Defence strategies and anxiety in mothers of disabled children



The aim of this investigation was to study anxiety and defence strategies in mothers of children with different disabilities. Mothers of children with childhood psychosis, motor handicaps, or Down's syndrome were tested with a projective, percept-genetic technique, viz. the Mother-Child Picture Test (MCPT). Levels of anxiety were measured with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HAD). In mothers of psychotic children, the absence of anxiety was significantly associated with misinterpretations and/or failure to recognize the MCPT motif (a close relation between mother and child). This association was not found in the mothers of motor-handicapped children or children with Down's syndrome. The results suggest that, for mothers of psychotic children, the activation of defensive strategies is important to avoid feelings of anxiety evoked by the mother-child situation. For mothers of children with other chronic disabilities, for example, motor handicaps or Down's syndrome, low levels of anxiety may be experienced without the mobilization of strong defensive mechanisms. Different interpretations of the correlation between defence strategies and anxiety in the mothers of psychotic children are discussed.