In the world of psychotherapy, John Bowlby was — and to some extent still is — an ambiguous figure. Trained as a psychoanalyst, and with a powerful academic mind, he was keen to place his discipline on a firm scientific footing. In his attempts to do so he alienated the psychoanalytic community, who felt that he had sidelined the role of the unconscious, and replaced the experiential creativity of mind with a mechanistic model.
I shall describe this history, and then outline where I see the role of attachment in contemporary psychotherapeutic thinking. I shall address the themes of mentalising, the ‘ambiguous therapist’ (ambiguity again!), epistemic trust and the neurobiological underpinnings of the therapeutic relationship. I will conclude with some guidelines for the practice of attachment-informed psychodynamic psychotherapy.
- Holmes (1993) John Bowlby and Attachment Theory. London: Routledge
- Holmes & Slade, (2017) Attachment in Therapeutic Practice. London: SAGE
- Holmes, (2014) The Therapeutic Imagination. Abingdon: Routledge
Professor Jeremy Holmes was for 35 years Consultant Psychiatrist/Medical Psychotherapist at University College London (UCL) and then in North Devon, UK, and Chair of the Psychotherapy Faculty of the Royal College of Psychiatrists 1998-2002.
He is visiting Professor at the University of Exeter, and lectures nationally and internationally. In addition to 200+ peer-reviewed papers and chapters in the field of psychoanalysis and attachment theory, his books include John Bowlby and Attachment Theory, (2nd edition 2013) The Oxford Textbook of Psychotherapy (2005 co-editors Glen Gabbard and Judy Beck), Exploring In Security: Towards an Attachment-informed Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (2010, winner of Canadian Goethe Prize) , and The Therapeutic Imagination: Using Literature to Deepen Psychodynamic Understanding and Enhance Empathy (2014) and Attachment in Therapeutic Practice (2017, with A Slade).He was recipient of the Bowlby-Ainsworth Founders Award 2009. Music-making, gardening, Green politics and grand-parenting are gradually eclipsing his lifetime devotion to psychoanalytic psychotherapy and attachment.