Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications

By Jude Cassidy; Phillip R. Shaver | Go to book overview

25
Attachment Theory and Research

Implications for the Theory
and Practice of Individual
Psychotherapy with Adults

ARIETTA SLADE


ATTACHMENT THEORY AND
PSYCHOANALYSIS: THE BREACH
AND THE RAPPROCHEMENT

Attachment theory began with John Bowlby’s (1969/1982, 1973, 1980) elegant and parsimonious descriptions of his ideas about the nature and function of human attachments. These formulations inspired the interest of his colleague Mary Ainsworth (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978), whose pioneering research was to provide empirical validation of many of Bowlby’s basic principles and establish a foundation for the thousands of research investigations that evolved from her original research findings (see Belsky & Cassidy, 1994; Bretherton, 1995; Karen, 1998). However, despite the fact that Bowlby was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who spent the bulk of his time working as a therapist and analyst, and whose theory evolved directly from his clinical work with delinquent children, the relation between attachment theory and individual psychotherapy has received relatively little attention from clinicians or attachment researchers until recently. In fact, Bowlby himself noted:

It is a little unexpected that, whereas attachment
theory was formulated by a clinician for use in the
diagnosis and treatment of emotionally disturbed
patients and families, its usage hitherto has been
mainly to promote research in developmental psy-
chology. Whilst I welcome the findings of this re-
search as enormously extending our understanding
of personality development and psychopathology,
and thus as of the greatest clinical relevance, it has
not the less been disappointing that clinicians have
been so slow to test the theory’s uses. (1988, pp.
ix–x)

Bowlby was right: Attachment theory has had a dramatic impact on developmental psychology; until recent years, however, it had little palpable impact on clinical theory and practice.

The reasons underlying the fact that Bowlby’s work was marginalized, derided, or simply ignored by psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, and clinical psychologists for over 30 years are complex, but of course have much to do with the core elements of attachment theory. Today, given the past two decades’ remarkable advances in infancy research (Beebe & Lachmann, 1988; Beebe & Stern, 1977; Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1975; Stern, 1985; Tronick, 1989), and the evolution of psychoanalysis into a relational and interpersonal theory (Aron, 1995; Mitchell, 1988), Bowlby’s ideas no longer seem revolutionary and indeed have much in common with current developmental and psychoanalytic theory. In the 1940s and 1950s, however, his ideas were seen as radical and heretical. (See Cassidy, Chapter 1, this volume, for a review of Bowlby’s theory.)

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