On Saturday, October 16th, 2010, a world-renowned researcher of developmental science, T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., came to speak at MSPP. Also presenting were: Myron Hofer, MD, Barry Lester, PhD, Jayne Singer, PhD, and Joshua Sparrow, MD. Topics included the newborn infant’s capacity for state regulation; ways in which the newborn shapes the care-giving environment; newborn attachment behaviors and their meanings; the impact of maternal depression on mutual regulation; the impact of different subtypes of maternal depressive symptomatology; non-linear models of development; developmental disorganization on parental functioning; and implications for clinical intervention.
MSPP hosts regular Continuing Education programs for those in the mental health field. This particular program was important because of Dr. Brazelton’s many critical contributions to child development and parenting. Brazelton was a leading voice in challenging the idea that children enter the world with a blank slate (tabula rasa). His research on the way that babies respond to parents, compared to how they respond to other people, led to nation-wide maternity leave as outlined by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Dr. Brazelton was also one of a handful of researchers to prove that development does not occur in a straight line, but there are times when skills regress. Toddlers who were previously able to sleep through the night may begin to wake in the middle of the night and cry because there are monsters in the room. This regression of skills is normal and illustrates the child’s growing cognitive ability to imagine.
On November 5, 2010, I interviewed my field site supervisor, school psychologist Michael Niewiecki, Ph.D. Dr. Niewiecki attended the “Learning From Babies” program because of his background and interest in child development.
J: As a School Psychologist, what made you decide to attend T. Berry Brazelton’s “Learning From Babies” program?
M: I had come into school psychology through childhood education, so my focus has always been on younger elementary and early intervention-type services and supports. Also, coming in through early childhood education has meant that I have had an increased awareness of developmental factors and the importance of supporting development as an orientation to the work. I took a class on neuropsychological assessment of the newborn as an elective, so I was familiar with Brazelton and his impact on developmental science.
J: What were your impressions of T. Berry Brazelton and his presentation?
M: I just like him a lot. I like how he approaches the work first from his heart but always using his head. He’s a human first, and a scientist second. And that is how I approach working with kids. And in doing so, what I like about him is he sort of finds the strength even in families that are really struggling. Because of that, there is empathy. As a scientist, some people don’t look so great on paper. Sometimes it can hurt to look at a child’s family on paper, but Brazelton doesn’t look at them that way first. He sees the strength and resiliency in infants and families.
J: What did you learn from this program that may help you in your profession?
M: One of the reasons why I went was I’m always looking for my next professional inspiration, or a topic or skill set that I would like to learn. I finish with things a little quick so I need to keep myself inspired in my work. What I gained was more self reflection about why I come to work. I come to work more like Brazelton and I encourage myself to stay that way. So what I gained was a reminder and a recharger empathy battery. I also gained a little more understanding on epigenetics and fetal programming. He didn’t talk about them a lot, but it was better defined than what I had previously heard. It was interesting to hear people wonder what scientists will find next, and it inspired my own curiosity.
J: What was your impression of MSPP as a host site for this event?
M: I thought it was great. I think it’s important for places like MSPP to keep reminding themselves that much of the positive things that we know about child development did not come from Clinical or School Psychologists, but Medical Doctors, Developmental Psychologists, and Early Childhood Educators. We have a common knowledge base that is important to honor.
J: What are some School Psychology-related issues that you would like to see addressed in future Continuing Education programs?
M: I would like MSPP to grapple with bullying. I think there was a program earlier this year, but I heard it got canceled. That’s too bad because it’s a major concern in school psychology. It relates to the broader issue of the school and it’s important to school psychology to help us grapple with this.