A Little Like Jazz: Reflections on the Bowlby Centre Conference

 By Kate Brown (UK)

Marking 25 years since the death of John Bowlby, the Bowlby Centre Conference was held in London September 18-20, 2015. It took place at the Freud Museum, London; the Institute of Child Health; and The Anna Freud Centre.

This international conference was conceived to celebrate the work of John Bowlby, and focused on how John Bowlby revolutionized our understanding of human relationships. It included a landmark exhibition, Attachment: Our Enduring Need for Others, at the Freud Museum, London. The conference was well attended by a broad spectrum of delegates, yet for some it had the feeling of a family reunion. This should not be considered an accident, since much of the discussion was around the theme of separation and reunion. For example, Bob Marvin gave a brilliant account of the Circle of Security intervention. This was illustrated by videos of children moving away from their caregivers/secure base in exploration and the pairs’ interaction upon each child’s return to his or her safe haven for refueling.

Other video material of parent/child interaction included parent infant psychotherapy with Amanda Jones, as well as use of the strange situation test to demonstrate the spectrum of interactions and the differences between securely and insecurely attached bonds. The focus of attention during the conference went from minute millisecond details—such as the sound of a heart-beat, or the tiny movements of milk formula in a baby’s bottle—to the familial, to the wider political arena, including concern about the plight of migrants and the impact of attachment theory on government policies and mental health provision. The conference was of interest to a broad range of psychotherapists and researchers at all career stages, with wide interdisciplinary appeal.

The conference posed two central questions: where is the attachment theory revolution now? And what are its future directions? In terms of where the revolution is now, the conference gave little doubt that the revolution is gathering pace in terms of recognition of the far reaching impact of attachment theory. It affects both the practice of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis and the wider arena of social policy. As Gil Scott-Heron once said, “the revolution will not be televised”; but this particular revolution, as seen at this conference, was both videoed and made creative use of videoed materials.

In terms of the future directions, there was a clear emphasis on early intervention. Conference participants discussed the application of attachment theory to building secure attachments in infancy, including identifying at-risk parents before the birth of their children. Susie Orbach helped us conceptualize this “Two for One” approach. She discussed supporting mothers in understanding their “bodiographies” better, and suggested supportive interventions to help resolve trauma held in mothers’ bodies. The goal of such interventions is to help reduce both the likelihood of attachment difficulties in infants and the subsequent need for intervention and the inevitable cost implications. Another discussion considered the need to support adoptive families in building secure attachments.

The conference had a creative, conversational style in which speakers were invited into round table discussions with an improvisational feel, hence one participant’s comment that “this has been a little like jazz.” The finale included music by jazz musicians composed with John Bowlby in mind. There could be no more fitting way to mark the occasion of 25 years since the death of John Bowlby, to honor the past, focus on the present, and consider the future of attachment theory.

For further information about the program and contributors see these links: http://thebowlbycentre.org.uk/cpd/#JohnBowlby25thAnniversary


brownphoto1115wKate Brown
UKCP registered
Attachment based psychoanalytic psychotherapist
Bournemouth, Dorset, UK
Email Kate Brown