Founding theories

La Maison buissonnière was established based on Françoise Dolto’s work on early childhood development and the Maison verte model she developed in the 1970s in Paris.

As was the case at the Maison verte, La Maison Buissonière receives very young children and provides psychoanalytic listening services to address the challenges and difficulties of family life. These services are not therapy. Above all, we provide a context for children to come to express themselves. We welcome even the youngest children as full-fledged persons, addressing them directly, rather than speaking about them. We also listen to what children are communicating to us through their body language, symbolic play and behaviour. We strive, along with them, to understand the situations that they are in or that they witness.

At La Maison buissonnière, it is the presence of a trusted adult (a relative or caregiver) that grounds children in their identity. This presence allows children to take the plunge into social life, while preserving the continuity of their own life. In this way, children can seek comfort and assistance from a present adult to rebuild their confidence, should an experience that is too difficult or daring cause them to feel lost or defeated.

One of the main concepts we apply in our welcoming space is François Dolto’s “unconscious image of the body.” Dolto developed this concept in her clinical experiences with infants and young children to describe the mode of being that children develop progressively from the time they are born, based on their affective interactions with those around them. This concept addresses the very specific and particular way each person has of living and of establishing connections with others. So, the unconscious image of the body is not really an image, but the way in which we see ourselves in relation to others.

As children grow up, their needs and desires change. Previous modes of fulfilment must be given up so that new, increasingly more sophisticated modes may take their place and children can move on to a more advanced stage. This transitional process of giving up previous modes of fulfilment is what Françoise Dolt calls symbolic castration. The transition involved must always be progressive, and must only be initiated when children are ready. Most importantly, it must be accompanied by spoken guidance that helps children understand and symbolize sensory interactions and experiences. At La Maison buissonnière, we try to facilitate this process by providing rudimentary, clear, simple rules that must be followed by all. In this way, children cannot give in to their overpowering urges. Accompanying adults and welcoming facilitators cannot do as they please either. Indeed, a social code specific to this space governs everyone’s conduct.

Our practice at La Maison buissonnière is also based on the idea of transitional phenomena, as defined by D.W. Winnicott. At a very primitive stage, Winnicott held that the immaturity of an infant’s inner self is first compensated for by the support of an effectively present mother. Little by little, the infant’s own activity leads to an object (the transitional object), which, from time to time, makes it possible for the infant to do without tangible maternal support. Next, the time comes when the infant internalizes the mother, who supports the infant’s inner self and the infant is able to spend time alone without running to the mother. La Maison buisonnière provides a space in which children’s experiences can be acted out, where they can distance themselves a little from accompanying adults, then get closer again, testing their own ability to become independent.

As Winnicott would have said, children can thereby learn to play independently in the presence of their mother, father or another trusted adult.