SELFLESS GENES, ALTRUISM AND TRAUMA: RESEARCH AND CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS

Authors


  • GRAHAM MUSIC is an adult psychotherapist in private practice and Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic where he works in the Fostering, Adoption and Kinship Care Team. Until recently he was Associate Clinical Director in the Tavistock's Child and Family Department, managing a range of services concerned with the aftermath of child maltreatment and neglect. He organizes trainings for therapists in CAMHS, leads on child development teaching and supervises on the Tavistock Child Psychotherapy training and on various other courses in England and abroad. He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Child Psychotherapy and his publications include Nurturing Natures: Attachment and Children's Emotional, Social and Brain Development (Karnac, 2010) and Affect and Emotion (Icon, 2001).

Tavistock Centre, Child and Family, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 3BA. [gmusic@tavi-port.nhs.uk]

abstract

This paper examines human altruism and helpfulness and discusses how this can be theorized within psychoanalytic discourses. The importance and ‘naturalness’ of altruistic tendencies is described, and the effects of adverse experiences such as abuse and neglect on these capacities are examined. The paper integrates psychoanalytic thinking with neuroscience, attachment and developmental research and describes research which suggests that altruism and helpfulness are maybe more ‘normally’ present from an earlier age than might have been thought. It is argued that there are a range of ‘co-emerging’ capacities, such as empathy and understanding other minds, that lead to altruism and that in response to abuse and neglect such capacities often do not develop. Clinical example are used which describe patients who had suffered from adverse circumstances and who lacked empathy and altruistic tendencies, and some changes in them are illustrated.

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