The symptom-carrying child as a preserver of the family unit

R. Yahav, S. A. Sharlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of this study was to investigate the operational validity of the theoretical concept of the ‘symptom-carrying child’. Its purpose was to examine whether, and to what extent, the symptom-carrying child plays a central role in maintaining the internal balance and unity of the family, and whether he holds a focal position in ‘triangulation’. The research hypothesis was based on theories of family therapy, in particular on the concepts of the ‘identified patient’, and ‘triangulation’. Our major question was whether symptomatic children would be more likely than non-symptomatic children to exhibit greater responsibility and involvement in their parents’ marriage, and as such act as preservers of the family unit. Subjects in each of the groups participating in this study were identified in treatment centres for children and adolescents using the Achenbach Self-report Questionnaire. Subjects included males and females aged 10–17, who had either internalized or externalized symptoms and no history of organic or psychotic disorders. The research groups also included each child’s parents and the sibling closest in chronological age, who served as an additional control group. A total of 118 children from nuclear, two-parent families participated in the study. It was found that symptom-carrying children exhibited greater involvement and responsibility in their parents’ marriage than non-symptom-carrying children. Likewise symptomatic children reported that they had greater influence on their parents than children without symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-364
Number of pages12
JournalChild and Family Social Work
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2000

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Blackwell Science Ltd, 2000.


  • child responsibility and involvement
  • family unit
  • scapegoating
  • symptom-carrying child
  • ‘identified patient’
  • ‘triangulation’

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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