Children and adolescents may be acutely scarred when their parents separate and divorce. Although many children are relieved when their parents finally divorce after years of conflict, they also suffer as they become embroiled in further battles between their parents that may persist over many years. Old experiences of separation and loss may also be reactivated, which may further exacerbate children’s stress levels. In this context, children may develop all manner of symptoms. Feelings of guilt, loyalty conflicts, attachment ambivalence, and being witness to their parents’ battles may leave children with no way out so that they themselves become the “victims” of the divorce. Younger children in particular are unable to escape the conflicts and tensions, and often yearn for a safer, more secure world in which their mother and father can resume parenting together. In this situation, psychotherapy can offer helpful support for these children, providing a non-combative space in which they can examine their own feelings and work through their stress. It can help them to grieve for their parents’ separation, while at the same time enabling them to find new ways to relate to both parents so that their attachment to each has a greater potential of becoming secure. But for this to happen, the parents must also engage in intensive self-examination so that they may separate their sometimes extreme couples conflicts from their parental caregiving responsibilities. However, child custody issues are resolved, this can foster healthy development in the child.
Univ.-Prof. Dr. med. habil. Karl Heinz Brisch specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy, adult psychiatry and neurology, including psychosomatic medicine, psychoanalysis, trauma psychotherapy, and group psychoanalysis. He is head of the Department of Pediatric Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the Dr. von Hauner Children’s Hospital at the University of Munich, Germany.
Dr. Brisch holds the first ever Chair in Early Life Care at Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg, Austria. He also lectures at the Psychoanalytic Institute in Stuttgart, Germany.
Dr. Brisch’s main research and clinical interest is in early child development and attachment psychotherapy in all age groups. He has published numerous books, papers, and articles on attachment development in high-risk infants and clinical attachment research. He developed the prevention programs SAFE® - Secure Attachment Family Education and B.A.S.E.® - Babywatching for use in educational and other settings. He is a founding member of the German-Speaking Association for Infant Mental Health (GAIMH) and led the organization for many years. www.khbrisch.de