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Joyce, A.F. (1998). Stephen Briggs, Growth and Risk in Infancy, London: Jessica Kingsley, 1997, 292 pp., £15.99.. J. Child Psychother., 24(1):187-192.

(1998). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 24(1):187-192

Stephen Briggs, Growth and Risk in Infancy, London: Jessica Kingsley, 1997, 292 pp., £15.99.

Reviewed by
Angela F. Joyce

This is an ambitious book, albeit modestly presented as a preliminary and exploratory attempt to bridge the gap between psychoanalytic theorizing and empirical methods. The literature on baby observation from a psychoanalytic perspective is slim, but growing, and the author of this volume goes beyond the more usual presentation of a single case study. Stephen Briggs modifies the infant observation method, pioneered by Esther Bick as part of the training in child psychotherapy at the Tavistock Clinic, into a research instrument, by developing categories for comparison, and by focusing on a group of infants deemed to be vulnerable or ‘at risk’. He seeks to ‘operationalize’ Bion's theory of the ‘container-contained’, and Bick's ‘skin formation’, and through this to provide a ‘grid’, comparing five observed babies, over a two-year period. He is interested to see if the kind of containment offered by the mother (and other family members who care for an infant), and what he describes as the ‘grip relations’ established by the baby, have observable consequences in the child's life, and especially to consider the relationship between emotion and cognition. Among his various aims he seeks to develop research instruments to predict resilience and risk, and to generate new psychoanalytic theory through the application of these instruments.

This is a study rich in material for comment, and I cannot do justice to it in a short review.

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