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November 1988

Parental Loss in Childhood: Its Effect in Adult Life

Author Affiliations

From the University of Sydney, Professorial Psychiatric Unit, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, Australia.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1988;45(11):1045-1050. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1988.01800350079012

While parental loss in childhood has intrigued psychiatrists for most of this century, it has only recently been the subject of acceptable empiric research. Early psychoanalytic writers were preoccupied with the psychological significance of the traumatic loss itself and noted that depression specifically was the likely outcome. Bowlby,1 however, suggested that a range of disorders, including depression, anxiety, and antisocial personality, may be associated with childhood loss; there are now many empiric studies that seem to support this. Bowlby2 further defined what he believed to be the toxic element of childhood loss, moving the emphasis toward the disruption of the ongoing attachment to the parent. Later Rutter3,4 concluded that separation from a parent and subsequent loss of attachment in itself is not the critical factor. It is increasingly apparent that parental separation or loss in childhood can embrace a range of other adverse experiences, and it may

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