In 1948, at John Bowlby’s invitation, Esther Bick started the practice of baby observation at the Tavistock Clinic in London, which then became an integral part of the training of child psychotherapists and psychoanalysts.
Over the past 75 years, from its beginnings to the present day, baby observation practice proved to be an irreplaceable and necessary part, a first step in the education of both child and adult psychotherapists/ psychoanalysts. By training generations of students, educational institutions have recognized the importance of baby observation in the professional and personal development of clinicians. Also, numerous generations of students have confirmed the importance of baby observation experience as an important part in their personal, clinical, and professional development.
Early in the development of the observational method it became clear that baby observation should have a prominent place in the education of all disciplines and professions working with children and families in various settings. Therefore, baby observation became an integral part in the education of the helping professions (clinical psychologists, child psychiatrists, outpatient nurses, paediatricians, family psychotherapists, workers in neonatal wards, teams on wards caring for children and adolescents, social workers, educators, defectologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, school psychologists, pedagogists, forensic scientists, expert witnesses, etc.). All these professions should be directly introduced to general developmental processes. Also, they should be able to detect early signs of emotional disturbance and disturbed relations before they become deeply rooted models of behaviour and hard to change.
During a baby observation participants gain experience of non-intrusive observation of a baby and the development of the relationship between a baby and a parent. Also, a long-term and continuous observation contributes to understanding of non-verbal communication, as well as to the ability to recognize and tolerate strong emotional states.
The overall observation process, which consists of direct observation and the discussions in the observational seminars, stresses the importance of learning from experience. That way the theoretical knowledge is enriched by personal experience and examination of those experiences. Based in experience, the theoretical knowledge become understandable on both cognitive and emotional levels.
The experience of baby observation also contributes to the personal development of the observer needed for his/her professional work. It allows him/her to learn the specific art of observation, but also gives an opportunity to have an insight into personal biases and assumptions that often strongly influences what is expected, and not what is really happening.
For participants who intend to become child and adolescent psychoanalytic psychotherapists or child and adolescent psychoanalysts, adult psychotherapists or psychoanalysts, the observation takes place from the birth of the child until the first birthday (or until second birthday if a candidate decides to continue with the observation).
Baby observation takes place in a typical family environment. Special attention is given to the manner in which a baby forms relations to his/her primary caregiver (usually a mother) and other persons in the environment, and also to the states of mind and psycho-biological states of the baby during the development of those (most important) early relations.
The observations take place on the same day and at the same time each week, and are of one hour duration. During observation, it is expected that the observer does not make notes or give advice; the observer does not initiate interactions but remains observing. After the observation, the observer writes down what has been seen or experienced, with as many details as possible, and in chronological order. He/she analyses not only what can be seen on the surface, but listens carefully to what is happening emotionally during the observation, not trying to interpret it through established theoretical language. The aim of such an approach is to gain the skills and abilities of “gentle synchronicity”: to notice, recognise, and memorise the complex and subtle details and sequences of interactions and their effect on the observer.
The written-down observation notes are then discussed in the seminar with other participants, under the guidance of an experienced seminar leader. The observational material is examined, allowing for a complete picture of the development of the inner world of a baby to be formed by examining the interaction and relation to the surroundings.
Seminar groups will be small and consist of a max. 5-6 members. Group leaders and other members will offer support in finding families and babies for this kind of observation (‘normal families’). Each member of the group brings in his/her observational notes in the group discussion.
The group discusses observations according to a previously agreed order. The families and babies remain anonymous. It is also expected that the participants respect strict confidentiality and the privacy of the families and babies.
As previously mentioned, the observations take place once a week and are of 60 minutes of duration, with breaks during holidays. Seminars also take place once a week and are 80 minutes of duration. Seminars will have breaks during spring (2 weeks), summer (4 weeks), and winter holidays (2-3 weeks).
The observer presenting his/her observation will provide copies of the observational notes to all group members, he/she then reads the observation, followed by a group discussion. The discussion will allow clarification, amplification, and the exploration of ideas about the events during the observation, on various levels of psychological, emotional, relational, and psycho-biological functioning. The observers are usually fascinated to discover the differences between babies, their variety of experience, and patterns of relations established with others, as well as the different meanings of non-verbal and pre-verbal communication and early sates of mind.
After completing one-year (or two-year) of observation, the participants write an essay and receive a certificate of graduating the course. The participants who do not write an essay will receive a certificate of attendance.
The aim of the program is to help observer to:
All participants will have access to the selection of the most important works in the field of baby observation and early development.
All those interested should send their CV, accompanied by a letter outlining their interest in attending this course. On the basis of this, the leaders will create a list of possible candidates. Also, it is expected selected candidates will provide two reference letters from professionals familiar with his/her professional work.
The selected possible candidates will be invited to an interview for a more detailed assessment of their readiness to attend this course. The interviews will take place online in front of an expert committee.