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CHAPTER 9: Infant observation

Antonella Sansone Karnac Books ePub

To see the dynamics between parent and infant, we need to be able to observe. Observation is the foundation of research and theory. It is a skill that is sharpened through experience. Infant observation is a valuable training to prepare for psychotherapeutic work with parents and infants and for the work of any health professional concerned with parents and infants. It consists of observing an infant from birth to two years with the mother or father (if he is the main caregiver) in their home, every week for an hour, making detailed notes afterwards, and discussing the observation in a small group. The observer should choose a healthy family.

The purpose of observation is to discern the development of emotions and interactions between mother and baby as well as within the observer, over a period of at least two years. The observer has to learn not to interfere with the dynamics between mother and baby and to bear the strong feelings and anxiety these may induce. By not feeling judged the parent will behave naturally and the observer will be able to witness parent-infant dynamics in a natural setting. Observing parent-infant dynamics is an important experience for the professional who wants to work with parents and infants and thus needs to understand early emotions and early interactions.

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CHAPTER EIGHT: From communication to speech

Antonella Sansone Karnac Books ePub

The infant’s innate capacity to develop language
is already the fruit of a relationship.
Mother and baby begin interacting during pregnancy
through a variety of mediators: hormones, breathing, and
heart rhythms,
maternal expectations, thoughts, and postural attitudes.
The mother’s body is also the expression of her culture
and her closest relationships.
The father contributes to shaping the womb environment
by touching the abdominal wall and talking to the baby,
as well as by supporting the mother.
The tiny baby thus has her earliest learning experience.

Pre-verbal communication: the primary bodyself-image

Before 1970, there was little curiosity about young infants’ interactions with their parents. Psychoanalysts had a theoretical interest in the development of the infant’s ego. The problem of how linguistic communication began led to observation of how mothers and fathers communicated with infants before speech. It was found that the primary communication starts from face-to-face contact, more specifically eye contact. This opened up a whole new field of investigation.

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CHAPTER TWO: A psychophysiological theory of emotions

Antonella Sansone Karnac Books ePub

Our body is involved in our relationships as much as our mind.

The two levels of our being are inseparable
and a circular relation exists between them.
They are split only by language and concepts.
While thinking, speaking, dreaming, and interacting
there are changes in our breathing, muscle tone,
posture, and facial expression,
—throughout our body language.
They are powerful forms of non-verbal communication.

Psychological phenomena emerge from the complex interaction between systems in the body and the brain. The body image exists in the neocortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. It is a process involving the deep brain, the skeletal frame, the muscular system, and all bodily activities. The neocortex is a highly sophisticated entity that collects, assembles, associates, analyses, and stores data provided by sensory organs. The subcortical nervous system or primitive brain is closely connected with the hormonal and immune systems, our emotions and instincts. There is continuous interaction between the neocortex and the primitive brain. Information travels along the spinal cord and reaches the hypothalamus, which controls the autonomic nervous system (Luria, 1973). The hypothalamus is closely connected with the limbic system and together they form the locus of emotional centres. They form a complex network that can be conceived as a “primal adaptive system”. The right hemisphere in particular contains an integrated map of the bodily state and plays a primary role in the regulation of fundamental physiological and hormonal functions. Since the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenocortical axis and the sympathetic system are both under the control of the right cerebral cortex, this hemisphere is thus primarily involved in the survival functions that enable the organism to cope with stress.

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CHAPTER FIVE: Voice and body image

Antonella Sansone Karnac Books ePub

We teach love with our gestures, more than with our words.
We love through touch and breathing;
the child feels whether the hands are loving
or whether they are careless, or rejecting.
Muscles obey our intentions and feelings.
Words can lie; muscles and gestures cannot.
Hands can be distracted, as can our brain.

Colwyn Trevarthen (1999) has made rich use of micro-descriptions of mothers and infants in “proto-conversation” to explore the dynamics of the infant’s first relationship. His study of communicative and co-operative exchanges between infants and adults brought about radical change, undermining the reductive cognitive perspective and the classical psychoanalytic models. Since the late 1970s, he has conducted research that reviews the very young baby’s emotional, communicative, and relational capacities. In contrast with the idea of babies as unskilled, Trevarthen sheds light on the baby’s innate musical intelligence, narrative awareness, and capacity to engage in relationships.

The sounds a mother makes, including “motherese” or baby talk, vocalizations, and rhythmic songs and rhymes, are an important element of bonding. From the moment that she first responds to sound around seven months’ gestation, the infant has been hearing her mother’s voice. Her body moves in rhythm with her mother’s speech patterns, and the high-pitched tone her mother uses when talking to her is particularly reassuring.

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CHAPTER 4: Touch, movement, and integration of the psyche-soma

Antonella Sansone Karnac Books ePub

Part and parcel of holding is whatWinnicott refers to as handling-the way the mother handles her infant in all the day-to-day details of maternal care. Here is included a mother's enjoyment of her baby, which is an expression of her love. (Abram, 1996, p. 187)

My primary focus here is on the early experiences of movement and touch, arising within the mother-infant relationship, described by Bick (1968) and Winnicott (1962b) as essential to the evolution of a sense of boundaries, a sense of skin, and a sense of bodyself.

The communication between mother and baby is triggered by a variety of channels: skin contact, smell, warmth, eye contact, interplay of facial expressions, vocalizing, movements-all sensual means, experienced by the infant as holding the parts of the personality together. All sensory experiences-sights, sounds, smells, etc .-have the potential to contribute to a sense of bodily aliveness, of feeling real (Winnicott, 1949). The sensory exchanges between mother and baby impinge on the infant's process of discovering her own being and boundaries. The mother's reproduction of the baby's facial expressions, sounds, and gestures encourages self-discovery even more than her stimulation and guidance (Sansone, 2004).

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