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Leventhal, H. (2016). Mentalizing in the Development and Treatment of Attachment Trauma (2013) by Jon G. Allen, published by Karnac. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 10(2):172-175.

(2016). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 10(2):172-175

Mentalizing in the Development and Treatment of Attachment Trauma (2013) by Jon G. Allen, published by Karnac

Review by:
Hazel Leventhal

In this book, Jon Allen explores in depth the concept of mentalizing and its value and importance in our work with people who have experienced early attachment trauma. He argues that understanding the experience of attachment trauma lies at the heart of our work and this book focuses on the centrality of recognising the importance of mentalization in this process. His aim is to enrich therapists' and clients' understanding of trauma in attachment relationships and he illustrates this with a thorough exploration of attachment theory and explanation of attachment trauma and how it develops.

For therapists already trained in an attachment-based modality this might be going over familiar ground but his clarity and depth of understanding of the underlying issues would be useful for even the most experienced therapist. His first chapter outlines attachment in childhood and draws heavily on the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, emphasising affectional bonds with useful vignettes and explanations of the various configurations of attachment patterns, concentrating on the diverse mis-attunements that lead to insecure attachment. He highlights the strong links between maltreatment, profoundly insecure infant attachment, and subsequent developmental difficulties. There is a pronounced emphasis on understanding the problems arising from insecure attachment with only one chapter about therapeutic approaches. However, this in no way detracts from his basic premise but in fact underlines it.

He anchors attachment theory to personality development and compares traits valued by Western societies to those more highly regarded by Eastern societies and contrasts relatedness and self-definition as epitomising the differences between them with self-definition being the Western ideal and relatedness the Eastern one.

He describes Jeremy Holmes' concept of an “internal secure base” whereby having experienced responsive and attuned caregiving in your early years you are then able to provide a safe haven for yourself. You have a comforting and supportive internal dialogue as opposed to the harsh, critical voices with which so many traumatised people have to live.

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