Understanding children is a critical task for psychoanalysis, because of its assumption that the mental structures that direct a person’s functioning are formed through the experiences of early childhood. Understanding these experiences and the manner in which they have an impact is, therefore, the only way to provide a complete explanation of the functioning of any individual, whether child or adult; it is also crucial for the therapeutic practice of psychoanalysis. More generally, psychoanalysis suggests that the history of a mental process is always preserved and has a continuing effect: childhood forms of things are not lost or transformed, but take their place as permanent building blocks in a final structure. As such, they exert a determining influence over behaviour throughout life, sometimes (as in regression) subverting conventional adult modes of action to reveal in an immediate way the existence of a ‘child within’. Thus, comprehending childhood and the processes of change that take place over the childhood years is essential to understanding any mental process at all; the past is always present in the here and now.
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