preschoolers and wooden blocksCPHC Affiliated Service Site: Cambridge-Ellis School, Cambridge, MA

Alexandra M. Harrison, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has long served as the consulting psychiatrist to the nonprofit Cambridge-Ellis School, where one in ten children are beneficiaries of scholarships. She also has a private practice in Cambridge and directs an innovative application of RNT in the Cambridge-Ellis School.

She has been applying the RNT design of conducting play therapy sessions with children in the classroom and narrating each child’s experiences before and after the therapy sessions, in briefings and debriefings with the teacher in the presence of the child, and in which the child is encouraged to participate. Harrison has found that these two interventions, in addition to direct assistance in peer interactions, enable the children to engage in the pool of cultural knowledge held by their classmates.

CPHC is excited about this project’s current value for the children served and its to potential advance research efforts by extending the method into the private practice of child psychotherapy in a preschool setting.

Dr. Harrison has given presentations of her work at recent professional meetings in New York and Edinburgh (2014). She recently co-authored a book with Susan P. Sherkow, MD about autism. A section of the book, Autism Spectrum Disorder: Perspectives from Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience (2013) is a discussion of Reflective Network Therapy with examples of Dr. Harrison’s work using our method.

This application of Reflective Network Therapy in Cambridge was launched in 2008. In the introduction to Dr. Kliman’s book about the method, Psychotherapy in the Preschool Classroom (2011), Dr. Harrison wrote:

“I have already started using an adaptation of reflective network therapy in treatments of preschool children; two of these children are autistic and one has a disruptive behavior disorder. The method has proved extremely effective. The first child I treated lost her autism diagnosis after less than two years of four times a week therapy…Reflective Network Therapy offers the great advantage of high frequency of sessions in combination with intense involvement in the fabric of the child’s relational and educational life, at a fraction of the cost, and without extracting the child from his or her daily routine. I have succeeded in using it in a normal nursery school, where I bring my patients. RNT takes some of the burden off the shoulders of the parents of these young children. The design of the treatment is ideal, in my opinion for scaffolding a young child’s development of competencies such as ‘mentalization’ requirements for healthy functioning.”

—Alexandra M. Harrison, MD
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Training and Certified Psychoanalyst for Children, Adolescents and Adults, Supervisor, Child Analysis Program, Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.