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Mahler, M.S. Furer, M. (1960). Observations on Research Regarding the 'Symbiotic Syndrome' of Infantile Psychosis. Psychoanal Q., 29:317-327.

(1960). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 29:317-327

Observations on Research Regarding the 'Symbiotic Syndrome' of Infantile Psychosis

Margaret Schoenberger Mahler, M.D. and Manuel Furer, M.D.

Our previous work has resulted in the hypotheses that children pass through a 'normal-autistic', a symbiotic, and a 'separation-individuation' phase of development. We postulate that in the normal autistic phase, the infant has not yet become aware of anything beyond his own body. In the symbiotic phase, the infant seems to become vaguely aware of need-satisfaction from the outside, but the mother is still a part of his own self-representation: the infant's mental image is fused with that of his mother. In the third phase, the infant gradually becomes aware of his separateness; first, the separateness of his body, then gradually the identity of his self. He subsequently establishes the boundaries of his self. We have postulated in previous papers that the primarily autistic-psychotic child has never developed beyond the autistic phase, whereas the symbiotic-psychotic child has regressed from the challenge of separate functioning at the onset or during the separation-individuation phase into a symbiotic-parasitic, panic-ridden state. As states of panic are unbearable for any organism, the child's very survival requires further defensive regression. We therefore find that many, if not all, primarily symbiotic children secondarily resort to autistic mechanisms.

Our first therapeutic endeavor in both types of infantile psychosis is to engage the child in a 'corrective symbiotic experience'.

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