Infant observation in Britain: The Tavistock approach

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Abstract

The author draws attention to something distinctive in the psychoanalytic ‘air’ from the early 1960s onwards: the strong emphasis upon the very early psychological, emotional and cognitive view of infants and young children. She focuses on the work of two analysts in particular, Esther Bick and Wilfred Bion, and the comparable, though differently expressed, centrality of the observational method in their work. Each explored not only the pathological picture but also the nature and integrative function of psychic containment in earliest mental life. Each also shared a preoccupation with what constituted a psychoanalytic attitude and with the process of becoming a psychoanalyst and, in Bick's case, a child analyst or psychotherapist. The author provides an historical background to the idea of observation, followed by an account, with detailed examples, of the nature of infant observation and the observational method as taught and practised at the Tavistock Clinic, London since the late 1940s, and subsequently in many other training institutions. Here the themes of Bick and Bion are constantly interrelated such that the prototype or model for the creation of emotional meaning and thought can be appreciated and learning from experience can take place.

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