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Henry, G. (1984). Reflections on Infant Observation and Its Applications. J. Anal. Psychol., 29(2):155-169.

(1984). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 29(2):155-169

Reflections on Infant Observation and Its Applications

Gianna Henry

This Paper aims at providing a description of a specific method for the study of child development, namely the observation of infants introduced in 1948 by Mrs Esther Bick (1) in the curriculum of the Child Psychotherapy Course at the Tavistock Clinic. It now forms the essential core of the ‘Observation Course’ (Course in Observational Studies and the Application of Psychoanalytical concepts to work with Children, Young People and Families), which is addressed to workers in the helping professions as well as being the necessary preliminary for candidates wishing to apply later for clinical training.

I will give some information about the methodology and, subsequently, quote some examples drawn from actual observations and from work settings where the insight made available through the experience of observing infants proved very useful.

Students observe a baby from birth to two years of age once a week for one hour on the same day of the week. They are put in touch with parents who are willing to accept the observation, either by a general practitioner, a health visitor, a gynaecologist or an organisation such as the National Childbirth Trust. Initial contact takes place with both parents, generally before the birth of the baby. On this occasion the observer explains that he or she will find it helpful to observe the development of a child and its interactions with the environment from birth to two years of age as part of his or her current studies. Beyond the initial meeting, the observer's non-intrusive role generally becomes clear to the parents only in the course of the observation. Parents' expectations about having an expert on their premises providing advice, or parents' anxieties about being judged in their role, can, it is hoped, be gradually counteracted or dispelled, but only by the observer's attitude and behaviour.

Students are advised not to seek an observable baby among their relatives or friends. This is meant as a safeguard in order to reduce to a minimum obstacles to objectivity.

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