The Experience of Infant Observation

the experience of infant observation

Infant Observation provides an opportunity to develop knowledge and understanding of human development through direct observation of an infant during its early life. It sharpens one's observational skills; enhances one's attunement to non-verbal and pre-verbal communication; formulates a keen understanding of the ways in which human beings develop and to witness the intense psychosomatic experience of the human infant.

But how do participants see the experience themselves? Some of those who completed the Infant Observation course at the bpf have shared their reflections with us:


I observed baby G for an hour a week for her first two years. I wrote notes after each session and attended a weekly seminar where each student took a turn to present their baby to the group. The seminars were a fascinating study of infant development as we felt our way into our babies' inner worlds, played with ideas and shared thoughts and feelings about our observations. Academic studies on childhood dwelled happily in the back of my mind until I came to write the final paper. Inspired by Jung’s writings and encouraged by my seminar leader I left theory at baby G’s door and stepped into the presence of a human soul. I feel enriched by the infant observation experience and believe that it has brought greater depth and sensitivity to my work not least in learning to be still and quiet in the presence of another.

Over the two years my baby awakened from symbiosis with her mother and became a separate little person who began to know her own mind. I realised that I was sharing a similar journey with my own analyst as I attempted to untangle which feelings belonged to me, which to baby G and which to her mother. As a ‘participant observer’ I focussed on the phenomenological experience of being in the room with G. I noted each flicker of an eyelid, each feeling that clouded her face, each minuscule movement that spoke of an inner process, and I tracked my own responses. G’s two year old brother seemed to wish for an observer and he would station himself on the floor in between me and G where he would be included in my visual field. By the end of the two years G had developed a sense of herself, an ’ego strength’. She could make things happen and influence her mother, brother and me. Her early years provided a solid base to build a life on, her fears and anxieties soothed first by her mother and then increasingly by herself. This observation was of a securely attached infant.

It was a privilege to be invited in to baby G’s home and to witness the unfolding of the developmental stages we all read about. Already mother to three children I thought I knew a lot about babies, and yet the observation experience brought a different and deeper perspective. I was able quietly to watch the minute interactions, understandings and misunderstandings that take place between mother and baby, to witness the song, dance and occasional collision in the relationship. The observation echoed the process of analysis where minds open to the ebb and flow of feelings, to creativity and destructiveness. It seemed to me that the observation, like an analysis took on a life of its own, the hour suspended in time and the connection between G, her mother and me deep, transient and transformative.

Now in the final stages of my training I look back at the infant observation as an integral and necessary part in an analyst’s development, and a valuable experience for anyone interested in what babies can teach us.

Sally Arthur


At the beginning I was met with this challenge……. ‘put aside your books, theories and preconceived ideas, and come and play’.

This took me out of my comfort zone.

Others in the group had their own challenges.

But my weekly encounter with my baby, together with the reflection and processing of that experience in the writing up of notes, in the seminar group and in my personal therapy, has led me into deeper levels of human experience both within myself and with my

It was a life enhancing experience both personally and professionally, and one I shall not forget.

Sally McLaren

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When beginning my enquiries into training as a Jungian analyst, full of vocational zeal and a little trepidation, I was surprised to discover that an infant observation was part of the training. I recalled seeing the book "closely observed infants" on my mum's bookshelf when she was a health visitor, but knew almost nothing about the process or how it might benefit analytic training.

Serendipitously, a neighbour had fallen pregnant and she and her husband agreed for me to observe their daughter when she was born; no small commitment to have a stranger visit you once a week for two years. Whilst waiting for her birth, I began attending the weekly infant observation seminar group. At first this was quite bewildering, listening to speculations on the smallest of a baby's movements, inferences about symbolic meaning and fantasies.

And yet, once I started visiting baby T each week, sitting quietly as she played, a gentle realisation crept up on me as to why this was
so important. It was nigh on impossible to know what was happening in her mind, and staying with that feeling allowed meaning to take shape, through play and imagination. The physical space I was privileged to enter, mirrored a potential, internal space that grew within this child who was curious about me, and over time came to trust me, and invite me to imagine with her.

To learn to play, to imagine with another, is a gift and skill essential to therapy and analysis. To sit and not know, to wait, for meaning to emerge, or not emerge, patiently, is a great part of this art. And children are great teachers.

So now, several years later, having recently qualified, I can look back on my two years of sitting with and observing T, and know what a wonderful and helpful experience it was in my ongoing journey of becoming an analyst.


The undertaking of my Infant Observation was for me a fascinating and absorbing experience. It gave me the opportunity to understand how an individual personality is shaped from the very beginning of life, forming the blueprint from which future relationships and ways of being create their unique pattern.

I have found this engaging method of research to be invaluable for sharpening my observational skills proving useful to my therapeutic work with children.

Observing a baby’s ways of managing the inevitable hurdles of development, the attachment of mother and infant and seeing how language and identity develop have enabled me to conceive the infant inside the child and adult.

Having personal therapy throughout the observation illuminated my understanding of infantile aspects of myself that were being brought to the surface as part of this experience. The insight that my observation has given me has also been of interest to the teachers I work with in helping to understand the child in the classroom.

I can imagine any psychologically minded professional could be interested in the study and discussion of the development of an infant from birth and I would recommend Infant Observation to anyone who has an interest in human development.

Child Therapist

About the authors

All the contributors are former participants of the Infant Obseration course at the bpf. Unless we were given explicit permission to use author's full name, excerpts were anonymised due to their personal nature.

Tags:Theory Psychotherapy

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