The Discovery of Deprivation Neurosis (Now Called Emotional Deprivation Disorder)


This most important discovery was made by Dr. Anna Terruwe as a result of a therapy session with a 25-year-old, highly intelligent woman. Surprisingly, months of psychotherapy went by without the woman making any progress. She had come in with feelings of “intense anxiety” and she “possessed an unusually infantile emotional life” (Baars & Terruwe, 2002).1  One day the woman said to Dr. Terruwe, “Doctor, nothing that you say has any effect on me. For six months I have been sitting here hoping you would take me to your heart… you have been blind to my needs.”

This revelation by the patient came as a surprise to Dr. Terruwe who realized that this woman “…felt like a child. She needed only one thing—namely, to be treated in a tender, motherly fashion.” Dr. Terruwe began to explore whether the lack of love and tenderness by a mother “would be sufficient to bring about a neurotic illness without the further action of a repressive process.” As Terruwe and her American colleague Baars set out to substantiate this new concept, they found many patients who were not getting better through traditional psychoanalytic therapy who appeared to have neurotic disorders not caused by a repressive process. Upon further investigation, they found that a neurotic disorder could indeed be caused solely by the lack of love of a mother or other significant person in a child’s life. They named this “disorder” or syndrome the “Frustration Neurosis” or “Deprivation Neurosis,” because it manifests the frustrated sensitive need for unconditional love of every human being.

Deprivation Neurosis is now being called “Emotional Deprivation Disorder” to keep in line with current psychiatric nomenclature in the hopes that it will one day be included in American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.1

1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. (Current edition: DSM-IV-TR; Fourth Edition, Text Revision. 2000.)