The John Bowlby 25th anniversary event : an international conference celebrating Bowlby's work (conference review)
Written by Martin Dorahy
On the 2nd September 1990 the world lost one of its foremost psychological visionaries. John Bowlby’s contribution to understanding the human condition, the importance of caregiver-infant interactions, and how these provide a foundation for not only relationships but also psychological functioning has had a profound influence on social life, parenting and human affairs more broadly. The Bowlby Centre has continued to promote the importance of Bowlby’s seminal idea, and their 25th anniversary conference in central London was a very fitting homage to Bowlby, which honoured his legacy as well as how his ideas have translated into contemporary clinical and research work, along with social policy.
Like Bowlby’s original contributions, the conference was unique, creative and exciting in it’s flair, content and structure. The tradition of the audience being exposed to individual papers was put to one side and leading figures in the attachment world, or those heavily influenced by Bowlby’s work were teamed together in groups of 3. One was appointed chair, and essentially moderated a conversation between the other two, with one taking the lead in asking questions and deepening the conversation, so an exploration and sharing of ideas ensued in which the audience became intimately involved as observers, and later as participants when questions, comments and reflections were invited. In this way the audience was engaged in observing the questions, dialogue and exchange as if a member of the observing or reflecting team in family therapy.
Book-ending the conversational-style format was an introduction by Mr Mark Linington, chair of the Bowlby Centre Executive and closing remarks by Sir Richard Bowlby and Dr Bob Marvin. The only other individual paper was given by Prof. Brett Kahr and commenced the formal proceeding at the start of the day. He presented a lucid historical tour de force of the cultural context that spawned the ignorance and inhumane treatment of children, psychoanalytic thought, the inhibition and eventual acknowledgement of interpersonal trauma in children, its impact on psychological distress and the evolution of Bowlby’s thinking. This shook people from their Saturday morning coffee and provided a further stimulant to sustain attention for the remainder of the day. The conversational ‘papers’ had a mix of clinical content and research endeavours, and commenced with Prof. Mary Target in conversation with Dr Amanda Jones, discussing the influence of attachment-informed interventions in Jones’ work in an NHS service with infant and children. The impact of attachment and the importance of trauma-informed care and service was a focal point of Dr Sandra Bloom’s conversation with Mark Linington. The format was then broken up a little with Dr Valerie Sinason chairing Dr Elizabeth Howell ‘s interview with Prof. Allan Schore via video-link on the influence of attachment on neuroscience and trauma theory. This conversation provided the first dedicated exposure of the day to attachment in the research domain, which was followed up later in the day by conversation involving Profs. Miriam and Howard Steele, Dr Karl Heinz Brisch, Dr Susie Orbach and the author/broadcaster Oliver James. Attendees were left stimulated and exhausted, which I’m sure would have brought a satisfied smile from Bowlby.