Weathering the Storm: How Parent-infant Psychotherapy Can Facilitate Transformative Communications of Maternal Distress. A Hermeneutic Literature Review

Hiskens, Monique
Thomas-Anttila, Kerry
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Master of Psychotherapy
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Auckland University of Technology

This study explores the way in which an infant may experience communications of maternal distress. Through work with parents and infants in a specialist psychiatric ward, I have become aware of the ways that the infant’s experience is difficult to consider alongside the mother’s unwellness. Within parent-infant psychotherapy, it is possible for mother’s sadness, guilt, and grief over their ruptured relationship to be communicated authentically to the baby. However, what is the infant’s experience of their mother’s difficult communications? Is it in the infant’s best interests to keep content ‘safe’, ‘appropriate’, and in some ways false, or is there a transformative element inherent in these contained, painful admissions?

Utilising a hermeneutic literature review methodology, I hope to investigate more closely an aspect of the infant’s experience and participation in psychotherapy. By analysing the ways in which infants’ communicative apparatus appears to be finely tuned to perceive nuanced communications, further implications for infant psychotherapy can be elucidated. The relevance of authenticity and emotional congruence is also analysed in relation to infants and their communicative abilities.

What emerges is a discussion about the interplay between infant, therapist, and parent and the unique landscape of relational intersubjectivity that is formed and altered over time. Moments of emotional authenticity, in which a thought is able to be communicated with an infant in a form that is experienced as congruent with its underlying affect, appear to contribute to therapeutic change. These moments appear to exist within a broader communicative framework consisting of implicit relational knowings formed over time. Novel, authentic moments appear to assist in the adjustment of stuck relational patterns when occurring in the context of an established therapeutic relationship. Further implications for study include more closely investigating triadic communications and the role of authenticity with infants.

Mother-infant , Parent-infant , Child psychotherapy , Psychotherapy , Maternal mental illness , Dyadic psychotherapy , Communication , Authenticity , Infant language , Authentic communication , Emotional congruence , Implicit relational knowing , Infant psychotherapy , Heightened affective moments , Maternal distress , Relational intersubjectivity
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