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What is Anaclitic Depression?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Anaclitic depression has two very different definitions in psychological literature. Both of these have to do with attachment, but a different population group is affected in each type. One type of anaclitic depression is a term not very much used anymore, and concerns itself with what happens if attachment to a caregiver is disrupted for a long period of time during the first year of life. The other may be more likely to occur in an adult therapeutic setting or in adult relationship settings, when a person forms extremely depend attachments on others.

In anaclitic depression of the first type, the term evolved after observations were done on children in orphanage or hospital settings, who lost a caregiver for an extended period of time. Even if these children were well cared for and had their physical and medical needs met, most of them began to have strong losses or failure to progress developmentally. This is because the children had no opportunity to bond with a single and consistent caregiver. The studies done on this issue tended to show that losses could be regained if a single caregiver, like a mother, was reunited with a child before six months had passed. Beyond that point, some children exhibited retardation, social problems or in the worst cases would suffer a decline so significant that they might have failure to thrive.

These findings are now part of what is understood about attachment disorder. Infants absolutely need bonding with a consistent caregiver. Seeing to physical needs alone is not adequate to development, and this knowledge has helped to reshape the way that many hospitals and orphanages are now run. In particular in hospitals, parents are often encouraged to spend as much time as possible with an ill child, instead of being allowed very few hours to be with their children.

The other form of anaclitic depression is also related to the types of attachments people form, and the term may sometimes be used in psychodynamic therapy or interpersonal therapy. People who suffer from this condition feel weak, helpless or out of control without the presence of certain people in their lives. This condition could evolve around a therapist and be an extreme version of transference, or it could relate to a spousal or friend relationship. The afflicted person may go to great lengths to try to maintain a relationship after it has concluded. When this occurs in therapy, the therapist should duly note it and efforts should be made to help the person recognize and hopefully recover from this dependence. Terminating therapy early can have very negative consequences.

Anaclitic depression of the second type is more of a flexible label, meant to differentiate between different types of depression. The person might be diagnosed with depression according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals (DSM). Yet the DSM doesn’t recognize this disorder as a specific condition. It still may be a useful diagnostic tool to best help those who are hyper-dependent on others.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By wander — On May 08, 2011

In the case of adults with anaclitic depression, that causes them to be too dependent on their attachment to a relationship partner, are there any ways to leave the relationship without traumatizing their partner?

Do you think that arranging for the two of you to have counseling together would help or hurt in this situation?

I have been reading a lot about attachment disorders and would really like to maintain a friendship with my partner, but do not feel we are well suited romantically. I am very worried about what they will do when I leave and would like to make the transition as smooth as possible.

By popcorn — On May 05, 2011

For children suffering from anaclitic depression because of previous issues with abandonment by caregivers, it is important to make sure that they not only have medical attention but lots of love from their now stable family.

Smiling, gentle contact and lots of encouragement can bring these children out of their shells and help them to start to relate to others in a positive way.

Your doctor will advise you on how to help with behaviors that are abnormal and the best ways to deal with emotional responses that you might not expect from the child.

There are also many controversial treatments out there that are not recommended as they might traumatize the child.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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