Developmental Pathways

Before moving to some problems in the application of attachment theory, recent research has helped clarify the relevance of material, hitherto seen as more appropriate for psychotherapeutic intervention, for the probation officer’s task. A recent study by Mary Main has shown that some mothers who themselves had insecure attachment relationships with their own mothers, were able to offer secure caregiving relationships to their children.[1] I have mentioned the importance Main and Ricks placed on forgiveness for this group, but the studies also revealed that these mothers were able to give a coherent account of their history, in contrast to the mothers who had not made this progress. [2]  The unsuccessful mothers tended to give contradictory accounts of the past, were unable to recall the past, or gave superficial accounts.

Linked with this is Bowlby’s notion of ‘developmental pathways’.[3] Most theories of development suggested that people tended to get stuck at certain developmental stages, and that in order to release them, the therapist had to take the patient back to the stage at which the ‘blockage’ occurred. What is more, they can lead people to envisage the maturation process as a sort of monolithic one as if people just progressed from immaturity to maturity. This feeds approaches to clients that diminish them and reassures the worker that they have made this journey more successfully than the client. The idea of developmental pathways reflects the fact that people can progress quickly and positively through certain developmental pathways whilst remaining stuck and immature in others. We know this from personal experience and simple observation – at the more extreme end, we see children acting in parental ways to their children and parents behaving childishly at some times whilst remaining effective as adults in other parts of their life. So clients can frequently show maturity beyond the reach of their workers in certain aspects of life, just as workers who are still learning some of the basics of life can still be of real help in guiding older more life experienced clients.

[1] Main M., Kaplan, N., and Cassidy J. (1985) Security in Infancy, Childhood and Adulthood: A Move to the Level of Representation, in Growing Points of attachment Theory and Research, Ed Bretherton, I., and Waters, E. University of Chicago Press p96

[2] Ricks 1985 p224

[3] Bowlby 1985a p441

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