Dr. Ippen-Ghosh on Attachment, Culture, and Trauma (Part I)

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On October 26th, 2010, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop by Dr. Chandra Ippen-Ghosh on Understanding How Attachment, Culture, and Trauma Shape Engagement and Service Provision. Ippen-Ghosh is the Associate Research Director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco and the Early Trauma Treatment Network. She’s also a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. In the next few posts, I’d like to give you a thumbnail sketch of the information presented at this workshop. The workshop was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, hosted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, and held in Albuquerque. The workshop was targeted mainly toward mental health practitioners who provide home visitation services to families with newborns and infants. Click on this link to go to a description of the workshop over at the LANL Foundation web site (caution: this link may be somewhat ephemeral).

Before we get started, I’d like to provide a bit of “prep” information that might be helpful as we move through this summary. When I encounter any new information on treatments or interventions I find it helpful to keep the following continuum in mind:

worldview <==> ideology <==> methodology <==> intervention

I’m pulling the above continuum from a 2000 book by Gerald Midgley entitled Systemic Intervention: Philosophy, Methodology, and Practice. (A summary of this book is available.) Lets look at an example that might help concretize this continuum for you.

Lets start with a militaristic worldview. This worldview holds the idea that there are friends and then there are foes or enemies. In addition, friends need to be protected and foes vanquished. This idea gives rise to any number of methodologies designed to first determine friend from foe, next, protect friends, and then finally vanquish foes. One such methodology has been setup in the area of oncology or diagnosing cancer in an organism. Suffice it to say that on this continuum a cancer is viewed as an enemy that needs to be vanquished. This leads to interventions, like chemotherapy or radiation therapy, designed to vanquish the enemy (e.g., cancer) while at the same time protecting friends (e.g., normal tissue). The idea that an intervention like chemotherapy is held by a militaristic worldview comes from Candace Pert’s 1997 book Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine. Suffice it to say that Pert (as she describes in her book) was slammed by the western medical community for attempting to put cancer—and cancer treatments—on a continuum that held a different (e.g., non-western) worldview. “One more example,” you ask. OK. This one comes from the 2005 edited volume entitled Critical Thinking About Psychology—Hidden Assumptions and Plausible Alternatives. (Partial summary available.)

Development is one of the ideas looked at in Critical Thinking. In light of the fact that home visitation programs are designed to improve newborn and infant development, this example is apropos. The Critical Thinking authors (I’ll just use authors to make it simple) argue that the idea of development is held by a largely anti-religious, or, more accurately, anti-God worldview. According to the authors, what got poor Charles Darwin into so much hot water back in the 19th century was how his theory of evolution argued for purpose other than God’s purpose. Darwin ushered in the following clash of worldviews: development according to God’s plan or purpose versus development according to nature’s plan, one that doesn’t seem to have any divinely given purpose behind it at all. Within the former worldview, you can argue teleologically. An example here would be: “Humans developed thumbs in order to grasp.” Within the latter, teleological arguments are hard to make. An example here would be: “Thumbs just developed.” The authors argue that there is a hidden method to the madness that is contained within the development continuum. Allow me to take a stab at pointing out this hidden assumption. Here’s how the thinking goes according to the authors. (I’m pulling from memory here, so bear with me.)

An anti-God worldview holds the idea of development. There is no real purpose behind development, especially not God’s purpose. The methodology behind development is to discover various patterns of development. As the authors point out, this is what developmentalists like Darwin and Jean Piaget did—discover patterns of development. I hate to say it but John Bowlby was a developmentalist—going around discovering patterns of attachment development. (And the authors specifically “diss” (disrespect) Bowlby for his developmentalist ways.) But here’s the “gottcha politics” (with apologies to Diane Denish): if after discovering patterns of development you then go on to judge one pattern “good” and another “bad,” well, you are then in effect playing God. Again, I hate to say it but Bowlby did deem the development of secure attachment to be a good pattern. Simply put, there’s nothing within the science worldview that will tell you that one pattern is a good pattern and another bad. In sum, the authors objected to the following continuum that, in their minds, holds development:

  • Worldview = anti-God and anti-God’s purpose
  • Idea = there are patterns of development that reflect nature’s purpose, which is no purpose at all
  • Methodology = discover nature’s patterns of development
  • Intervention = intervene to bring about a pattern of development deemed to be good, and, in doing so, play God

Honestly, before the authors pointed out their take on the development continuum, I really did look at development as being rather benign. The authors really opened my eyes to the hidden assumptions that can (and often do) lurk in continuums. As a result, I try to keep them in mind as I hear about new treatment or intervention programs. In my next post I’ll get to the workshop information proper. But I do hope that you will keep the above prep information in mind as we move through the workshop information. As always, use the CONTACT US link above if you would like to request either of the summaries mentioned above. And as always, if I create more questions than I answer, please consult the books that I mention. These guys and gals are the true public intellectuals.