PIECE OF MIND: MARIA ST. JOHN, PH.D., M.F.T., UCSF INFANT-PARENT PROGRAM
Daniel Stern once remarked that "a field was born" when Selma Fraiberg coined the phrase "ghosts in the nursery" for the ways in which conflictual aspects of a parent's own past can haunt the present-day infant-parent relationship. In the decades since, the field of infant mental health has flourished, connecting insights from infant development research, maternal-child health, early childhood education, and child psychiatry. Shaping these dialogues are attachment theory, relational theory, and infant observation. Worldwide, infant mental health practitioners intervene with troubled families in early intervention programs, specialty clinics, and private practices.
The Infant-Parent Program (IPP), started by Selma Fraiberg and colleagues in 1979, is a program of the Department of Psychiatry of UCSF based at San Francisco General Hospital and is a designated outpatient clinic of San Francisco Community Behavioral Health Services. IPP has continued to provide community-based psychoanalytically oriented and developmentally informed intervention with ethnically diverse families through years of radical diminution of government support for community mental health, as well as the steady erosion of the welfare system so critical to the survival of vulnerable families. One sustaining counterforce has been irrefutable research evidence in neonatal and pediatric neurology, epidemiology, and developmental psychology supporting what psychoanalysis has long asserted regarding the formative role of early relationships.
Each year the Infant-Parent Program trains eight to twelve students and professionals. Together with these trainees, the program offers infant-parent psychotherapy to approximately 100 local families, addressing parental conflicts that impinge on the ability to accurately perceive and freely respond to their infants, and making room for each infant to develop in a supportive relational context on his or her unique path to coming-into-being as a subject.
Maria St. John, Ph.D., M.F.T.
UCSF Department of Psychiatry Infant-Parent Program