Intensive Interaction emotional development and emotional well-being: by Melanie Nind

For my blog this week I am again summarising a chapter from the book ‘Intensive Interaction Theoretical Perspectives‘ (Ed: Hewett, D. 2011) that I have been rereading recently. This time it is the chapter by Professor Melanie Nind: 

Intensive Interaction, emotional development and emotional well-being 

In this chapter Melanie Nind (now Professor of Education and Director of the Centre for Research in Inclusion at Southampton University) sets out a perspective on Intensive Interaction being concurrently both educational and therapeutic in nature, addressing the important and interrelated issues of emotional well-being and development. 

Initially Melanie relates a little history, pointing to the fact that their students’ emotional well-being was not one of the issues they were thinking about when Intensive Interaction was first developed. However, she then goes on to point out the recent emergence of the concepts of ‘emotional intelligence’ and ‘emotional literacy’, and states that emotions are ‘a crucial and integral component of self development’, and are seen ‘to emerge in the interactions between children and their social surrounds’. She also states that ‘emotions are embedded in the interactive space’ and this explains ‘how intertwined the emotional, social and communicative essentially are’, and therefore Intensive Interaction ‘unconsciously yet actively fosters emotional development’.

Melanie points us to ‘theories of emotional development in infancy‘, referencing Dr Suzanne Zeedyk who argues that ‘intense emotional engagement between mothers and infants is regarded as the best foundation for later development’. She then goes on to draw on studies in developmental psychology, including Dynamic Systems Theory, which doesn’t define emotions as ‘discrete states’ but sees them as dynamic ‘coherent emotion patterns that support infant’s meaningful relationships with others’.

According to Garvey & Fogel (2008) emotions emerge through communication and ‘help punctuate the dynamic flow of communication by opening (or closing) opportunities for individuals to experience themselves in relation to others’, hopefully in ‘a mutually enjoyable and satisfactory experience’ (i.e. via Intensive Interaction). Therefore, through being active agents in interactions, both parties can reciprocally foster ‘a sense of connection with and differentiation from others’, thus building an emotional repertoire. 

Melanie then points to a social-biofeedback model (Gergely & Watson, 1999) which sees infants becoming aware of their emotional dispositions through ‘social mirroring’ i.e. contingent reflections of their own emotions by caregivers ‘modulating the infants affective states before the infant develops mechanisms to do so’. Melanie points to Zeedyk again who, when considering the Intensive Interaction strategy of contingent imitative responding as a powerful means of creating emotional intimacy, states that ‘imitation provides the closest correspondence between self and others!’. She then goes on to discuss the role of touch, which Montagu (1986, 1995) identifies as ‘fundamental to health, well-being and cognitive development’; touch having ‘a deep emotional and psychological significance’ and is ‘a primary means for providing comfort and for communicating empathy’. 

Melanie also looks at ‘Attachment Theory’ (Bowlby, 1969), stating that the attachment experiences of an individual are ‘hypothesised to impact on the individual’s later relationships’, as individuals build ‘internal working models’ of their primary relationships (and how to regulate their associated internal states), with good attachment states creating a ‘relational place of safety’. She then relates how Intensive Interaction has helped parents feel ‘newly connected to their children’, and also advises a ‘team approach’ to prevent potential attachments that, if broken, might cause ‘isolation and hurt’. 

Melanie sets out a holistic view of promoting emotional well-being, so that instead of looking at ‘individual problems’ it is better to look at ‘environments’ and ‘positive capacities’ rather than ‘problems and deficits’. The building of an Intensive Interaction ‘culture’ is seen as being particularly effective where a community can ‘foster productive, pleasant relationships, teamwork [and] mutual responsibility...’. Indeed, she identifies Intensive Interaction as helping create ‘emotionally healthy environments’.

Finally, Melanie argues that Intensive Interaction has a clear place among the other more traditionally identified ‘therapeutic approaches‘ (and therefore it is not solely educational), and also argues (correctly in my view) against those who take a position in which teaching/learning and emotional well-being are seen as separate or discrete issues.

It is well worth a read!

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