Authors of recent studies on abuse have proposed that trauma and related traumatic experiences have important implications for parent-child relationships, and may disrupt normal attachment behavior in children. These studies have primarily examined previous trauma and long-term sequela of severe childhood and adolescent psychopathology from the perspective of attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980). The central premise of attachment theory is that the security of the early child-parent bond is reflected in the child's interpersonal relationships across the life span (Schneider, Tardif, & Atkinson, 2001). This article examines attachment theory as a theoretical context for understanding trauma and attachment based models of family therapy from the perspective of behavior analysis. The present article proposes a research model to provide the context to examine how abuse and neglect, separation or loss, family therapy, parent-child relationships, and secure attachments can be integrated to predict positive outcomes in families with adoptive and foster children.
Research studies focusing on mediating the long-term sequela of abuse have repeatedly argued that feeling secure is our most primary social need, and that a history of pathogenic care can interfere with secure attachment and disrupt healthy development in children (Howe, Brandon, Hinnings, & Schofield, 1999; Schneider, Tardif, & Atkinson, 2001). This is especially true in foster and adoptive families in which children have been abused or neglected as part of their early experiences. Research on foster children and problematic attachment has consistently found that long-term sequela of abuse creates strain on attachment with their adoptive parents (Berry & Barth, 1989; Dyer, 2004; O'Connor & Zeanah, 2003). This strain in the children's lives, often through multiple placements, increases the likelihood of difficulties across a range of development. Research investigating abuse and insecure attachment behavior in foster and adoptive children has linked these factors to emotional and behavioral difficulties in these children.
This article looks at the emotional and behavioral symptoms associated with abused children placed in foster and adoptive families from a multidimensional complex of systemic and contextual factors that impact behavior. The research model underlying this multidimensional complex provides the context to examine the many important roles of family members and other reinforcing agents, and presents a rationale for a behavioral treatment approach for abused children and their adoptive parents. The rationale underlying this behavioral approach assumes that overcoming long-term consequences of abuse is subject to the same lawful inevitability as other behavior (Wolpe, 1978), and challenges the allegation that children have a continued dependency on the external structure in behavioral treatment programs. Individual differences in abused and neglected children are determined by previous learning in relation to particular perceptions and unique experiences. Although much learning is reinforced though external consequences, the relative importance of this multidimensional behavioral approach assumes that the "character of an (abused child's) responses is inevitably controlled and is determined by previous learning, and in other instances subserved by other reinforcing agents" (Wolpe, 1978). Reasons are given for rejecting the views of traditional therapists and others that talking about trauma to "co-construct the meaning" or that recognition of "emotion" is necessary for healthy behavior change. Questions are raised which suggest that traditional family therapy provides an environment for learned dysfunctional habits that are then reinforced in therapy.
In the case of foster and adopted children, the development of a secure and coherent pattern of attachment behaviors toward their caregivers is heralded as the primary indicator of positive change in the family. While many commentators within the field of adoption and foster parenting have argued against assuming a linear model (Hart & Thomas, 2000; Howe, 1999; Howe Brandon, Hinings, & Schofield, 1999), no research or paper has addressed the potential importance of traditional family therapy and the direction of causality between changes in the quality of caregiver-child relationships and a concomitant reduction in attachment related problems. The present article, therefore, develops a research model or framework for examining the family therapy approach for building secure attachments and achieving positive outcomes for families. This research model provides the context to examine how abuse, separation or loss, family therapy, parent-child relations, and secure attachments can be integrated to predict positive outcomes in families with adoptive and foster children. Because existing work in attachment theory and family therapy tends to focus on only one or two levels of the social system, blurring the distinction between changes in the quality of caregiver-child relationships and fostering healthy or secure attachments in children placed in foster and adoptive families, the following research model was proposed to facilitate a critical examination (See Figure 1) of the therapeutic process from a behavioral perspective. The model to be analyzed here from a behavioral analysis perspective is designed to clarify and assess the effect of family therapy on parent child relationships and changes in family outcomes. Attachment impairment, such as a poor parentchild relationship, is hypothesized to reduce or change family outcomes.
This theoretical research model is based on the family therapy model derived from work in attachment theory and provides the context for understanding trauma and traditional models of family therapy from the perspective of behavior analysis. The purpose of this model is to provide a context to examine the effect of family therapy on parent-child relationships and changes in family outcomes, and the relevant but implicit behavioral principles operating in the attachment rebuilding process (See Figure 2). This research model is fundamentally grounded in the notion that in the case where family therapy and attachment issues are paramount, an understanding of learning theory and the application of behavioral analysis may be more effective in promoting healthy parent-child relationships than traditional family therapy. This model provides the context to examine the many roles of children placed in foster care and adoptive families and other reinforcing agents, including the mental health professional or therapist and the reciprocal relationship between the therapist and child and other family members. This model is based on the integration of Attachment Theory and the Attachment Based Family Therapy model with basic concepts and principles of behavior analysis. See Figures in appendix.
Attachment Theory and Research
Bowlby's earlier work (1956, 1969) described the childhood coping reactions and emotional development of children raised in institutional settings. Bowlby hypothesized that institutionalized children go through distinct stages of protest (i.e., cry, complain), despair (i.e., depression, hopelessness) and detachment (i.e., withdraw, indifferent) in infancy. He proposed that these early life experiences interfere with the emotional bond between parent and child in childhood, and impact relationships and adjustment outside the family.
In his later works (1973, 1988), Bowlby expanded this idea and hypothesized that the newborn has an innate genetic predisposition to elicit the mother's (primary caregiver's) attachment, who then responds by providing protection or a "secure base" (Bowlby, 1988). Bowlby proposed that neglected and abused children who do not develop secure attachments reflect various disturbances in emotion and behavior and develop different attachment styles. Bowlby proposed that these different attachment styles lead to distinct patterns of organized attachment behavior and reflect the infant's mental internalizations of the experiences with early childhood attachment figures. These …