Aspects of attachment disorders and mental health issues in young children separated from their family for long periods of time can be explained by psychodynamic theory. Empirical studies show that the emotional and mental health, within the at-risk population of unaccompanied minors separated from family for periods of time, evidence on a spectrum of possible emotional, developmental, and behavioral concerns. The symptoms observed included but are not limited to insomnia, inability to concentrate, nightmares, depression, withdrawal, anxiety, symptoms of PTSD, anger and frustration, loss of interest, low self-esteem, feeling of guilt, lashing out violently, having little optimism for the future, thoughts of suicide, and psychotic behavior (Katsounari, 2013). The main concept for psychodynamic perspective is that early childhood experiences, like trauma, influence the outcome of that individual throughout their life. (Hutchison, 2015) It will influence their emotions, mental health, and abilities to cope with stressful or overwhelming situations. The children of immigrants experience constant changes to their surroundings as they seek refuge. Children are forced to assimilate to a new language, new surroundings, and new status as being undocumented and therefore at risk of deportation. This can be a painful transition made more difficult and traumatic by being separated from a parent without knowledge of when they will be reunified. (Kristal-Anderson, 2000)
Critical Analysis and Connection
Psychodynamic theory addresses the unconscious or conscious mental activity that drives an individual in their actions and emotional responses. (Hutchison, 2015) Therefore, the connection to psychodynamic theory and the issue is the difficult psychological impact that comes with adjusting ones’ identity, especially that of a young child. The conscious or unconscious state of that child is compromised if they cannot blend their understandings of each world. (Kristal-Anderson, 2000) Incompatibility and being unable to cope with the dramatic identity shift will alter their behavior resulting in negative mental health outcomes. These outcomes are not limited to children being separated at the Texas-Mexico border. Similar outcomes are noted in refugees of war and civil unrest from other countries. The psychological trauma experienced by war is elevated by being displaced. Often this impacts the poorest populations, those who are caught in conflict zones and have witnessed violence are at an increased risk for overwhelming internal demands on the psyche. (Boothby, 1992) Boothby notes in his study of displaced children that there have been efforts to ease the mental and emotional toll on unaccompanied minors via family tracing and reunification programs that the community supports, and mental health professionals actively participate to aid in elevating the long-term effects. Despite these programs being in place for war refugees, they fail because they are initiated too late or far too slowly to benefit the children. (Boothby, 1992) In the United States, there has been little to no evidence of any attempt at addressing the mental health needs of these unaccompanied minors.
Children are, by their very nature, vulnerable and without a strong social and family environment, they are more susceptible to internalizing traumatic experiences long-term. The secondary trauma becomes a prominent issue when, and if, the child is reunited with their parent(s) and they have suffered memory loss or develop an attachment disorder and they are now exposed to the direct contact of a parent who has been traumatized by the separation-deportation process as well. (Batista-Pinto Wiese, 2010) Implementing a psychodynamic treatment plan is essential when working with a migrant child, and their parents, to address the emotional and psychological effects. The likelihood of re-traumatizing the child is increased when working with a child who has not developed positive coping strategies. Therefore, therapists should work to empower while stabilizing the external and internal demands that the child may experience and aid in managing anxiety and stress responses. (Batista-Pinto Wiese, 2010)
In relation to the field of social work, psychodynamic theory is successful in understanding as well as responding to the needs of children experiencing trauma due to separation. The empowering intervention process seeking to ultimately reunify families and encourage psychological healing and managing emotions is one way in which psychodynamic therapy improves outcomes for unaccompanied minors. Human behavior in cases such as the beforementioned exhibits the expected responses of emotional distress, trauma, PTSD, and other behavior-altering symptoms. Young children are especially vulnerable to life-altering traumatic experiences due to their lack of development in their emotional intelligence and being forcibly separated from their support system is traumatizing. If the social environment could accommodate what is understood about the effects of separation, then trauma experienced by all parties involved would be alleviated.
Bonding Between The Child And The Family. (2022, Apr 11).
Retrieved November 29, 2023 , from
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