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Forms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult TreatmentReview - Forms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult Treatment
by Beatrice Beebe, Steven Knoblauch, Judith Rustin, and Dorienne Sorter
Other Press, 2005
Review by Serife Tekin
Oct 10th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 41)

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 whole.

This book 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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