Journal Article

Potential Space: Knowing and Not Knowing in the Treatment of Traumatized Children and Young People

Yael Lesser

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 37, issue 1, pages 23-37
Published in print January 2007 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online November 2005 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Potential Space: Knowing and Not Knowing in the Treatment of Traumatized Children and Young People

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This paper illustrates some contributions of psychoanalytically based thinking in social work practice with children and youth removed from their homes due to severe maltreatment or incapacity of parents. It is suggested that when working with severely deprived and traumatized children, the therapist should hold in mind the lacking of rapport with primary caretakers, and the need of the child to form meaningful and intimate relations in his or her future life. Psychoanalytically based thinking enriches the treatment process by offering new ways for understanding of the patient’s needs, aiming to reach the child’s subjective experience and re-establishing his sense of self and a meaningful rapport with an other. The concept of ‘potential space’ and the area of experience (Winnicott, 1953/1975) will be described with elaboration on its variety and use in theory and practice, focusing on two major themes: the dialectics of knowing and not knowing, and the search for selected material. A clinical illustration is presented to show these dynamics as they appear in the clinical process and the therapeutic session. The material was selected from supervision of graduate social work students involved in therapeutic work with children.

Keywords: potential space; traumatized child; knowing; subjective experience

Journal Article.  6631 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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