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One would be hard pressed not to appreciate the depth and extensiveness of the Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications. Having said this, as is the case with many edited volumes that approach approximately one thousand pages, it is also a volume that one will probably not read cover to cover. It is far more likely that this volume will be used by most as a necessary reference and resource related to the contemporary study of attachment. As the editors, Jude Cassidy and Phillip Shaver, so aptly state in their preface, who would have predicted the development of such an immense field of research from the humble beginnings of John Bowlby's and Mary Ainsworth's initial interests less than forty years ago? As one will clearly see editors Cassidy and Shaver answer their own question and put an end to their expressed bewilderment. This volume, not unlike other previous edited works, captures why the study of attachment has, in fact, exploded into one of the largest areas of study within psychology: its inherent appeal of shedding light on the nature of human relationships and its implications for other areas of study.
The volume is divided into six distinct sections: an overview of attachment theory, biological perspectives, attachment in infancy and childhood, attachment in adolescence and adulthood, clinical applications of attachment theory and research, and emerging topics and perspectives. All in all, a fairly predictable lay out. However, signifying a shift in the field, the shortest sections of this volume are those of attachment in infancy and childhood, scarcely covering seventy pages of the nine hundred plus book and attachment in adolescence and adulthood, covering about the same.
How times have changed. A mere fifteen years ago marked the first monograph of attachment edited by Inge Bretherton and Everett Waters (Growing Points of Attachment Theory and Research), with just a slight mention of attachment beyond the preschool years and little focus on adolescence and adulthood or applications and implications of attachment theory. Such is the progression of research. This shift is certainly needed in the field and this volume adequately captures that change in focus. Certainly our understanding of attachment in infancy and childhood has been adequately captured for the time being and the same could be said for adolescence and adulthood, unless one could capture more empirically and verifiably those pesky internal working models or representational states so often alluded to. Quite frankly, the sections on attachment in infancy and childhood and adolescence and adulthood are predictable and unlikely to shed much new information that is not already available. There is one notable exception to this found in Chapter 18 written by Jonathan Mohr which examines same sex romantic relationships. In the area of adolescent and adult romantic relationships this is clearly an area which has not been thoroughly examined by attachment researchers. Mohr's chapter is truly an overdue contribution to the field.
At this point in time it is only appropriate to see more emphasis put on the biological perspectives of attachment as well as the clinical applications of attachment theory and research and emerging topics and perspectives on attachment. The well read attachment enthusiast will likely find the sections on biological perspectives, clinical applications, and emerging topics the more interesting of the book. The section on biological perspectives provides intriguing commentary on modern evolutionary perspectives, comparative research, the role of temperament in interpersonal relationships, and the psychophysiological measure of attachment. This section provides much in the broadening understanding of attachment. The further examination of the biological and evolutionary underpinnings of behavior, including attachment, is a focus that psychology will continue to re-embrace if human behavior and its causes and correlates are to be better understood. The editors should be commended for having the insight to include this within their volume.
The section examining clinical applications of attachment theory and research is also quite interesting. For those who are involved with clinical work in psychology, psychiatry, or social work, this series of chapters are especially useful. From psychopathology in childhood to adulthood, parent child dysfunction, grief and unresolved loss, and the application of attachment theory within individual therapy there is much here to offer. Ultimately, no matter how interesting a theory is, without utility it is doomed to history. Nothing could be farther from reality for attachment theory as is clearly demonstrated in this series of chapters.
The last section of the volume examines emerging topics and perspectives within attachment research. Many of the topics explored probably do not have equally bright futures in the field of attachment research. However, the last chapter, which discusses implications of attachment theory for child care policies, is an invaluable contribution. One could hope for more work along these lines. And it does seem obvious that public policy regarding the treatment and care of children would be one of the largest areas of growth in the future for attachment theorists. The information is available and the culture is in dire need of learned guidance for future child care policies. One would hope that the two domains will interlace more than in the past.
Closing out the volume, and most appropriately so, is an epilogue written by Mary Main. Quite frankly, this is by far the most interesting and invaluable piece of the volume. It is rare that an epilogue has much to offer beyond what has already been said, but not in this case. Main discusses in a clear and summative way the myriad of information contained in the nearly one thousand pages of the volume. But even more importantly Main helps in clarifying much of attachment theory that is frequently and consistently misunderstood. She lays to rest many unnecessary debates about attachment based on fallacious grounds and leads the way for new researchers in the field to areas that need further clarification. It would be prudent for the reader of this volume to start at this epilogue and then return to it upon completing the volume.
All in all the Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Application is a notable contribution in the field of attachment research. The contributors in the volume are all notable researchers within their specific domains and will be easily recognized by the reader. It can be seen as a necessary volume for anyone involved within the field of attachment or who has interest in the topic of attachment.
Suzanne M. Johnson, Ph.D. is associate professor of psychology at Dowling College located on Long Island, New York. She received her graduate degrees from SUNY at Stony Brook having worked with Dr. Everett Waters. She proceeded to spend over a decade engaged in attachment research. Currently Dr. Johnson is writing a book with Dr. Elizabeth O'Connor examining lesbian parenting and is collecting the largest national data sample to date of gay and lesbian headed families in the United States. Dr. Johnson can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 516-244-3061.