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

As I have been thinking recently about the use of Intensive Interaction from a therapeutic perspective, for my blog this week I am summarising a chapter from the book ‘Intensive Interaction: Theoretical Perspectives‘ (Ed: Hewett, D. 2011) by Professor Melanie Nind: 

Intensive Interaction, emotional development and emotional well-being‘ 

In this chapter Melanie Nind (Intensive Interaction originator and now Professor of Education at Southampton University) sets out a position on Intensive Interaction that is concurrently educational and therapeutic in nature, addressing the important and interrelated issues of a person’s development and their emotional well-being. 

Initially, Melanie sets out a little history, pointing to the fact that when she, Dave Hewett and the staff team at Harperbury Hospital School first developed Intensive Interaction in the 1980s, their students’ emotional well-being was not one of the issues that they really considered. However, she then goes on to point out the recent emergence of the concepts such as ‘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 interconnected ‘the emotional, social and communicative essentially are’, and that Intensive Interaction ‘unconsciously yet actively fosters emotional development’.

According to Garvey & Fogel (2008) emotions emerge through communication which creates ‘opportunities for individuals to experience themselves in relation to others’, and through Intensive Interaction, this can create ‘a mutually enjoyable and satisfactory experience’. Therefore, through being active agents within ongoing social interactions, both parties within an interaction can reciprocally facilitate ‘a sense of connection with and differentiation from others’. 

Melanie then points to a ‘social-biofeedback model’ (Gergely & Watson, 1999) which sees infants becoming aware of their emotional states through ‘social mirroring’ i.e. contingent reflections of their own emotions by caregivers ‘modulating the infant’s affective states before the infant develops mechanisms to do so’. Melanie references Dr Suzanne Zeedyk who, when considering the Intensive Interaction strategy of contingent imitative responding, 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’ which is ‘a primary means for providing comfort and for communicating empathy’. 

In her chapter 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...’.

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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