What is Attachment Theory?

Attachment theory was developed by John Bowlby, a British psychologist, partly as a result of the experience of hundreds of thousands of children during the second world war who were separated from their parents, and evacuated to safer areas of the UK. His work on the importance of parent-infant bonds revolutionised childcare around the world.

An attachment is a precise term: the notion of a safe haven which, when available, becomes a secure base from which to explore the world around us. Then when we are separated from our secure base we become anxious and quickly seek proximity. Attachment theory and research offer a powerful lens through which to understand carer-child (or carer-adult) interactions. (Shemmings, 2016)

Read David Shemming’s article about Attachment Theory for ‘The Guardian’

Attachment & Relationship-based Practice

Channels & Choices works in partnership with Professor David Shemmings and have now incorporated David’s ARP (Attachment and Relationship-based Practice) project in to our therapeutic framework. The ARP project is a core training course and David directly trains all of our staff and foster carers.

What is a ‘psychodynamic approach’?

Psychodynamic approaches stress the need to understand what is going on in the ‘inner worlds’ of individuals. It focuses and concentrates on intentions and motives, rather than behaviour alone. This is not to say that children’s behaviour isn’t important, but psychodynamic approaches believe that the underlying reasons for that behaviour are to found within the person’s mind and within their close relationships. (Shemmings, 2016)

How do we use Systemic theory in our work?

Systemic practice has helped us move on from models of linear causality (behaviour management) to an understanding of ‘reality’ as being socially and linguistically constructed with influences coming from many levels of the system. For example- individuals, birth family, new family, culture and society. Systemic practice does not diagnose, but instead seeks to identify stagnant and unhelpful patterns of behaviours irrespective of analysis and cause, to bring about positive adaptive change. Positive patterns of behaviour  are also identified in order to encourage and empower the children that we work with at Channels & Choices.

The importance of reflective practice

When working with children who have experienced abuse, neglect and rejection, individuals are often reminded – consciously or unconsciously – of unpleasant childhood experiences of their own. Without good reflective supervision feelings and emotions remain ‘unprocessed’ and that makes it harder to think clearly (this has been called ‘hot cognition’ i.e. thinking full of feeling). That’s why practitioners need to talk about and ‘work through’ such powerful feelings. (Shemmings, 2016)

Research on the brain

We need to be careful when reading and applying neurological studies that purport to tell us which parts of the brain are ‘lighting up’ when an individual is performing certain tasks etc. But what is less contentious is the notion that when children (or adults) experience trauma a ‘switch’ occurs which makes the brain stem take over from ‘executive functioning’: we don’t think, or even feel … we act and respond to perceived dangers. This is fine when real dangers exist, but dangers from the past confuse the brain about the present, then the person reacts by becoming hypervigilant over things that remind them of the sights, smells and sounds that accompanied the earlier trauma. The result? A very frightened child, who lashes out and others and/or the self. They are difficult to care for because, in their past, ‘care’, ‘ love’, ‘affection’ may well have been precursors to significant abuse and neglect. (Shemmings, 2016)

“Bearing the Unbearable”

In 2010 Channels and Choices was the pilot project service for Christine Bradley’s research into emotionally fragmented children. Christine is a Psychotherapist who trained alongside therapeutic child care pioneers Donald Winnicott and Barbara Dockar Drysdale to develop thinking and insight in to the world of unintegrated children. This research has now been published as a training manual and DVD entitled ‘Bearing the Unbearable’. As an on-going piece of work Christine helped focus and deliver effective therapeutic interventions whilst developing insight and understanding within the company.

DVD: “Brainchild: Getting Your Brain to Do What You Want”

Channels & Choices and David Shemmings have teamed up to create a training DVD for practitioners working with Traumatised children called ‘Brain Child’: Getting your brain to do what you want’. The DVD shows a number of short films explaining how the brain works when a child has experienced relational or developmental trauma. There are 5 professionals who cover current issues such as: CSE, online safety, violent gangs, child trafficking, sexual and physical abuse, and being missing from home. There are also 6 care leavers who tell their stories about their experience of trauma. The DVD is now available to purchase for £50.