Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Infant Observation and the French Model

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Infant Observation and the French Model

Article excerpt

Psychoanalytic training in the French Societies belonging to the International Psychoanalytic Association does not grant any place to the observation of babies as it exists in certain societies of other countries. Infant observation is even the object of sharp critiques by eminent French theoreticians. The reasons given for condemning infant observation and refusing to give it any place in the training programme lie in theoretical positions concerning the very nature of the Freudian discovery and its interpretation, which is more idealistic than empirical. The author discusses these reasons while drawing attention to the frequent confusion between a reference to empiricism and a reference to the experimental. The fear of a psychologizing deviation of metapsychology and of a denial of psychic reality leads, in the French model, to placing the emphasis on personal analytic experience during the candidate's psychoanalysis, prolonged by supervisions. It excludes any academic teaching of metapsychology or of related disciplines. The confusion between the empiricism of Esther Bick's method and the recourse to experimental procedures in developmental research stands in the way of making a place for infant observation and of recognizing its training value, not so much for the acquisition of new knowledge or the validation of metapsychological models, as for its usefulness in developing a mode of psychoanalytic observation and an increase in the candidates' containing capacities.

Keywords: training of psychoanalysts, infant observation, French model, direct observation, participant observation, psychoanalytic observation, psychic reality

In 1960, Esther Bick obtained the agreement of the British Psychoanalytic Society to have infant observation included in the training programme of all the students at the training institute. Henceforth, future analysts were required, for a period of one year, to do a home observation of a baby according to the protocol established in 1948 by the Tavistock Clinic within the framework of the training of child psychotherapists. Since then other societies have proposed their candidates, either on a voluntary or obligatory basis, to do an infant observation in the context of their training programme. The Belgian Society has recently included it in its training programme of child psychoanalysis. Although infant observation was imported into France as early as the end of the 1970s, French psychoanalytic societies have remained aloof from this movement. Not only does infant observation not form part of what may be called the 'French model', but it has been the object of sharp critiques from certain psychoanalysts who are among the most eminent.

To explain these French misgivings and critiques, one could simply draw a contrast between Anglo-Saxon empiricism and Cartesian idealism which has exerted, and continues to exert, a predominant influence on French thought. In fact, empiricism and idealism pursue two divergent axes of thought which, as modern epistemology has shown, must be combined in any scientific approach. In order to observe one needs a theory, and to validate a theory one needs observations. Epistemologists, irrespective of the cultural area to which they belong, are agreed on this requirement. I am referring in particular to the work of Gaston Bachelard (1972) for the French cultural area and to the work of Thomas Kuhn (1970) for the Anglo-Saxon cultural area. I would add that Freud, even though he never systematically presented his epistemological presuppositions, referred permanently to these two axes of thought. Observation was in no way foreign to him. He expressed his admiration for Jean-Martin Charcot's talents as an observer by recalling a remark the latter (his teacher) had made in response to an objection by a young student that the theory contradicted the clinical analysis he had made of a patient. Charcot replied: "La theorie c'est bon; mais Åa n'empÞche pas d'exister" (Freud, 1893, p. …

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