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Interview with Tessa Baradon: Part 1

In this interview Professor Jane Barlow talks to Tessa Baradon who is a parent-infant psychotherapist and Clinical Director of the Anna Freud Centre.
Today I’m at the Anna Freud Centre with Tessa Barradon who is programme lead for parent-infant psychotherapy. Hello, Jane. Hi, Tessa. Tessa, can you tell us where the interest in babies came from, in terms of the work at the Anna Freud Centre? Well, Anna Freud herself was very interested in children and worked with nursery school aged children in Vienna before they fled to London during the Second World War. During the war, she and Dorothy Burlingham opened nursery schools, residential nursery schools for infants and young children whose parents were caught up in the war effort and couldn’t look after them. Or for example where family homes had been destroyed in the blitz.
And Anna Freud conducted the residential nurseries in a very particular way in which she, not only looked after the children, but studied the impact of events on them, as well as their own psychological development independent of external. And she found that the younger the infant, the more they were influenced by the parental response to the war’s conditions. So if there was a bombing, for example, the smaller children picked up their parents’ response. A parent who was more anxious had a more anxious child. A parent who was less anxious or held themselves together in a different way, their children seem to feel less affected by anxiety, show less anxiety during the bombings.
Anna Freud also found in the nursery that the children’s response to being in a residential setting was mitigated by having a group mother. So that they were then grouped in families, little families, with one constant caregiver, which is again leading back to the importance of the person who looks after the baby and how the baby picks up on the parenting, attitudes and so on, of the person who’s looking after them. That interest has continued at the centre. It’s been extended to studies from an attachment theory point of view, the neurosciences, we had a baby lab downstairs and the development of interventions for parents and infants. OK.
So can you tell us a little bit about what characterises parent-infant psychotherapy and how it is different from other approaches? Parent-infant psychotherapy here and in other centres such as that in San Francisco, which was established by Selma Fraiberg who was the pioneer of psychoanalytic parent-infant psychotherapy, also in Melbourne with Francis Salo and her team, it incorporates understanding about thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that are outside our consciousness. That are outside of our awareness. Surprisingly, very little of what we do is conscious. Most of what we do is outside awareness. And it takes observing it, naming it, reflecting on it to be able to change it. Because if we don’t know what we’re doing, we can’t do anything about it.
That’s one of the hallmarks of psychoanalytic parent-infant psychotherapy, that we deal with things that we’re not aware of. Another one is that while we look at what is happening in the moment between a parent and infant, we’re also making links - whether made verbally or not, but certainly in our thinking - between what the parents own experiences may have been as a child and what from those experiences are being repeated. And whether what is repeated is adaptive to that parent and infant in this moment of time. Or is it actually getting in the way of either their bonding or the infant’s development. So when you talk about working dyadically, you’re working with the parent and the baby together?
They’re not only together in the room - and the father will be there too if he is involved in the family and it might be a grandmother or someone else as well - but they’re not only in the room, but the baby is the focus of intention just as much as the parent is. So how the baby’s feeling, how we understand he’s feeling, the way he’s communicating his feelings, whether he’s comfortable or frightened or unhappy or bored with the intrusiveness of attention, is what we infer from his behaviour. And we try and address that in the room. Thank you for that Tessa. We’re now going to move to one of your treatment rooms.

In this interview we talk to Tessa Baradon who is a parent-infant psychotherapist and Clinical Director of the Anna Freud Centre.

Tessa begins by describing the way in which the work of the centre evolved from the post-war nurseries that were established by Anna Freud, and the evolution of parent-infant psychotherapy as a therapeutic method that explicitly targets the parent-infant dyad, and aims to improve the relationship between the parent and baby by changing the parent’s internal working models.

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Babies in Mind: Why the Parent's Mind Matters

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