The Discovery of Deprivation Neurosis

(Now Called Emotional Deprivation Disorder)

This most important discovery was made by Dr. Anna Terruwe as a result of a psychoanalytic therapy session with a 25-year-old, highly intelligent woman. Months of psychotherapy went by without the woman making any progress. She had come in with feelings of "intense anxiety" and she "possessed an unusually infantile emotional life" (Baars & Terruwe)1 One day the woman said to Dr. Terruwe, "Doctor, nothing that you say has any effect on me. For six months I have been sitting here hoping you would take me to your heart… you have been blind to my needs."

This revelation by the patient came as a surprise to Dr. Terruwe who realized that this woman "…felt like a child. She needed only one thingnamely, to be treated in a tender, motherly fashion." Dr. Terruwe began to explore whether the lack of love and tenderness by a mother "would be sufficient to bring about a neurotic illness without the further action of a repressive process." As Dr. Terruwe and her colleague Dr. Baars set out to substantiate this new concept, they found many patients who were not getting better through psychoanalytic therapy who appeared to have neurotic disorders that were not caused by a repressive process. As they investigated this further, they found that a neurotic disorder could indeed be caused solely by the lack of love of a mother or other significant person in a child’s life. They named the "disorder" or syndrome caused in this manner the "Frustration Neurosis" or "Deprivation Neurosis."

 Deprivation Neurosis is now being called “Emotional Deprivation Disorder” to keep in line with current psychiatric nomenclature in the hopes that it will one day be included in American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.2

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Affirmation and Healing

An unaffirmed person needs the authentic affirmation of another human person in their life. Since unaffirmed persons have missed being loved and affirmed as a child, it stands to reason that the treatment for such an individual is to give them the love that they never experienced. The person must be able to experience the unselfish, unconditional, authentic love of another human being. This is the root and basis for therapy. The therapist himself must be a fully affirmed, mature person in order for this "affective" therapy to be fully effective.

According to Dr. Terruwe and Dr. Baars, since the emotional life of an individual with this disorder was arrested or never formed as a child, in therapy the person must grow through the same developmental stages that a normal person would experience during childhood. As the individual comes to feel loved and accepted by another person, he or she will begin to grow developmentally at the stage in which affirmation was denied or stopped during childhood.

The therapist acts somewhat like a parent, in the sense that he or she gives the emotional affirmation as well as the intellectual affirmation that the person needs to grow properly. Ultimately, for therapy to be successful, the person must feel his or her goodness and uniqueness and know that he or she is worthwhile to another human being. The person must feel safe and secure in this relationship with the other person, in this case the therapist, so that he knows that he is no longer alonesomeone finally understands and accepts him. The individual must know that he really is important and special to the therapist, and he must literally feel that the therapist loves him. When this state finally comes about in therapy, the individual will grow emotionally and the symptoms of the disorder will slowly disappear. What is important to understand about therapy for an unaffirmed person is that there are no techniques to learn. There is no plan to follow that leads to a cure. Only the pure, loving, accepting environment of the therapist "being fully present" to the individual will help to promote healing.

See the pages on Emotional Deprivation Disorder and  Affirmation Therapy for additional information. See Healing the Unaffirmed for a more complete discussion.


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1. Baars, Conrad W. and Anna A. Terruwe. Healing the Unaffirmed, Rev. ed. Suzanne M. Baars and Bonnie N. Shayne (eds.). Staten Island, NY: ST PAULS/Alba House, 2002. pp. 2-3.

2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. (Current edition: DSM-IV-TR; Fourth Edition, Text Revision. 2000.)


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Revised: 11/25/03.