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Candidate Hisako Watanabe
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President Elect Candidate

Hisako Watanabe, M.D., Ph. D., Life Development Center, Watanabe Clinic



Hisako Watanabe is a child psychiatrist in Japan who has integrated Western trans-disciplinary, neurobiological and psychodynamic approaches with Japanese concept of Amae. Trained at the Tavistock Clinic, she has participated in WAIMH activities since 1986, and has pursued manifold practice and researches. She founded a national forum for studies of infants and neonatal development support in Japan, conducted post-disaster care of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and made outreach visit to Bangladesh. She maintains that WAIMH has a crucial role in this pandemic by responding to diverse voices from around the world. 


Hisako Watanabe

Nomination letter for WAIMH President-Elect position

 It is with great sense of duty and privilege that I submit this letter of interest to serve as President- elect on the Board of World Association for Infant Mental Health (WAIMH).   

I am a child psychiatrist in Japan who has integrated Western trans-disciplinary, neurobiological, systems and psychodynamic approaches with Japanese concept of Amae. (Amae is a concept referring to the affective, non-verbal mental wellness activated within the infant-caregiver relationships.) In my career of over four decades, I have developed innovative, comprehensive approaches to resolve divergent psychosocial problems of children and families in rapidly industrializing yet deeply traditional society of Japan. My Amae therapy empowers the primary caregiver by inducing intuitive parenting, facilitated by the child’s attachment needs, and leading to a new encounter with reciprocity and affect attunement, all of which are rooted in infancy.   

Infant mental health urges us to go back to the basics of human virtues of intuitive mutual care and protection to persist in quality coexistence.

When I first attended the WAIMH Stockholm Congress in 1986, my eyes were opened to infant mental health (IMH) as a transdisciplinary science and art of early life, crucial in understanding human mind and behavior. There, I was inspired by the work of IMH pioneers such as Brazelton, Stern, Lebovici, Emde, and Cramer, just to name a few.  I owe them enormous gratitude for being my mentors over the years, helping me promote IMH work throughout Japan. Further studying their work led me to seeking out training in psychoanalytic approach at the Tavistock Clinic, and later in communicative musicality by Colwyn Trevarthen. Infant mental health perspective became a lens of mind microscope for me to probe into the inner world of others.  I have continued to participate in WAIMH activities, pursuing manifold practice and researches.    

In 1997, I founded a national forum for studies of infants and neonatal development support in Japan, named FOUR WINDS (Forum of Universal Workings of Infant and Neonatal Developmental Support), which has been steadily gaining momentum over the past 22 years with its members developing expertise through ongoing shared learning and annual IMH conferences.  My ongoing leadership experience in bringing together small communities of professionals across the country has affirmed my belief that deep wisdom exists within communities, each with its unique history and cultural practices that inform how families with young children are supported.  When Japan was devastated by the Great East   Japan Earthquake and Tsunami with ensuing nuclear power plant accident, I immediately set up a post-disaster care project with my colleagues in the disaster region  and others from the FOUR WINDS community.  Living in a nation where earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and floods, as well as manmade assaults by nuclear bombs, constantly impinge on our daily life, I am starkly aware that each disaster and trauma victim suffers and holds their lived story however silent they may appear. My ongoing commitment to the people who survived the Great Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 taught me that deep mourning for the loss of loved ones and home land evokes devastation which is closely connected to irreparable despair and resolution never to taste it again.  It is within such historical, cultural, and relational contexts that many infants and young children live and learn.  

In my most recent outreach visit to Bangladesh, I encountered young infant supporters, who sensitively conducted intuitive nurturing models of care. This has prompted me to learn more from the wisdom of broader communities around the world.  It is my belief that WAIMH will mature into a truly world organization through expanding its horizon to meet with those who care in dire situations in different corners of the world. WAIMH also has a crucial role in the current COVID-19 pandemic by responding to diverse voices from around the world and enhancing the morale and professionalism of those committed to the wellbeing of infants, their families, and their communities. 

President Kai von Klizing has led the difficult task of trying to submit the WAIMH Position Paper on the Right of the Infant to the United Nation’s Committee on the Right of the Children (CRC). The CRC has decided to include the importance of infancy in its general comment, a small but crucial step forward. As the world is witnessing calamities impinging on infants and young children, we have to resolve to make the world hold awareness of the sufferings of infants and to urge policy makers to deliver effective measures of prevention, protections and provision of nurturing environment.  

The WAIMH Congress is a keystone activity of the organization, which brings people together from all corners of the world, where friendships develop swiftly in the warmth of infant mental health culture. The unfortunate cancellation of the 2020 Brisbane WAIMH congress due to the current COVID-19 pandemic has made us sad, reminding us that the WAIMH congress has been a place of precious communion and relationship building for our profession. Personally, my experience at the Stockholm Congress became a nodal point in my career.  The new realities that necessitated the cancellation of the WAIMH congress has also taught us that we must be willing to embrace flexibility and equip ourselves to consider alternative ways of communication by creating a virtual network system which could be used easily at a crisis like this pandemic.  

Having served for years as a WAIMH executive at large, I have brought perspectives of Asian communities such as China, Japan, and Bangladesh and other parts of the world to the WAIMH Board.  As an international organization, embracing transdisciplinary science and art in quest of the truth of earliest human life, WAIMH has a crucial role to guide the international communities in understanding the impact of this uncharted waters of COVID19 pandemic and other crises on our youngest citizens and those that support them.  I would like to challenge us all to come together and draw attention on the plight of infants and young children from around the world, who have no voice.  As I realize how powerfully our lessons from infancy and IMH unite us universally, WAIMH can expand its horizon by tapping into the voices and wisdom of a wider population of citizens, especially of younger generations inspiring them to be reflective of their inner infants. 

WAIMH with a solid understanding of the effect of relationships on relationships, has the capacity to act as an agency to unite the world to mobilize and enhance human potential and resiliency. 

Yours Sincerely, 
Hisako Watanabe, M.D., Ph.D.