Drawing trauma: the therapeutic potential of witnessing the child's visual testimony of war

J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 2014 Oct;62(5):835-54. doi: 10.1177/0003065114554419. Epub 2014 Oct 2.


Countertransference plays an often neglected role in witnessing children's testimony of war and trauma. A dual notion of countertransference, based on the work of Winnicott and Klein, is offered that involves both internal conflict related to early life experience and socially mediated notions of childhood, war, and trauma circulating in a given time and place. A drawing by a thirteen-year-old boy living in the refugee camps in Darfur is used to show how countertransference affects our interpretation of the image, even while its symbolization in language establishes the conditions for a potentially therapeutic response. It is argued that a psychoanalytic reading can supplement the "legal-conscious terminology" in which the Darfur archive has been predominantly framed (Felman 2002, p. 5). This expanded view of witnessing involves reading the child's testimony both for the history of violence it conveys and for the social and emotional histories it calls up in the witness as the ground and possibility of justice.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy*
  • Violence / psychology*
  • Warfare*