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Strean, H.S. (1960). Treating Parents of Emotionally Disturbed Children Through Role Playing. Psychoanal. Rev., 47A(1):67-75.

(1960). Psychoanalytic Review, 47A(1):67-75

Treating Parents of Emotionally Disturbed Children Through Role Playing

Herbert S. Strean

It has long been agreed that the parental influence on a child is exerted not only by what the parents do or say but by who the parents are—their total behavior, both conscious and unconscious, has a profound impact on the child. 4 Frequently, a child's neurotic behavior is stimulated by conflicts in his parents who, unable to express or sublimate their impulses, induce the child to act out their own repressed drives by permitting him to behave as they would have liked to behave. 8 While parents of acting-out children offer a love premium for the acting out, parents of inhibited, neurotic children usually prevent the acting out by withdrawal of recognition and friendliness and offer a love premium for inhibition and submission. The child, therefore, is unwilling to relinquish his infantile pleasures because he is so frequently rewarded for his sensitivity and submission to his parents' wishes. 3, 8

If we accept the thesis that the parent-child relationship is a crucial factor in the child's emotional development, and that if a child is disturbed we are frequently justified in assuming that the parent is emotionally disturbed now or was disturbed as a child, it follows that the parent's capacity to serve as a helpful model for identification has been impaired by his own experiences with his parents. Unequipped for healthy living because he himself was improperly nurtured, the parent recapitulates a relationship with his child dynamically similar to that which he experienced in his own past. In the parent a state of anxiety corresponding to a similar stage in his own development is activated.

The therapist, therefore, faces the impact of the whole range of human feeling as he encounters the patient-parent in his treatment contacts.

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