Herrmann, Steven B.
TREATMENT OF AN ABANDONMENT TRAUMA
Journal of Sandplay Therapy, Volume 17, Number 2, 2008
KEY WORDS: abandonment trauma, attachment, development, dreams, whale, Moby-Dick, Sandplay therapy, clinical example, child, boy, male, violent defenses, violent behavior, destructive, pre-school, parents, symbol, film, analytic, relational development.
ABSTRACT: In this paper, the author describes the treatment of an adopted boy of European ancestry— “Jacob”—from age 5 to 7. In his infancy Jacob developed a severe abandonment trauma with explosive and violent defenses. His psychic distress escalated into destructive and violent acts towards his parents and his peers upon entering pre-school. In regards to his dreams, Jacob reported: “In my dreams I am the guy throwing spears at the whales!” From this and other statements, it soon became apparent that Jacob was reenacting some frightening scenes from the American film classic Moby-Dick. It was decided to treat Jacob’s affective and behavioral problems through analytic dream work and sandplay. Jacob’s solution to his own problem is depicted in the final tray: the harpooning and drowning death of Ahab and pirates. Through Jacob’s symbolic friendship with Ishmael and Queequeg, and his deepening attachment to his parents and the therapist, he sacrifices his lonely attempts to solve his problems heroically and he prepares the way towards a more conscious mode of relational development.