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Rustin, M. (1988). Encountering Primitive Anxieties: Some Aspects of Infant Observation as a Preparation for Clinical Work with Children and Families. J. Child Psychother., 14(2):15-28.

(1988). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 14(2):15-28

Encountering Primitive Anxieties: Some Aspects of Infant Observation as a Preparation for Clinical Work with Children and Families

Margaret Rustin

The practice of systematic observation of the development of infants from a psychoanalytic perspective is such a rich topic that a limiting focus is a necessity for useful presentation. One of the aspects that has particularly interested me is the opportunity that this experience provides for the observer of encountering primitive emotional states in the infant and his family, and indeed in the observer's response to this turbulent environment. The place that this experience can take in preparing potential therapists for clinical work is the point I intend to pursue.

In order to establish the framework, I shall first describe the place of infant observation in the training courses for child psychotherapists. The technique of studying babies in this particular way was pioneered by the child analyst, Esther Bick, in the post-war period when a specific training for child psychotherapists was under development. Students are asked to make an arrangement to visit a family on a regular weekly basis at a fixed time for an hour, and to record afterwards, in as much detail as possible, what they have observed. Inferences, speculations, and their own personal reactions usually are not part of the recorded material. Students are members of a small seminar of approximately five observers who meet weekly for one-and-a-half hours with a seminar leader to study the material of the observations. Seminar leaders vary in their approach, but ordinarily the students will take it in turn to present “their” babies, thus giving each member a full seminar time twice a term for discussion of their experiences.

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