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Infant Ment Health J. 2011 Nov;32(6):599-612. doi: 10.1002/imhj.20319. Epub 2011 Nov 3.

The music of containment: Addressing the participants in mother-infant psychoanalytic treatment.

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Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm and Swedish Psychoanalytic Society.


The author discusses the psychoanalyst's approach in mother-infant treatments. Emphasis is given to the infant as an important, though often neglected, addressee. A clinical example is used in which a telephone call during a prior session triggered fretting in a 3-month-old girl and distress in her mother. It is suggested that in the session, nonverbal levels of the interventions reached the girl and contained her, and that this containment worked along similar lines as the communicative musicality between mother and baby. In the discussion, the psychoanalytic concept of containment (Bion, 1962) is linked with the concept of communicative musicality (Trevarthen & Aitken, 2001). The mother's need for containment also is emphasized, and the therapist must be on alert when it is essential to focus on either participant in the therapy room. This choice is guided both by explicit deliberations and by the unconscious countertransference. However, the therapist's wish to grasp the countertransference is countered by his or her unwillingness of being reminded of feelings of infantile helplessness. Similarly, when the mother's conscious and unconscious messages diverge, the baby's ability to receive her caretaking is compromised. In the article's clinical case, this happened when the mother tried to soothe her daughter while being preoccupied with anger at the therapist to an extent to which she was not fully aware.


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