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«Running head: Utilizing attachment measures in child custody evaluations Utilizing Attachment Measures in Child Custody Evaluations: Incremental ...»

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Mother Mother‟s Caregiving Interview suggests that she too is a dismissing-deactivator. Her deactivating defenses create psychological distance from Thomas, interpreted as a defensive posture to make herself less vulnerable to his feelings of distress and to her own feelings of distress over his distress. Mother‟s particular form of deactivation in the Caregiving Interview shows that she directs more attention to the mechanics of care and solving care-taking problems than to emotions and the intimacy, joy, or distress associated with Thomas‟ attachment. Mother is proud of Thomas' social skills and she organizes his time so that he can have what she considers the requisite peer experiences. The kinds of behavior Mother praises and her goals for regular “play dates” are appraisals and expectations of maturity greater than developmental psychologists expect for children Thomas‟ age. She emphasized during the interview her desire for Thomas to be competent, which may be one reason she was so intrusive in Thomas‟ play during the Strange Situation. The Caregiving Interview suggested also that Mother is at some risk of attempting to use Thomas to meet her own needs for attachment and security.

Mother also diverts her attention from thinking about Thomas‟ distress during the interview. She rarely registers that his reactions are emotionally distressing, even when she

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Mother‟s interview also showed strong elements of disordered caregiving representations, elements that research has shown to be associated with feelings of being helpless and frightened as a parent (George & Solomon, 2008, in press). One feature is Mother‟s confusion of Thomas‟ distress with her own distress. She describes a situation in which a young peer refused to engage with Thomas at day care. Her description suggests that Thomas was not that distressed by his friend‟s rebuff. But Mother was so distressed by this situation that she had to “disappear,” leaving the situation to be handled by the day care provider as Mother watched on the side lines.

She notes that Thomas did not even know she had not left. These descriptions suggest that her view of being Thomas‟ parent is a combination of deactivation tendencies with abdication of parenting.

Another element of disordered caregiving is Mother‟s tendency to “glorify” Thomas as a child who is precocious and remarkably sensitive to the needs of others, his Mother included. To the lay observer, these descriptions can appear lovely and indicative of a sensitive and sweet child. Attachment theorists have shown, however, that such sensitivity is not appropriate for a child Thomas‟ age and is associated with caregiving role reversal in which Thomas is put in charge of his Mother‟s emotional needs (George & Solomon, 2008a; in press). Further, glorified children are usually highly cooperative and viewed by other adults (e.g., day care providers, teachers) as exemplary “good children.” Glorified children also run the risk of being seen as “one” with their parent. Attachment researchers call this phenomenon merging, a form of role reversal in which the parent is not able to distinguish between the child‟s needs and the needs of the self (George & Solomon, 2008b). One example where merging is manifest is that separation

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In sum, Mother‟s Caregiving pattern showed a strong mixture of deactivating/dismissing and disordered caregiving representation. This combination is associated with attempts to minimize or ignore a child‟s distress, substituting competency and peer relationships for attachment needs. Mother‟s inability to differentiate between her own distress and that of her sons, combined with psychological merging and glorification, do not bode well for Mother‟s ability to provide for Thomas‟ security.

The results of the AAP were consistent with the results of the Caregiving Interview.

Mother has a dismissing/deactivating defensive posture, in which she denies her needs for intimacy and attachment. Her response themes emphasized achievement and social and intellectual competence as more important than providing comfort. In addition, her responses demonstrated a lack of agency. That is, she is often unable to take action to resolve problems and is inclined toward the view that she does not have control over events in her life. The resulting insecurity and anxiety increases the chance that she will draw on her “internal representation” of Thomas in the Caregiving Interview as someone who is super-competent and adults in attachment relationships (e.g., spouse or romantic partner, own parents) as antagonists.

In the longer scope, this is likely to sustain the role-reversed situation in which Thomas' competence provides her with the security evidenced in the Caregiving Interview. Parallel to her Caregiving Interview, Mother‟s AAP test results suggest that she lacks the reflective capacity to puzzle out her feelings and experiences and take the first steps to containing them and thereby regulating her behavior. She appears to focus only on trying to regulate her emotions, and not on thinking about different perspectives to a situation or problem. This is in contrast to Father‟s

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Mother‟s AAP was judged deactivated, with underlying disorganization and helplessness.

The overall deactivated classification shows how Mother protects herself defensively from fear and helplessness associated with her childhood experiences with parents. Unlike Father‟s developing reflective capacity and mutual enjoyment in his present relationship as Thomas‟ father, Mother current relationship with Thomas appears to activate her helplessness and fears as a mother, despite attempts to turn her attention away from attachment and caregiving through deactivating defensive maneuvers.

Mother‟s Caregiving Interview and the AAP results support the results of the Strange Situation. The Strange Situation analysis suggested that Thomas was disorganized and avoidant with Mother. These two adult measures suggest an analogous pattern for Mother‟s representation of attachment and being Thomas‟ mother, especially the Mother‟s current parenting representation. Her focus on achievement, combined with the inability to solve problems and Mother‟s desire to retreat from others, suggests that Thomas is at greater risk with his Mother than with his Father. While both avoid noticing their son‟s distress, Mother‟s merged psychological state with Thomas puts him at risk for becoming the parent to his Mother and responsible for Mother‟s emotional well-being. The Caregiving Interview and AAP suggest that Father is more likely to mature emotionally than is Mother, especially in his growing ability to think about past and present contributions to relationship problems, especially those contributing to being Thomas‟ father.

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We began this article by suggesting that attachment-based measures can provide incremental validity to standard psychological tests in evaluating each adult‟s abilities as a

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While each of Thomas‟ parents has significant limitations, the cumulative impact of the different tests suggest that Father is more likely to be the parent most able to meet Thomas‟ needs for attachment, competent exploration and learning, behavior management, and affect management. On the whole, father‟s patterns of thinking and interaction appear likely to provide a more secure setting for Thomas‟ development. Both parents were dismissing in their orientation to Thomas‟ signals of distress, but Mother was more intrusive, less able to follow Thomas‟ lead and more likely to depend on her son for the satisfaction of her attachment needs.

Father was more open on the MMPI-2 and more reality oriented on the Rorschach. He was by far the parent better disposed to having a collaborative relationship with his son. On the AAP and Caregiving Interview, Father showed more psychological-mindedness and gave evidence of being on a journey toward becoming a more competent parent.

As a result, the custody evaluator recommended that if the parents could not live in the same city and share custody, Father be awarded primary custody. Her investigation, of course, had ruled out alcoholism on the father‟s part and showed little risk that the father would be violent. Would this recommendation have been different without using attachment measures?

Probably not. The standard psychological tests, the collateral interviews and home visits may have provided enough evidence that father was the more competent parent. But the evaluator would have made such a recommendation with less confidence, because the scientific validity of the findings would have been much less strong. After all, the data from the collateral interviews supported the view that Mother was instrumentally a fine parent: She arranged for child care,

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picking him up. Mother looked to other adults as if she was the more involved and competent parent, as evidenced for example by the evaluations of Thomas‟ day care provider. And this impression fits with Mother‟s emphasis on the importance of maintaining to a tee this societal view of the “good mother.” Father was not as assiduous in these areas. Furthermore, by utilizing the attachment measures, the evaluator made the decision for the judge a far more complicated one. The mother‟s attorney painted the father as a violent drunk who would not be able to remember to pick his child up from school. Even though the psychological testing demonstrated Father‟s strengths, a judge might easily have been convinced that the mother‟s proven ability to do the basic parenting trumped Father‟s psychological strengths.

The attachment measures and the inferences we draw from them, draw our attention beyond the mechanics of care, a common focus for laymen and professionals alike, to its emotional underpinnings. The attachment measures ascribe meaning to the more general findings of adult personality instruments and help us interpret collateral interviews and the values and of individuals speaking on the behavior of Thomas and his parents. Most important, these measures allow a community of researchers and evaluators to compare data from a large number of cases and situations. This ability to compare deepens the scientific credibility of these measures and provides the evaluator with insights not interpolated from subjectively assessed information.

Subjectively acquired information often suffices to guide decisions about conducting therapy.

But in light of the stakes and the demands of the courts, we need all of the objective information

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American Psychological Association (1994). Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings, American Psychologist, Vol. 49, No. 7, 677-680.

Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1967). Infancy in Uganda. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Butcher, J.N., Graham, J.R., Ben-Porath, Y.S., Tellegen, A., Dahlstrom, W.G., & Kaemmer, B.

MMPI-2 (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2): Manual for administration, Scoring, and interpretation (Rev. Ed.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bowlby, J. (1951). Maternal care and mental health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health

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Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.

Britner, P. A., Marvin, R. S., & Pianta, R. C. (2005). Development and preliminary validation of the caregiving behavior system: Association with child attachment classification in the preschool Strange Situation. Attachment and Human Development, 7, 83-102.

Buchheim, A., Erk, S., George, C., Kächele, H., Kircher, T., Martius, P., et al. (2008). Neural correlates of attachment dysregulation in borderline personality disorder using functional magnetic resonance imaging Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 163, 223-235.

Cassidy, J., Marvin, R. S., & the Mac Arthur Attachment Working Group. (1992). Attachment organization in preschool children: Coding guidelines. Unpublished manuscript, Penn

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George, C., & Main, M. (1979). Social interactions of young abused children: Approach, avoidance, and aggression. Child Development, 50, 306-318.

George, C., & Solomon, J. (1989). Internal working models of caregiving and security of attachment at age six. Infant Mental Health Journal, 10, 222-237.

George, C., & Solomon, J. (2008a). Caregiving system rating manual. Unpublished manuscript, Mills College, Oakland, CA.

George, C., & Solomon, J. (2008b). The caregiving system: A behavioral systems approach to parenting. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (2nd ed., pp. 833-856). New York: Guilford Press.

George, C., & Solomon, J. (in press). The disorganized caregiving system: Mothers' helpless state of mind. In J. Solomon & C. George (Eds.), Disorganized attachment and caregiving. New York: Guilford Press.

George, C., & West, M. (2001). The development and preliminary validation of a new measure of adult attachment: The Adult Attachment Projective. Attachment and Human

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Hesse, E., & Main, M. (2006). Frightened, threatening, and dissociative parental behavior in low-risk samples: Description, discussion, and interpretations. Development and

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Hoffman, K. T., Marvin, R. S., Cooper, G., & Powell, B. (2006). Changing Toddlers' and Preschoolers' Attachment Classifications: The Circle of Security Intervention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 1017-1026.

Lyons-Ruth, K., & Jacobvitz, D. (2008). Attachment disorganization: Unresolved loss, relational Violence, and lapses in behavioral and attentional strategies. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (2nd ed., pp.

666-697). New York: Guildford Press.

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