Doctoral Dissertation

13.10.2018 M.A. Barbara Mattsson (Facul­ty of Educa­tion and Psyc­ho­lo­gy, Psyc­ho­lo­gy)


13.10.2018 12:00 — 15:00

Location: Seminaarinmaki , Ruusupuisto, Helena (RUUD104)
Release: 13.10.2018: M.A. Barbara Mattsson (Facul­ty of Educa­tion and Psyc­ho­lo­gy, Psyc­ho­lo­gy)
M.A. Barbara Mattsson defends her doctoral dissertation in Psychology: ”A lifetime in exile: Finnish war children in Sweden after the war. An interview study with a psychological and psychodynamic approach”.

Opponent Docent Timo Niemi (University of Helsinki) and Custos Professor Aarno Laitila (University of Jyväskylä). The doctoral dissertation is held in Finnish.


This study is based upon in-depth interviews with ten Finnish war children who were evacuated to Sweden during the Second World War (1939 -1944) and who did not return permanently to Finland after the war. This interpretative and qualitative interview study of war children seems to be the only one of its kind. The interviews were carried out in 2007 in Stockholm. At the time of the evacuation nine of the children were between two and five years of age and one was seven years old. At the time of the interviews they were approaching their seventieth birthday. The interviewees were asked to tell about their life. The method for this study was an application of Grounded Theory and Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) combined with a psychoanalytic perspective that can contribute to a deeper understanding and interpretation of psychic phenomena. The study strived to gain an understanding of what it can mean for a little child to be separated from its family of birth, its environment and its language and to be placed into a new surrounding with people who were strangers and who spoke another language. When the narratives were analyzed, what they said as well as the unspoken was noted. The interviewees had difficulties reflecting over this decisive event in their lives. The patterns that came forth were a lack of curiosity and lack of interest in the past. The lack of interest about the Finnish mother was especially notable. In the interview they were affected by their experiences, which became discernible in both the form and the content of the language. The incomprehensible in the events during the evacuation was still incomprehensible and incoherent in their narratives. An evacuation is an overwhelming experience and also, as found in the interviews, a traumatic one. Such an experience causes memories to be stored and recalled in a special way. A traumatic experience is not revised or changed. It appeared in the interviews as an experience of timelessness. The interviewees spoke of past experiences as if they were part of the present, which indicates that the trauma was still there. A traumatic experience is encapsulated, isolated and separated from the rest of the personality but still affects the emotional life. The fragmented narratives took on coherence when they spoke about their adult lives. Catastrophic experiences do not need to impair learning. The interviewees had as adults found and developed different ways to endure their separation experiences. They could bear with them a kind of normality that provided a necessary defence for them to live their lives.

Keywords: war children, evacuation, impact in adulthood