Seeing is Believing: Reaching beyond words – using video to re-story parent-child relationship by Carry Gorney

Seeing is Believing is an exciting new approach to working with the mother-infant relationship that has been developed by Carry Gorney based on a preventive intervention for new parents STEEP (Steps Toward Effective, Enjoyable Parenting) which was originally evaluated at the University of Minnesota.

It is based around the use of video to help parents/carers who would benefit from support in their relationship with their child/ or child in their care, to improve the parent-child connection.  Although this approach can be used across a wide age range and with both fathers and mothers, Carry has used it predominantly with young children and infants and their mothers.

Video of play sessions is used to capture ‘sparkling moments’ in the relationship between children and parents/adults, and these ‘sparkling moments’ are used to start to tell a different story about the parent-child relationship.  The video is edited and excerpts showing successful interaction, no matter how brief, are used to show to the parent and use as a basis for discussion of skills, ability, knowledge and intention.  These excerpts provide parents/ adults with concrete evidence that they are doing a good job and support confidence in their skills, often in the face of professional stories to the contrary.  Parents are provided with a DVD documenting this new understanding at the end of the work.

Carry is in conversation with Hugh Fox, explaining the program in detail, how it was developed and the different contexts in which it has been used.


Carry Gorney was a community artist and activist in the 1970s  and subsequently worked as a Narrative and Family therapist in the English public health system (NHS), Child and adolescent mental health. She was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 1993 which she used to research interventions for new mothers and their babies and as a result  developed ‘Seeing is Believing’. She has recently published a memoir ‘Send me a parcel with a hundred lovely things’ (available  on Amazon) and currently works as a writer and artist.

Published March 24, 2016

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Nic Horley

    Hi there Carry,

    I loved the language of this approach. I am currently looking into an approach for the team I work in (Perinatal Mental Health) to adopt with Mums who’s relationship with their baby is tricky. Thanks so much.

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    Ray Lazarus

    I loved hearing about your work, Carry. It took me back to watching some videos made by a South African colleague, Linda Richter, many years ago, videoing poor Black women, many of them depressed,with their infants or young children, many of them severely malnourished . Linda’s videos ‘noticed’ how the loving gestures of mothers who were able to respond to their babies could draw them back almost from the point of death. Similar to your work with care-workers, Linda also used video in children’s wards to help nursing staff to understand and respond in a more caring way to young children separated from their mothers, seeing their crying not as ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’ but as communicating distress. I learned from Linda’s work, as I am reminded by yours, the value of that kind of ‘noticing’. I do wonder, though, how much our choice of moments worth noticing reflects a particular(Western)perspective of how parent-child relationships ‘ought to be’. Or can we indeed assume that those loving moments, the choice to spend time interacting with a child, are universal truths? I don’t know the answer to that, only that helping parents and children to be with each other in mutually enjoyable ways seems worth doing!

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      Carry Gorney

      Thank you for commenting Ray. Linda Richter’s work sounds really good, I was particularly interested in the hospital work, how in the training context we can use video to give different meanings to behaviour. You have a key question, making us wary of Western assumptions. However, what we do know is that universally most mothers want the best for their children and that includes communicating with each other pre-language.
      Maybe we can trust that?

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    marta campillo

    Thank you so much for sharing your work with mothers and children, something that stood out to me was the capturing unique outcomes of the interaction that become de video snips that are brought into the conversation and through questions about their relations with the child and making transparent and visual what she is doing and the impact of their interaction (circular questioning) so that their given a name and are recognized as “good mothering skills” and so a different story is being created. Also the way to recover the story of learning such abilities that are being seeing as the video interactions with the baby are uncover and storied and tracked to their learning origen with re-membering questions that expand the story to incorporate other relatives that are far away and how they are part of this history. Using video as part of the extertilizing conversations becomes a great tool to facilitate making visible the differences when an unmaned skill is performed and can be seen. Your work leaves me enthusiastic to explore how to incorporte into narrative play therapy.

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      Carry Gorney

      Thank you Marta for your reflections on this work. The therapeutic conversation is central to this work. However, when using Seeing is Believing with mothers who have minimal language skills within the host country it has often been enough just to watch the video and be alongside the mother (parent) as she watches her unfolding relationship with her child.

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    Carry Gorney

    Hello Yuk King
    Thank you so much for your generous comments about my work. I learnt in my journey through feminism that often womens’ understanding and experience of our world comes through the detail of every day. The writings of Carole Gilligan and Nancy Chodorow have helped me to unpack and take care of the smallest moments.
    I have written above some comments on the constraining nature of dominant ideologies which dominate policy decisions in parenting and education.
    I love the use of your word ‘ tenderness’…indeed how to we find that tenderness in the discourses of our personal and professional lives.

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    LAU Yuk-king

    Thank you Carry for sharing her beautiful work with mothers with infants. These mothers are mostly immigrants and refugees. With English as my second language, I can image how hard it is to be a mother in a context that you do not have the language. I feel the unspoken tenderness and caring through the use of video and a home-based approach. Carry’s work impressed me with her focus on the tiny and “ordinary” – the competence that has just taken for granted. She resurrects the skills, knowledge, and history of the mothers’ own wisdom and competence, at the same time, honouring those who have contributed and participated in the wisdom. Rather than imposing grand theories such as attachment theory in facilitating the parent-child connection, she facilitates the mothers to make their own meanings on their spontaneous responses to and interactions with the infants. The mother-infant connection is guided by the mother’s preferred values and commitments, not driven by the dominant ideologies and standard on what is a good mother.

    In addition to her work with the mothers and infants, she also takes video on the work of the care workers with the same focus on tiny competence. I feel the unspoken tenderness and caring of her work again. I consider myself to be a demanding teacher and clinical supervisor, Carry’s tenderness reminds to focus on my students’ and supervisees’ tiny competence. I consider Carry’s work is a blessing to the mothers, the infant and the care workers.

    Warmest wishes
    Yuk King
    From Hong Kong

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    Kirsten Wilson

    Thank you Carry for sharing the beautiful work that you do. I was really touched by how you spoke with such kindness about noticing the moments that these mothers were doing well, those moments that you pointed out they were already doing in their lives, but finding ways to show them that gave them a sense of confidence in who they were as mums. So often I find that we are pushed to hold an expert role with the people that we work alongside, to the point of being instructed at times to ‘teach about parenting’. I find this so difficult on many levels and weave my way around not holding this position. Your sharing of these stories has reconnected me with my own preferred ways of holding a role where you are involved in some very personal and intimate moments of families lives. Of how I can create that space where the family do not feel they are being judged by a system that continually points out their faults rather than highlighting their achievements. I loved how you spoke about watching those moments of video, sometimes language or words were not needed. That the ‘hammering home’ of what was happening in those moments was not always necessary.

    I was interested at your comment that you let the mothers know if their child started to cry then these were not the moments you were going to film. I wondered about this for a couple of reason. For me I thought how lovely it would be to support confidence and knowing for that woman on how she might have comforted that child in the hope to foster connection within the soothing. However then I considered how often mothers in these situations might feel judged and watched, and should the mother not respond to her child in a way that was seen as lovely or a sparkling moment, what that might mean for her to re watch the clips with you and not have that moment included. What that might reinforce to her about the judgement she already experiences. So as I processed that I came to my own reasoning why that may be, however I would be interested in what others think. As I was thinking it initially as well, I was aware of how I was being pulled into the ‘expert’ role, which as much as I dislike, I admit still has a hold and tries to draw me into its way of responding.

    As I listened to your words, I found myself thinking about and connecting with the moments that I have shared with mothers over the years and how magical it would be to have caught those beautiful moments with them and their children on video. Thank you again for sharing your work and for reconnecting me with the many women who have allowed me to have space within their lives over the years.


    1. Avatar
      Carry Gorney

      Hello Kirsten. Thanks for your comments and highlighting an area I have been uncertain about whilst doing this work. When we are looking for stories of hope and possibility how far do we close off what might be less comfortable? I have never been sure about stopping filming when parents cope with a child crying, a tantrum, defiance. It is hard to ask the parents’ view at that moment, sometimes the act of filming itself distracts and quietens the child. Yes I agree, a parent watching him/herself soothing a child could indeed support confidence. We both are very concerned to avoid a parent feeling judged. Maybe the decisions depends on the circumstances of the referral; how far this parent has been monitored by other agencies and how we see our own position.
      Best wishes

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    Chanelle Burns

    Thank you for this insightful and rich video, Carry. There was much that captured my attention and I continue to ponder on the learnings and insights.

    I was struck by your comments about the simplicity of video. I have been guilty of thinking that it is too complicated and your video had me thinking differently. I appreciated the ways that you shared so clearly with parents about the use of the video and why exactly you would be using it. I was interested in your comments that is an accessible an non-threatening tool, especially for those who might not speak English as a first language. I think that your careful explanation of the use of the video made it less threatening and accessible. This has me thinking about the ways that I might introduce the use of video in my practice in the future. I have found in my exploration of the use of written documentation, that people I work with seem to be more comfortable with my note-taking when they know what it is contributing to…It seems that this idea might also apply when one is making use of video.

    There was something about the ways that you noticed, witnessed and was curious about the sparkling moments alongside the mothers that stood out to me. While the video captured and recorded these moments for viewing later, I appreciated seeing how you were in the work alongside the mothers and infants. You spoke of particularly noticing and witnessing what the mothers are doing well and what was working, rather than what was not working. Too often parents I meet with, many who are newly settling in Australia, think that they need to ‘parent’ in a particular way that fits with dominant ideas of parenting in Australia. I often share with them about how I am more interested in hearing about their ideas of parenting, their histories and experiences of being parented and what is working for them as parents. You have reminded me of how these ways of inquiring make connections to stories that might not have been told for some time and also connect parents to their knowledge and skills of parenting. I really like the idea of working in ways that support parents to, ‘find their own way’. The notion of finding one’s own way as a parent suggests that there are many ways to parent and resists ideas of right and wrong. If it’s ok with you, I am going to borrow the language of parents ‘finding their own way’ as I feel that it give words and depth to the ways that I am endeavouring to engage with parents. Further to this, your video has me thinking about how I might create opportunities for parents to ‘see’ themselves in relationship with their children. While you have given a wonderful insight into how videos can significantly contribute to this ‘seeing’, you have also had me realise that I can choose to position myself to notice and witness sparkling moments in relationships at any moment, creating a sort of ’seeing’ and also entry ways into rich stories of being parented and parenting.

    Thanks again, Carry!

    Warmest wishes,


    1. Avatar
      Carry Gorney

      Thanks so much for your comments Chanelle.
      I too have been very aware of ideas in our society about ‘the right way of parenting’. How we address this and support parents to build confidence ‘in their own way’ is a challenge I addressed through Seeing is Believing. The dominant discourse seems to me powerful and achievement orientated. Showing video clips within the family, say to grandparents, has led parents to value their ancestors and own cultural approaches to child rearing, thus balancing out goal-orientated influences.
      I have been concerned that our emphasis on the written word can distance and alienate families who have less confidence in their own levels of literacy. This has led me to visual work both in community and therapeutic contexts. Not either or…but images seem to me to be an immediate currency and can speak directly to and from the heart.
      Good wishes

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    Thank you Carry for describing so richly your Seeing is Believing work!
    What particularly stood out for me, along with the moment where that woman’s hand touched the child’s hand for one powerful second, was ‘allowing the moment to be there’; that ideas or reflections do not need to be ‘hammered home’. That moment- her hand in his, that moment- her smile when she watched that back.
    In my work I do not have the language skills to communicate with the families I work with in their first language, and so I have been learning to use other ways of building the alternative stories of their lives. Still, I notice myself at times getting pulled in to ‘making a point’, then making it again in bold and underlined, wanting to make sure the point is marked clearly. You remind me that this is not necessary; that by being in the moment- and with video, replaying the moment, and being in the moment again, the point is made clearly enough!
    This has reminded me of a lot of important things, one of these is that I am too often invited into a space of criticism of parents/ carers as the framework which my team works from talks of being ‘child centred’. As much as I try to stay in a position of curiosity around values/ intentions, and noticing very lovely moments, I find I have strayed too often. You remind me how in my being most helpful with children and their caregivers is to let any of the interactions that are not so lovely slip away from my focus, and to adjust the lens for the lovely ones. I look forward to noticing my skill at sensing when these are coming improving too….
    Thanks so much 🙂

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      Carry Gorney

      Hello Liv, I really value your comments on my work. Yes, I too have had to pull myself away from ‘making a point’. Its somehow trusting the connections to be made at another level. I see the video approach working with the metaphors of image and film and perhaps leaving the client, indeed ourselves, with the metaphor and not unpacking it, is perhaps the most respectful.
      If I go to an art exhibition I never listen to the audio, just look at the pictures and give space to my own responses, maybe watching the video is similar.

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