Attachment, Dissociation and Traumatic Stress Research Unit

The concepts of attachment, dissociation and traumatic stress all relate to the psychological impact of relationships – relationships between parent and child, friends and family, the self and the world, and different parts of the self. We are interested in how these manifold relationships, in both their constructive and destructive forms, influence the formation of personality structure, the development of psychopathology, and the recovery from adverse circumstances.

This research unit is dedicated to the increased conceptual clarity and clinical understanding of these concepts, along with consideration of their relevance to a wide range of social and cultural experiences, including various forms of mental disorder, violence and addiction on the one hand, and creative expression and healthy personality development on the other. The meaning of these terms, particularly dissociation and trauma, has been seriously debated for years, along with the relationships between attachment, dissociation and trauma. Some of the basic questions we aim to address are:

  • What is trauma? Is it simply extremely high levels of stress, or is the unique meaning of the event to the individual of essential importance? Can events be said to be ‘traumatic’ in nature, or does the trauma (from the Greek word for ‘wound’) reside in the person’s response to the overwhelming events they experience? And do certain social and cultural variables, including gender, influence this response?
  • What is the relationship between trauma and dissociation? Are traumatizing experiences essential for producing dissociation (understood as a division of the self or simply as alterations of consciousness), or can extreme dissociative experiences derive from other sources, such as disorganized attachment?
  • And what about attachment disturbances? Do these early relational experiences between parent and infant really provide a working model to understand relationships?  If that working model is warped or distorted, how may it then be modified?

ADiTS has strong links with the European Society for Trauma and Dissociation (ESTD) – Helle Spindler is the chair of the Danish chapter and Andrew Moskowitz is on the ESTD board and heads the ESTD research committee. The next ESTD conference, in March 2014, will be held in Copenhagen. ADiTS also has close ties to the Danish Research Unit of Psychological Trauma at the University of Southern Denmark, run by Professor Ask Elklit.