Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Status of Developmental Curriculum in North American Psychoanalysis

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Status of Developmental Curriculum in North American Psychoanalysis

Article excerpt

Education Section

Writing from the perspective of a North American psychoanalyst and Director of the Child Division of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, I find myself at a disadvantage in relation to the two previous contributors to this series (de Litvan, 2007; Waddell, 2006). As representatives, respectively, of the British experience of immersion in infant observation developed by Esther Bick and enhanced by the ideas of Wilfred Bion (Waddell) and of the integration of that tradition of observation with cutting edge research by a South American researcher/clinician (de Litvan), these two authors have highlighted the importance of infant observation for psychoanalysis from vantage points ranging from its power in conveying unconscious mental content to its importance as a portal to communication with other scientific endeavors. Both writers emphasize its educational role as a most fundamental exposure to profound and universal human experience,1 as a window into the creation of "emotional meaning and thought" (Waddell, 2006, p. 1103), and, especially for de Litvan, as a crucial point of contact with advances in related sciences. In all these ways, my rather typical educational experience as a North American (or, more specifically, United States) analyst is relatively impoverished as there has been no sustained tradition of infant observation in the institutes of the American Psychoanalytic Association and, even where observational methods have taken hold (as in some institutes, especially those with infancy programs, and in universities), there is rarely the rigor or immersion of the traditional Tavistock methodology. It is, not surprisingly, only among American institutes whose primary affiliation is with the International Psychoanalytic Association that the Tavistock observational method is taught and practiced (for example, see Burgess, 2005).

One explanation for this geographic divergence is that infant observation was imported to this country originally by Anna Freud, as part of her mission to confirm Freud's developmental hypotheses. Her methodology, championed by the early American ego psychologists (Hartmann and Kris, 1945), promoted "objective observation ... centred on factual, externally verifiable behaviour, as well as an accurate description of the behaviour ... (and) gave rise to modern infant research" (Grignon, 2003, p. 423). Observation was scaffolded by the metapsychological theory of the day; Anna Freud's primary instrument, the 'Metapsychological Profile,' was intended to draw a complete picture of the child from all metapsychological viewpoints, but without a strong emphasis on countertransference or intersubjectivity as sources of information. The other approach, originating at the Tavistock Clinic and supported and promoted by Melanie Klein, Winnicott, Bion, and Bowlby, endorsed infant observation as a unique opportunity to develop analytic thinking,2 to learn about countertransference and to experience, in vivo, the impact of projective identification. Clearly linked to object relations theory, this latter tradition spread to geographic areas (and a very few American institutes) sympathetic to that theoretical position and therefore more open to the powerful learning experience that the Tavistock method offers the developing psychoanalyst. The early observational studies of young children occurring in the more mainstream American institutes and psychoanalytically oriented clinics (for example, at the Yale Child Study Center) were the offspring of the former, empiricallybased tradition. They ushered in a series of research paradigms generated by psychoanalysts that gradually moved away from naturalistic observation. Mahler's research, using a quasi-naturalistic 'laboratory' of a designed nursery setting, met some resistance from the psychoanalytic establishment of the time because of the emphasis on the 'outside' (that is, the relationship to the caregiver [Coates, 2004]), but arguably became the ascendent developmental model of the 1980s in North America (Shapiro, 1993). …

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