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Sossin, K.M. Birklein, S.B. (2006). Nonverbal Transmission of Stress between Parent and Young Child: Considerations and Psychotherapeutic Implications of a Study of Affective Movement Patterns. J. Infant Child Adolesc. Psychother., 5(1):46-69.

(2006). Journal of Infant, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy, 5(1):46-69

Nonverbal Transmission of Stress between Parent and Young Child: Considerations and Psychotherapeutic Implications of a Study of Affective Movement Patterns

K. Mark Sossin, Ph.D. and Silvia B. Birklein, Ph.D., ADTR, LPC, CMA

Stressful experiences clearly make their way into the complex communicative systems shared by parent and young child. Transmission of stress is often discussed but infrequently explicated as a process. Recent research on the intricacies of explicit and implicit message exchanges between parent and young child invite further consideration of how various types and intensities of stress are manifest in different types of observable manners and behaviors. Employing the Kestenberg Movement Profile (KMP) as a descriptive movement-nonverbal behavior classificatory system, developed within a psychoanalytic frame of reference, Birklein and Sossin (in press) recently identified specific tension-flow and shape-flow patterns corresponding to parental stress, as manifest in the parent, the child, and the dyad. These findings are relevant to the identification of modalities of behavior and interaction in which stress (and an awareness of the other's affective state) is transmitted. Data underscore the links between parental stress and specific tension-flow attributes of the parent experiencing the stress but also link the parental stress to mismatches in the child's tension-flow and shape-flow and to discordances in the dyad's patterns as well. This article examines the theoretic implications of these findings regarding the recognition of a channel of “stress-transmission” and for understanding identificatory and internalizing processes in the parent-child dyad. It further considers evaluative and therapeutic implications of the stress-nonverbal links found through this research in developing effective clinical approaches to the stressed child or dyad, highlighting the role of tension-flow, shape-flow, and its nonverbal (and verbal) analogs in the therapeutic exchange.

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