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Sossin, K. (2011). Introduction to the Support Groups. J. Infant Child Adolesc. Psychother., 10(2):205-206.

(2011). Journal of Infant, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy, 10(2):205-206

Mothers and Children in the Early Years of the Support Groups

Introduction to the Support Groups

K. Mark Sossin, Ph.D.

Multiple groups were formed in New Jersey, Long Island, and Manhattan. Each had two or three therapists, most of whom were psychoanalytically trained. The three therapists could share and exchange roles as they saw fit. An overarching model emerged wherein two therapists usually focused most closely on the group discussion with the mothers, while the third therapist focused on the siblings of the infants and later on the infants as they became toddlers and preschoolers. This third therapist closely observed the children, offering play materials to them and directly engaging them. We attended to the communication between mother and child, the mother's capacity to reflect about her own state of mind and that of her child, the meaning of the child's emerging play style and themes, as well as each mother's contribution to the group discussion. All served as focal points for clinical observation. The mothers shared a great deal about their emotional pain, as well as their stress from innumerable external demands.

Groups varied in regularity of attendance, duration, and dynamics. However, the goals guiding therapists across groups were generally shared. There were efforts to foster the support that mothers could offer each other. We attempted to augment mothers' use of other social supports and to create space for narratives of the loss, framed in the present and relating to the longed-for recent past. We helped mothers to become aware of those historical elements that might further complicate the bereavement of their husbands' loss. We tried to appraise the mental health condition of each parent, child, and each dyad, and to use that understanding as we interacted with each individual. The lab observations and video feedback consultations deepened our understanding.

In our mother-child groups, a lot of attention focused on the down-to-earth but complicated management of mothers' lives, such as endless forms to fill out, press requests to respond to, communication with the medical examiner's office, questions of when and how to memorialize their lost husbands, and harmonies and conflicts with in-laws and other family members. Some discussions focused on articulating grief and some on thinking about their children's development, or on what to tell children now or in the future. Our approach varied from problem-solving to psycho-education to insight.

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