Daniel A. Hughes, a leading figure in Attachment Therapy, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in attachment, child neglect, abuse and foster care. He assists therapists, family service programs, parents and social managers who need help treating attachment disorder in children (Hughes, 2000), work for which he has become globally acclaimed.
“Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Troubled Children” (2006) is a detailed account of the meaning behind being a child damaged by systematic abuse and trauma. The book uses the story format to translate the affective charge of various principled techniques of caring for and healing a child in this situation. The second edition of this book (originally published in 1998) contains recent developments and insights regarding intervention. It equally provides examples of relevant research and successful interventions aimed at illustrating the validity of Hughes’ theory. As a result, “Building the Bonds of Attachment” is a blend of attachment and trauma theory backed by research and the main principles behind adequate therapy and parenting.
Katie Harrison’s fictional case, the central axis around which the entire book revolves, has developmental relevance and reveals her trajectory through life, from her mother’s womb to an early life filled with physical violence, anger and emotional instability. More specifically, Katie’s case is one of a disorganized sense of attachment that manifests through various problematic attachment patterns. The therapeutic answer to such a condition revolves, according to Hughes, around the opportunities to create safe attachments with the child’s new caregivers that can assist the health development of the child’s affective and cognitive aspects. As a result, one of the messages voiced by Hughes in this book is the reminder that one’s pre-natal and perinatal stages play life-changing roles in our social and emotional development as adults.
The book illustrates the insightful path of Katie’s development and is populated with instances describing her not-so-positive experiences in various foster homes while revealing Katie’s thought patterns that eroded her trust in people or the patterns that gave birth to Katie need to be in control. Hughes description of Katie’s experiences with numerous therapists and foster parents reveal uncover a peculiar instance of abnormal child development where the prospect of attachment becomes the most frightening aspect of a relationship. These insights manage to dispel the long-held belief that “everyone needs love” or that the nurturing quality of an adult will undoubtedly solve all problems.
Katie’s 4th foster parent, Jackie Keller, has the tools to offer Katie a homely environment that is close to Katie’s needs in order to preserve safe attachments. Nonetheless, her mission is filled with difficulties and her efforts are met by Katie’s systematic rejection or indifference. Katie’s second therapist, Allison Kaplan, offers Jackie her valuable assistance and advice. Allison is presented as being a highly trained therapist who has experience working with children suffering from severe attachment difficulties. The dynamics of their interaction allow us to gradually witness the emergence of elements that predict Katie’s recovery, such as changes in her models of the world and her perspective on commitment and affection. One of the key-aspects in her intervention is focus on the elimination of shame from Katie’s life. The book focuses on the idea that shame must be reduced from the start rather than allowing it to develop during therapy. For example, Allison describes how her practice focuses on instances in the child’s existence that result in feeling shame and how the process of exploring said feeling results in a response filled with both shame and rage. By accepting the response, the therapist assists the child in integrating their response in their sense of self. The usefulness of this intervention is reflected in the effect resolved shame-related issues have on the manifestation of anger which will be reduced. Another positive effect is represented by the fact that the child will be more willing to form an attachment to their parents through experiences of attunement and support from their parents. The child finds a new sense of self-worthiness that can be seen in his interactions with his/her caregivers.
A third key figure in Hughes book is Steven Fields, Katie Harrison’s caseworker. He is an extensively-informed and committed individual who is dedicated to improving Katie’s quality of life (through adequate therapy and a new placement), although he does not fully understand Katie’s attachment issues. However, he gains an improved understanding of Katie’s situation once his wife gives birth to their child.
As noted in the book’s preface (2006, P. 5), Hughes sees these three individuals as playing the roles of developmental guides that offer Katie the kind of experiences she requires in order to heal. By describing the highlights of the interaction between Katie, Jackie—her primary foster parent – and Katie’s therapist (Allison), Hughes manages to make a thorough presentation of the main therapeutic and home-based intervention principles with weakly-attached children. Hughes’ hope was to alert the relevant authorities (educators, legislators, therapists) about the dangers of ignoring the implications of a poorly-understood aspect of anomalous child development and to integrate the un-attached child into the social collective.
Admittedly, there is need for more research that supports the beneficial effects of these therapeutic interventions and it is generally recognized that it is difficult to provide a treatment solution for attachment disorder (Hughes, 2000). Nonetheless, “Building the Bonds of Attachment” offers an excellent account of how children who seem emotionally indifferent or egotistic hide a damaged sense of self and an anomalous view of the world, while his/her actions cover their struggle to survive (emotionally). It is also immensely insightful for parents or caregivers (who deal with poorly-attached children) as it provides them with the realization that their failure to adequately connect with their child does not necessarily reflect a lack of proper parenting skills. That is perhaps why Hughes emphasizes the fact that parents should abstain from holding grudges against their problematic children when faced with their challenging behavior patterns. Instead, they should reassure the child that even though their behavior is inappropriate, he or she is still cared for and precious to her family. This book also equips them with the awareness of the possibility that their child will develop various methods of alienation to prove to themselves that they are not deserving of their caregivers’ affection. The realistic approach of “Building the Bonds of Attachment” is used to inform therapists and caregivers that the therapeutic response that is needed in such situations involves an often strict systematic intervention based on non-judgmental patience and perseverance.
Hughes, D. A. (2000). Facilitating developmental attachment: The road to emotional recovery and behavioral change in foster and adopted children. Jason Aronson, Incorporated.
Hughes, D. A. (2006). Building the bonds of attachment: Awakening love in deeply troubled children. Jason Aronson.