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Rustin, M. (2016). Some comments on ‘The absent object’ by Edna O’Shaughnessy. J. Child Psychother., 42(2):217-221.

(2016). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 42(2):217-221

Some comments on ‘The absent object’ by Edna O’Shaughnessy

Margaret Rustin

‘The absent object’ was one of the first psychoanalytic papers I read in a journal, and it made a great impression on me. At the time that I was training as a child psychotherapist (1967–1971), there were very few books describing child psychotherapy and the early volumes of the Journal of Child Psychotherapy were a most precious resource. The new Tavistock building with its excellent library had just been opened, and sitting in the library and reading through these journals was very important to me in beginning to understand the process on which I was embarked. It is hard to overemphasise the sense of discovery that the training evoked in me, together with a feeling of extraordinary good fortune that I had found what I wanted to do. The Journal was the public face of the tiny profession I hoped to join, and within it, I found some exceptional papers of which this was one.

When I spent a year in the USA (1984–1985) I greatly missed my work as a child psychotherapist, and indeed had to cope with absent objects in many ways. I was able to do some teaching and supervision during that year and remember that this was one of the papers I used to introduce clinical ideas which at that time were very unfamiliar indeed in the States. The combination of theoretical clarity and detailed clinical material made it a wonderful teaching resource.

O’Shaughnessy starts by surprising the reader, introducing the initially paradoxical idea of the ‘absent sustaining object’ to challenge the idea that the absence of the object will necessitate an experience of not being sustained.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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