John was a superficially charming fourteen-year-old lad with bright red hair and a ready smile. I met John soon after I began my first appointment as a Clinical Psychologist. John was a Ward of the State. He was referred to me because statutory social workers who were responsible for his care were concerned about his volatile and at-risk behaviours. John had made a number of suicidal gestures, was often AWOL from the facility at which he resided and was known to abuse substances.
I had never before met anyone like John and was not entirely sure what to do with him. Though I did not know it at the time, I had received my first referral of an “attachment-disordered” youth. My next step was also my first in a career specialisation in the diagnosis and treatment of attachment-disordered children.
I read a book. It was Richard Delaney’s Fostering Changes. This was my first introduction to the world of the attachment-disordered child, and in particular, their world view. I discovered that attachment-disordered children do not see themselves, others and the world in which we live as we, who were blessed with accessible, understanding, responsive and attuned parents, see the world. Rather, they predominantly see themselves as bad and unlovable, others as mean and uncaring, and the world as a harsh and threatening place.
I then began to wonder about what I had been taught during six years of training at university. I had never heard of attachment disorders in an academic environment dominated by behavioural and cognitive-behavioural theories and models of practice. And then one day it occurred to me that one of the most famous series of experiments in psychology, a series of experiments that informed academic and applied psychology for half a century, was directly relevant to the experience of the attachment-disordered child, and our understanding of them.
Click here to read the complete article, which was published in SEN Magazine in September 2011.