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Harris, M. (1973). The Complexity of Mental Pain Seen in a Six-Year-Old Child following Sudden Bereavement. J. Child Psychother., 3(3):35-45.

(1973). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 3(3):35-45

The Complexity of Mental Pain Seen in a Six-Year-Old Child following Sudden Bereavement

Martha Harris

This paper is centred round a summary of seven sessions with a six-year-old boy three months after the death of his father. An attempt will be made to indicate from work done in these sessions the complicated nature of the emotions with which he was struggling in his bereavement. Some attention will be given to the confusion which could have opened up the way to a regressive illness, but also to the factors in his personality, his relationship to his external and internal objects which indicated the possibility of working through his mourning without further analytic help. I have used the word “analytic” advisedly, because the technique used in these sessions was that of following the child's communications, trying to clarify them in the transference, although with a limited number of sessions in view. Some of his material will pinpoint that aspect of mental pain which is heightened by the suffering of the surviving loved objects who share the mourning for the lost person.

Mrs. J. consulted me about her son James at the instigation of a friend of his teacher. She was a plump, small, capable-looking and attractive young woman in her early thirties, white-faced and struggling with strong emotions. In my room she began by saying,

“Ah, the sun at last. I thought it would never shine again”.

She then launched into an account of the troubles she was having with James since her husband's death three months before. She had two sons, Julian and James, aged eight and six respectively.

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