Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications

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

27
Family and Couple Therapy

Toward Greater Security

JOHN BYNG-HALL

John Bowlby wrote one of the first family therapy papers (Bowlby, 1949). It vividly conveys his excitement on discovering the power of family therapy to produce change. At that time he contemplated developing this as a way of doing psychotherapy. He was a scientist as well as a clinician, however, and felt that the family was too complex to research, so he decided to study the dyadic aspects of attachment as a first step (J. Bowlby, personal communication, 1982). He never doubted, however, that family research would eventually be undertaken, and he became a steadfast supporter of family therapy (ByngHall, 1991b). The exciting challenge of studying whole-family attachment patterns is now upon us.

For nearly 40 years, Bowlby ran seminars in which clinicians of various approaches and researchers from different fields brought their thoughts together. It was a remarkably fruitful approach. I was a member of these seminars for 12 years. Bowlby would listen with respect to therapists, despite their apparently woolly ideas, because they were confronting important issues; at the same time, researchers gained the respect of the clinicians as they elucidated issues relevant to therapeutic work. Bowlby was brilliant in the use of both research and therapeutic perspectives in case consultations. He would elucidate the attachment elements to tell a coherent story, and then help the clinician relate this to the whole clinical picture. I hope that this chapter will continue this rich tradition of cross-fertilization by adding family and marital therapists’ clinical perspectives to the debate, and by indicating what aspects of attachment research have been useful and what will be valuable to know more about. Family and marital therapists need—and already use—concepts that encompass a wider context than the dyad, to include triads and whole families. Some of these concepts may be useful to attachment researchers.

Unfortunately, family therapists have for various reasons become interested in attachment theory only relatively recently (Byng-Hall, 1991b). One reason for the delay has been attachment theory’s focus on the dyad and not the whole family. Not surprisingly, then, there are few empirical studies of family or couple therapy using an attachment paradigm. Equally, there is limited clinical family therapy literature that uses attachment as its central theory. There are, however, an increasing number of publications whose authors refer to attachment research to inform part of their practice; this is appropriate, because attachment is only one aspect of family relationships.

The main aim of this chapter is to explore how the family can either increase or undermine the sense of security of its members, and how this knowledge can provide family and couple therapists with suitable goals for their work. The chapter starts by considering attachment patterns in families and couples, and links concepts from different bodies of attachment research to family systems concepts. A table summarizes these links and also shows how relevant terms used in

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