The International Association for the Study of Attachment (IASA) is a multi-disciplinary association of mental health professionals established in 2007.
The primary purpose of the association is to seek and promote theoretically meaningful and testable integrations of treatment methods to generate a meta-model of treatment that is systemic, developmental, transactional, and evolutionary.
To address this purpose, IASA finds a useful basis in the Dynamic-Maturational Model (DMM) of Attachment and Adaptation. This meta-model includes ideas from all major theories of development and treatment to address the complexity of human experience from infancy to adulthood.
The original theoretical construct of attachment developed by John Bowlby was strongly enhanced by the empirical and observational work of Mary Ainsworth, who discovered the patterning of individual differences in attachment. The idea of functional and strategic differences among human behaviors that look morphologically similar is the basis of the clinical applicability of attachment theory and assessments. Only if we are able to discriminate how similar symptoms can work differently for individuals and their family context we will be able to find out how to tailor treatment specifically for the problems presented to the clinicians.
The Dynamic-Maturational Model (DMM) is an attempt to go back to Ainsworth and Bowlby’s original focus. This was somewhat diluted by the relatively stable ABCD approach to attachment emphasizing a dichotomy between security and insecurity. DMM theory highlights developmental change and transgenerational processes whereas ABCD theory emphasizes continuity. For this reason, ABCD theory seems intrinsically incompatible with theories of how to precipitate change, i.e. all theories of treatment. The DMM theory connects self-protective strategies to information processing with many representational processes and strategies whereas ABCD theory proposes a ‘disorganized’ category that explains very little variance. Again, the ABCD approach doesn’t address the clinical need to discriminate and differentiate as the DMM would.
We think it’s time for a more complex theory that accounts for biological, developmental, familial, and contextual influences on attachment and adaptation. The DMM, which follows Bowlby’s example of an integrative approach to theories from several fields, seems to us a promising and applicable basis for work on the practical applications of attachment theory.
To promote a sound application of these ideas, we seek to increase communication among professionals from a wide array of disciplines around attaining basic human health and happiness for all people.
These disciplines include not only mental health, but also:
- The basic sciences, especially biological sciences,
- The humanities, especially those tied to culture, philosophy, and politics,
- Organizational applications, especially business management.
The ultimate goal of our work is to find ways to improve treatment. Based on theory, clinical experience, and studies of treatment efficacy, we believe that several fundamental changes are needed in how psychological and behavioral dysfunction is diagnosed and treated. These include:
- Acting on the knowledge that prevention is better than remediation;
- Inclusion, in both diagnosis and treatment, of the notion that threats to safety and reproduction are central to dysfunction,
- Recognition, in both assessment and treatment, that information processing is essential to enduring behavioral change and adaptation.
- Formulation of dysfunction as an interpersonal and developmental process of adaptation in response to threat,
- Inclusion of at least brief assessment of family members in the treatment of individuals – for the sake of the children of patients and to enable the parents of child patients to be maximally helpful to their children
- Inclusion of extensive developmental studies, across both childhood and adulthood, as a part of all psychotherapists’ training;
- Unification of child and adult services,
- Consideration of the context of threat as relevant to adaptation both developmentally and currently,
- Conceptualization of culture as the sum of what has been learned implicitly by a group of people from their history of exposure to danger. Culture, therefore, affects what should be considered dysfunctional.
- Recognition that punishment (either criminal or child protection) cannot correct mental processing errors or heal traumas,
- Understanding of adaptation, i.e., success of treatment, as requiring many self-protective strategies and reflective integration.
- Structuring of psychotherapists’ role as that of a transitional attachment figure working in the client or patient’s zone of proximal development.