A Novel Way to Teach Psychoanalysis

Lawrence D. Blum

Lawrence D. Blum is a psychiatrist/psychoanalyst practicing in Philadelphia, PA. He teaches at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia and in the Departments of Anthropology and Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is co-director of the undergraduate minor in psychoanalytic studies.


Lawrence D. Blum

Learning More Directly from Children

I have developed a syllabus for a novel way to teach basic psychoanalytic principles and child development. A course based on this syllabus is currently being taught to candidates at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia by my friend and psychoanalyst colleague, Susan Adelman. She reports that she and the candidates are having a great time and learning a lot. I am writing about this course for two reasons: I would very much appreciate suggestions for improving or expanding it, and perhaps others may wish to use a version of it for their own teaching.

The basic idea of the course is to learn about development more directly from children. Most approaches to teaching psychoanalysis appropriately emphasize psychoanalytic understanding of human development. But for the most part, development is taught via inferences from the adult psychoanalytic literature in conjunction with literature from child observation, i.e., “baby-watching” and developmental psychology. What is missing is more direct communication from children’s own hearts and minds. This course bridges the gap by drawing on both clinical articles from the child psychoanalytic literature and classic children’s books. The clinical articles allow one to hear as directly as possible children’s communications of their own inner experiences, through words, behavior, and play. The children’s literature, although written by adults, has been vetted by its enduring popularity with children.

Opportunity for Crowdsourcing

There are many ways one might structure a course such as this and a great variety of materials one might use. I have assembled the draft syllabus without the benefit of being either a child analyst or an expert on children’s literature. I therefore invite readers to contribute their suggestions. I will be happy to collect and collate responses, thus offering any psychoanalytic educator who might wish to teach a version of this course a wide variety of options from which to choose. There are many important subjects the course does not currently include, and I would appreciate suggestions of additional topic areas, particularly if they are accompanied by recommended relevant literature. For example, is anyone aware of clinical reports that focus on children’s relationships with their siblings? Do you have suggestions for additional materials with regard to the female triangular/Oedipal phase? Also, the course as outlined includes only a few items from non-Western cultures. Suggestions of additional materials from other cultures and subcultures would be very welcome.

Varieties of Use

As a course on development, the materials can be used to discuss the intertwining of attachment, relationships, object relations, psychosexual stages, unconscious conflicts, affect tolerance, shifts from more immature to more mature defenses, symptom formation, the development of character, and childhood versus adult neurosis. Additionally, the course lends itself to discussion of technical approaches to working with children of different ages, starting with working with parents of infants, progressing to therapies focused on play, and finally more customarily verbal treatments with adolescents. In relation to the three traditional tracks in psychoanalytic curricula, i.e., technique, development, and what used to and might still be called psychopathology (even if it just refers to the ways people struggle to adapt), the course can be oriented toward any of the three.

Although most of the preceding focuses on teaching professionals, I originally imagined this course as a way to introduce psychoanalysis to people who have little acquaintance with it, such as undergraduates. Even though the course uses technical psychoanalytic literature, I believe a teacher who can help college students with challenges inherent in the clinical readings could readily adapt the syllabus for use with college students, and that it might provide them an unusual, direct view of what psychoanalysis is about and can accomplish.

Before concluding, here’s a brief aside with regard to teaching psychoanalysis and child development to a wide range of students, as well as the interest in non-Western materials. Barbara Shapiro, a friend who is a child analyst, and I teach a course for undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania called Psychoanalytic and Anthropological Perspectives on Childhood, in which we examine psychoanalytic ideas about development in light of ethnographic materials from around the world. Anyone who wishes to see the syllabus for that course can send me an email—Barbara and I are happy to share our ideas.

If you have suggestions for the syllabus below, please email them to me at ldb@lawrenceblum.com. If there is sufficient new material, a brief follow-up discussion may be published in TAP. Thanks in advance for all contributions.

From the Mouths of Babes: Psychoanalytic Principles and Developmental Psychology via the Child Analytic Literature and Children’s Classics

Series of Classes:

1. Infancy. Developmental Tasks, Early Pathology. Constancy and Dependency.

Fraiberg, Selma (1982). Pathological Defenses in Infancy. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 51:612-635.

Brown, Margaret Wise. Goodnight Moon (Susan Adelman recommends reading this aloud in class.)

Eastman, P.D. Are You My Mother?

Potential Topics for Discussion:


Attachment; different forms of attachment

Development of concepts of self and other

Affect tolerance and intolerance; primitive defensive operations

Intergenerational transmission of trauma

Techniques of working with infants and parents


2. Later Presentation of Early Trauma. Anger and Adaptation.

Coates, Susan (2016). Can Babies Remember Trauma? Symbolic Forms of Representation in Traumatized Infants. JAPA, 64(4):751-776.

Rudolph, J. (1981). Aggression in the Service of the Ego and the Self. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 29:559-579

Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are

Sendak, Maurice. In the Night Kitchen

Potential Topics for Discussion:

Representation of early trauma

Self-other differentiation and lack thereof

Anger, projection, splitting

Handling of affects, defenses in relation to patients’ capacities

Early developmental ideas about gender (Night Kitchen)

3. Separation-Individuation, Object Constancy, and Childhood Illness.

Sherkow, Susan (2011). The Dyadic Psychoanalytic Treatment of a Toddler with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 31(3):252-275.

Bornstein, B. (1949). The Analysis of a Phobic Child—Some Problems of Theory and Technique in Child Analysis. Psychoanal. St. Child, 3:181-226.

Brown, Margaret Wise. The Runaway Bunny

Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit

Potential Topics for Discussion:


Problems in separation-individuation

Borderline presentations in childhood

Trauma and aggression as related to object relations

Sequelae of childhood illnesses

4. Triangular Phase (Male). Oedipus Complex, Structural Model.

Fraiberg S. (1996) The Magic Years Chapter 6 pp 179-193 and 202-209.

Simon and Schuster New York, New York. (In particular, “Jimmy,” pp 202-209.)

Erreich, A. (2002). “The Littlest Balls Ever Company.” Psychoanal. St. Child, 57:245-269.

Dr. Seuss. If I Ran the Circus

Dr. Seuss. The Cat in the Hat

A.A. Milne, Poems: “Disobedience,” “Buckingham Palace”

Indian Myth: Ganesha

Potential Topics for Discussion:

Male Oedipal conflicts/triangular phase

How/why the Oedipal conflicts emerge from prior development

Dr. Seuss’s father’s work as a zookeeper in relation to Dr. Seuss’s work

The structural model as exemplified in The Cat in the Hat

5. Triangular Phase (Female).

Herzog, James (2008) Falling Down: A Girl’s Struggle with Her Oedipus Complex and Her Family’s Dilemmas. Annual of Psychoanalysis, 36: 62-72.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Snow White, Cinderella

Potential Topics for Discussion:

Female Triangular/Oedipal conflicts, development

The girl’s continued relationship with mother and the Persephone myth

Competition between women, e.g., movies such as My Best Friend’s Wedding

6. Non-normative Development.

Blumenthal, E. (1998). We All Need Our Tails to Lean On: An Analysis of a Latency-age Girl with a Gender Identity Disorder. Psychoanal. St. Child, 53:181-198.

Ehrensaft, D. (2014). Listening and Learning from Gender-Nonconforming Children. Psychoanal. St. Child, 68:28-56.

Peck, Richard (2016). The Best Man. New York: Penguin.

Woodson, Jacqueline (1997). The House You Pass on the Way. New York: Penguin.

Potential Topics for Discussion:

Varieties of developmental pathways

Cultural and microcultural variations

Development of gender identity

Development of object choice

7. Latency (early). Friendships and Siblings.

Karush, R.K. (1998). The Use of Dream Analysis in the Treatment of a Nine-year-old Obsessional Boy. Psychoanal. St. Child, 53:199-211.

Wright, J.L. (2009). The Princess Has to Die. Psychoanal. St. Child, 64:75-91

Milne, A.A. Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin

Cleary, Beverly. Ramona Quimby (Age 5, Age 8, Ramona and Beezus)

Pilkey, Dave. The Adventures of Captain Underpants

Potential Topics for Discussion:

How much latency is there in latency?

Cultural variations in latency

Relationships with sibs, friends, reality

Changes in play, varieties of play, typical girls’ and boys’ play

8. Latency/Pre-adolescence.

Chused, J. (1991). The Evocative Power of Enactments. JAPA, 39:615-639.

Twain, Mark. Tom Sawyer (excerpts, e.g. re Becky Thatcher)

White, E. B. Charlotte’s Web

Potential Discussion topics:

Transitions into early adolescence

Changes in technique with patients’ advancing ages

Types of regression with transition to adolescence

9. Adolescent Conflicts.

Shapiro, B. (2003). Building bridges between body and mind: The analysis of an adolescent with paralyzing chronic pain. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 84:547-561.

Fischer, N. (1989). Anorexia Nervosa and Unresolved Rapprochement Conflicts. A Case Study. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 70:41-54.

McCullers, Carson. The Member of the Wedding

Chinese Folktale/Myth: The Butterfly Lovers

Shostak, Marjorie (1981). Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Chapters 4 & 5).

Potential Topics to Discuss:

Early, middle, and late adolescence

Reworking of psychosexual conflicts and object-relations

Reworking of interpersonal relationships and of sense of self, interdependence and independence, difference and conformity, involvement in the larger world, etc.

10. Young Adulthood.

Hoffman, Leon (2008) Oedipus and Autonomy Assertion, Aggression, and the Idealized Father. Annual of Psychoanalysis, 36:85-100.

Awad, G.A. (2000). The Development and Consequences of an Aggressive Symbiotic Fantasy. Psychoanal. St. Child, 55:180-201.

Blum, L.D. (2010). The “All-but-the-Dissertation” Student and the Psychology of the Doctoral Dissertation. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 24:74-85.


Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home

Roth, Philip. Portnoy’s Complaint

Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye

Potential Topics to Discuss:

Consolidation of character

Love, work, and play

Ability to understand and adapt to the influences of one’s background