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Jemerin, J.M. (2004). Latency and the Capacity to Reflect on Mental States. Psychoanal. St. Child, 59:211-239.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 59:211-239

Latency and the Capacity to Reflect on Mental States

John M. Jemerin, M.D.

The development of the capacity to reflect on mental states has its origins in the mother's function of accepting the infant's projections of unbearable states of mind and re-presenting them in a more tolerable form. During the oedipal period, the continued availability of a parent who can take in the child's mental states and represent them from a different perspective results in the emergence within the child of a reflective mode of mental functioning. This mental capacity allows the child entering latency to begin to be able to recognize that her experience is but one perspective among many. Reflection on mental states takes place within an intermediate area of experience that belongs neither to the inner world nor to external reality, but partakes of both. In latency, the capacity to reflect on mental states remains a vulnerable capacity that is dependent on the reflective function of a parent at times of crisis. When a parent who can contain and transform the child's experience is not available, the child's potential space for reflection can collapse, leaving the child unable to differentiate inner from outer reality. The mother's relationship to a loved object other than the child is necessary for her continuing ability to support the child's reflective function. The child's awareness of a parental relationship from which she is excluded is also essential to the child's internalization of the capacity to reflect on mental states because it creates a vantage point from which the child can imagine herself being observed from the outside.

These points are illustrated with material from a first psychotherapy session with a latency age boy.

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