Charlie’s Web

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Although thankfully rare, the impact of a life-threatening birth can be damaging to the early mother–infant relationship, attunement and attachment, and to the development of the role of a father who may feel like a helpless observer, or in some cases like a perpetrator of violence on his partner’s body. This case study reveals how neuropsychotherapy can address the emotional and mental aftermath and heal the psychological wounds, allowing the family to recover and regain a sense of normalcy. Identities and some non-essential details have been changed to preserve anonymity.

Charlie’s traumatic birth and the first four years of his life are examined here through the lens of neuroscience research and attachment theories underpinned by psychoanalytic theory. This near-death experience resonated dangerously both within the triadic relationship and in the 3-year-old patient, who was left with the implicit, amygdala-based, traumatic memory trapped in his preverbal consciousness, growing body, and developing mind. Twenty sessions of neuropsychotherapy helped him to experience containment of his deathly internal world through a maternal-metabolising (Bion, 1962a) and paternal-linking (Birksted–Breen, 1996) therapeutic relationship. I show how emotion and feeling become experientially more distinct, and how this reduces the impact of his conditioned trauma–fear (Damasio, 1999; Pally, 2000), or “memories in feeling” (Klein, 1957, p. 180), ultimately initiating affect regulation through affect synchrony (Fonagy, Gergely, Jurist, & Target, 2002; Schore, 2002).

Through clinical material, the therapeutic alliance and developing intervention are revealed. Central themes emerge in the work, which I link to neuroscience understandings, showing how these inform my therapeutic technique and help me to evaluate the impact on Charlie and his family…

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