This essay seeks to critically evaluate the role of child observation as a psychoanalytical skill within social work practice. Drawing on insight from the attachment theory. It will highlight its value as a social work tool.
The act of observation, according to LeRiche (1998) is considered as being, part of the process of looking, seeing and understanding reality... characterised by passivity and lack of involvement’’ (pg 17). Peberdy (1993:47) compares the act of observation in some ways, to rather like breathing. He infers, that “we would be quite literally lost without the observational skills of watching, listening, counting and identifying patterns of social interaction processes that we tend to take for granted”. Peberdy’s suggests that in failing to tune in to our observation skills we reduce its capacity to a ‘visual activity’, as common feature of our everyday life.
However, child observation was used as a training tool in the early fifties, for those intending to work with troubled and disturbed children using a psychodynamic approach (Rhode,2004) . Child analyst, Esther Bick, introduced the practice of systematic observation of the development of infants (Bion, 1962: McMahon & Farnfield, 1994). This consisted of the student observing a baby, starting as soon after the birth as possible, and observing once a week for an hour over a year. Notes were not taken at the time, but students were expected to record in detail afterwards the interaction that they had observed, the emphasis being on what had been seen and felt rather than the students’ own explanations or speculations on what might have been happening (Rhode,2004).
Thus, child observation plays an integral part within practices of professional social work, and in the processes of thinking about and conceptualising
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