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Keywords:

  • active imagination;
  • alpha-function;
  • reverie;
  • symbol;
  • symbolic attitude;
  • transcendent function

In comparison to the 1970s and 1980s, we now treat more children and adolescents who, because they have had traumatic experiences of violence, child abuse, deprivation or chronic physical illness, are not able to adequately use their symbolizing function. The question is which qualities and which analytical attitude we should and can offer in analysis to help a child regain his or her capacity to symbolize, irrespective of how poorly developed or blocked this capacity may be. In contrast to Jung and some Jungians, the author argues that although the transcendent function is a ‘natural process’ and hence archetypally grounded as Jung maintained, the transcendent function does not work spontaneously. Rather it requires a matrix based on the child’s earliest relationship, which can later be re-enacted in treatment. Jung’s general concept of a ‘symbolic attitude’ can be complemented and focused in a specific way through the use of Bion’s concept of ‘reverie’, which contributes in a fundamental way to symbol formation within the transference/countertransference. This idea is illustrated by clinical material from a nine-year-old boy who suffered from a severe congenital intestinal disease and was blocked in his capacity to symbolize. From the perspective of treatment technique, the author shows how the drawing of ‘comic book’ narratives in a reciprocal exchange was brought into the treatment. The drawings evolved in a way that he understood as a modified form of active imagination with children. The drawing process helped the boy gradually to develop a symbolic space in the therapy and to contain a psychic space in his mind.