Graduation Address Santa Barbara Graduate Institute

Article excerpt

KEY WORDS: Prenatal and perinatal psychology, attachment, neuroscience, emotion, self-regulation, somatic psychology

Faculty, students, and guests,

It is a privilege to be here with you celebrating this graduation ceremony of Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. This day is an important and meaningful event, not only for those who have worked so diligently to become scholars in their fields, but also for this institution, which stands in a unique position of offering doctoral degrees in areas of knowledge that are central to understanding the human condition, prenatal and perinatal psychology, and somatic psychology. Indeed, we are now in the midst of a very dynamic and productive period in the growth of knowledge in the health and life sciences, and the Institute is well poised to produce scholars who can deepen our understanding of a fundamental problem of science, human development.

This problem of development happens to also be of interest to me. By coincidence, it is now exactly ten years that I wrote a book on this topic. In the very first paragraph I stated the theme of the next 700 pages of science. In a deliberately rather bold tone I wrote,

The understanding of early development is one of the fundamental objectives of science. The beginnings of living systems set the stage for every aspect of an organism's internal and external functioning throughout the lifespan...The child's first relationship, the one with the mother, acts as a template, as it permanently shapes the individual's capacities to enter into all later emotional relationships. These early experiences shape the development of a unique personality, its adaptive capacities as well as its vulnerabilities to and resistances against particular forms of future pathologies. Indeed, they profoundly influence the emergent organization of an integrated system that is both stable and adaptable, and thereby the formation of the self.

My friend and colleague, Henry Krystal, put this central organizing principle of the human experience more poetically:

We are looking at the foundations of the human soul, those developments which are as essential as the foundation of a house, and as invisible when all is well.

As you are well aware, a paradigm shift is now occurring in the basic sciences that underlie prenatal, perinatal, and somatic psychology. Attachment theory, initially proposed by the child psychiatrist-psychoanalyst John Bowlby as a psychobiological conception of the mother-infant interaction, has now become the dominant model of human social-emotional development available to science. In his 1969 classic volume the pioneering Bowlby offered a survey of the essential topographic landmarks of the uncharted territory of the mother-infant attachment relationship, an evolutionary mechanism common to both humans and animals. Although Bowlby's original integration of child psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis with behavioral biology occurred within a period when behavioral psychology was the dominant force in science (Skinner had warned against speculating about what goes on within "the black box"), Bowlby, referring to Pribram's seminal work on the frontal lobes, posited that attachment mechanisms were specifically located in the brain.

Over the next four decades attachment theory has acted as a framework and catalyst of interdisciplinary research, and this trend has spawned an extremely large body of developmental studies. The current intense interest in a number of disciplines in developmental research, at various levels of analysis, has both dramatically expanded the amount of factual knowledge and significantly altered the theoretical constructs that model the etiologies and treatments of the psychological and physical disorders of infancy, childhood, and adulthood. This paradigm shift, now occurring within and perhaps more importantly between the basic sciences, is expressed in three converging trends, and it is strengthening the ties of prenatal and perinatal psychology to the allied fields that border it - developmental neuroscience, developmental psychology, and infant psychiatry. …