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Transference and countertransference

I will first consider the infant while recognising this division is slightly artificial. Many infants respond extremely positively to their observer, which sometimes creates a technical difficulty. In the observational vignette (Part II) the observer muted his response, and then felt guilty as if he had hurt and harmed the infant, partly carrying some of her feelings involved in negotiating three-ness. A recent development in the literature is discussion of the observer's positive feelings for the infant. Some observers describe developing a loving interest in the baby, as part of opening themselves up to caring deeply. Noting their warm feelings towards the baby, they wondered whether this could be love, constrained by the frame of the observation (Bolton, 2011). Infant observation can contribute to developing a therapist's state of mind, into one who is able to both care deeply about the patient and simultaneously to work in the transference (Allnutt, 2011). If a warmer relationship develops between observer and infant than has usually been acknowledged, this might go some way towards understanding why some sensitive observers despite careful preparation in seminars try to avoid the pain of ending the observation, only belatedly clarifying the date of its ending. When an observer describes "warm fondness" and "passionate engagement" this is often seen as a reflection in the countertransference of the mother's feelings despite an increasing awareness of infant intersubjectivity.

Occasionally an infant has a negative reaction to being observed, and this has considerable repercussion for the observer, with an infant observation likely to evoke a range of guilt feelings. It is perhaps mainly when an observer takes a non-participant stance that infants in the first year may be adversely affected. A nine-month-old infant crawled towards her observer signalling that she was looking for engagement and he made no response, and then felt guilty when she sat with her back to him looking ashamed and hurt. Some infants waking alone with their observer, who tries hard to stay in a neutral role, seem traumatised by this minimal engagement despite knowing the observer well. The observer then feels upset and guilty, feeling that they had been "mean" or "cruel" to the infant, and after careful consideration do not feel this to be only an acting out. If, however, an infant feels, for example, anxious or persecuted about being watched (Catty, 2009; Dorries, 1993) this might occur at a time of heightened separation anxiety between infant and mother, and the negative feelings are split off with the observer carrying them for the infant: one infant looked at the observer as if looks could kill when he was distressed about his absent mother (Harris, 1980/1987). While some approaches view it as more responsible for the observer to process their own emotional reactions without affecting the observation by acting, this does not seem to include wondering whether infants feel that their expectation that they would be related to has been violated. Some experienced clinicians decide, if the situation occurs again, to attend to their emotional responses and act differently, exploring whether they could be slightly more active without breaking the frame, moving along the participant observer continuum to convey an attuned response.

A positive parental transference may have a subtly distorting effect. Observers may feel guilty that they are "stealing" from the mother, that they had not been open about observing her and her family, and feel they betray the family when other people read their notes. While these stem in part from an observer's own anxieties, issues of transparency need to be addressed (see "A critique of infant observation" later in this introduction.). An observer often experiences considerable pressure, internal and external, to move out of the role of observer. Parents often confide sensitive issues to the observer long before they tell others, which may be felt as a heavy burden by the observer. A mother may want the observer to be a good mother for herself. The erotic countertransference is rarely discussed in the literature, apart from Jackson's (1998) reference to sexual responses in male observers. Observers sometimes report in seminars having erotic fantasies about the mother of the observed infant.

Many observers feel that their presence intensifies a mother's anxieties (Target, 2000). A mother may have too many conflicts to allow the baby to be seen and not facilitate the baby being observed so that an observer may find that for months they hardly see the baby who has been asleep or cradled into the mother. A mother may be envious of an observer's knowledge and probe how they are observing. Many articles describe observations when a mother experiences depressive trends and difficulties with intimacy as she adjusts to getting to know her baby and to her new identity as a mother. In a situation of considerable negative projections observers may feel that they have never been welcomed in the home, experiencing something of what an infant in that environment feels; there are sometimes very clear parallels between what the observer feels and the infant is likely to be feeling. As difficulties are reawakened for a mother in her baby's first year, resenting her baby's total dependency needs and facing hateful feelings an observer gradually becomes aware of layers within him or herself, within the mother and within the baby (Groarke, 2010). An observer may become aware of ambivalence towards the mother as they face their hate of their own mother's insufficiency and, if they are parents, their own inadequacy (Griffiths, 2007). In the last two decades observers have written more directly about their own infant feelings, for example of disintegration (Blake, 1988) or feelings of envy and hate resulting in the observer turning away because the beauty of the breastfeeding mother strained their generosity (Sorensen, 1997). Where the parent's negative transference to infant and observer is intense as in Chapter Eleven, the impact on the countertransference may push the observer towards an absence of reflection on their role and the observer finds it difficult to think reflectively so that by projective identification the observer comes to know about the parent's difficulty in thinking.

The field has evolved widely since infant observation was initially developed, which will be seen in some of the situations discussed below. In recent years the number of vulnerable families who agree to be observed has increased compared with when Bick developed the method (Miller, 2011; Rustin, M. E., 2009) when the aim for an observer's learning purposes was to find a relatively well-functioning family. Such families may face stressful circumstances or have poor social supports, or are single parents. It may be that as more trainings require infant observation, trainees in their anxiety not to be left behind arrange to observe such a family. (This may lead to colluding with a mother's uses of the observation experience and contribute to the observing being difficult.) Parents may unconsciously present more positively in order to get the help that they need and when they feel secure that the observation will continue, allow the observer to see the extent of their difficulties in a similar way when a patient is accepted into psychoanalysis or psychotherapy. This leads into issues of ethics.

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