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Conflict Resolution Institute

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Research and Attachment Theory

Judith Fox

Judith Fox has been on the faculty of the Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP) for 13 years teaching courses in child/adolescent development, diagnosis, and treatment. Prior to working at GSPP she directed the Psychosocial Services in Adult Medicine at National Jewish Hospital where she worked on the impact of respiratory illness on psychological health. Additionally, she has worked with veterans at VA hospitals in Topeka and Denver in inpatient psychiatry and as a psychological consultant to the HIV/AIDS Clinic in Infectious Disease Department. In private practice she works with children, adolescents and families who present with a variety of difficulties including trauma, loss, high-conflict divorce, mood difficulties, emotional self- regulation, and family interpersonal problems. With her interest in trauma she has worked with clients who have experienced abuse and sexual abuse. Her research interests have included stress and coping in childhood, health psychology, mental health stigma and psychotherapy, and the implications of intersubjectivity and attachment theory for working abroad. 

The goal of MAIDP is to promote the development of skills to serve the public good and promote mental health and psychosocial well-being of those affected by disaster, domestically and abroad. After the success of the Peacebuilding and Trauma Recovery Conference in 2007, cosponsored by MAIDP and the Conflict Resolution Institute, Dr. Karen Feste, Academic Director of the Conflict Resolution Institute MA program, approached Dr. Fox about forming a collaboration between MAIDP and Conflict Resolution. This collaboration has made it so that Conflict Resolution students are able to take relevant courses in MAIDP and vice versa. One of these courses, taught by Dr. Fox, is a course on lifespan development and trauma in a cross-cultural context. The course focuses on childhood trauma and its implications for child and adult development and its treatment. The course emphasizes cross-cultural theories of childhood development. She encourages Conflict Resolution students to take this course.

Dr. Fox's current research interest focuses on factors that affect the development of therapeutic relationships She has written about and applied intersubjectivity theory to the formation of international internship partnerships.. When Dr. Fox became the director of MAIDP, she worked in the Balkans to make connections with organizations in order to develop placement sites to accommodate an entire class of MA students. She spent much of this time negotiating relationships with organizations, getting to know the surrounding communities, understanding the functioning of these organizations, and providing supervisory tips. She credits her relationships with supervisors as being key to forming these partnerships. Outside of the Balkans, MAIDP has relationships with organizations in Panama, Belize, and Ethiopia, with plans for further partnerships in other areas around the world. In these placement sites MAIDP students get the opportunity to work with these sites by helping in many ways to support their mission, including providing workshops on topics in mental health to staff, working on disaster planning, working with beneficiaries in group formats, and/or becoming involved in developing and/or leading psycho-educational programs, The idea is that students help those who are on the frontlines of working with communities that may have experienced natural or human-made disaster.

One of Dr. Fox's primary goals is to bring clinical psychology perspectives into the international field. In a fascinating intersection between conflict resolution and clinical psychology, she has written about Attachment Theory (See Education Box) and its implications for peacebuilding in conflict and post-conflict communities. In February she is scheduled to speak at the Conflict Resolution Institute and will share her clinical psychology perspectives and their implications for the conflict resolution field.

Education Section: Attachment Theory
Attachment Theory posits that the same motivational system that leads children to form emotional bonds with their caregiver is the same system that leads adults to form emotional relationships and social connections. The way the caregiver responds to a child's attachment behaviors (following, clinging, reaching or crying) will have an effect on social behaviors after infancy. Infants reared in inadequate institutions with minimal opportunity to form attachments to adults have shown increased tendencies toward aggression, delinquency, and indifference to others (Gleitman, 1995). In conflict or post-conflict environments where members of a community have experienced trauma, a dynamic can form that affects the attachment system between caregiver and child. Mothers with histories of trauma in childhood were more likely to display fearful or frightening behavior in response to their child's expression of need. This can create patterns of attachment that continue up to adulthood.

The dynamic created by attachment difficulties within a population can have implications for those involved in peacebuilding. It may mean that those working in post-conflict environments may need to be conscious of this factor and adjust to it. Whereas peacebuilding requires social attributes that allow for trust and openness, if parties taking part in peacebuilding have developed unhealthy attachment styles, peacebuilding can be adversely affected. The elements that result from secure attachment systems, the capacity for mutual understanding, for building trust, the ability to forgive and to reconcile are some of the elements needed for effective peacebuilding to take place (Fox, 2007). By using interventions intended to repair the attachment system, some difficulties may be avoided during the peacebuilding process.

Fox, J. (2007). Attachment Theory: Relational Elements of Trauman and Peacebuilding. Peacebuilding and Trauma Recovery: Integrated Strategies in Post-War Reconstruction (pp. 74 - 80). Denver: University of Denver Conflict Resolution Institute.
Gleitman, H. (1995). Psychology (4th ed.). New York, New York, United States: W.W. Norton & Company.