The Attuned Therapist



Does Attachment Theory Really Matter?

By Mary Sykes Wylie and Lynn Turner

Five hundred people sat in a packed workshop at the Networker Symposium last March, listening to eminent developmental psychologist and researcher Jerome Kagan draw on more than four decades of research he's conducted as he discussed the clinical relevance of inborn temperament. Midway through the session, responding to a question from the audience, he tried to clarify an earlier, seemingly disparaging, comment he'd made about attachment theory. But he soon removed any possible doubt about where he stood. "I'm glad that attachment theory is dead," he said. "I never thought it would go anywhere."

There was a moment of stunned silence, followed by a low hum as people shifted in their seats and murmured to each other. Whatever their imperfect understanding of the voluminous research literature of attachment theory, for most therapists in the room, the idea that the early emotional attunement of a mother/caregiver (or lack of it) profoundly affects the child's psychological development was as self-evident as the worthiness of therapy itself. Indeed, during the last 15 to 20 years, attachment theory has exerted more influence in the field of psychotherapy than just about any other model, approach, or movement. Though not a clinical methodology, it has justified a whole range of therapeutic perspectives and practices. Among them are a particular sensitivity to the role of…

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