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Zack Boukydis

For the past twenty-five years I have been developing an approach to parent-infant psychotherapy called Focusing-Oriented Parent-Infant Play and Psychotherapy. There is a need to expand training and evaluation of this approach so that it is more accessible to a variety of health, and mental health professionals who work with parents and infants; and to make workshops available to parents. I am seeking funding to make this expansion possible.


Parent-infant play and psychotherapy involves the parent-infant dyad and problems that arise in the relationship and interaction between parent and infant. The work involves intervention with the dyad to improve the attachment relationship between parent and infant; redefine parental misperceptions of infant behavior; articulate parental understanding and response to differences in infant temperamental or emotional style; discover and change influences from the parent’s own history of being parented; and improve parental competence and self esteem. Effective and helpful therapeutic work in infancy prevents chronic dysfunctional patterns in the later parent-child relationship. Thus, much of the work in parent-infant psychotherapy has a clear focus in preventing later mental health disturbance.

Typical referrals for parent-infant psychotherapy include:

- parents of infants in Special Care nurseries who have difficulties in feeling attached to their infant

- parents who overstimulate high-risk substance exposed infants who are highly sensitive to sensory input

- mothers who have post-partum depression and have difficulty interacting with their infant

- parents who are having difficulty handling infants with cry, sleep, or feeding problems

- parents who are threatened and reactive to their infants newly-emerging independence

- parents with inappropriate developmental expectations for their infant

- parents who have suffered prior losses and are having difficulty feeling attached to their infant.


The Focusing-Oriented approach is based on twenty-five years of clinical work and consultation on the parent-infant relationship, and extensive research on parent-infant interaction and the meaning system which develops between parents and infants. The approach is based on a model of empathic relations between parents and infants (Boukydis, 1982) which includes parents’ direct reference to their “felt sense” or bodily felt intuition in interactions with their infants; recovering the capacity to use bodily felt meaning in the relationship; and the importance of preverbal sensory and emotional communication between infant and parent. A whole method of practice for the Focusing-Oriented approach has been developed (Boukydis, 1990).

The Focusing-Oriented approach involves consultation with parents & infants based on:

Focusing and intuition: helping parents to attend to, recover and work from the level of bodily felt meaning of what is happening with their baby

Self knowledge and empathy: teaching parents to attend to their own feeling process, and distinguish between their own feelings and the states of their infant

Accurate observation: sensitivity to infant behavioral cues

Attention to preverbal phenomena: sensitivity to energy states in the infant and in the interaction

Other methods of parent-infant psychotherapy are made more effective when the philosophy and methods of the Focusing-Oriented approach are integrated with existing ways of working.




Contact about your interest and ideas:

Zack Boukydis, Children’s Focusing Corner or The Focusing Institute. Information on last page.

Consider people, foundations, corporate giving, agencies- which may be appropriate for helping to fund the next phase of development of this program.

Consider hosting a parent focused, or professional focused workshop or training series.



This is a general request for funding, outlining several different areas for development of the Focusing-Oriented approach. Separate proposals will be developed for each of these areas.

A. Training

1. Mental/Health Professionals

Funding is needed to organize the next phase of a training program for mental health professionals based on the Focusing-Oriented approach for working with parents and infants. We have already trained a number of health, and mental health professionals in this approach.

The next phase of training will include:

1. a one year training program

2. three day intensive workshops

3. an annual summer training institute.

The training program will be for health and mental health professionals who are working with parents and infants in clinical settings.

2. Parents and Caregivers

We currently have two workshops

- for parents alone: Exploring Infancy Experientially and Focusing and the Inner Infant

- for parents and infants together: Empathy with Your Baby.

In the future, two new programs

- a peer counseling based support program for parents

- a prenatal prevention and support program will be developed.

The peer program will involve training peer counselors who will support new parents and an ongoing group which will teach new skills to reinforce parents understanding of their infant. This training program is based on my book: Support for Parents and Infants:

A Manual for Parenting Organizations and Professionals (Boukydis, 1987).

The prenatal Pre-Parenting Program has been developed to prevent child abuse in at-risk populations by teaching a parenting program to parents in the prenatal period. The Pre-Parenting Program will consist of a number of key components identified by experts and by research as the essential influences required to reduce reactivity to infant crying, develop control over extreme feelings, and build competence in parenting.

The key components are:

1 Biostress Reduction - biofeedback induced systematic control of the stress response to infant crying

2 Self Control - learning to manage anxiety, anger and depression in frequently occurring parenting situations

3 Keys to Infant Behavior and Development - learning infant state control and soothing techniques

4 Models of Optimal Parenting - identifying parents and actual parenting behavior which constitute optimal parenting

5 Parenting Practice - home visits to homes with infants with guided practice in handling, feeding, management of crying

6 Building Supports - identifying important supports for parenting in the family, community, and health care, environment

7 Parenting Mentorship - veteran parents trained to be mentors to new parents.

3. Training Materials

Funding will also be used to develop a manual and videotapes for teaching professionals in the training program; and to expand the workshops with parents so that there is an audiovisual component to the workshops, and a follow-through practice, and self-teaching component after each workshop session.


B. Research

There is a need for different types of research:

1. Efficacy Research

We have done research to identify critical events in Focusing-Oriented Parent-Infant Psychotherapy using videotapes of consultation sessions. A programmatic research program concurrent with ongoing clinical services will be designed to examine: the effectiveness of this method for intervening on, and changing the parent-infant relationship with different populations of parents and infants; the use of this method to prevent future parent-child difficulties (enhance the attachment relationship; aid parental redefinition of infant behavior, enrich parental understanding of infant emotional development and infant temperament); prevention of psychopathology and dysfunctional parent-child relationship patterns.

2. Program Evaluation

New programs such as the peer counseling support program, and the prenatal Pre-Parent program will have ongoing evaluation components in order to determine what components are effective for different populations of parents.


C. Organizational Development

The next phases of organizational development involve:

1. Networking

Funding is needed to develop a network of professionals trained in the Focusing-Oriented approach and to develop a web-site for outlining new methods, presenting research, offering feedback, and so on.

2. Comprehensive Training

Organizational development will include developing systematic training and continuing education courses for professionals, and workshop series for parents and infants which can be implemented in different clinical and educational settings.


Specific goals and methods for each of these areas based on ongoing clinical and training experience are available on request.




Zack Boukydis, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Human Behavior,

Brown University School of Medicine


Infant Development Center, Women & Infants Hospital,

101 Dudley St. Providence RI 02906

Tel: (401)453-7690; extension 101; Fax (401) 453-7639

E-mail: [email protected]