Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Early Trauma: Interviews With Thirty Analysts Who Treated an Adult Victim of a Circumscribed Trauma in Early Childhood

J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 2009 Aug;57(4):947-77. doi: 10.1177/0003065109342589. Epub 2009 Jul 22.


Information on the long-term effects of early trauma and how such effects are manifested in treatment was obtained through interviews with thirty analysts who had treated an adult patient with a circumscribed trauma in the first four years of life. Childhood traumas fell into four categories: medical/accidental; separation/loss; witnessing a traumatic event; and physical/sexual abuse. Traumatic carryover was recorded in terms of explicit memories, implicit memories (somatic reliving, traumatic dreams, affective memories, behavioral reenactments, and transference phenomena), and global carryover effects (generalized traumatic affective states, defensive styles, patterns of object relating, and developmental disruptions). Linkages between the early trauma and adult symptomatology could be posited in almost every case, yet the clinical data supporting such linkages was often fragmented and ambiguous. Elements of patients' traumas appeared to be dispersed along variable avenues of expression and did not appear amenable to holistic, regressive reworking in treatment. The data did not support linear models of traumatic carryover or the idea that early traumatic experiences will be directly accessible in the course of an analysis. Factors that we believe help explain why traumatic aftereffects in our sample were so heterogeneous and difficult to track over the long term are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Psychoanalytic Theory*
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • Transference, Psychology