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The therapeutic process

I would like now to explore the nature of the therapeutic process involved in this kind of therapy. There are, in my view, four aspects to this, which I shall examine in turn.

i. Containment of parental distress

When the therapist listens attentively to the parents, he or she fulfils the essential psychic function of containing the unbearable mental pain they need to rid themselves of. It is, of course, impossible actually to expel anything from one's mind; at best, one can transform distressing elements—which are disturbing and painful because they are not linked to anything meaningful—into elements which can be thought about and understood. This transformation implies that the former be transferred to a mind which can work over them until they become meaningful. Usually, in therapy, this process requires not only that the therapist pays close attention to the patient and listens to him carefully, but also that he offers interpretations that enable the patient to give meaning to his own psychic events. However, in the therapeutic approach I am describing in this paper, such interpretations are not called for. The therapist listens to the parents without making any claim to transform their mental functioning—in the first place, this is not what the parents are asking for; the aim is to help parents to make contact with their child and his needs. It remains true that the first part of the containing function I describe—listening carefully to what parents need to communicate—does give them the opportunity to think about their feelings towards their infant and his developmental difficulties, and to divert their projections from him on to the therapist. This alleviates their psychic suffering and helps them to break free from the kind of vicious circle that distorts their relationship with the child.

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