'Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words--' : a psychoanalytic case study of the role of the body in trauma and containment

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The anaclitic relationship between psyche and soma is a basic premise of psychoanalytic thought, and is richly woven into classic and contemporary literature in this field. Yet there is limited work drawing together these disparate references, or focussing directly on the role of the body as anaclitic basis for the mind, particularly in relation to the reciprocal conditions of containment and traumatisation. This qualitative case study aims to explore the usefulness of this particularly body of psychoanalytic theory in making meaning of a two-year therapy process with a child who had been multiply maltreated. Clinical case material from this psycholanalytically-oriented therapy was analysed through the lens of the psychoanalytic literature reviewed. This analysis revealed four themes, which reflect the interplay between physical and psychic skins in the child's relationship to the maternal object (Theme 1) and in his sense of self (Theme 2), and the interaction between bodily and emotional digestion in his intake of goodness (Theme 3) and expulsion of badness (Theme 4). These findings point to the utility and robustness of this particular theoretical framework in understanding and integrating a large corpus of previously bewildering and disjointed case material with a multiply traumatised child. Implications for theory and for practice are indicated.

Includes abstract.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 121-127).