NP0016 The Great Attachment Debate

This blog focuses on discussion regarding the course NP0016 The Great Attachment Debate.

NP0016, Attachment, Session 2, Jerome Kagan


Are we too attached to attachment theory? In this session with leading child psychologist Jerome Kagan, you’ll get the opportunity to explore the methodology and evidence behind Attachment Theory. Then, you’ll be able to decide whether you think the research shows that temperament or attachment is more significant to human development.

After hearing Kagan talk about the research and theories, please take a few minutes to engage in the Comment Board. Let us know what you think. What did you learn from this session that was new? What was most striking about this session for you? What questions do you have? We invite you to include your name and hometown along with your comment. If you ever have any technical questions, contact support@psychotherapynetworker.org.

03.27.2012   Posted In: NP0016 The Great Attachment Debate   By Psychotherapy Networker
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  • 0 avatar Peggy Klopfer 03.27.2012 13:20
    I enjoyed your presentation and my question is: Can the brain be affected by prenatal toxins, food allergies or sensitivities that may make them quite reactive in infancy and how they are treated, by traumatic experiences, etc.? The fact that class is predictive in a materialistic world is not surprising as there is power with money, but not with the soul. I believe that resilience to stress increases as stress is reduced in an infant and a short fuse type baby is one where stress was not resolved often or quick enough as receptors can be overwhelmed and destroyed resulting in high reactivity. As you mentioned, it is easy to slide down, much more difficult to climb up.
  • 0 avatar ANITA FRANKEL MA, MFT 03.27.2012 16:47
    Bravo for Jerome Kagan.He is a star in my firmament. My practice is highly influenced by the "relational-cultural" theory and practice as developed over several decades by the late Jean Baker Miller and others. Seminars at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at Wellesley COllege are an ongoing conversation about class, culture, AND the new brain science which posits a relational model for growth and development throughout our lifetime. I'm sad that Dan Siegel chose to interrupt Jerome Kagan to defend the primacy of early attachment. He actually has a lot of wisdom to share for us relational-cultural folks who now understand that mutual and reciprocal relationships throughout our lives produce new and/or "bushier" neural networks (memory of lived experience).These make us more resilient, more open to others, less frightened by the challenge of difference, and can often make up for a less than optimal caretaker relationship in early childhood.
  • Not available avatar James Reling 03.30.2012 17:39
    This gives me a better idea of what the controversies I've been hearing about attachment theory are. I highly respect both Kagan and Siegel, and believe that they agree more than the "air of controversy" has suggested. I think Kagan's insights about class are eye-opening, and I'm anxious to read the book he mentioned working on. So far, I've been very happy with these presentations, and actually wish they could be much longer!
    • 0 avatar Sarah Roehrich 04.14.2012 20:30
      Dear James,
      Dr. Kagan's new book is called Psychology's Ghosts and it just came out March 5. It is a fascinating book that takes one on a journey through time discussing not only the problems of psychiatry and thoughts on how to address those problems, but also talks about people who made significant contributions to science, psychology, and psychiatry across the centuries and how some of them achieved that. It is beautifully written, very interesting and reads like a novel. Hope you enjoy it too!
      Sarah Roehrich
  • Not available avatar Joy Clarke 03.31.2012 08:00
    So there's room for context and culture and neurobiology in helping me understand my clients and work well with them. Such interesting points Kagan makes, and with a humour that I enjoyed! I appreciate his courtesy and warmth, as I did in the State of the Art debate he and Siegel had with Rich. What was the term Siegel used about the Adult Attachment Interview which fitted so well for Kagan? Did he suggest calling it the Adult Coherance Interview?
    A rich variety of views and all enriching, thanks!
  • 0 avatar Christine Kiss 03.31.2012 14:55
    I found the discussion of temperment's limiting but not defining effects very interesting. There's so much pressure in today's world to be "culturally sensitive", and this webinar gave me new insights into why this is such a relevant directive, but also such a difficult one to implement. Is society's quest for "equality" a losing battle? Can a middle class white female therapist ever really understand the inner struggles and intenalized truths and values of a young black male who grew up in an impoverished inner city? By the same token, can a therapist assume that just because their client "looks like" them that their self view and/or their view of the world that they have the same internalized value system? I also really appreciated the emphasis on a therapist's sensitivity to the client's interpretation of their problem (and the needed solution) in predicting the outcome of therapy. It is a good reminder to not become too invested in your own theories and outcomes when working with clients. Thanks for a great webinar!
  • Not available avatar Mary Mitchell 04.01.2012 08:37
    Interesting that the final advice for treatment in this conversation seems to be to build a sense of secure attachment within the treatment relationship!
  • 0 avatar najwa aref 04.01.2012 10:41
    WOW ..Thank you
  • Not available avatar cath birkett 04.01.2012 14:03
    I live in South Africa where cultural diversity is a given fact.It is very important to me as a white, middle class, therapist to hear this debate.
  • Not available avatar Florence Connor 04.02.2012 09:26
    Great webinar
  • Not available avatar Sarah Mathews 04.02.2012 12:04
    What a relief to hear that 'infant attachment' does not predetermine relationship styles and patterns later in life. I work in a clinic that treats eating disorders and insecure attachment to parents, especially the mother, is viewed as a primary cause of eating disorders. I would like to hear Dr Kagan's opinion regarding this perspective.

    Thank you for a very interesting dialogue.
  • Not available avatar MaryCay Johns 04.02.2012 15:27
    Richard Simon and Jerome Kagan had a fascinating discussion about the role temperment plays with infants as opposed to attachment theory. Thank you for making this lecture readily available.
  • Not available avatar Chantal Wiebe 04.02.2012 21:56
    While I continue to struggle with some of the simplistic ways that attachment theory was presented, the fact that temperament is actually being discussed as a means of affecting the dance between parent and child is refreshing. While I continue to hold to the idea that attachment is very important, it is not everything. Question: do we have to oppose temperament vs attachment or is there not a place where both move together to affect the adult persona?

    Twitter: @chantal_wiebe
  • Not available avatar Garry Chrusch 04.03.2012 11:02
    Enjoyed this presentation very much. The bringing together of the various views re Attachment and Temperment has provided clarity rather than confusion--hence this series is truly one of enhancing our knowledge and practice rather than limiting it.
  • Not available avatar Irene Savarese 04.03.2012 11:06
    Finally someone that talks about the relevance of social class and identification. I grew up in a working class family where nobody had more than 6 years of school. When I went to gymnasium and university I was afraid that someone would find out that a mistake was made and throw me out of school. I understand fully your example: "Is today the day I will be found out?"
  • Not available avatar Elena Lesser Bruun 04.03.2012 17:10
    It has to be possible to integrate the two schools and sets of findings, especially since both agree that both temperament and early experience play a role...or can they at least agree that it's a question of weighting and not either-or. Secondly, I'd like Dr. Kagan's response to the notion that we therapists are not there only to understand and respect our clients' social class etc etc, but to stand outside our own class, culture first, see it's influence positive and negative, and with that perspective help our clients do the same, to move beyond cultural constraints that have limited their horizons.
  • Not available avatar Andrea B. Goldberg 04.04.2012 10:41
    I appreciate the respectful tone Jerome Kagan used when challenging attachment theory as well as his concerns about the lack of research to substantiate it. He mentioned that most therapists work with middle class clients, which limits our perspective about the relative influence of the quality of attachment. I worked in an inner city hospital mental health clinic for 7 years so I have that perspective. Class, culture and race did have a huge impact on the clients I worked with and I believe that played a large part in the development of insecure attachments to their children. However, regardless of the causes of the insecure attachment, the effect appeared the same in both the inner city and in suburbia, where I have had a private practice for 10 years.

    The client in suburbia with any particular attachment style relates to me similarly to the way the client in the inner city with the same attachment style related to me. Both appear to have similar implicit expectations of relationships, and similar relationship dynamics, regardless of the cause of the attachment injury. If the client subsequently had any relationship from which they received unconditional positive regard, there was still an implicit expectation that something would go wrong that impacted behavior. Both populations developed more flexible mental models when bottom-up experiential therapeutic approaches were employed, rather than top-down approaches. I would be interested to hear Jerome Kagan's thoughts about this.
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