Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Attachment and Psychoanalysis: Theory, Research, and Clinical Implications

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Attachment and Psychoanalysis: Theory, Research, and Clinical Implications

Article excerpt

Attachment and Psychoanalysis: Theory, Research, and Clinical Implications by Morris N. Eagle Guilford Press, New York, 2013; pp. 241; $35.00

This impressive volume begins with a history of the development of attachment theory in the work of John Bowlby and illustrates how that theory took shape in part as an intended corrective to predominating classical psychoanalytic views of the time. For the uninitiated, Eagle's historical introduction quickly and deftly tells the story of Bowlby's attempts to reform psychoanalysis through the application of scientific theories of ethology, information theory and cybernetic systems theory, as well as his efforts to remain relevant within the world of psychoanalysis after having raised serious questions about its central tenets. The reaction of the analytic world to Bowlby's attachment theory resulted in a long-standing feeling of "bad blood" (Fonagy, 2001, p. 1) between the two, affirming a bias that analysts need not become acquainted with attachment theory in order to dismiss it.

Eagle's historical introduction is perhaps meant to give the psychoanalytic reader a sense that the core tenets of attachment theory he presents in Chap- ter 2 are a truly needed exposition. Indeed, while the visibility of attachment theory has grown enormously in recent years within analytic circles, analysts' knowledge of that theory has often not kept pace. What an opportunity it is then to have such a straightforward, thorough and critical introduction to Bowlby's thought. Eagle begins by defining how it was that Bowlby regarded the attachment system as an evolutionarily selected, autonomous behavioural system that protected humans from predators through an inborn tendency to seek proximity to the caregiver. For Bowlby, this system did not operate in a manner secondary to the gratification of drive states or instinctual satisfaction, but stood on its own. Yet very much like analytic theory Bowlby's attachment paradigm stressed the determinative role of early experience in psychological development. Eagle then goes on to illustrate how the attachment system interfaces with other systems, such as the fear systems and exploratory systems, and in the process explains how attachment is related to issues of affect regulation and (what is known as) the secure base function.

One of best features of this volume is that Eagle is fond of asking questions of a theory. It is a fabulous heuristic as it leads the reader along a path that is similar to the development of the theory itself. So, while Bowlby mostly considered attachment styles and internal working models to be resistant to change, Eagle asks whether such patterns are in fact stable, whether internal working models should be considered as trait-like or as interactional, and what relation infant and childhood attachment patterns have to adult attachment. These are big questions and Eagle's posing them at the end of Chapter 2 sets up the subsequent discussion of issues of measurement and the introduction of key research findings in Chapter 3.

Amongst the most interesting issues raised in this chapter is Eagle's investigation of the 'transmission gap'. A central idea in attachment theory is that the caregiver's sensitive behavior will be correlated with the attachment status of the infant. Indeed, this turns out to be the case, but the correlation, with the exception of the relationship between caregiver behavior and disorganized attachment that Eagle concentrates on at the end of the chapter, turns out to be anything but robust. Eagle writes: "...mother's sensitive responsiveness accounts for less of the variance in predicting infant's attachment status ... than one would expect based on the logic of attachment theory" (p. 25). What then accounts for this gap? Eagle considers in depth the methodological issues of measurement, the evidence for genetic variability of infant's responsiveness to caregiver behaviors, and the role of other maternal behaviors beyond just sensitivity, which may account for some of the unexplained variance. …

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