Treating Troubled Children and Their Families

Ellen F. Wachtel

June 2, 2004
ISBN 9781593850722
Price: $42.00
320 Pages
Size: 6" x 9"
Copyright Date: 2004
Professors: Free copies available for adoption consideration

Integrating systemic, psychodynamic, and cognitive-behavioral perspectives, this acclaimed book presents an innovative framework for therapeutic work. Ellen Wachtel shows how parents and children all too often get entangled in patterns that cause grief to both generations, and demonstrates how to help bring about change with a combination of family-focused and child-focused interventions. Vivid case examples illustrate creative ways to engage young children in family sessions and conduct complementary sessions with children and parents alone, using a variety of strengths-based, developmentally informed strategies. The paperback edition features a new preface in which the author reflects on the continuing evolution of her approach.

“Extremely well-written....A must for professionals at all levels of clinical experience who work with children and their families.”

Journal of Family Psychotherapy

“[A] masterly contribution in integration, with provocative and groundbreaking implications for contemporary family therapy.”

AFTA Newsletter

Treating Troubled Children and Their Families is a staple text for the child therapy and family therapy courses I teach in our clinical psychology PhD program. I believe it is far and away the most valuable reading that students do in these courses. Students regularly comment on how 'right' it feels to view their clinical work through Dr. Wachtel's integrative lens. They also appreciate the easy balance between theoretical perspectives and very detailed descriptions of what to do in a session. Students have even remarked that they save Dr. Wachtel's chapters for last, as a reward for finishing all of their other reading for the week! Among the most essential qualities of Dr. Wachtel’s work are her respect and appreciation for the strengths of each parent and child, which truly make this book a gift for each new generation of clinicians working with families across all sociocultural contexts.”

—Karla Klein Murdock, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts-Boston

Treating Troubled Children and Their Families is required reading for my master's-level students. Wachtel articulates psychodynamic developmental principles in a way that is invaluable to burgeoning clinicians who are striving to be relationship specialists. Students appreciate how the text helps them understand children's developmental needs and how to relate to them in a family context, and the creative ideas it provides for intervening in family therapy.”

—Linda Stone Fish, PhD, Department of Marriage and Family Therapy, Syracuse University

“A ground-breaking work! Wachtel describes an integrated model of therapy which combines elements of systemic, psychodynamic, play, and cognitive behavioral approaches. The author's "child in family therapy" combines both individual and interpersonal perspectives. Both beginning and experienced family therapists will find many practical suggestions for engaging young children in the therapeutic process. Highly recommended.”

—Charles E. Schaefer, Ph.D., Founder of the Play Therapy Training Institute, New Jersey, author of The Therapeutic Powers of Play

“Undaunted by the challenge of integrating four different traditions—cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, and systems therapies—Ellen Wachtel uses her impressive intellect and inexhaustible imagination to bring the reader the best of theory and practice on behalf of troubled children and their families. A `must' for all therapists working with children.”

—Marcia Sheinberg, M.S.W., Director of Training, Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy

“This is a big book in every sense of the word. To call it an integrative model is to minimize its impact. Therapists who define themselves as systems or family therapists, as well as those who practice a psychodynamic model of child therapy, will find it equally important. Dr. Wachtel tells us that the 'relative balance of systemic psychodynamic behavioral and cognitive interventions varies greatly from case to case. Therapists need to pick and choose, borrow and reshape from all those who have something to offer distressed and troubled children.' I say amen to that. Dr. Wachtel has an encyclopedic knowledge of her field. She teaches while she informs. Best of all she holds your interest every page of the process. This may be the one book you will refer to over and over again. To quote Ms. Wachtel again, 'Most important of all is that therapists learn to think about children's difficulties from a wide variety of perspectives and that they have in their repertoire a wide range of interventions.' This book will help us all in that direction.”

—Olga Silverstein, M.S.W., and author of The Courage to Raise Good Men

“....Extremely well-written....A must for professionals at all levels of clinical experience who work with children and their families.”

—Stephen M. Gavazzi, Ohio State University in Journal of Family Psychotherapy

Table of Contents

1. The Child as an Individual: An Introduction to Child-in-Family Therapy

2. Meeting with Parents Alone: Understanding Their Concerns

3. Getting the Most Out of Family Meetings

4. Knowing the Child in Depth: A Clinical Guide to Effective Individual Sessions

5. Anxiety, Adaptational Styles, and Defense Mechanims

6. Essential Psychodynamic Concepts

7. Interventions Based on Psychodynamic Formulations

8. Interventions Based on Behavioral Formulations

9. Pulling It All Together: Five Illustrative Case Studies

About the Author

Ellen F. Wachtel, JD, PhD, has taught and supervised individual and family therapy in the doctoral programs at New York University and the City University of New York, as well as at Roosevelt Hospital and the Ackerman Institute for the Family. She maintains a private practice in New York City.


Clinicians, students, and instructors in child clinical and counseling psychology, family therapy, social work, and related fields.

Course Use

Serves as a core text in graduate-level courses in child therapy and family therapy.