Challenges facing long-term foster carers: An exploration of the nature of psychoanalytic parent/carer support

Tiltina, Kristine (2015) Challenges facing long-term foster carers: An exploration of the nature of psychoanalytic parent/carer support. Professional Doctorate thesis, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Full text available

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This research study investigates the role and impact of psychoanalytically-informed short-term parent work with long-term foster carers of looked-after children, in support of the foster placement. The study reflects on the data gathered from four child assessments and five foster families seen by a psychoanalytic child psychotherapist for four sessions each. It draws on psychoanalytic ideas from a range of theoretical traditions, exploring such concepts as trauma, defences, compulsion to repeat, psychological-mindedness, ‘container/contained’ (Bion) and ‘holding environment’ (Winnicott). One distinctive contribution of this research is what it adds to our already existing understanding of the defences (or responses) aroused in the carer when faced with the intense and distressing affect associated with the child’s early trauma; and the impact of this legacy of trauma on the child, on the carer and on the wider Social Services system. Applying Grounded Theory and psychoanalytically-informed clinical case study methodology to the research material, the study breaks down the data analysis into seven stages of coding, from the initial reading of the data to the eventual development of two key hypotheses. One of the predominant themes that emerged from the analysis was the carer’s capacity to remain focused on the child’s emotional needs and how this in turn was linked to the direction of the therapist’s focus. The successive analyses of the data culminated in the hypothesis that the more the therapist focused on the carer and the carer’s emotional states in the course of the parent work, the more the carer was enabled to focus on the child’s emotional needs. As the system of categories emerged according to the themes exemplified in the sessions, a particular focus of analysis became the concept of psychologicalmindedness, considered under several sub-categories: displaying insightful comments; awareness of the child’s bodily states; awareness of the child’s affect; the carer’s ability to recognize the child’s defences; and the carer’s ability to make links between the child’s current difficulties and the child’s past experiences. Through this analysis it became apparent that degree of psychological-mindedness was closely linked to the individual carer’s capacity to metabolize the child’s distressed and distressing communication. This in turn led to a deeper exploration of the situations that were particularly challenging for the carers: i.e., instances when the child was compelled to repeat past traumatic emotional states and as a result was communicating intense distress. This exploration eventually generated the second hypothesis: that in reaction to the child’s distress, the response of each carer could be plotted somewhere along a spectrum, from either distancing themselves from the child’s emotional state to seeking excessive closeness with the child (merging). The next stage of the analysis developed four new categories of carer responses to the distressed child: identification and distancing from the child; identification and merging with the child; the category that describes the carer’s psychologicalmindedness as being ‘impaired’; and ‘good enough’ caring. This then led to an exploration of the carer’s own defences at these most challenging times. This research demonstrates clearly that even within the short space of four sessions of weekly psychoanalytic parent work, it is possible to achieve significant improvement in a carer’s capacity to bear the child’s compulsion to repeat early traumas, and to help the carers become more emotionally available to provide the child with effective psychological parenting at such difficult and challenging times.

Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Additional Information: A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of East London in collaboration with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust for the Professional Doctorate in Child Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy
Uncontrolled Keywords: Professional doctorate in Child Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Looked After Children, Parent, Carer, Trauma, Compulsion To Repeat, Psychological Mindedness, Empathy, Defences, Psychoanalytical Clinical Case Study, Grounded Theory, University of East London
Subjects: Schools of Psychology > Bion, Wilfred
Schools of Psychology > Winnicott, Donald W.
Children, Young People and Developmental Pyschology > Adoption & Fostering- Psychology
Psychological Therapies, Psychiatry, Counselling > Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy
Psychological Therapies, Psychiatry, Counselling > Brief Therapies
Department/People: Children, Young Adult and Family Services

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