Amazing research has been done around the neurobiological development of a baby/child’s brain and the impact of the long-term effect both positive and negative through the relationship experiences of these early years.
PW ‘s sensory-grounded signal-based approach for engaging in relationships is an excellent complement and practice to work alongside and with the attachment and neurobiological paradigm. They both emphasize the connection between the complex set of sensory perceptions associated with human interactions – the face, smile, voice, touch and smell, which stimulate the neural networks mediating pleasure. This pleasure is seen as the human interactions that is the important neurobiological “glue” that bonds and creates healthy relationships.
PW has developed differentiated ways of engaging with both verbal and non-verbal signals and which are well suited to the sort of awareness, attunement and communication that is needed with a baby and small child. Communication signals from a baby are usually a mixture of analogical sounds and movements – a cry, coo, gurgle, look, turn their head and eyes, move their arms and legs (especially when lying on their backs), seek the nipple for food, etc.. Responding to these signals in a positive way would be to engage with either the crying or cooing in a way that helps the baby feel related to, cared for and loved. Not responding or responding with a voice or look that is grumpy or unfriendly will make the baby feel scared and unsure.
Some people have a natural ability to attune to their baby/child in a way that these unspoken communication signals are felt and “understood” and so are able to respond in a way which evokes positive feedback from the baby….a coo, smile, a deep searching look at you, – you coo back, look into their eyes, go cochi cochi coo, and so the conversation goes on. This way of engaging with these signals and the babies having positive feedback to their signals is crucial for the babies’ well-being, sense of self and experiencing of caring and creative relationships with others.
In Process Oriented Psychology, Arnold Mindell ( Process Mind, C13) talks about entangled co-creation and how reality comes about through a process of reflection. The observer and the observed experience each other and thereby co-create reality. We co-create together. The connection between the observer and the observed (in this situation the carer and the baby) is “entangled co-creation”. If you think about any of your own relationships – have you noticed how the other person’s face changes in response to how yours changes? In the very early years of a child’s life this entangled-co-creation is especially powerful.
Sometimes carers/ parents are not able to attune and/or respond to the baby’s signals in a positive way, or do so in a detrimental way to the baby. When a process worker enters into such a “home” or field the focus of attention is widened to include the carers and entire family. We would ask ourselves – can we enter this field without a proscribed attitude – can we stay open and able to engage with exactly where the family are? For example, if it is found that part of what is happening is that the carer is just not able to care or respond to the baby, the Process Work practitioner would need to be able to embody “being responsive” to the carer as this is a missing attitude, or role in the situation and needs to be filled.
The practitioner would also want to find out what is trying to happen by “not responding”. She would consider that “not responding” is somehow needed in the situation and bring awareness to it, so that the adult can be helped to be aware of this need in themselves, and to find a way of responding to it, while at the same time helping them take responsibility for the care of their baby/child. Every aspect of the family’s field needs to be seen and appreciated for the benefit of the whole. The trouble and difficulty that is happening has some wisdom in it, and through staying close to the communication signals from and between all the members of the family, the way forward will emerge.
The attitudes we bring with us as therapists will be felt by everyone. Our aim would be to be helpful to the baby/child as the baby is the most vulnerable and has least voice (or rank) in the system, but would also stay open to the meaning of the disturbance in a way that takes care of each person and the whole family situation.
Rank refers here to the level or amount of power that each person has in any particular situation. The baby’s cries and smiles have some rank because of the effect it potentially has on the adults. However, overall, the power to engage or ignore is with the adults, and the “voice” of the baby/child will need focussed support.
Studying the interactions between each person in the family system, we would look for the other “ghost” roles in the system. That means looking for both, what is disturbing the family, and what is missing or needed and not present. We recognise “ghost” roles through listening to what is implied by the family members, but not mentioned directly. Or sometimes in “negations” in which people say. For example a mother saying “I am fine, I don’t need help anymore”. So “needing help” is a ghost, the mother is not able to identify with needing help, but actually does need help.
As well as thinking about the relationships between the members of the family, and the problems that are being presented we would also want to find out about deeper parts of the family. What does the family dream about or strive for? What are they longing for? Trying to find and feel the essence of the family – feelings and dreams in the background. As facilitators we might ask the family to feel into these things, when they had a sense of that, then to ask them to associate a place or spot in Nature that connects to these background feelings and dreams. These spots in Nature that resonate with their deepest dreams opens up and puts them in touch with their inner resourcefulness.
For a practitioner it is also essential to be able to connect to this deeper and “dreaming” level of the family situation. It gives the practitioner access to the meaningful common ground of the family. Engaging in this way will help the family feel connected to and not invaded or “therapised”. It also gives access to a sense of a deep presence that would be a resource, while engaging with their troubles.
The aim of the attachment model is to appreciate and respond to the crucial development of the baby/child attachment needs at specific times and in specific ways. Being able to attune to the baby and mother/father family situation and intervene in ways that takes care of the whole situation so that the baby/child has the opportunity to optimum development and well-being.
PW ‘s multi-levelled approach for engaging in relationships is an excellent complement and practice to work alongside and with the attachment and neurobiological paradigm.