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Ward, A. (2005). Mothers’ Thinking and Babies’ Survival. Psychoanal. Psychother., 19(2):135-159.

(2005). Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 19(2):135-159

Mothers’ Thinking and Babies’ Survival

Anne Ward

This paper offers a spectrum of cases, in which the mother's ability to think about painful issues shaded from sensitive to near psychotic, and in which the outcome for the infant varied accordingly. Where the mother is free to contemplate her own thoughts, the infant is relatively uncontaminated by her projections and distortions, and she can be curious about its mind. Where defensive structures predominate, however, the infant becomes enmeshed by virtue of its unavoidable and persistent intrusions into the mother. The vignettes illustrate the interplay between the mother's mindfulness of her infant, and the infant's actual physical survival. The paper is not intended to ‘prove’ the argument, which has in any case been more rigorously developed by developmental psychologists, rather it offers a clinician's experience of its veracity, adducing extreme examples, and the clinical corollary that the mother-infant mind can be a vitally important focus. The therapist experiences something of this system, either by noticing it directly and allowing it to impinge, or by interacting with the mother and noting the counter- transference. By offering a mind that can bear to think about the experience, she is a thinking mother that metabolizes and returns it in a manageable form. The paper also highlights how ideas from the attachment literature may complement and enhance a more traditional psychoanalytic perspective.

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