Foundational and pioneering theorists

IRCT are committed to acknowledging the work of the early pioneers of child psychology who identified key concepts that unlocked the possibility of helping children who were traumatised recover. The following overview is of the founding professionals who have shaped the work that we champion and advocate.

Anna Freud (1895-1982) was one of the founders of child development psychology who, among other things, pioneered a way to help children who have departed from normal development return to normal development. She developed important work relating to defense mechanisms and she emphasized the importance of child development over time.


Melanie Klein (1880- 1960) another early pioneer understood that play could be helpful for children’s recovery and also introduced important ideas of projection, introjection and splitting.

Winnicott (1896-1971) was trained by Melanie Klein but became increasingly independent in his thinking over the course of his career, ultimately contributing original ideas that emphasised the importance of play in psychological development. He also introduced the idea of ‘the holding environment’ and the concept of the real and false self. Winnicott also made it clear that the infant develops within the context of an environment, which is essential to explore when looking at facilitating recovery from trauma.

Barbara Dockar-Drysdale developed aspects of Winnacotts work. She focused again on the role of the primary care giver shaping personality development and the importance of understanding the needs of children, which led her to create the first therapeutic communities.

Bowlby’s (1907-1990) theoretical work on attachment and Ainsworth (1913-1999) and Main’s (and more recently Crittenden) empirical research building on his theory have been central to most understanding of the impact of trauma on the development of the child. When using these foundational frameworks for understanding children’s development and experience of trauma we have to be careful not to reduce the ideas of attachment as an interpersonal or relational process to one of typology in which we label children as having insecure attachments.

Ainsworth’s (1985) and Main and Solomon’s (2000) description of four different types of attachment can be helpful to provide a simple overview of the different ways that children learn to relate to firstly their primary caregiver and then others. When a child experiences trauma, their attachments can become disrupted. Disorganised attachment is the reason for much trauma in complex homes where the primary care giver is also the source of fear and inconsistent and volatile reactions that create terror for the child.

Closely associated with attachment theory is the important concept of an ‘internal working model’. This is the way a child develops their internal, subconscious perspective of life through their attachments and lasts into adulthood as an internal map of how to make sense of their world. When a child has created the blueprint of the internal working model they then live life from that perspective where they see the world as a hostile place, their parents as dangerous and intent on harm, adults as frightening and that they are inherently bad.