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In Forms of Intersubjectivity in
Infant Research and Adult Treatment, Beatrice Beebe, Steven Knoblauch,
Justin Rustin, and Dorienne Sorter aim to show that infant research on the
subject of intersubjectivity provides a deeper understanding of the therapeutic
action in psychoanalysis. The primary assumption of the book is that all
theories of intersubjectivity are theories of interaction. The use of a dyadic
systems view of interaction as a framework within which to integrate the
various forms of intersubjectivity described in infant research and
psychoanalysis strengthens the argument that these disciplines are not divorced
from one another in their conceptualization of intersubjectivity, and underscores
the fact that they need to communicate with one another more.
In the first part, which provides a
comprehensive review of the forms of intersubjectivity in infant research, the
authors focus on the works of Trevarthen, Stern, and Meltzoff. These theorists, who define intersubjectivity as the correspondence and matching of expressions by
referring to the different modes of nonverbal communication operating
largely out of awareness, tend to concentrate on
implicit or nonverbal forms of intersubjectivity. Further, they
emphasize the role of the crossmodel perception and positive emotional
interaction in the development of a theory of mind. Beebe
et al. fundamentally agree with the assumptions of these theories and substantiate
them by referring to recent research in neuroscience on mirror neurons. This
excellent discussion contributes to the view that mind starts as a shared mind.
The authors then expand the discussion of
intersubjectivity by pointing out some deficiencies of these theories.
They suggest that not only correspondence and
matching, but, in fact, all forms of interactive regulation are relevant to the
possibility of the infant's development of a theory of mind. This expanded view
makes a crucial contribution to the understanding of the development of
intersubjectivity and rightly correlates the research on infant intersubjectivity
to that of psychoanalysis.
In the second part, the authors aim
to show how research on implicit intersubjectivity can enrich the understanding
of therapeutic action in the psychoanalytic setting. The authors point out that
adult psychoanalysis has approached the study of intersubjectivity by primarily
focusing on the verbal dialogue, an explicit mode of interaction. But such a focus,
they argue, undermines the role of nonverbal interaction in the analytic
setting. They therefore suggest that the research into implicit forms of intersubjectivity
in infant research be used to help understand the nonverbal aspect of the
therapeutic setting. However, despite the strength of the proposal, the use of a
case study to validate the thesis is not sufficient for a couple of reasons. For
one, the authors make unsubstantiated assertions about the source and nature of
the patient's early trauma: for example, they claim that the patient's trauma stems
from the loss of her mother's face when she was a very young infant, and the
only way for her to get over this trauma is to engage with her therapist's
face. For another, they attribute the success of the therapy exclusively to the
nonverbal interaction between the therapist and the patient, failing to provide
further support for their claim by referring to other case materials. Unlike
the rigor with which the authors review the research into infant intersubjectivity
in part one, here, they jump to quick and easy conclusions. To be fair, this
may be due to the recent introduction of the topic in psychoanalysis; it is
quite likely that further research will provide more and better evidence.
The last part is composed of two
articles on the topic. More specifically, Theodore Jacobs assesses the project
from a psychoanalytic perspective, while Regina Pally reviews the topic from a
neuroscientific point of view. Including these reviews in the book enriches the
discussion, setting Beebe et al.'s arguments within a broader frame of
reference. In short, these well-thought out reviews give readers the
opportunity to evaluate the overarching thesis of the book from different
points of views and thus, they make an important contribution to the work as a
provides readers with a wealth of knowledge across several fields. A
captivating look at the concept of intersubjectivity, Forms of
Intersubjectivity in Infant Research and Adult Treatment, is
a worthwhile book, not only for students and researchers of cognitive science,
developmental psychology, psychoanalysis, and neuroscience, but also for
philosophers who are interested in the problem of other minds.
© 2006 Serife Tekin
Serife Tekin is a PhD candidate in philosophy at York University in Toronto. Her
main areas of interest are Philosophy of the Self, Philosophy of Psychology,
Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science. Her e-mail address is
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