Gianna Polacco Williams: Legacy Interview – how even the most deprived and traumatised children can be helped
Gianna Polacco Williams
Gianna is a Consultant Child Psychotherapist and Psychoanalyst and is one of the most respected and incisive clinicians in child mental health today.
Her paper ‘Doubly Deprived’ (Henry, 1974), written as Gianna Henry, broke new ground. It became an instant classic and is still one of the most quoted papers in child psychotherapy. The significance of this paper cannot be underestimated. It sparked research into psychotherapy with traumatised children, pioneered at the Tavistock Clinic by Mary Boston and others (Boston and Szur, 1990). Before it was published there was a widely held belief that severely deprived children could not be helped with psychotherapy.
The concept of Double Deprivation suggests that the first deprivation is that which has been caused by a child’s external circumstances which cannot be changed. The second deprivation is due to a child’s internal defences which have developed in the avoidance of psychic pain and the nature of the child’s internal objects, which with treatment can be modified and so is changeable.
In this interview she talks about Martin, the 14 years old patient who was the source of her ideas, and why the concepts she wrote about then are as relevant today.
She also discusses in depth one of her other key theoretical ideas, the ‘No Entry’ defence, an illuminating concept in understanding the development of some eating disorders.
Gianna has worked all over the world, including the Tavistock Clinic for over 50 years (2020) where she led the child psychotherapy discipline in the Adolescent Department. She has been instrumental in establishing child psychotherapy trainings in her native country, Italy.
Gianna became a member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists in 1966, and worked at the Child Guidance Training Centre, Tavistock Centre from 1968-70. She has been working at the Tavistock Clinic from 1970 to the present day.
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