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White, K. (2013). A Tribute to Joyce Robertson. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 7(3):vii-x.

(2013). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 7(3):vii-x


A Tribute to Joyce Robertson

Kate White

When I read the obituary by Mary Lindsay of Joyce Robertson in The Guardian earlier this year, republished in this volume, I was inspired to follow this up with a further exploration of her path-breaking work. I recall that as a young nursing student at Edinburgh University, in preparation for our placement on the children's ward we were shown A Two Year Old Goes to Hospital and selected films from the The Young Children in Brief Separation Project by James and Joyce Robertson, including John: We watched these in tandem with social work students at a time when there was a concerted effort to encourage cross disciplinary understanding in the training of caring professionals. I recall now how scathing our responses were to these films—outwardly dismissive and arrogantly defended against the feelings of anguish they portrayed but inwardly and secretly identifying with and recoiling from our own painful separations that lay unrecognised. This was particularly in relation to the films where no consistent, responsive carer was provided for the child.

It was many years later in my own analysis with a Fairbairnian who had trained with Jock Sutherland (a close colleague of Bowlby's) that my own painful experiences could be remembered and mourned; finally recognising, in the context of a new attuned attachment relationship, the lasting impact of being left in the care of others for several months aged five had had on me.

I wanted to discover more of Joyce's role in the work that she and her husband James had accomplished. This led me back to my bookshelves as I began to re-read Separation and the Very Young Robertson & Robertson, (1989), and the relevant passages from a number of accounts tracing the history of the development of attachment theory and the roles of Joyce and James Robertson in that process. (Karen, 1994; van Dijken, 1998).

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