From personal and professional experience, Dr. Crown knows the benefits of using a psychodynamic approach in caring for those with autism spectrum disorder.

by Bonnie Eissner

Nancy Crown, Ph.D. ’95, will give a free colloquium, “Aspects of Autism Through a Psychoanalytic Lens,” on Wednesday, February 11, 2015, at 1:00 p.m. at Adelphi’s Alumni House

“I never really thought I was going to bring [my experience with autism] into my professional life but it kind of happened organically.”—Nancy Crown, Ph.D. ’95

Nancy Crown, Ph.D. ’95, was in her first year of her doctoral studies at Adelphi University’s Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies when her daughter was diagnosed with a developmental disorder. Eventually, that diagnosis would turn into one of autism spectrum disorder.

“It was a very difficult time for me,” Dr. Crown said, reflecting on her experience as a new mother and busy doctoral student. She was buoyed, though, by the quiet support she received from Derner classmates and faculty with whom she worked closely.

Yet, as Dr. Crown developed her psychotherapy practice, she generally avoided blending her professional expertise with her personal one. “I never really thought I was going to bring [my experience with autism] into my professional life but it kind of happened organically,” she said.

When her daughter was in high school, Dr. Crown was invited to give a keynote address at parents’ weekend. In writing and delivering the speech, she began to realize the extent to which her knowledge as a psychodynamic psychotherapist had helped her and her daughter. And seeing fellow parents as well as teachers and administrators begin to talk openly and honestly about their shared experiences confirmed that she had a contribution to make.

Since then, she has shared her expertise through her work as a clinician, scholar and teacher. In addition to her private practice, Dr. Crown is on the faculty of the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Training Program at the William Alanson White Institute and is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She has published and presented extensively on parenting and treating children with disabilities, particularly autism spectrum disorder.

She is a passionate advocate for incorporating psychodynamic ideas into the many other effective treatments for children with autism spectrum disorder. She acknowledges the damage done by the now rejected theory, promulgated by Leo Kanner and Bruno Bettleheim, that autism was caused by bad mothers. Yet she sees that psychodynamic psychotherapy brings particular strengths and perspectives that can dramatically improve the mental health of individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their family members.

“I think that the child or the adult with autism or with any atypicality is first a person and therefore they have an internal world, they have relationships, they have development, they have wishes, they have dreams,” she said. “That’s the stuff of psychoanalytic theory. To my mind, psychoanalysis represents an incredibly highly developed and in-depth theory of mind—maybe the most fully developed theory of mind that we have.”

The dramatic increase in both the incidence and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder makes it vital for practicing psychotherapists to understand its impacts and treatments.

“Many clinicians if not most, even if they’re not treating someone with autism, they’re going to be working with someone who is a parent or a sibling or a grandparent of someone with autism,” Dr. Crown said. “I think autism spectrum disorders are particularly hard on families, and I think psychodynamic clinicians are in some ways uniquely positioned to help family members process and cope with the demands and the really considerable challenges that come along with autism.”

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Todd Wilson
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