Resilience, Defense Mechanisms, and Implicit Emotion Regulation in Psychodynamic Child Psychotherapy

  • Tracy A. ProutEmail author
  • Anthea Malone
  • Timothy Rice
  • Leon Hoffman
Original Paper


Resilience is associated with the internal capacity for the regulation of unpleasant emotions in the face of adversity. These self-regulatory processes, linked with both explicit and implicit emotion regulation systems, have wide ranging implications for overall psychological health. Child psychotherapy can be conceptualized as helping children adapt more effectively to the external environment and develop a more comfortable sense of self as a result of improved emotion regulation and, thus, greater resilience. Most available treatments for youth promote resilience by addressing the explicit emotion regulation system. These treatments include helping parents improve their parenting skills or helping youth modify dysfunctional thinking patterns. In these treatments there is less consideration of the key role of implicit emotion regulation in the enhancement of resilience. The psychodynamic construct of defense mechanisms offers an observable and measurable manifestation of implicit emotion regulation. Thus, addressing the nature of a child’s maladaptive defense mechanisms in the clinical situation can strengthen the implicit emotion regulation system without explicitly instructing the parent or the child to act in a more pro-social manner. This paper utilizes a Regulation Focused Psychotherapy for Children (RFP-C) model to describe how iterative, systematic interpretation of children’s maladaptive defense mechanisms can target the implicit emotion regulation system. This intervention aims to improve the capacity for self-regulation, increase the flexibility of responses to the environment, promote proactivity towards change, and improve interpersonal relatedness. As a result of increases in these adaptive implicit emotion regulation capacities, there is a resultant increase in resilience, especially for children who respond to stressful events with externalizing behaviors. A brief clinical illustration is provided.


Resilience Implicit emotion regulation Defense mechanisms Regulation Focused Psychotherapy for Children (RFP-C) 



We thank Rebecca Aryeh for her assistance with the editing of this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors all declare they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

The case vignette in the paper is a highly disguised description of a study participant who provided informed consent.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ferkauf Graduate School of PsychologyYeshiva UniversityBronxUSA
  2. 2.Mount Sinai Saint Luke’s HospitalNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.New York Psychoanalytic Society & Institute – Pacella Research CenterNew YorkUSA

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