The role of mentalization in child psychotherapy, interpersonal trauma, and recovery: A scoping review

Deborah Oehlman Forbes, Megan Lee, Richard Lakeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
998 Downloads (Pure)


Children who are exposed to trauma often develop difficulties with reflective functioning, affect, and emotion regulation. These problems are thought to arise from and are reflective of disruptions in the process of mentalization, or the human capacity to interpret and reflect upon the thoughts, feelings, wishes, and intentions of oneself and others. This scoping review sought to describe the empirical support for focusing on mentalization processes in psychotherapy for children who have been exposed to trauma. Two independent researchers searched electronic databases, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, MEDLINE, PsycARTICLES, PsycINFO, and Cochrane. Search terms child, trauma, mentalization and mentalization-based therapy were applied. A total of 425 studies were screened against the inclusion criteria, to include 18 studies comprising quasi-experimental, cross-sectional, naturalistic, case-control, and case studies. In all, 3 themes were identified across the articles: (a) trauma and mentalization, (b) measurement of mentalization, and (c) charting recovery. The literature suggests the role of mentalization treatment in the remission of symptoms for internalizing and externalizing disorders and shaping mentalization deficits over time. Mentalization focused treatments may also improve reflective functioning, emotional regulation capacity and the quality of attachment. The implementation of a child mentalization-based model as a preventative intervention may contribute to increased positive outcomes for vulnerable children. This scoping review presents an overview of the evidence for program developers, mental health services, family support services and those in independent practice that wish to adopt a mentalization approach in child psychotherapy. Future systematic reviews are needed to support this evidence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-67
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


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