Clinical Studies in Infant Mental Health: The First Year of Life

Clinical Studies in Infant Mental Health: The First Year of Life

Clinical Studies in Infant Mental Health: The First Year of Life

Clinical Studies in Infant Mental Health: The First Year of Life

Excerpt

During the past two decades, clinical and developmental research in infancy have given us answers to a multitude of questions that had once seemed unanswerable. Today, we are in possession of a vast scientific treasure acquired through the study of normal and deviant infants, a treasure that should be returned to babies and their families as a gift from science.

We now know that a very large number of the most severe and intractable emotional disorders of children and adults can be traced to developmental disorders and conflicts in the first two years of life, the embryonic period of personality development. Impoverishment in early sense experience, impediments to the formation of human bonds, and conflicts between the baby and his human partners appear as recurrent themes in the developmental histories of many children and adults who suffer severe personality disorders. By the time we meet these patients in child or psychiatric clinics, it may take the whole of our colossal apparatus of psychotherapy and remedial education, as well as years of professional work, to undo or repair the damage to personality. Yet the morbid signs were present in infancy.

As for the developmental side of the story, we now have a consensus among scientists from a wide range of disciplines that the human capacities for love and for learning are rooted in the sensorimotor period of development, the first eighteen months of life. The developmental significance of emotional impoverishment in infancy and the disruption of human bonds in the early years of life is documented in a literature on maternal and sensory deprivation that has sobered a generation of scientists. In the cognitive realm we have amassed a library of stud-

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