Affiliation: Via Bianca di Savoia, 17 20122 Milan, Italy.
Background: Becoming a mother when one is still an adolescent interrupts the process of adolescent development. These difficulties are made more serious by the traumatic effects of the previous experiences of mistreatment and/or abuse. The child’s development is threatened by the fact that, in addition to being a possible target for the re-enactment of the mistreatment, she also serves as a container for the needs and projections of her mother, and is not able to mentalize.
Method: This article examines the psychodynamic aspects of maternity in these adolescents, the interrelation between mother and child and their effects on the emotional development of the child. It describes and illustrates with case examples a therapeutic approach that focusses on the mother–child dyad.
The treatment method is designed for children aged 0 to 2.5 and their adolescent mothers. It takes into account the difficulty of reaching adolescent mothers with traditional psychotherapy and integrates the acquisitions of the attachment theory and the studies of the early infant development. The therapeutic interventions (once a week for 60 minutes over two years) take place at the mother’s home. The therapists’ interventions are designed to help the mother recognize the child’s needs and signals, correct the distortions in the perceptions of the child, diminish splitting, promote the emergence of conflict in the relationship and elaborate instead of acting out them, getting in touch with one’s split off traumatic experiences and give voice to the baby.
Results: The presentation of some case material will demonstrate the methodological approach, show the improvement in the relationship between mother and child, its transformations and the mother’s new capacity of mentalization.
Conclusion: The treatment encourages the mothers to take back the projections they had been subjecting their children to, reprocess their own traumatic experiences and, consequently, resume their adolescent development, as well as providing support for the children, thereby breaking the chain of abuse.