John Bowlby 25th Anniversary Event

Conference Review by Kate Brown

A Little Like Jazz…

Reflections on The Bowlby Centre Conference marking twenty five years since the death of John Bowlby. Held in London 19th -21st September 2016 at the Freud Museum, Institute of Child Health and The Anna Freud Centre in collaboration with the Bowlby Centre.

This international conference was organised to celebrate the work of John Bowlby, and focused on how John Bowlby revolutionized our understanding of human relationships. The conference was well attended by a broad spectrum of delegates, yet for some had something of the feeling of a family reunion. This sense of family reunion should not be considered an accident, since much of what was being discussed was about the theme of separation and reunion. Bob Marvin gave a masterful account of his use of the Circle of Security approach, showing videos of interactions of children moving away from their caregiver or attachment figure, and then how the pair responded upon reunion.

Throughout the conference there was use of video material of parent/child interaction including parent infant psychotherapy, from Amanda Jones and the use of the Strange Situation Test showed the spectrum of interactions and the differences between securely attached bonds, and those which are not. The focus of attention went from minute millisecond details, such as the sound of a heart-beat, or the tiny movements of milk formula in a baby’s bottle – to the familial – and then to the wider political arena, including concern about the plight of migrants and the impact of Attachment theory on Government policies and mental health treatment. The conference was of interest to a broad range of psychotherapists or researchers at any stage of their career and had wide inter-disciplinary appeal.

The conference posed two central questions, Where is the revolution now? And What are the future directions? In terms of where the revolution is now, the conference gave little doubt that the revolution is gathering pace in terms of recognition of the far reaching impact of Attachment Theory on both the practice of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis and also on the wider arena of social policy. As Gill Scott Heron once said, “the revolution will not be televised” – but in the case of this particular revolution, was videoed, and made creative use of videoed materials.

In terms of what the future directions are, there was a clear stress on early interventions and how attachment theory can be applied to support building secure attachments in infancy – or even before birth. Susie Orbach helped us conceptualise this approach as being “two for one” – meaning that supporting mothers to understand their bodies better and offering an intervention which helps to resolve trauma held in the mother’s body, can help reduce the likelihood of an infant developing attachment difficulties and subsequent need for intervention and the cost implications. There was also inclusion of consideration of the need for support for families who are formed through adoption to build secure attachments.

The conference had a creative, conversational style – including music composed with John Bowlby in mind. There could be no more fitting way to mark the occasion of twenty five years since the death of John Bowlby, and to honour the past, focus on the present and consider the future of Attachment Theory.

Films of the John Bowlby 25th Anniversary Event

Attachment Theory How John Bowlby Revolutionised Our Understanding of Human Relationships

Where is the Revolution Now? What are the Future Directions?

19th – 20th September 2015

This conference brought together a group of leading international clinicians and researchers in dialogue to debate new developments in attachment theory and clinical practice. Exploring questions such as: How do such advances bring fresh ways of thinking about how we promote wellbeing in society and help and support individuals and families? These films from the conference provide a lively and engaging debate of issues of vital interest to all psychotherapists and others working in the helping professions.
John Bowlby revolutionised our understanding of human nature and the needs of children in particular for consistent, sensitive and attuned caregiving from a preferred attachment figure in order to develop emotional health and wellbeing. Attachment is linked to the human response to fear and is most clearly evident when there are threats of separation and abandonment. At these times we need a safe haven provided by an attachment figure from whom we seek safety, comfort and affect regulation. His groundbreaking theory and approach has been confirmed by decades of research and more recently by neuroscience. The need for parents to be securely attached is now widely accepted as the basis for effective child care in the next generation.
“Intimate attachments to other human beings are the hub around which a person’s life revolves, not only when he is an infant or a toddler or a school- child but throughout his adolescence and his years of maturity as well, and on into old age.” Bowlby (1980, p. 422)

The Conference was chaired by his son, Sir Richard Bowlby. Professor Brett Kahr introduces the historic context, and an exciting panel of leading international clinicians and researchers discuss and debate the latest developments.

Speakers included: Amanda Jones, Mary Target, Bob Marvin, Sandy Bloom, Mark Linington, Valerie Sinason, Allan Schore, Elizabeth Howell, Susie Orbach, Kate White, Christopher Clulow, Karl Heinz Brisch, Miriam Steele, Howard Steele, Oliver James, Simon Partridge, Judy Yellin and Lennox Thomas.
Details of the conference programme and the speakers’ biographies can be found: here

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Video One – Length 45 mins

Part 1. Welcome and Introduction – Length 30 mins

Featuring Sir Richard Bowlby, Mark Linington and Professor Brett Kahr.

The first video shows the conference welcome from Sir Richard Bowlby and Mark Linington from The Bowlby Centre followed by a wonderful historical introduction to the theme of the conference by Professor Brett Kahr. He situates John Bowlby’s work with children in the context of the previous century and demonstrates how revolutionary his ideas were, constituting a paradigm shift in the approach to troubled children. It is a “tour de force” by a brilliant lecturer. A riveting and startling beginning to a unique day of round table dialogues featured in the next six videos.

Arising from this stimulating historical introduction follows a look at attachment theory and its application across the lifecycle represented by each of the subsequent dialogues between internationally renowned clinicians and researchers which make up the seven films of this conference presented here.

Part 2. Parent and Infant Work – Length 15 Mins

Featuring Amanda Jones and Mary Target in dialogue. Chair: Robert Marvin

We start with childhood and the pioneering work being developed in the UK by Amanda Jones and Mary Target providing support for parents and their infants. They are in a conversation facilitated by Robert Marvin from Virginia, USA, who with colleagues has developed a wonderful intervention to support distressed parents called the Circle of Security Project. Their conversation focuses not only on the delicate work with parents and their children but on the support and supervision needs of the psychotherapists engaged in these emotionally challenging situations. They explore the difficulties parents encounter with their young babies when their own parents have been unsupportive, abusive or unattuned emotionally. These ghosts in the nursery (Selma Fraiberg) can undermine the development of secure attachment across the generations. Interventions such as those discussed provide very hopeful opportunities for those who have experienced trauma to be supported in the direction of change towards earned securityand so being able to provide a secure base for their young children.

Video Two – Length 50 mins

Attachment and Trauma

Featuring Mark Linington and Sandy Bloom in dialogue. Chair: Valerie Sinason

This film follows the moving dialogue between Mark Linington, a psychotherapist at The Bowlby Centre and Sandy Bloom, psychiatrist and founder of the Sanctuary Model, from Philadelphia, USA. Their conversation is facilitated by Valerie Sinason, founder of the Clinic for Dissociative Studies in London, UK.

Mark shares his work with one of his clients Sonia who has a history of multiple experiences of trauma. He demonstrates how an attachment informed way of working relationally provides an opportunity for therapeutic change. He uses very interesting diagrams to illustrate this painstaking and courageous journey. Sandy Bloom offers insights and elaborates on the discussion drawing upon her many years of clinical experience.

Video Three – Length 43 mins

Attachment and Neuroscience

Featuring Elizabeth Howell in dialogue with Valerie Sinason, with special contribution from Allan Schore

This thought provoking dialogue between Elizabeth Howell and Valerie Sinason includes a pre recorded interview with Allan Schore, the foremost attachment informed clinician in the USA who is researching the neurobiological links with the development of early attachment relationships and how an understanding of these dynamics informs our work with adults. Elizabeth Howell, an eminent scholar and clinician from New York, opens out the conversation adding her clarity and understanding of the neurobiology of dissociation with Valerie Sinason, founder of the Clinic for Dissociative Studies in London, UK. Together they offer an in depth account of the links between post traumatic stress and the complexity of different kinds of dissociative responses to overwhelming trauma.

Video Four – Length 44 mins

Attachment and The Body

Featuring a dialogue between Susie Orbach and Kate White. Chair: Mark Linington

This film records a engaging conversation between Susie Orbach and Kate White facilitated by Mark Linington from The Bowlby Centre. They tease out the complexity of the relationship between the development of an infant’s attachment bond and the central place of the body of both parent and child in this delicate unfolding process that can, in fraught circumstances, become derailed. Attachment patterns and their relationship to our experience of our bodies are explored.

Susie describes the development of an interview called the bodiography, using the BODI tool (Body Observational Diagnostic Interview), at the beginning of therapy.

Kate and Susie go on to discuss the key role of support to young parents who themselves may never have had a secure attachment relationship thus find it difficult to feel at home in their own bodies. The provision of maternal support, in particular in the prenatal period, through a project such as “Two for the Price of One: The impact of body image during pregnancy and after birth”, is described. This UK research is ongoing and is based on identifying women with a troubled relationship with their bodies during pregnancy and perinatally so as to offer support/intervention in prevention of intergenerational transmission of troubled bodies.

Finally, through an account of her clinical work, Kate discusses with Susie the way in which a sensitivity to these issues is vital in therapeutic relationships where the body of both therapist and client impact upon one another as the client risks finding her body through her relationship with the therapist’s own body.

Video Five – Length 39 mins/h3>

Children and Families

Featuring Karl Heinz Brisch and Miriam Steele in dialogue. Chair: Christopher Clulow

Christopher Clulow took the imaginative decision to invite the audience to set the agenda for the round table discussion between Karl Heinz Brisch from Munich, Germany and Miriam Steele, who is now based in New York City.

He asked people to identify questions and themes for the trio to discuss together after an emotionally resonant reading from DH Lawrence where the voice of a young child describes most poetically her experience of being in a family. The themes included the following: What is the role of grandparents and the experience of the three generation family in 2015? Who IS family? The complexity of families where there are many configurations for example the re configuring of family relationships post divorce with remarriages. Changes brought about through the acquisition of family through adoption and fostering, in vitro fertilisation. There was lively discussion about inclusion of children with learning disabilities, the use of the Baby Watching programme and another specialised intervention being pioneered in New York to support families where the socioeconomic stressors on young parents are being recognised in the political context of austerity and cuts to social spending.

Video Six – Length 46 mins

Research Developments & Future Directions

Howard Steele in conversation with Oliver James Chair: Jeremy Holmes

Jeremy Holmes chaired a discussion on future directions for attachment theory, with Oliver James and Howard Steele.

Oliver’s presentation focuses on the argument of nature (our genetic endowment) versus nurture in what determines our emotional wellbeing. He points to the lack of scientific evidence for genetic determinants; for him early maltreatment leads to distressed adults. He proposes that the future lies in creating an early environment in which care is “accessible and responsive” for under threes. He rejects “day care” as the solution and pleads for more resources for primary carers, whether men or women. He sees no sign of this in “selfish, capitalist Anglophone nations”.

Howard picked up on Bowlby’s championing of children’s need for “more or less continuing relationships…with an enduring sense of joy”. He recognised that this was an ideal that was difficult to achieve, but that we needed parents who could “calm down” even when angered, and provide a good model of self-regulation. The point of effective parenting and attachment-oriented therapy was to prevent the inter-generational transmission of dysregulated internal states of mind and the passing on of insecure internal working models of self and other.

The discussion drew attention to the work of Peter Marris and the political implication and exploitation of insecurity. There was also an emphasis on how extremes of poverty, class and power militated against security and the capacity for attachment. Indeed for Oliver this encouraged the Dark Triad of psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism, so prevalent among Western leaders.

Sir Richard Bowlby concluded the conference by pointing to the dangers of digital technology in its capacity to “disconnect” from intimate relationship and attachment. The attachment world needs to give serious thought to the implications of an ever-growing digital era.

Video Seven – Length 37 mins

The Last Interview with John Bowlby by Virginia Hunter

Introduction by Simon Partridge, and Judy Yellin in dialogue with Lennox Thomas

Simon Partridge introduces the last video of John Bowlby made by Virginia Hunter in 1990, which reveals his warm humanity, wealth of experience, honesty and capacity for self-criticism. two extracts from the video are shown. In the first Bowlby emphasises the importance of “real life events” which had been ignored by orthodox psychoanalysis once Freud abandoned his seduction theory. And the second points up Bowlby’s own “appalling ignorance” about the widespread occurrence of physical and sexual abuse, its grave psycho-emotional consequences, and which he did so much to expose.

This is followed by conversation between Lennox Thomas and Judy Yellin, both attachment-oriented psychotherapists with a former background in social work. The theme is that of child protection, Thomas focuses on the future, while Yellin examines what’s happening now. A stimulating Q&A section follows which touches on the neglect of Bowlby’s work in analytic training; Bowlby’s influence in Scotland; congruence between Bowlby and Alice Miller, and the importance of mourning.

The video ends with a brief but revealing look at the accompanying exhibition about Bowlby’s life which was running concurrently at the Freud Museum. You can have a virtual tour now of this exhibition via this link.

Access the opening event of the conference at the Freud Museum

18th September 2015 “Closing the Circle; From Theory to Therapy”

Dr. Bob Marvin

Podcast of this presentation here

Buy the DVD of the interview by Virginia Hunter, the last interview he gave which was in 1990 here.

Link to conference programme here.

Royal Society Medicine, John Bowlby exhibition Attachment: Our Enduring Need for Others is showing from 6 February to 29 April 2017.

For further details click here