense of the word. Speaking from personal experience, although the community psychiatric service in which I work is very much orientated towards preventive action, I have never once, for example, had occasion to examine the children of parents killed in a motor crash, an occurrence which, unfortunately, is not unusual.

The observations which form the basis of this study are therefore the outcome of consultations resulting from the concern of the child's family or of various authorities, particularly schools in the first instance (i.e. in the case of consultations requested by the family following the sudden death of a parent). I was sometimes surprised to note the lack of visible effects such a tragedy could have on the children.

This applies, for example, to the case of the six-year-old boy brought to me after he had witnessed the following incident. He used to sleep in his parents' bedroom, and one night was startled by the sound of his mother screaming. In a state of terror, he watched his father gash his wife's throat with a razor, and then kill himself with the same weapon.

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