[Infants and toddlers behavioral and functional disorders: characteristics, mother-child interactions, alliance and outcome after a brief parents-child psychotherapy. A pilot study].Encephale. 2013 Feb; 39(1):29-37.E
Functional and behavioral disorders are the most frequent reasons for consultation in infant psychiatry, but there are still few studies about the efficacy of parents-child psychotherapies. Functional disorders appear to be easier to treat than behavioral disorders. The aim of this study was: (1) to assess outcome after a brief psychotherapy in a population of 49 infants aged 3 to 30 months, presenting functional or behavioral disorders; (2) to compare characteristics before therapy and outcomes for children with functional disorders and with behavioral disorders, to have a better understanding of the worse outcome of children with behavioral disorders.
Two assessments were performed, one before treatment and the second a month after the end of the therapy including the infant's symptoms (Symptom Check-list), parents' anxious and depressive symptoms (Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale) and mother-infant interactions (Crittenden Experimental Index of adult-infant relationship). The therapeutic alliance was assessed by the therapist and the parents after the first consultation (Working Alliance Inventory).
The assessments after therapy show complete or partial improvement in the child's symptoms, in the mother's anxious and depressive symptoms and in the father's anxious symptoms. During interaction, the mothers become more sensible, the number of controlling and of unresponsive mothers decrease, while the children become more cooperative and less passive. Initial characteristics and outcome are however different according to the type of the child's disorder. The children with behavioral disorders are older and present an association of several symptoms. The disorder onset is later. Their mothers are, before therapy, more anxious and depressive. The therapeutic alliance is weaker. After therapy, despite the fact that their mothers' affective state and that interactive behavior improves, the mothers are more anxious and less sensible, while the children no longer differ from the group without behavioral disorder from the point of view of opposition (assessed during mother-child interaction).
Although this study is limited by the lack of a control group and the sample size, it underlines some particularities of infants and toddlers presenting behavioral disorders and the difficulties involved in their treatment. One can wonder if these characteristics are specific of the behavioral disorders or if they are the result of an older dysfunction, complicated by the developmental evolution of the child and the duration of the difficulties. The small number of cases, among the children with behavioral disorders, presenting a preexistent functional disorder, the absence of difference in the duration of the disorders, and the different disorder's onset plead in favor of the first hypothesis. The behavioral disorders often associate child psychopathology, dysfunctional parents-child-relationships and environmental factors difficult to modify with a brief therapy focused on the relationship. It would appear necessary to develop specific treatments for this population.