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IV PROBLEMATIC ASPECTS OF INFANT OBSERVATION

INTRODUCTION TO PROBLEMATIC ASPECTS OF INFANT OBSERVATION

Problematic aspects of infant observation lead into a discussion about methods of observing and the uses and limits of understanding, which this section first addresses, in particular difficulties in the transference/countertransference, which have an effect on what is observed, followed by ethical issues in infant observation and a general critique.

Methods of observing and the uses and limits of understanding

The art of observing self and other is one of the most important aspects of training to become a psychoanalyst. An observer, however, changes what they observe, which therefore has an effect on the infant and his or her parents. In 1995 Emde suggested that as the observer is always a participant he or she is therefore a co-creator, and in 1997 Emde and Fonagy summarised that "our 'post-modernist' twentieth century science has taught us that all fields of observation are influenced by the method of observation and the observer. We are continually in the position of estimating observer influences" (p. 644). Tuckett (1994), reviewing the arguments about the limitations of the data of participant observers in the field of psychoanalysis, in particular that it depends on one person being both participant and recorder, concluded that such arguments were often simplistic and unthinkingly sceptical of an observer's integrity.

How the observer alters what is observed had, since the 1980s, been acknowledged in the literature in terms of the observer containing painful feelings for the infant and family. Transference manifestations from mother and baby guide an observer, as with countertransference responses when they are not overwhelmingly strong. While observers make hypotheses about what is happening, it is acknowledged that without the equivalent of an analysand's response, alternative meanings are possible. What Etchegoyen (1999, p. 436) wrote about analysis applies to observing, "(W)e can never be sure of anything; we must remain receptive to the material, always attentive to the changes that can occur." (See Hollway's point about the subjectivity of the observer and its advantages in Part III: Research in infant observation.)

 
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