Bringing Up Baby

Bringing Up Baby

Are We Too Attached?

March/April 2011

One of the strongest articles of faith among psychotherapists is the intuitively attractive proposition that the security of early attachments to parents has a profound influence on adult mental health. Thousands of articles, books, and conferences have probed this topic, and many therapists have made attachment theory a cornerstone of their clinical approach. Even clinicians who aren't particularly loyal to attachment theory accept the general proposition that the quality of infants' emotional experiences with their caretakers affects their vulnerability to psychological disorders as adults. However, when I examine the evidence for this belief as a research psychologist, rather than as a clinical practitioner, a different, less clear-cut picture emerges. Three major assumptions underlie attachment theory. First, variation in the caretaker's interactions with the infant creates variation in the infant's emotional bond to that person. This bond is called an attachment. Most psychologists, including this writer, regard this assumption as true and proven by evidence. Second, the consequences of the quality of the early attachment are preserved for many years and influence the older child and adult's personality and vulnerability to pathology. This assumption, as we shall see, is far from proven. The final premise involves the measurement of the infant's quality of attachment. As we shall see, many psychologists believe that an experimental procedure called the Strange…

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