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Fifty Years of Attachment Theory

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This is the second volume in the series based on the annual Donald Winnicott Memorial Lecture. Sir Richard Bowlby looks at the personal and professional lives of Donald Winnicott and Dr John Bowlby, to give a fascinating insight into the worlds of these influential analysts. Also includes Recollections of Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby by Pearl King.

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INTRODUCTION OF SIR RICHARD BOWLBY JOHN BOWLBY AND DONALD WINNICOTT: COLLEGIAL COMRADES IN CHILD MENTAL HEALTH

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John Bowlby and Donald Winnicott: collegial comrades in child mental health

Having inaugurated the annual Donald Winnicott Memorial Lecture last year with a spirited talk by the Paris-based psychoanalyst Dr Joyce McDougall, the members of the organizing committee of The Winnicott Clinic of Psychotherapy have trawled through our address books and memory banks in order to find a suitable candidate to present the second annual Lecture. One might think that we would be spoiled for choice, but we have very exacting requirements. Above all, we wanted to find a speaker who shared Dr Donald Winnicott’s passionate commitment to the fields of infant mental health and child mental health, and one who, like Winnicott, had worked relentlessly to disseminate psychological knowledge to the widest possible audience. We strove to find a lecturer who thought outward, rather than inward, and one who communicated with those rare Winnicottian qualities of charm, generosity, graciousness, and warmth. We also needed to find someone who could dare to follow in the famously zesty footsteps of Joyce McDougall.

 

FIFTY YEARS OF ATTACHMENT THEORY

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I am not a psychologist, I like to design racing cars. I lived close I to my father all my life: I lived with him, in the flat above him, in the house next door to him, shared a boat on the south coast and a holiday home on the Isle of Skye. I find that I remember more about my father than I once realized. It was a psychiatrist who told me that.

It is astonishing to me, as a layman, that Attachment Theory was not greeted with a great chorus of “Hallelujah!, at last we have seen the light.” It was not like that. It was a real struggle to get this concept—one of the fundamentals of what makes us human—more widely understood so that society could benefit. It is solidly based on research and, after all, what is the point of doing research if nobody knows about it? That makes it a waste of time. Even when it is obscure, as much of it can be, research data is valuable. I have spent much of my life trying to clarify research findings in medical science and assist in their wider circulation. Eventually I quit my job to communicate Attachment Theory in what I hope is a more accessible way so that it could be more broadly understood.

 

INTRODUCTION OF PEARL KING

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We have a further treat tonight. Pearl King has kindly accepted our invitation to follow Sir Richard Bowlby this evening, and to share with us her personal and unique reminiscences of both Donald Winnicott, the man, and John Bowlby, the man. Pearl is one of the few people alive today who worked very closely with both, and who knew each of them in a variety of contexts. It is vitally important for those of us who are students, entering the psychoanalytical or psychotherapeutic field for the first time, confronted by an often confusing and overwhelming array of historical personalities, to begin to learn about competing theories by first understanding the man or the woman behind these theories. In this spirit, we have called upon Pearl King to provide us with some biographical meat and potatoes, if you will, something to underpin our knowledge of these two towering figures in the burgeoning disciplines of infant and child mental health.

Pearl King occupies a unique position in the international psychoanalytical movement. She has practised as a psychoanalyst for over fifty years, having become the very first nonmedical President of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, and having served as Secretary to the International Psycho-Analytical Association as well. She recently received the Sigourney Award, the highest honour that one can earn in the field of psychoanalysis, arguably the psychoanalytical equivalent of an Academy Award or the BAFTA, for lifetime achievement. Not only a psychoanalyst of great clinical renown—one of the most popular teachers, supervisors, and mentors—within the British mental health community, she will also be well-known to us as an exceptional historian of psychoanalysis, and as the founder of the Archives of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, recently renamed as The Pearl King Archives Trust in commemoration of the important work that she has done to keep the history of psychoanalysis alive. Her wonderful book, co-authored with Professor Riccardo Steiner, The Freud-Klein Controversies: 1941-45 (King & Steiner, 1991), remains a work of exceptional scholarship, translated into many languages around the world. Only a short while ago, Miss King received the very exciting news that a Chinese translation would be appearing in print before too long. This will be followed by an edition of her collected papers, currently in preparation, which will be published by Karnac Books.

 

RECOLLECTIONS OF DONALD WINNICOTT AND JOHN BOWLBY

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I could not help thinking, while I was listening to Sir Richard, how a cousin of mine who was a medical missionary in India once said to me: “This Dr Bowlby, you know, I think that the devil must have got into him!” It was enough to make one feel very worried and wonder what else this man would come up with. You see, my cousin had gone to India as a medical missionary, leaving two of her children, one of whom was a “blue” baby, at home to be looked after by relatives.

At that time many more people worked abroad in the mission-field where it was not very easy to keep their children with them. Their usual response to their dilemma was: “God called me to go abroad; I am doing His will; He will look after the children!”

I have some personal experience in this context, for I “lost” my mother, and my father, so to speak, when I was four years old. My parents were Christian missionaries and they went abroad to East Africa, taking my new baby brother with them and leaving me behind with a family of four cousins, two older and two younger than me. I lived with them for four years and they became my “family”. When I was eight years old, my parents returned from abroad and I “lost” my family; in return, I was left with a sad little boy who did not know how to play and often cried. After a year, my parents returned to Africa and I was sent, together with my five-year-old brother, to a boarding-school.

 

QUESTIONS TO SIR RICHARD BOWLBY

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Group 1

Why is it that the work and ideas of Dr Bowlby are so much more widely known and practised in the United States than here? Is this simply a cultural matter, or is it because American society is, on the whole, very much more orientated towards psychoanalytic theories generally? Are Americans much quicker than us to accept new ideas? Is there any specific reason, for example, that childcare arrangements for my daughter-in-law, who is resident in America, are very much based on Attachment Theory?

1. The reason my father’s work and ideas are so much wider-known and practised in the United States than in the United Kingdom—so much so that many child care arrangements are very closely based on his Attachment Theory—is probably a cultural phenomenon. Americans are more orientated towards psychoanalytic theories generally, and their way of thinking is more attuned to taking on new ideas. I recall an American saying to me (and this is not at all PC): “Don’t forget, Richard, nearly every American has come from a disrupted background—and those who did have stable backgrounds, we disrupted!” There is a resonance to my father’s work which strikes a chord in America; it is a combination of the brave new world and the taking-on of new ideas in a positive way. Certainly Mary Ainsworth, who was in many ways a co-founder of Attachment Theory, is very highly regarded in America and has received the most prestigious awards.

 

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