Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

The autistic moment in psychotherapy

  • 36 Accesses

  • 1 Citations


This is a report on the author's experience in treating four autistic children and their families. The importance of making available the therapist's own autism is stressed. The difficulty in doing this and reverting defensively to an administrative approach is described. A previous paper discussed the “corrective autistic experience” with a focus on the autistic person. This follow-up describes the “autistic moment” which is a relational experience between the therapist and both the autistic person and the autistic family. The family needs to have an experience of its own autism as a continuum of normal before it can relate to an autistic child. To the extent that the therapist can bring his own autism into the therapy can the family experience its own. The patients are the person, the relationships, the family, and the therapist.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Anderson, R. B. (1979). Personal communication.

  2. Anderson, R. B., Kramer, D. A., & Stull, E. C. (1980). The playroom and one-way mirror in family-oriented child psychotherapy. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Psychiatric Services for Children, New Orleans, Louisiana.

  3. Bruwer, M. J. (1983). The poetry of loving: Family therapy and the Baha'i faith.Baha'i Studies Notebook, 3, 1983, 9–21.

  4. Cohen, I. L., Campbell, M., Posner, D., Small, A. M., Triebel, D., & Anderson, L. T. (1980). Behavioral effects of haloperidol in young autistic children.Journal of Child Psychiatry, 15, 665–677.

  5. Kramer, D. A., Anderson, R. B., & Westman, J. C. (1984). The corrective autistic experience: An application of the models of Tinbergen and Mahler.Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 15, 104–120.

  6. Kramer, D. A., & McKinney, W. T., Jr. (1979). The overlapping territories of psychiatry and ethology.Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 167, 3–22.

  7. Mahler, M. S. (1968).On human symbiosis and the vicissitudes of individuation, Vol. 1: Infantile psychosis. New York: International Universities Press.

  8. Searles, H. F. (1970). Autism and the phase of transition to therapeutic symbiosis.Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 7, 1–20.

  9. Searles, H. F. (1971). Pathologic symbiosis and autism. In B. Landis (Ed.),In the name of life—Symposium in honor of Erich Fromm (pp. 69–83). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

  10. Smith, J. B. (1982).A diachronic linguistic analysis of the effects of psychotherapy on autistic language development. Unpublished master's thesis Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA.

  11. Suomi, S. J., Harlow, H. F., & McKinney, W. T. (1972). Monkey psychiatrists,American Journal of Psychiatry, 128, 41–46.

  12. Tinbergen, E. A., & Tinbergen, N. (1972). Early infantile autism—an ethological approach.Tierpsychological Supplement, 10, 1–53.

  13. Tinbergen, N. (1974). Ethology and stress diseases.Science, 185, 20–27.

  14. Tinbergen, N., & Tinbergen, E. A. (1983).Autistic children: New hope for a cure. London: George Allen & Unwin.

  15. Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (1967). Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam.

  16. Whitaker, C. A. (1976). Personal communication.

  17. Whitaker, C. A., & Keith, D. V. (1981). Symbolic-experiential family therapy. In A. S. Gurman & D. P. Kniskern (Eds.),Handbook of family therapy (pp. 187–225).

  18. Whitaker, C. A., & Malone, T. P. (1953).The roots of psychotherapy. New York: Blakiston.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Douglas A. Kramer MD.

Additional information

The author would like to thank Richard B. Anderson, MD, Lindy T. Barnett, MSW, David V. Keith, MD, JoEllen Barnett Smith, MA, and Orion Smith for their participation as cotherapists. The comments made on an earlier draft of this paper by the members of the Atlantic Psychiatric Clinic are warmly acknowledged. Valuable editorial assistance has been extended by Robert Garfield, MD, and Stuart Sugarman, MD. Lastly, the author would like to extend his appreciation to Robert R. Haubrich, PhD, for stimulating his interest in the field of comparative ethology.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kramer, D.A. The autistic moment in psychotherapy. Contemp Fam Ther 9, 79–89 (1987).

Download citation


  • Health Psychology
  • Social Issue
  • Autistic Child
  • Relational Experience
  • Family Experience