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The Added Value of Attachment Theory for Clinical Work with Families

Dr. Phil. Karin Grossmann (Germany)

The anthropologist Sarah B. Hrdy provides ample evidence from mammalian and human studies that “Maintaining maternal commitment was once as important for an infant’s survival as oxygen – an often still is”(Hrdy, 1999, p. 379). The infant has no choice but to develop an attachment to the person who cares for him most of the time. The infant is born with the “expectation” that a stronger and wiser, caring person ensure his survival and socialization. Separation and loss of the attachment figure gives rise to fear and anger from the earliest months on. Still today, institutionalized children unprotected by their parents are at risk of being abused in various ways.

However, children cannot choose their mother, father, or caregiver, who have developed their own personality, mental health and experienced their own attachment relationships. As weak und unwise children, they need to and are motivated to preserve their attachment relationships.They will adapt to their primary caregiver’s personality, her wishes, desires, projections, etc. in order to ensure a continuing source of protection and care, however distorted that care may be.“The child will keep this goal in mind even at the expense of her own development, her cognition, her own feelings and her (better) knowledge.” (Slade, 2004, p. 271). Clinical studies demonstrated the struggle of children to adapt to distorted caregiving such as hostile, neglecting or sexually abusive parenting. This is one aspect of the added value of attachment theory and research for clinical work.

Another aspect of the added value are the research findings, how secure, avoidant, enmeshed, or disorganized patterns of attachment influence the quality of relationships. They influence social perception, the willingness to accept help, the effectiveness of help, and the clarity and truthfulness of communication. Such knowledge opens a window to the client’s expectations and predictions regarding the therapeutic relationship. Attachment research has provided methods of assessing children’s patterns of attachment and adults’ (parent’s) state of mind with respect to attachment including successful or unsuccessful resolution of early or later relationship trauma. Their essence has b een applied successfully in clinical work.

University of Regensburg, Germany (retired) Abitur in Hamburg, Germany.
University of Arkansas, USA: Mathematics and English (Bachelor of Arts, 1965),
University of Münster, Germany: Psychology, Dipl. Psych. 1977,
University of Regensburg: Ph.D. 1984.

Status: Independent Senior Researcher associated at the Department of Psychology, University of Regensburg.

Research on longitudinal and cross-cultural development of attachment together with Klaus E. Grossmann. Publications on Applications of Attachment Theory to Family Matters. Teaching assignments at the Dept. of Psychology, University of Salzburg 1991-2002, Austria, and University of California at San Diego, 2004, USA.

Major publication in German: Karin und Klaus E. Grossmann, Bindungen – das Gefüge psychischer Sicherheit. Stuttgart-Klett Cotta, 2012.

Many publication with co-authors in English, i.e. a chapter for the 2nd Ed. of the Handbook of Attachment (2008). K.E Grossmann, K. Grossmann, and E. Waters (2005), Attachment from Infancy to Adulthood: The major longitudinal studies. Guilford Press.

Together with Klaus E. Grossmann, Bowlby/Ainsworth Award of The New York Attachment Consortium (Sept. 19th, 2006), and the Arnold-Lucius-Gesell Prize by the Theodor-Hellbrügge Stiftung, 2007

Married to Klaus E. Grossmann, 2 children, 3 grandchildren; 2 step-grandchildren.