Today’s interview with Dr. Daniel Brown PhD on understanding and treating attachment disorders was nothing short of amazing. Actually, it’s Dan Brown, himself, who strikes me as a sort of superman in terms of all that he’s accomplished. No wonder that he’s been a Harvard professor for 38 years. His work on the understanding of attachment issues and the treatment of attachment disorders is truly pioneering. His research on the dynamics of attachment is more nuanced than anything I’ve previously encountered. He’s reviewed the literature from Freud on through Bowlby, Ainsworth, Winnicott, and progressively more recent theorists to develop his own conception of both underlying theory and clinical applications. And he has a mind-blowing command of the details and names of everyone in the field. In our conversation, his expertise came out in such a torrent of detail that I could scarcely track it to make intelligent comments. As if I didn’t already have enough evidence of his prodigious memory skills, he complimented my doctoral research from 1970! Almost no one remembers that research. Even I had trouble recalling it! Part of the reason he recalls it is that it bears on another area of his deep expertise, which is hypnosis.
Here’s some of what I was able to glean from today’s conversation. There is a clear but complex relationship between an individual’s attachment orientation and their response to trauma. In other words, not everyone is going to respond to a given trauma in the same way. Both the details of the traumatic experience and their habitual attachment orientation will mix to create their unique reaction. In our conversation we discussed the four major types of attachment:
And, of course, he was able to expand on each of these in considerable detail. Then, we went on to his treatment model, the three pillars of which are:
Pillar 1: The Ideal Parent Figure (IPF) Protocol.
Pillar 2: Fostering a range of Metacognitive Skills.
Pillar 3: Fostering collaborative nonverbal and verbal behavior.
I was particularly intrigued by the first pillar which involves prolonged and repeated imaging of the ideal parent figure, the one they never had. An important component of this imagining is the ideal parent figure prizing the patient. This portion of the treatment may go on for as long as a year. And this is the portion that will create a corrective emotional impact. This phase of the treatment is inspired by Dan’s experience and expertise in hypnosis, although he shares that he later dropped any formal hypnotic induction.
Dan’s research on his three pillars approach encourages him to continue in this direction. He finds that it’s possible to “reprogram” the brain to a state ofsecure attachment. However, this is not a quickie panacea. Treatment may last up to 3 years.
As if mastering attachment, trauma, and hypnosis were not enough Dan has spent years cultivating expertise in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and meditation practices, even to the extent of learning to read Sanscrit so as to get it unfiltered. We discussed this area of his work after the interview and I discovered he has several websites devoted to this part of his life and teaching. One of his several websites on Buddhism and mediation can be found atPointingOutTheGreatWay.org where we read “In graduate school at The University of Chicago he studied Sanskrit … and also studied Tibetan, Buddhist Sanskrit, and Pali languages in the Buddhist Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin.”
Dan told me that today’s preoccupation with mindfulness does’t go far enough. The practice must continue on to Awakening.
Dr. Dan Brown does not do things in halfs. Rather his mode seems to be all or nothing.