Attachments And Family Therapy

“A further strength of Ainsworth’s classification of attachment types is that it has been applied to the development of family therapy and systemic therapy.”

Since Ainsworth defined different types of attachment forty years ago, researchers have been working to refine her findings and to use them to help people deal with difficulties in their lives. Patricia Crittenden, a former student of Ainsworth, has developed a models to explain how different types of attachment develop at later stages of life. You can watch a video of her talking about her work here.

Use these sources and other links to find out more about Patricia Crittenden’s work and about family and systemic therapy. Add a comment of no more than 200 words summarising what you have found.


  1. Patricia Crittenden studying at the University of Virginia in the 1970s under the supervision of Mary Ainsworth. She had the opportunity to assist Ainsworth in recording the first video taped strange situations, as this was at a time that video taping was just coming in. She also got to work with Bowlby and followed Bowlby’s set pattern of integrating theories to go on and develop the Dynamic-Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM), from the guidance and input from Ainsworth and Bowlby. The DMM explains the different human attachment behaviours and adaptations in the different stages of life, this enables behaviours to be labelled and categorised. The DMM hypothesises that as maturation makes new and more complex mental and behavioural processes possible, changes in context provide occasions for use of these processes. The DMM suggests that individual patterns of attachment will reflect the individuals developmental history, family organisation of self-protection strategies and cultural experiences of persistent local danger. Crittenden gave an example of human adaptation through her story about when she visited San Diego; the first time she visited, uniformed men where everywhere and residents were quite reserved and paranoid of danger, when she came back for another visit- the city was more vibrant and people dared to stay out late. The adapted to the danger.

    Family and systemic therapy identifies patterns of behaviour within a group or family to address the patterns directly, instead of determine causes of relationship faults or assigning a diagnosis. The role of the this type of therapist is to introduce creative nudges to address the current relationship patterns, rather than analyse possible causes. When identifying patterns of behaviour, Ainsworth’s classification of attachment types can assist the therapist during this process.

  2. Patricia Crittenden considered attachment as one part of hierarchy of systems theory from intrapersonal to interpersonal culture.
    She and Ainsworth modified the strange situations to create the PAA. Attachment was expanding beyond infancy and taking on the complexity of adult human behaviour.
    In 2002, Crittenden established the Family Relations Institute (FRI) – it was more clinical and a culturally sensitive theory.
    The primary activities of the FRI are:
    • Courses in attachment theory
    • Creation and testing of developmentally and culturally sensitive DMM assessment of attachment
    • Training the application of DMM assessment (in several languages and in a variety of cultures)
    • Research
    • Coding for other research
    DMM (Dynamic maturational model of Attachment – emphasizes the dynamic interaction of the maturation of the human organism across the life-span, with the contexts in which maturational possibilities are used to protect the self, reproduce and protect ones progeny.
    As maturation makes new and more complex mental and behavioural processes possible, changes in context provide the occasion for using these processes, because exposure to danger differs by age as well as by person. Family and cultural group, individual patterns of attachment will reflect:
    • Individual development history
    • Family organization of self cultural experience with persistent of local dangers
    • Family organization of self protective strategies.

  3. Patricia Crittenden has produced the DMM (dynamic maturational model of attachment and adaptation) which focuses on the idea of there being two basic transformations of sensory stimulation- ‘cognition’ and ‘effect’.
    She stated that “The only information we have is information about the past, whereas the only information we need is information about the future. … Without understanding how each individual transforms information and derives self-relevant meanings we cannot understand why parents do what they do”
    The dynamic maturational model of attachment and adaptation is outlined on her website as:
    -Maturation is both neurological/mental and also physical.
    -Maturation involves both the increase in potential during childhood and adulthood and also the ultimate decrease in potential in old age.
    -Contexts include both the people and places that affect development, e.g., family, school.
    -Context also includes the intra-and-interpersonal challenges of different periods of the life-span, including:
    -Infancy: The parents mediate the effect of the context upon the infant, including risk to the infant.
    -Preschool: learning safe forms of self-reliance for short periods of time;
    -School-age: establishing symmetrical attachments with best friends while concurrently maintaining affiliative peer relationships;
    -Adolescence: transforming best friend attachments into romantic, reciprocal attachments with a sexual component;
    -Adulthood: establishing (1) symmetrical and reciprocal spousal attachments that foster both partners’ development, (2) the nurturance of children in non-reciprocal, and (3) non-symmetrical attachment relationships in which the adult is the attachment figure;
    -Aging: attachments in later life when the adult is becoming less physically and mentally competent and in need of protection once again.

    1. Thank you for this. You’ve made it really clear how the experience of attachment early in life shapes later interactions and development. That brings into sharp focus the importance of Ainsworth’s classifications. It’s then interesting to see how therapy builds on this in order to help people deal with life changes.

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