Donna Roth Smith

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have listened to parents describe feeling terrified and besieged, barely able to manage the care of their young children. The pandemic, war in Ukraine, school shootings and ever more worldwide catastrophes have had a cumulative effect. Parents are terrified for themselves, their families and face an uncertain future. Children clamor for attention, and parents tell us they cannot take it and feel overwhelmed.  Some parents tell us how they have lashed out in frustration, while others fear the actions they might take. Others withdraw and shut their children out. The young children protest, cry and become increasingly more demanding, escalating a vicious cycle. Parent’s minds are in the line of fire.
Child psychoanalysts recognize the toll of trauma and understand how cataclysmic events impact parenting, individually and collectively. We are challenged to extend our reach to include more families, all of whom are in need of our capacity to bear witness to the enormous pressures emerging from external and internal sources.  The psychic apparatus of parents worldwide is strained. More and more children, parents, and the professionals who provide for them, especially teachers, need our help. Teachers’ minds are in the line of fire. 
Early in the pandemic during the worst times of fear and uncertainty, analysts questioned whether and how we might work analytically with children and parents.  Analysts’ minds were in the line of fire. Quarantined to our own homes, the only option was to work remotely.  As we went into lockdown, colleagues collaborated, and analytic work shifted to video platforms with a portion of our child and parent clinical practice. We learned through our inner experiences that patients were still able to communicate their fears, experiences and fantasies within this newly constructed frame, now a shared virtual space. Relying on psychoanalytic principles allowed the work to remain effective. Once the child analyst located the relied upon internal setting, ample containment could be offered to children and parents, mitigating the crisis. 
Parents became more able to contain their child’s anxieties, and their own. The capacity to think in the face of their child’s intense distress, helped these parents to feel less overwhelmed by their children’s projections.  They could better tolerate uncertainty, engage with distress, shape meaning and create meaningful links for both themselves and their children.
Child analysts learned from their patients to trust the internal setting over the provision of a physical space. Traditionally, we relied on the familiarity of the consulting room. Out of necessity, we discovered the novel experience of providing containment within a virtual space. The analyst’s mind in the line of fire. Reliance on the internal setting proved to be effective, allowing psychoanalytic work to continue. 
The effectiveness and success of online work allows more parents and children to have access to treatment and opens the possibility of extending our services. The population of children and families in need remains staggering when compared to the number that we can directly contact. 
The mental health crisis demands creativity and innovation. Community outreach is becoming essential, schools offer opportunities. 
Psychoanalytic consultation and professional development for teachers and school mental health teams has been an effective method to reach large numbers of children and parents. 
Schools are excellent resources and accessible to communities. Parents of young children often turn to teachers for guidance in how to understand and manage their children.  In addition to imparting knowledge, teachers of young children are often good “containers” of anxieties. Much of what children need is basic to what teachers typically provide all day, every day.  Teachers of young children typically think in terms of emotion regulation and behavior management. They are familiar with the fantasy life of children as well as the quick changes in affect tolerance and drive expression.  Yet, teachers report feeling overwhelmed and unsupported in their work. Teachers’ minds are in the line of fire, and now they are expected to “catch children up” while often being simultaneously blamed for the children falling behind emotionally and academically.   
Psychoanalytic consultation for teachers is most effective when designed to help teachers meet children’s needs while also focusing on what teachers need for themselves and what is required of them in order to provide for their students. As analysts talk with teachers and understand what they do, the step-by-step process of how they help children develop and learn reveals the emotional strain and stamina required of the teacher, both consciously and unconsciously. 
A group of teachers (of 4–7-year-old children) met regularly with the psychoanalyst consultant. The teachers described everyday classroom examples of how their young students tattled on each other, blaming and attributing responsibility to their classmates and teachers.  The analyst used the teachers’ examples to demonstrate how children get rid of and manage their feelings, externalize, and project. The children’s behavior became more tolerable to the teachers as the purpose and motivation underlying the children’s behavior was understood.
A discussion of how children develop affect tolerance and self-control, in relation to the demands of the classroom continued during the ongoing consultations. 
Teachers described how they helped children calm themselves and regulate their mad or embarrassed feelings. When the teachers described how they managed their own emotions, the analyst highlighted the demands on the teachers, the emotional strain and stamina required of the teacher, both consciously and unconsciously. The consultant provided “containment” for the teachers as they understood the internalization process and the importance of the containment they provide for children.
The teachers became more comfortable and open about themselves and their work over the course of the consultations. Teachers reflected on their own experiences of inadequacy, shame, and anger when they feel they are failing a child. Teachers’ self-reflection and understanding of children’s defensive behaviors was applied to thinking about parents.  A parent’s furious, insistent blaming of the teacher as incompetent, became understandable and more tolerable.
The psychoanalyst consultant teaches teachers to use what they know in new ways based on the teacher’s lived experience with children and parents. As the repository of children’s and parents’ unconscious phantasies, teachers understand container/contained, externalization, projection, and projective identification. Many teachers are fascinated as they gain more understanding of their daily experiences, especially the communication and transmission between their own mind and the child’s mind. This level of understanding offers new meaning and significance to the teaching process. Their reflective awareness is energizing and allows motivation to endure. Having a psychoanalytic consultant facilitates understanding and teachers become able to withstand projections and contain otherwise less tolerable experiences. 
The minds of parents, teachers and analysts are all in the line of fire and have been for the past two years.  Child analysts are uniquely qualified to understand the impact of the environment on psychic reality. Consideration of broad-based, interdisciplinary interventions that aid not only individuals, but communities is imperative. The challenge of our time for contemporary analysts is to extend the analytic field into the community through education and outreach. 
Donna Roth Smith, LCSW, FIPA
Training and Supervising Analyst, Psychoanalytic Training Institute of the Contemporary Freudian Society (PTI of CFS)
Member and Supervisor, Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research (IPTAR)
Child and Adult Faculty, CFS and IPTAR. New York.


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