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Psychoanalytic infant observation

Psychoanalytic infant observation is a distinctive ex- the need to wait for meaning to emerge, and the observers
periential approach to training that was developed at the responsibility to respect their role as learner and to behave
Tavistock Clinic[1] in London by Child psychoanalyst with tact and reliability.
Esther Bick.[2] In 1948 she collaborated with Dr John Bicks ideas took shape at the same time as Wilfred Bions
Bowlby to develop the approach to training psychother-
work on A theory of thinking,[10] and these two explo-
apy students in conducting an infant observation. It has rations of the emotional and cognitive dimensions of the
since become an essential feature of pre-clinical training
early mother-child relationship are profoundly comple-
in child and adult psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and re- mentary. Both build on the work of Melanie Klein and
lated elds[3] throughout the world.[4] her pioneering analysis of children.
The practice of psychoanalytic infant observation usu-
ally involves a weekly observation over a two year pe-
riod of an infant from soon after birth and until their
second birthday. This naturalistic form of enquiry pro- 2 Later Development
vides a unique opportunity to enrich and extend observa-
tion skills.[5] Students learn at rst-hand how a relation- Over the last fty years courses for professionals working
ship begins between babies and their families and enables with children and families have made increasing use of
them think about how babies grow physically, mentally infant and child observation as a central aspect of train-
and emotionally. This experience of observing ordinary ing. It has proved very valuable in increasing professional
family life is valuable for professionals who work with skills and in sensitising workers to the range of anxieties,
dicult, complex and disturbing presentations.[6] diculties and creative possibilities in each family.[11]
From 1960 to 1980 Martha Harris was head of the Child
Psychotherapy[12] service at the Tavistock Clinic. She
1 Early Development was responsible for the expansion in the number of En-
glish and international trainees at the Tavistock and for
Psychoanalytic Infant Observation is a distinctive ap- developing the training into what became known as the
proach that was the inspired initiative of Esther Bick.[7] Tavistock Model.[13] This model, in which infant obser-
As a Child Psychoanalyst she pioneered a particular vation continues to play a pre-eminent role, has been
technique of studying babies in the ordinary life of adopted with modications across the UK and interna-
their family environment. In 1948, she began teach- tionally: for example, GERPEN in France[14] and the
ing at the Tavistock Clinic and in collaboration with Dr Martha Harris Study Centres in Italy.[15]
John Bowlby she initiated the method of psychotherapy Beginning in the 1980s, and initially supported by vis-
trainees conducting an infant observation. This involved iting sta from the Tavistock Clinic, courses in infant
visiting a family to observe their infant from birth to two observation were developed to support the training of a
years. These weekly observations in the natural environ- wide range of professionals across the UK and worldwide.
ment of the babys home oered a very vivid learning Over time other components and seminars were added
experience of development. The observers came to ap- to develop a comprehensive programme leading to post-
preciate the mutual inuence of the developing relation- graduate qualication. The post-graduate programme
ship between mother and baby, and father and siblings. known as Psychoanalytic Observational Studies[16] that
Importantly, the observer also considered how the feel- is run under the auspices of the Tavistock Clinic is cur-
ings aroused in them during the observation and how their rently delivered in the UK in Belfast, Birmingham, Bris-
presence inuenced events.[8] tol, Devon, Oxford and Liverpool and in Italy in Florence,
Esther Bicks 1964 paper Notes on infant observation in Genoa and Milan. In the UK equivalent post-graduate
psycho-analytic training[9] set out the model of infant ob- programmes exist at the Anna Freud Centre and British
servation and her view of how much can be learned from Psychotherapy Foundation[17] in London, the Northern
it how to observe, the nature of early infantile anxiety, School of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy with Uni-
especially the babys fear of falling to bits, the impact versity of Leeds in Leeds,[18] University of Northum-
of maternal anxiety and postnatal depression, and the sig- bria in Newcastle[19] and Human Development Scotland
nicance of good observational capacities for future child with University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.[20] In the US
analysts. She emphasized the gathering of data over time, the programs are run at the Washington School of Psy-


chiatry Washington[21] DC since 2004 and at Columbia 5 Infant Observation: Interna-

tional Journal of Infant Observa-
tion and Its Applications
3 The Process of Observation
Infant Observation[27] is published by Taylor and Fran-
cis and the current Editor is Trudy Klauber. The interna-
Psychoanalytic infant observation[23] usually involves a tional journal publishes the best of the varied and original
weekly observation over a two year period of an infant writing emerging from this eld. It comprises case studies
soon after birth and until their second birthday. Students on infant and young child observation, research papers,
normally undertake the observation in the home setting and articles focusing on wider applications of the psy-
for one hour per week. Students are responsible for nd- choanalytic observational method, including its relevance
ing a baby to observe under the guidance of their tutor. to reective professional practice in elds such as social
New observers attend seminars to discuss the practical- work, teaching and nursing. Papers are peer-reviewed.
ities of setting up an observation and to learn about the There is a developing body of research knowledge that
process of nding a baby. draws upon the infant observation approach[28]
Every observation is written down in detail as soon after
the observation as possible. This can often take about an
hour to complete. Students discuss their observations in 6 Bibliography
small group seminars which take place on a weekly basis
over two academic years. Each student has the opportu- Bick, Esther. (1964) Notes on infant observation
nity to present their detailed observations to the groups. in psycho-analytic training. Reprinted in Collected
The presentations are anonymised and no identifying fea- Papers of Martha Harris and Esther Bick. Clunie
tures are used. Press, 1987.
The unique experience of psychoanalytic observation al-
Harris, Martha. (1976). The contribution of obser-
lows the student to observe a mother and baby, living
vation of mother-infant interaction and development
through and resolving routine and dicult situations in
to the equipment of a psychoanalyst Reprinted in
their own ways. With the help of the seminar, the ob-
M. H. Williams (ed.) (2011), pp. 117132.
server learns to process the inclination for judgmental
and blaming thoughts which arise when anxiety is stirred. Harris, Martha. (1977) The Tavistock training and
Along with developing sensitivity and precision in obser- philosophy. Reprinted in The Tavistock Model:
vation, the course teaches how to think freshly and induc- Papers on Child Development and Psychoanalytic
tively from observation, including trying to understand Training by Martha Harris and Esther Bick, ed.
how the developing infant is making sense of his world. M. H. Williams (London: Harris Meltzer Trust/
Karnac, 2011), pp. 124.
Reid, Susan. (Ed.) (1997) Developments in Infant
4 Young Child and Brief Observa- Observation: The Tavistock Model. Hove: Rout-
tions ledge
Rustin, Margaret. (2009). 'Esther Bicks legacy of
Some courses and trainings, including those at the infant observation at the Tavistock some reec-
Tavistock Clinic, The Birmingham Trust for Psychoana- tions 60 years on',Infant Observation: International
lytic Psychotherapy[24] and the Northern School of Child Journal of Infant Observation and Its Applications,
and Adolescent Psychotherapy[25] also oer the chance to 12(1), p. 32.
undertake an observation of a pre-school child (approxi-
Rustin, Michael. (2006). Infant observation re-
mately two to four years old) in their family or in a nursery
search: What have we learned so far? Infant Obser-
setting for an hour a week for one academic year. This of-
vation: International Journal of Infant Observation
fers an additional understanding of development through
and Its Applications, 9 (1), pp. 3552.
the experience of observation as the child starts to com-
municate verbally and non-verbally with other children Sternberg, Janine. (2005). Infant Observation at the
and with adults outside the immediate family and takes a Heart of Training. London: Karnac.
range of steps towards the world outside the family.
Waddell, Margot. (2013). Infant observation in
Several courses provide the opportunity to undertake a Britain: a Tavistock approach. Infant Observation:
brief infant or young child observation as a less intensive International Journal of Infant Observation and Its
but still valuable training experience. See for example Applications, 16(1), pp. 422.
Infant Mental Health and Early Intervention with Under
Threes and their Parents.[26]

7 External links [11] Reid, Susan (Ed.) (1997) Developments in Infant Obser-
vation: The Tavistock Model. Hove: Routledge
Videos of NSCAP students talking about the expe- [12] http://www.childpsychotherapy.org.uk/
rience of undertaking Psychoanalytic Infant Obser-
vation [13] Hoxter, Shirley. review of Collected Papers of Martha
Harris and Esther Bick, Journal of Child Psychotherapy,
Tavistock Clinic 14a: 101106 (1988);

International Journal of Infant Observation and Its [14] http://www.gerpen.org/

Applications [15] http://www.centrostudimarthaharris.org/
Esther Bick [16] http://www.tavistockandportman.nhs.uk/training/
British Psychotherapy Foundation
[17] http://www.britishpsychotherapyfoundation.org.uk/
Birmingham Trust for Psychoanalytic Psychother-
apy [18] http://www.nscap.org.uk

Northern School of Child and Adolescent Psy- [19] https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/

chotherapy study-at-northumbria/courses/
Human Development Scotland
[20] http://www.hdscotland.org.uk/
Anna Freud Centre [21] http://www.wspdc.org/education/observational-studies/
Association of Child Psychotherapists [22] http://www.psychoanalysis.columbia.
Washington School of Psychiatry parent-infant-psychotherapy-program/

[23] Description based on information from http://www.

8 References tavistockandportman.nhs.uk/ , www.nscap.org.uk

[1] http://www.tavistockandportman.nhs.uk/ [24] http://www.btpp.co.uk/preclinical/overview.php

[2] Waddell, Margot. (2013). Infant observation in Britain: [25] http://www.nscap.org.uk

a Tavistock approach. Infant Observation: International
[26] http://www.nscap.org.uk/content/
Journal of Infant Observation and Its Applications, 16(1),
pp. 4-22. DOI: 10.1080/13698036.2013.765659
[27] Infant Observation: International Journal of Infant Obser-
[3] Sternberg, Janine. (2005). Infant Observation at the Heart vation and Its Applications. http://www.tandfonline.com/
of Training. London: Karnac. action/journalInformation?journalCode=riob20
[4] Infant Observation: International Journal of Infant Obser- [28] Rustin, Michael. (2006). Infant observation research:
vation and Its Applications. http://www.tandfonline.com/ What have we learned so far? Infant Observation: Inter-
action/journalInformation?journalCode=riob20 national Journal of Infant Observation and Its Applica-
tions, 9 (1), pp. 35-52.
[5] Reid, Susan (Ed.) (1997) Developments in Infant Obser-
vation: The Tavistock Model. Hove: Routledge

[6] Sternberg, Janine (2005). Infant Observation at the Heart

of Training. London: Karnac.

[7] http://www.melanie-klein-trust.org.uk/bick

[8] Rustin, Margaret. (2009) 'Esther Bicks legacy of infant

observation at the Tavistock some reections 60 years
on', Infant Observation, 12(1), p. 32;

[9] Bick, Esther. (1964) Notes on infant observation in

psycho-analytic training. Reprinted in Collected Papers
of Martha Harris and Esther Bick. Clunie Press, 1987.

[10] Bion, Wilfred R. (1962). A theory of thinking, Interna-

tional Journal of Psycho-Analysis, vol. 43: Reprinted in
Second Thoughts (1967).

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