A case study of a child filmmaker from a children’s home. By Edina Fecskó-Pirisi and Nándor Grosch

Artistic techniques in the field of social pedagogy


The personality developmental effects of art, when used to create opportunities and to tackle disadvantages, play an intermediary role between the disciplines and practices of psychology and pedagogy[1]. It provides a good opportunity for children to develop self-awareness, self-regulation, a feeling of self-efficiency and social competence, and also to heal traumas[2][3]. Throughout the creative process and creative self-expression the child can handle and reshape all those traumatic personal experiences that are a stressful obstacle for them in their everyday life, that prevent them from maintaining interpersonal relationships, or to carry out tasks,  to achieve goals. In our study, we focus on film an artistic technique. We present the way filmmaking helps the personality development of a child raised in foster care, the way the artistic creation becomes the use to elaborate unconscious experiences and to form a cooperative relationship with peers. Kid’s Eye Public Art Association operates filmmaking groups in Hungarian children’s homes. Our case study of Magdi, who is one of the amateur filmmakers, presents the personality developing effects of the collective work of filmmaking and of the self-expressing process through film. We also tend to introduce the psychological phenomena that are present in children’s filmmaking groups[4].

The aim and hypothesis of the filmmaker’s case study

One of the possible aims of art psychological researches is to detect the way the work of art depicts and transforms the artist’s personality characteristics. During the research, the background psychological aspects and experiences of the creative work become identifiable[5]. In the case of films, the main question is how the work of art depicts the creator’s – mainly the screenwriter’s and the director’s – characteristic personality processes[6], and to find the relationship between the creator’s psychological problems and the film as symptomatic manifestation[7]. In our case study, following the art psychological approach, we also aim to psychologically analyse the filmmaker and the films created by her, to conduct an exploratory-descriptive research of Magdi and her short films. Our goal is to analyse how Magdi’s short films represent their creator’s characteristic personality processes. We try to find the relationship between the films’ content and form, and the filmmaking child’s psychological happenings. Our hypothesis is that Magdi’s short films represent and rework certain traumatic experiences in her life, with special regard to her child abuse experience.

The psychobiographical method

To analyse the relationship between the filmmaker child and her films, we used psychobiography as research method. Psychobiography in a broad context means a biography that bases on psychological phenomena and development, and a psychoanalitacal case study in a strict sense, that uses professional theories and concepts.[8] The artist-psychobiographies –  a special type of psychobiographies invented by Freud – reveal the unconscious processes that determine the creative work and the piece of art focusing on biographical information.[9] Psychobiography as an ideographic research method has the advantage to grasp the individuality of people, to describe unique personality patterns and as such, it is able to identify those personal experiences and gifts that contribute to the creation of an original piece of art. Psychobiographs first collect all the information that present the public achievement of the subject, then they analyse the subject’s personal biography with special focus on their early childhood development, in order to reveal the background of their work of art, their achievements.[10] In our research we followed Alan C. Elm’s psychobiographical methodology. We chose Elm’s model because with his book, Uncovering Lives (1994)[11], he played a significant role in making psychobiographical research revive.[12] And also because he gives precise definitions and guidelines about the attributes and phases of the psychobiographical research in his nine steps model[13]. Following his guidance we managed to reconstruct Magdi´s biograpchical background and to interpret the films on a biographical context.


Biographical background

Magdi was born from a neglected pregnancy, from a homeless mother and a father unknown.[14] The neglected pregnancy in Magdi’s case resulted in low birth weight, foetal infection and  minor intellectual disability, probably due to pre- and perinatal injuries.[15] After giving birth, her mother did not tend to raise her (her other two infants were also in temporary foster care), she left Magdi in the hospital, and she ended up in an early childhood foster home.[16] Her early infant development was somewhat slower than usual, but abnormalities were not found. For a year, nobody visited the baby, so she was about to become adoptable. This finally didn’t happen as professionals at the early childhood foster care and the child protection specialists initiated her integrated placement together with her siblings. However, this didn’t happen either, and at the age of two and a half Magdi was placed with a foster parent, apart from her siblings, alone.[17]

Unfortunately, at the foster parent, she doesn’t only fail to develop physically and psychologically as normal[18], but also gets severely traumatised: „according to medical evidence, she was subject to severe and continuous abuse, her fingers and arm were broken, and also sexual abuse was suspected”[19] As the second foster parent said, the first foster parent “abused Magdi horribly”. When she was taken from the first foster parent away, the medical expert examination undoubtedly identified the marks of this abuse. Later Magdi herself spoke about it that her first foster parent often beat her, and it also happened that she stretched her legs apart and forced certain objects into her vagina. She was also often deprived of food, and left alone for longer periods of time.[20] Magdi herself remembers this period of her life as a time of regular abuse, for example, her foster parent slammed the door on her hand.[21] Later, as her psychologist said, Magdi repeatedly talks about an “old-time, evil, abusive <<mother>> figure”, and the documents of the therapy recount of personal injuries and the experience of being neglected, left alone.[22] The kindergarten teacher reported a child protection issue, and Magdi was taken away from her first foster parent, and was placed for a short time back to the capital’s Child and Youth Institution. At the age of four and a half, she is placed to another foster parent, where she finally is able to develop a real loving relationship.[23] Magdi calls this second foster parent as her Mom, and her only mother (neither her biological mother, nor her later caregivers does she call by that name).[24] Magdi is placed into a family with many children. Mom and Dad have four children on their own (19, 18, 11 and 7 year old) and also an adopted (4 year old) and a foster child (again 4 year old). She became part of a well-functioning family with a harmonious atmosphere and managed to develop a lot in this period. She was significantly left behind concerning her age in her development of movement, speech and intellectual abilities, and also numerous problems emerged from her emotional-social life: at first “she was very weak, and collapsed after a few steps … her talk was completely unrecognisable … she was [characterised as] a child with excessive, uncontrolled adhesion … she was grabby, touching strangers and she regularly ran away”.[25] Because of her difficulties, she was treated with an especially supportive attitude within the family, and they also took her to special educational classes and therapy on a daily basis to the local Youth Counselling Centre.[26] “She became calmer, relaxed, she grew, she gained some weight, she felt emotionally safe too”.[27] In Magdi’s therapy documents, this period is represented as an experience of “being together with others, belonging to somewhere, to be a member of a pair [with one of the siblings]”[28] She developed a special relationship not only with her Mom, but also with one of her brothers, Attila. Although he also suffered from the hardships of living together with Magdi (“Oh, Mom, this is awful!”), Attila was also able to accept and love Magdi. While all the other children often were picking on her, and tried to keep a distance from her, Attila turned towards her in a friendly and naturally helpful manner. Magdi looked up on him in return.[29]

Unfortunately the foster family slowly became worn out by raising Magdi:  apart from the earlier problems, new difficulties arose by Magdi’s excessive sexual arousal (masturbation, offering herself erotically, encouraging siblings to sexual activity, touching others’ genitals), the children were upset, and the relationship of the parents deteriorated – partly because of the arguments concerning Magdi’s upbringing. The question arose, how much longer they are able, or willing to handle the hardships to keep Magdi within the family. In the meanwhile, Magdi had to leave two kindergartens because of bad behaviour and ostracism. The second kindergarten also stated a proposal toward the foster parents: “According to our experience, Magdi is unfit to be educated within a large group or class, she is need of special, individual treatment”.[30] Accordingly, when looking for an elementary school for Magdi, it became a major criterion to find and institution that is well prepared to treat children with special education needs, and one that is also functioning as a boarding school, in order to ease the situation of the family during weekdays. Thus, Magdi was sent to an elementary school and dormitory with a special curriculum nearby the family’s surroundings. In the school, the number of problems because of her different sexual activities increased: “special attention should be paid to her relationship with boys and men”[31] as it is outlined in her evaluation by the homeroom teacher. Unfortunately in this period, “her intensive sexual arousal largely determined her behaviour”,[32] “compared to other children her age, she showed asocial behaviour in the dormitory: her extreme sexual interest sometimes manifested in her behaviour too … she also had sexual intercourse [at the age of eight] with an older boy”.[33] Due to the difficulties of this excessive sexual behaviour at home and in the school, her foster parent finally asks to change Magdi’s place of care. At the age of nine, Magdi “loses Mom” and gets transfered to a children’s home.

Due to certain institutional rearrangements and her behavioural problems she is raised in three different children’s homes between the age of 9 and 17. First, she is placed together with her siblings in a children’s home in Budapest. Due to changes in the institutional structure, after a few months she is placed in another children’s home, again in Budapest. Although, she meets and lives together with her brothers and sisters, “she is unable to develop important emotional relationships with them, despite the fact that she had the opportunity to do so inside and outside the institution too”.[34] In this period, her intensive sexual arousal and activity is present too, which results in another sexual intercourse. At the age of nine, she is raped by two of her housemate boys. After the rape, Magdi is taken to therapy. In spite of preliminary assumptions, the main problem that emerges is not the experience of sexual assault, but the pain of being separated from Mom and the family.[35] “It was a significant psychological trauma for Magdi[36] to be transferred back to the children’s home, “she misses her foster parents and her family a lot, she hopes that this is a temporary situation and that she would be placed back with them soon”.[37] “She experienced a severe trauma when being transferred back to the home. Impulse control disorders are a major characteristics of her identity, which cause violent outbursts, especially in cases of situations when her academic achievement is being assessed”.[38]

Certain aggressive and self-aggressive tendencies become common in her behaviour.[39] Violent acts appear both towards peers and herself: “she slapped her peer, and threatened them: I’ll kill you! This was followed by some arguments and chasing around, she threw a tantrum thrusting her arms and kicking … it was impossible to calm her down … If she gets stuck when making an exercise, she becomes hysterical, gets a fit… She puts the blade of the pencil sharpener into her mouth, pokes the veins on her wrists with a pencil, threatens to commit suicide”.[40] As symptoms of self-aggression, she not only cuts herself regularly, but shows other acts of self-destructive behaviour too. She threatened to kill herself: she sat outside in the window several times with the intension of jumping out; once she deliberately put her hand into a broken glass door; at another occasion, at the age of twelve, she overdosed herself with pills. As she put it, she took the pills and cut her arm because she was “a little upset”.[41] As her behavioural problems worsen, she becomes an inpatient at the Child Psychiatry, and from that point she is treated medically regularly.[42] Negativistic behaviour, lack of motivation and poor academic achievement become constant characteristics of her[43], thus she once again has to change her school and her placement.[44]

At the age of thirteen she gets placed to a special Children’s Home with a school inside, where serious conflicts evolve between her and her caregivers. Thus, at the age of fifteen, once again she becomes hospitalized at a psychiatry.[45] In the new home Magdi felt awful because of the strict regulations and authoritarian teachers, so she often ran away, or tried to spend more time with S.É., who used to be her former teacher in a previous children’s home and with whom she became close. At the age of sixteen, she met a former fellow student from the home, Tamás and together they manage to have a long lasting romantic relationship. This relationship brings a major change into Magdi’s life. She regularly ran away from the home to be with him, then finally she moved in with him permanently. To solve legal problems and financial uncertainty, they chose to get married and have a child, so that Magdi could file for legal emancipation due to her pregnancy.[46]

Film analyses

Magdi’s first film

Magdi made her first film at the age of 11. The plot is that she is asleep alone in her room, then she gets up, steps to the window, pulls the curtain and states the season of the year: “Gee, it’s winter again!”; “Gee, spring is here!”; Gee, it’s summer!” … and thus endlessly repeating the names of seasons. Magdi’s original film idea was to shoot a film about sleeping, as that is the thing she loves to do most. The filmmaking group leader proposed the enriching idea to observe the change of seasons which Magdi accepted.[47] Although, Magdi had the opportunity to make a film about any of her experiences, she unequivocally chose the act of sleeping, a life situation characteristic of immobility, stillness, thoughtlessness and the lack of relationship with the outside world. “Sleep is a condition when living beings kind of withdraw themselves from the circulation of the outside world and from the relationships with others”.[48] In accordance with the chosen topic, the central motifs of her film are uneventfulness and solitude, thus the experience of hospitalization unfolds through the frame story of sleeping.[49] To be more precise, the second phase of hospitalization, when there is no more power to protest and fight the situation, apathetic resignation and isolation from the world conquers active rebellion. The depicted emptiness vividly shows Magdi’s institutionalised early life experiences, her state of sensory deprivation and the lack of personal attention, all centred on hiatus. The lack of interest and any actions plus the lack of personal relationships were the major characteristics of Magdi’s institutionalized early childhood experiences and of her first film too.

Apart from hospitalization, the second major motif of Magdi’s first film is isolation, “the essence of which is that a thought or action gets isolated in a way, that it seizes to connect to other thoughts, or to the other parts of the subject’s life”.[50] The scenes in the film where she gets up from bed, opens the curtain and looks out to the window could be interpreted as an important developmental step in seeking contact with the outer world. However, these acts are not followed by neither any expressions of thoughts or emotions, nor any following acts connecting to the new experience. She gets stuck in a compulsive way of repeatedly registering the seasons, ruminating like. The exploration of the seasons[51] involves the fundamental conflict in Magdi’s psychological functioning. In particular, it shows a possible way of correction, but also stagnation in one of its first stages. Concerning the history of the making, this may be interpreted as if Magdi was open to the leader’s proposal to include the observation of the seasons into the film, but she would be unable to really experience the change of seasons or to fully integrate it into her film. Thus the scene of continuous repeating becomes a tool of isolation from reality, a sign of compulsive stagnation instead of initiating contact with the world. It doesn’t comply with the group leader’s intention, however it’s fully appropriate to Magdi’s personality operations that repeating the seasons represents the isolation tendencies and gives the scene an addition meaning; that of depicting a certain defense mechanism. We might ask, how the isolation tendency in Magdi’s film connects to her life story. Freud says that the isolation tendency may be traced back to a ban of touching and physical contact, the main aim of which is to suspend all aggressive and libidinous object relations.[52] In Magdi’s life story, the wish to suspend object relations and touching as such may be associated with the physical and sexual abuse she suffered from her first foster parent. In this content, isolation is an actual tool of defending herself from the traumatic event. The isolation in the film is both a concrete and a picturesque expression of Magdi’s real isolation tendency.[53] Listing the names of seasons shows an emptying of consciousness and withdrawal from all contacts, the source of which possibly could be found in the long-time abuse.

Both neglect and abuse have the common feature of lacking the primary love relationship or the secure basis,[54] a deficit that appears as solitude in the film, as mentioned earlier. As Magdi is the only actress in the film, she doesn’t have anybody with her. However, indirectly the hope of getting out of this solitude is already present. Firstly, Magdi finds a companion in an otter (a soft toy) that may be identified as a transitional object: reviewing the film six years later, Magdi immediately finds the small animal in her bed; it makes her happy to see it, although it’s only hardly visible for others.[55] Secondly, based on the collective nature of filmmaking, there are other young people, actively contributing to the making of the film. Although she was alone at the time of the event, when processing the experience, she could relive it with others, it became a community experience.

Magdi’s second film

From this condition of complete emptiness of the mind and doing idle activities, Magdi finds a way out by using the help of dreaming in her second film. The film is an elaboration of her own dream,[56] in which we see a group of children running from a tornado. Magdi is running together with the group, she is one of them, or rather “he”, as she transformed herself into a male character in the film. Finally everybody is able to reach the safe house, except for Magdi (named Attila in the film), who is shut out and starts screaming outside: “Help, I’m Attila, help!”.

The film depicts a nightmare, the main motifs of which are threat and fear. Compared to the total deprivation dominating the previous film, we see an intensive emotional content here, an overwhelming anxiety has surfaced. Anxiety is present in a generalised form twice removed: firstly it is placed from the world of reality to the world of dream, secondly it is attributed to another person, Attila. Changing her gender[57] could mean that Magdi is eagerly trying to remove the experience, which shows the immense power of the stressful content. There is a change in defence mechanisms from isolation to displacement.

The connection between the dream and Attila, and Magdi’s identification with him date back to her early childhood. The protagonist, Attila was Magdi’s brother, with whom she lived together at her second foster parents for more than four years.[58] The relationship between Magdi and Attila is best described by unconditional acceptance and attachment. As the foster parent said, it often happened that when already nobody could handle Magdi in the family, the then three years older Attila went to her, held her hands and cared about her. His caring attitude was often the saviour in these situations; Magdi felt safe with him and could calm down by him. According to the foster parent, Magdi loved Attila, looked up on him, and was happy to imitate him, as if she understood that he would understand and support her. However, it was Attila from all the children, who had nightmares at nights; he often woke up because of them. His parents also woke up, tried to ease his fear, to comfort him. They also took him to the bathroom to wash his face, and by doing so they passed Magdi’s room. She, in spite of the parents’ intention, witnessed Attila’s sleeping disorder and frightful dreams.[59]

Knowing the background, the identification with Attila and reliving the nightmare may be identified as a two-way relationship instead of a one-way displacement mechanism. As from the history of the making of the film, we may state that Magdi projects her own dream onto Attila’s nightmare. But from the childhood events, we may also state that Magdi identified with Attila and introjected his emotional condition and his nightmares. We formulated a third possible interpretation by integrating the two previous ones: the child (and later the young adolescent filmmaker) Magdi lives her and Attila’s nightmares at the same time. By discovering Attila’s nightmares, she is able to face her own ones and to experience the very important feeling that at this time she is not alone. Others have very similar difficulties, feelings and states of mind as she does. The film is an important stage of self-expression, and also a tribute to the memory of Attila.[60] In the space of the film’s phantasy Magdi has the chance to connect to the Attila that is inside her, and with this intrapsychic encounter she is able to find that secure relationship, in which one can live and experience anxiety, and also that object onto which anxiety can be projected.

Freud in an early definition says that anxiety is a “temper condition, the reproduction of an old, fearful experience”,[61] which experience is often a dangerous act coming from the outside world. Thus the object of anxiety is often a rebirth of the old-time traumatic event. Klein, when explaining the paranoid-schizoid position also comes to the conclusion, that anxiety evolves from a fear of attack and disintegration, through which outer, disturbing objects threaten to destroy the person.[62] Paranoid anxiety is an important inherent of the pre-oedipal age and inappropriate parental behaviour may cause it to intensify, bad object relations may cause it to generalise. Fraiberg’s empirical research on abused children proved that anxiety and abuse are closely intertwined. However, she also noticed that children often behave aggressively towards the abusive parents and themselves during the day, but in their dreams they are overwhelmed with panic and fear.[63] Their day and night functioning are sharply different, the overwhelming panic rages in the latter. The traumatic fear stemming in the implicit knowledge about relationships, surfaces uncontrollably in dreams.[64]

In Magdi’s case, the anxiety in the dream and in the film, just as most other symptoms, is probably multi-determined, connected to different personality developmental stages and different biographical events. The main role in its history may be the lack of motherly care in infancy, the abuse of the first foster parent and the object loss suffered by the relocation to the children’s home. However, for Magdi, it is an important developmental change – compared to the first film – she is able to experience the stressful events and feel emotions, and she manages to exteriorize them by the imagery of the film. The symbolization of the destructive, threatening force is already a sign of repression being less effective, the emotional content of repressed image is already able to surface. However, the destructive force is not concrete yet, it is symbolically represented as a tornado – nicely fitting into the theme of weather, as it started in the first film. The destructive natural force, that Magdi chose, shows precisely the nature of the threatening tendencies that are forced to the unconscious: it appears suddenly and has a devastating power. As the anxiety gets more intense, it is a proof that Magdi is already capable of experiencing anxiety and to face impacts that threaten her life, she makes a psychological progress. However, it is important to emphasise that Magdi is able to feel anxiety and fear only when in the role of Attila. Her identification with Attila is a logical choice when concerning the similarities of their symptoms (nightmares) and their former secure relationship, but it is also surprising that she chooses to identify with someone of the opposite sex. In this case, the transition may be explained by the need to distance herself further from the event, and that it gives a greater sense of defence to face the experience of being abused. Two other important differences – compared to the first film – are that this time Magdi is not alone, but is together with her peers; and that instead of a general passivity she becomes active, she is actively defending herself from an outer force, she is searching for shelter and openly asks for help.

Magdi’s third film

In her second film, where anxiety and fear is dominant, “the old traumatic event is relived by only a distress signal”.[65] A year later, in her third film the trauma is actually presented and depicted. After the sign “not recommended for viewers under 18” this film also starts with a bed scene. Magdi first is asleep with a soft chicken toy in her arms. Then she wakes up, puts the chicken on a chopping table and starts cutting her wings. In the meanwhile she cuts herself, there’s blood dripping from her hand, then she runs to a doctor. The benevolent doctor is helpful and nurturing towards Magdi, she binds up her wound – offers her real help.

As she enacts the violent event, she reveals the complex pattern of the traumatic experience and the psychological trauma attached to it. By the means of concentration, both pre-oedipal and oedipal contents are present, we see both the damaged attachment pattern (not being able to grasp on to someone) and the speech disorder. According to Hermann the basis of attachment – a close relationship with the mother – is the reflex of grasping her, the natural inseparable unity of mother and child. Hermann thinks that the key role in this instinctive behavioural pattern is the hand and its palmar grasp reflex. By this reflex babies are able to grasp their mothers and satisfy their need of safety and security.[66] In Magdi’s life it is exactly the lack of a mother that makes it impossible for her to grasp, and this early infant damage of the relationship is symbolized in the film as hurting her own hand and cutting her own palm – as she turns her anger towards her mother into an anger towards herself.

The motifs of wound and blood may also be alternately interpreted – especially concerning the starting epigraph and previous life events – as they are connected to the sexual trauma caused by the first foster parent’s abusive act. The “not recommended for viewers under 18” warning emphasises an age limit that presumes sexual or violent content; the chicken lying in bed (an immature being) is being attacked and her wings are cut, then it’s blood everywhere. These pictures rise the image of sexual assault. Ferenczi addressed the notion of early sexual experience in detail in his speech disorder theory. Ferenczi was searching the pathogenesis of neurosis when he identified that traumatic momentum when the adult misinterprets the child’s need of affection with his own erotic desire, and forces the immature child to satisfy his own sexual needs. This intensive experience brings a major change in the child’s psychological life, because in order to “protect themselves from the dangers that people of no self-control mean to them, they first have to fully identify with them”.[67] This leads to the introjection of the aggressor’s guilt, and indirectly to a more intense feeling of anxiety and shame.

A peculiar operation of abuse is apparent in Magdi’s third film: the identification with the aggressor and auto-aggressive tendencies. Magdi, who was severely abused by her first foster parent, becomes the abuser herself, and Ferenczi’s special role-switch happens, that later Anna Freud also highlighted; the formerly abused victim becomes the abuser herself. The victim physically imitates the aggressor, as imitation makes the feeling of anxiety assimilate. “The child introjects certain aspects of the object that causes anxiety, and thus assimilates the anxious event… By personalizing the aggressor … the child experiencing the threat becomes the person threatening others”.[68] Magdi first causes the wounds in the film, and doesn’t suffer from them. However, identification with the outer aggressor is not fulfilled, there’s a turn in the plot (just as in Magdi’s life). The aggressive act suddenly turns into self-aggression, just as Magdi first hurt others and then she turned against herself in real life. While cutting the chicken, she cuts her own hand, and thus we see directly the self-mutilation syndrome. Self-aggressive gestures may be seen as the result of identifying with the abuser’s feeling of guilt,[69] or the mechanism of self-defence during the sexual abuse. Campbell understands self-cutting as an effort to get rid of a person’s unbearable thoughts about themselves.[70] As opposed to Magdi’s real experiences, the story doesn’t end here with her self-abuse and the flashing blood. It continues and makes the correction of the experience possible. Magdi is able to ask for real help and she gets it too. In her previous film, the door gets slammed in front of her and there is no help, no matter how hard she screams. Now, the (exact) same door opens up, and she finds the saviour relationship. Lilla plays the role of the doctor, who she later remembers as a good friend.[71] Magdi says, that in her relationship with Lilla, it was Lilla who needed help and support, and she was the one who could provide that to her. The helper-helped relation is inverted in the film and in personal memories. However, the real change is that a helping relationship takes the place of an abusive relationship. In the final scene of the film, experience-correction occurs.


The aim of our psychobiographical analysis of Magdi’s short films was to examine the relationship between the films and her operation of personality; and also to reveal the possibilities of correction the creative work of making a film offers. We formed a test hypothesis that the films depict certain traumatizing effects identified in her life story, with special focus on experience of abuse. Considering research results, through the reconstruction of life events and the analyses of the three films, it became evident that the films’ background stems from experiences of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Also numerous other results were found concerning the relationship between the operation of personality and the act of filmmaking. Connecting to the hypothesis but far-reaching specific life events, we could unfold Magdi’s three main characteristic defence mechanisms: isolation (1. film), displacement (2. film), identification with the aggressor (3. film). As we saw the films building on one another, we could also identify a peculiar psychodynamic evolution that followed the personality developmental process. When comparing the three films, we might see the personality developmental stages by the following aspects:


  1. FILM
  1. FILM
  1. FILM
Time present near past distant past
Place closed up exclusion admission
Others alone peer group personal relationship
Activity passivity, monotone repetition fleeing violence and asking for help
Emotions emptiness anxiety anxiety and relieving anxiety
Processing isolation feeling emotions visualization and correction of experience
  1. table: The change of psychological characteristics in Magdi’s films

We may notice a certain regression in time: the first film shows the present state of hospitalization, so characteristic of the home; the second film summons the time spent with Mom – by the character of Attila; the third film’s motif of abuse connects to Magdi’s early years with the first foster parent. As of using space in the films, we may detect an expansion: the first film is shot in Magdi’s room, and isolation is represented, as if being locked up; in the second film Magdi can leave the room, steps out to the outer world, but gets shut out from the wanted shelter; in the third film she is moving around freely and she gains entry to the medical room, the place of security. As of partners: in the first film she is completely alone; in the second, a peer group is present, but their relationship remains impersonal, it’s limited to moving along together; finally in the third film personal relationship is made by asking for help. In terms of activity: the first film is very passive; in the second, running away from the tornado is already a spontaneous activity; in the third film, asking for help is a constructive activity. In terms of emotions: the first film is empty, there’s a lack of emotions; the second film already represents an emotion, however, that anxiety becomes overwhelming, uncontrollable; and the third film relieves negative emotions and Magdi finds peace. Exploring psychological processing: the first film operates exclusively with isolation; in the second film, Magdi already feels emotions, but that emotion is deprived of its original object and surfaces as generalized anxiety; in the last film, the source of anxiety is revealed, the trauma gets symbolically represented and the experience corrected. The sequential happenings of the three films show a specific way of elaboration of psycho-traumas: as “the first dominating defence mechanism is isolation … then certain parts of the traumatic experience appear separately, and later they form a coherent integrated phantasy, which then – partly – includes the desired correction of the psycho-trauma”.[72]

The psychobiographical research of Magdi’s films shows that she found a useful method for elaborating her experiences by making a film, by participating in the making together with a group. It is also very interesting to mention that she reduces verbal communication to the minimum (there is just one sentence said in all three films), and uses merely the method of visual expression. Presumably, the moving picture form of self-expression provided Magdi with the adequate tool to visualize her dreams, her psychological contents that are not verbalisable. As it happens to filmmakers and artists in general too, filming enabled Magdi to find a way from phantasy to reality.[73] The creative potential of filmmaking – within the emotionally secure boundaries of the filmmaking group – provided her the ability of regression that served the self good:[74] it created an increased communication with the unconscious, and provided the symbolic elaboration of surfacing contents. Through the creative act, Magdi managed to represent and repair early experiences.[75][76] When making the film – as Magdi found out her film ideas, wrote the scripts, directed the scenes and played the protagonists – she also worked with her own psychological world, and helped the reconstruction of her damaged self, creating a self-balance.[77][78] In the imaginary space of film, she was able to face intensive psychological contents. By self-expression elaboration through film, she managed to “manipulate her own representation”.[79] Based upon the conclusions above, our case study about Magdi might state that through the filmmaking process, she was able to ease traumatizing effects that she suffered earlier, and to develop her personality.



Our paper examines the personal developmental effects of art conducing the use of artistic techniques in the field of social pedagogy. Our case study tries to analyse the connection between the creator and her films: we aimed at the explorative research of a filmmaker at Kid’s Eye Public Art Association from a children’s home and her three short films. Based on Elm’s (2007) psychobiographical process model we have found that the films depict traumatic life events of their maker, as well as give an opportunity to elaborate difficult personal experiences. The subject filmmaker child of this present study was capable of a self-serving regression within the imaginary space of filmmaking, she maintained an intense communication with the unconscious and managed to symbolically reconstruct the surfacing contents and rebalance the traumatic self.


[1]                  ANTALFAI M., Alkotás és kibontakozás (Creation and Manifestation). Lélekben Otthon, Budapest, 2016.

[2]                  L: RITÓK N., Bukdácsoló esélyegyenlőség (Tumbling equality). Underground Kiadó, Budapest, 2011.

[3]                  BENEDEK I., Játék és pszichoterápia (Play and Psychotherapy). Animula Kiadó, Budapest, 2001.

[4]                  The study is a revised version of our work titled Tagadás a hétköznapi valóságban, szembenézés a film fantáziaterében (Denial in Everyday Reality, Facing Challenges in the Imagenry Space of Film), that was published in Lélekelemzés (Psychoanalysis) 2013/1.

[5]                  SCHULTZ W.T., Handbook of Psychobiography. Oxford University Press, Oxford – New York, 2005.

[6]                  GABBARD, O.G., Pszichoanalízis és film (Psychoanalysis and Film), in Thalassa, 2004/3 5-16.

[7]                  METZ, C., A képzeletbeli jelentő (The Imaginary Reporter), in Filmtudományi Szemle, 1981/2 5-104.

[8]                  SHINER, L., Psychobiography, in MIJOLLA, DE A. (ed.): International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Macmillan Reference, New York, 2005, o.n.

[9]                  ARTIÉRES, M., Visual Arts and Psychoanalysis, in MIJOLLA, DE A. (ed.): International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Macmillan Reference, New York, 2005, o.n

[10]                ELMS, C.A., (2007). Psychobiography and Case Study Methods, in ROBINS, W.R., FRALEY, R.C., KRUEGER, F.R. (ed.), Handbook of Research Methods in Personality Psychology, The Guilford Press, New York – London, 2007, 97-113.

[11]                ELMS, C.A., Uncovering Lives, Oxford University Press, New York – Oxford, 1994.

[12]                KŐVÁRY Z., Kreativitás és személyiség (Creativity and Personality), Oriold Kiadó, Budapest, 2012.

[13]                The nine steps of Elm´s (2007) psychobiographical research are the following: (1) Subject selection; (2) Formulating a test hypothesis; (3) Initial data collection based on different sources; (4) Review of test hypothesis; (5) More focused data collection; (6)  Dealing with contradictions found in data sources; (7) Extending the iterative research process; (8) Identifying and formulating valid conclusions; (9) Further iterative research of the subject by others

[14]                M. Files/Document No. 1. Medical Record, Joined Early-Childhood Centre of the Municipality of the Capital. Budapest, 1995.

[15]                                                                                                                                                                                                  M. Files/Document No. 2. Expert proposal, Pest County No. 2. Expert and Rehabilitation Committee Examining Learning Abilities, C, 1988.

[16]           M. Files/Document No. 1. Medical Record, Joined Early-Childhood Centre of the Municipality of the Capital. Budapest, 1995.

[17]                M. Files/Document No. 3. Expert Report, Local Child Protection Services, Budapest, 2006.

[18]           M. Files/Document No. 3. Expert Report, Local Child Protection Services, Budapest, 2006.

[19]                Z.N.E.. Magdika (Term paper), F.GY.E., Budapest, 2001, 1.

[20]                M. Interviews/Interview No. 1., Interview with Z.N.E foster parent. Budapest, 2010.

[21]                M. Interviews/Interview No. 2., Interview with Magdi. Budapest, 2010.

[22]           M. Files/Document No. 4. Psychological Report, … Family Support Centre and Child Welfare Services, Budapest, 2002.

[23]                M. Files/Document No. 3., Expert Report, Local Child Protection Services, Budapest, 2006

[24]                M. Interviews/Interview No. 2., Interview with Magdi. Budapest, 2010.

[25]                Z.N.E., Magdika (Term Paper), F.GY.E. Budapest, 2001, 1-2.

[26]           Z.N.E., Magdika (Term Paper), F.GY.E. Budapest, 2001, 1-2.

[27]           M. Files/Document No. 3., Expert Report, Local Child Protection Services, Budapest, 2006

[28]           M. Files/Document No. 4. Psychological Report, … Family Support Centre and Child Welfare Services, Budapest, 2002.

[29]           M. Interviews/Interview No. 1., Interview with Z.N.E foster parent. Budapest, 2010.

[30]           M. Files/Document No. 5., Kindergarten Evaluation, Kindergarten Institution, M., 1999.


[31]        M. Files/Document No. 6., Homeroom teacher evaluation about students personality development, Elementary School and Dormitory, Gy, 2001.

[32]        M. Files/Document No. 7., Request of M’s replacement, Capital Municipality Local Child Protection Services, Budapest, 2002.

[33]           M. Files/Document No. 4., Expert Report, Local Child Protection Services, Budapest, 2006.


[34]                M. Files/Document No.11., Decision, Budapest … District Social Services, Budapest, 2006.


[35]           M. Interviews/Interview No. 3., Interview with S.É. teacher, Budapest, 2010.


[36]           M. Files/Document No. 8., Review Examination Report, Capital Social Services, Budapest, 2005.


[37]           M. Files/Document No. 9., Pedagogical Report, Capital Children’s Home, Budapest, 2003.


[38]           M. Files/Document No. 3. Psychological Report, … Family Support Centre and Child Welfare Services , Budapest, 2002.

[39]           M. Interviews/Interview No. 3., Interview with S.É. teacher, Budapest, 2010.


[40]           M. Files/Document No. 10., Request for psychiatry examination of M., … Elementary School, Budapest, 2005.


[41]                M. Files/Document No. 12., Medical Report, Children’s Hospital of the Capital Municipality, Toxicology and Internal Medicine Departments , Budapest, 2005.


[42]                M. Files/Document No. 12., Medical Report, Children’s Hospital of the Capital Municipality, Toxicology and Internal Medicine Departments, Budapest, 2005.


[43]                M. Files/Document No. 13., Review Examination Report, No. 4. Expert and Rehabilitation Committee Examining Learning Abilities and Special Education Services Centre, Budapest, 2005.

[44]                M. Files/Document No. 11., Decision, Budapest Capital … District Social Services, Budapest, 2006.


[45]           M. Interviews/Interview No. 3., Interview with S.É. teacher, Budapest, 2010.


[46]           M. Interviews/Interview No. 2., Interview with Magdi. Budapest, 2010.

[47]           M. Interviews/Interview No.1., Interview with film group leader, Nándor Grosch, Budapest, 2010.

[48]                Goldshcmidt D. – Halász P., Alvás, álom, álmatlanság (Sleep, dream, insomnia), Medicina Könyvkiadó, Budapest, 1983, 55.

[49]                Spitz, A.R., Hospitalism – An Inquiry Into the Genesis of Psychiatric Conditions of Early Childhood, in Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. 1945/1 53-74.


[50]        Laplanche – J., Pontalis, J.B., A pszichoanalízis szótára (The Dictionary of Psychoanalysis), Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1994, 236.

[51]                The changing of seasons is a precise representation of Magdi‘s condition as it is a picture of something intractable and vulnerable.

[52]                Freud, S. Gátlás, tünet, szorongás (Inhibition, Symptom, Anxiety), in ERŐS F. (szerk.), Sigmund Freud – Válogatás az életműből (Sigmund Freud – Collections of a Lifework), Európa Kiadó, Budapest, 2003. 577-592.

[53]        M. Interviews/Interview No. 4., Interview with Z.N.E foster parent. Budapest, 2010.

[54]        Bowlby, J., A biztos bázis – A kötődés-elmélet klinikai alkalmazásai (The secure base – The Clinical Use of Attachment Theory), Animula Kiadó, Budapest, 2009.

[55]           M. Interviews/Interview No. 2., Interview with Magdi. Budapest, 2010.

[56]             M. Interviews/Interview No. 2., Interview with Magdi. Budapest, 2010.

[57]                Girl victims of sexual abuse often turn to transition, to behave more boyish, so to protect themselves and to detach themselves from the stressful content (CIBA, 2006)

[58]           M. Interviews/Interview No. 2., Interview with Magdi. Budapest, 2010.

[59]                M. Interviews/Interview No. 4., Interview with Z.N.E foster parent. Budapest, 2010.

[60]                As part of the interview, we showed this film to M’s second foster parent, Attila’s mother. It was evident that she felt moved and got emotional. She also immediately asked to borrow it so she could show it to her son.

[61]                Freud, S., A szorongás és ösztönélet (Anxiety and Instincts), in UŐ., A lélekelemzés legújabb eredményei (New Results of Psychoanalysis), Könyvjelző Kiadó, Nyíregyháza, 1993, 95.

[62]        Klein, M. Észrevételek néhány szkizoid működésről (Remarks on some Schizoid Funcioning), in UŐ., A szó előtti tartomány (The Realm before Words), Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó, 1999, 63-96.

[63]                Fraiberg, S., Pathological Defenses in Infancy, in Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1982/4, 612-635.

[64]        Masi, De F., The Psychodynamics of Panic Attacks: a Useful Integration of Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience, in International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 2004/2, 311-336.

[65]                Freud, S., A szorongás és ösztönélet (Anxiety and Instincts), , in UŐ., A lélekelemzés legújabb eredményei (New Results of Psychoanalysis), Könyvjelző Kiadó, Nyíregyháza, 1993, 91-124.

[66]        Hermann I., Az ember ősi ösztönei (The Ancient Instincts of Mankind), Budapest, Magvető Kiadó, 1984.

[67]                Ferenczi S., Nyelvzavar a felnőttek és a gyermek között (Language Disorder among Children and Adults), in UŐ., Technikai írások (Technical Writings), Animula, Budapest, 2006, 109.

[68]           Freud, A., Az én és az elhárító mechanizmusok (The Ego and Defense Mechanisms), Animula, Budapest, 1994, 78.

[69]           Ferenczi S., Nyelvzavar a felnőttek és a gyermek között (Language Disorder among Children and Adults), in UŐ., Technikai írások (Technical Writings), Animula, Budapest, 2006, 101-111.

[70]                Campbell, D., The Role of the Father in a Pre-Suicide State, in International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1995/4, 315-323.

[71]                  M. Interviews/Interview No. 2., Interview with Magdi. Budapest, 2010.

[72]        VIKÁR GY., Gyógyítás és öngyógyítás (Healing and self-healing), Magvető Kiadó, Budapest, 1984, 142.

[73]                Freud, S., A tünet képződésének útjai (The Pathways of Symptom Formation), in UŐ., Bevezetés a pszichoanalízisbe (Introduction to Psychoanalysis), Gondolat Kiadó, Budapest, 1986, 293-307.


[74]        Kris, E, Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art, International Universities Press, Madison, 2000.

[75]                Klein, M., A csecsemőkori szorongás-helyzet tükröződése egy műalkotásban és a kreativitásban (The Early Childhood Anwiety Position Represented in a Work of Art and in Creativity) (, in Bókay A. – Erős F. (szerk.), Pszichoanalízis és irodalomtudomány (Psychoanalysis and Literature), Budapest, Filum Kiadó, 1998, 110-118.

[76]        Segal, H., Bevezetés Melanie Klein munkásságába (An Introduction to the Works of Melanie Klein), Animula Kiadó, Budapest, 1997.

[77]                Kohut, H., A szelf analízise (Analysis of the Self), Animula Kiadó, Budapest, 2001.

[78]        Kohut, H., A szelf helyreállítása (The Restoration of the Self), Animula Kiadó, Budapest, 2007.

[79]                Péley B., A játék szerepe a külső és belső valóság szerveződésében (The Role of Play in the Orgaisation of Inner and Outer Reality), in Kállai J. – Kézdi B. (szerk.), Új távlatok a klinikai pszichológiában (New Perspectives in Clinical Psychology), Új Mandátum Könyvkiadó, Budapest, 2003, 50.

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