Attachment working models and psychological well-being
across the lifespan:
Implications for clinical practice and research
Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969.1988) has become a potent theoretical
framework that explains individual differences in socio-emotional development,
mental health, and well-being across the lifespan. The paper explores the
connection between adult attachment and psychological well-being focusing
in particular on the cognitive and affective processes that underlie the
established differences in attachment organisation.
The first part briefly introduces Bowlby's attachment theory and the central conceptual units of attachment behaviour system and working models. More recent conceptualisations and operationalisations of adult attachment organisation are also discussed in relation to one another and working model is proposed as a central explanatory unit. It is argued that working models are dynamic constructs, closely related to similar concepts in object relations theory, and icorporate cognitive (i.e. expectation of self and other) and affective (i.e. patterns of emotion regulation) processes.
In the second part, the paper reviews a diverse body of evidence from different areas of research (i.e. developmental, social and clinical) that has established the close interconnections of individual differences in attachment organisation and psychological well-being across the lifespan. Using Working Models as the central explanatory unit the paper outlines the cognitive and affective processes responsible for the differences in the well-being outcomes. It is argued specifically that research has not given adequate credit to the emerging evidence of emotion regulation as a central construct of attachment organisation and also to the interpersonal aspects of the theory (e.g. relations with social support).
On the basis of this discussion, the paper outlines some clinical applications for the diagnosis and treatment of persons with insecure attachment and discusses future avenues of research that could incorporate exciting recent developments in the areas of emotion theory and behavioural neuroscience.
Key words: Working models, attachment theory, mental health, emotion.