The Experience of Breakdown and the Breakdown that can’t be Experienced – Implications for work with traumatised children

By Patrick Tomlinson, January 2007.

From the Introduction…

In this paper I shall write about the significance of breakdown in the lives of traumatised and abused children.
I will highlight the implications for those attempting to provide treatment for these children, potentially enabling them to recover.
I also hope to demonstrate how important it is to have a conceptual framework, which I think must be underpinned by sound theory.

The concept of breakdown is often perceived negatively and this can dominate our response. However, with an informed approach a breakdown can be seen as an opportunity for growth and a point of healing. By applying a theory of Winnicott’s I will show how useful and relevant, established theory can still be in our work. In particular, I will show how Winnicott’s distinction, between the breakdown that has been experienced and the breakdown that has happened but not been experienced, is relevant in work with traumatised children.

I will be writing primarily about severely traumatised children placed in a residential setting, where the aim is to provide recovery and to do this by broadly working within a psychodynamic approach. However, many of the ideas described in this paper may also be relevant to those working with children in other settings, such as foster families as well as with adults where breakdown is a theme.
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