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Burland, J.A. (1992). Separation and the Very Young: By James and Joyce Robertson. London: Free Association Books, 1989. 242 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 61:461-463.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 61:461-463

Separation and the Very Young: By James and Joyce Robertson. London: Free Association Books, 1989. 242 pp.

Review by:
J. Alexis Burland

This slim volume recounts in detail the clinical research conducted by James Robertson, the British psychiatric social worker and then psychoanalyst, and his wife Joyce on the effects of separation from the mother on the under three-year-old child. The bulk of the book was written during the last two years of James Robertson's life, prior to his death in 1988, with a few added articles written by Joyce Robertson concerning her research on parenting.

This is not at all a book about theory. It is a book about actual individual children, each suffering a significant separation from home and family. It is also a book about the Robertsons and their role in bringing about changes in the way children undergoing such separation are seen, understood, and helped. The Robertsons were activists and advocates, and the often strident resistance to their findings is recounted in detail, as are their eventual successes. This is an important historical document.

In 1948 Robertson joined John Bowlby at the Tavistock, where Bowlby was studying the reactions of children to separation from their mothers. Robertson was assigned the task of doing the necessary fieldwork to support Bowlby's hypothesis; indeed, it is as the source of much of Bowlby's clinical data that the Robertsons are best known to psychoanalysts.

Robertson first elected to observe and film children under three who were separated from their families during hospitalization for elective surgery. By way of contrast, he later observed and filmed children undergoing similar surgery in hospitals which allowed mothers to room in and remain with their children. Next, he and his wife filmed children placed temporarily in residential nurseries when their mothers were in hospital giving birth to siblings.

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