Origin Stories – Circle of Security International

Origin Stories

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Glen Cooper and Kent Hoffman first worked together in the mid-1970’s as support staff for an outreach program in Los Angeles, CA serving the homeless and mentally ill. By 1985 Glen and Kent had moved to Spokane, WA where Kent’s good friend Bert Powell lived, and they opened a clinical practice bound by shared interests and deep friendship. Each had pursued different paths to becoming psychotherapists (link here to originators page) and all had studied family therapy and systems theory, which, after many years, led them to object relations theory and attachment theory. They organized training symposia together and found time for case-based peer reflection centered around watching videotape of their work with family therapy.


What Brought You Together? Video from the 3 guys talking series here: Video Caption: Glen, Kent and Bert talk about how learning together was a form of play and about how their friendship evolved into a deep professional connection.


Glen, Kent and Bert were motivated to pursue further training on attachment theory because it seemed to offer a coherent way to understand a unifying set of concerns their clients brought to therapy: struggles with disconnection and emotion regulation. In 1993, they attended a training on the preschool attachment coding system and met Jude Cassidy, PhD (add link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jude_Cassidy).  They convinced Jude to teach them her graduate attachment seminar via weekly telephone calls: what began as a one-semester course evolved into two years of fruitful study and an enduring friendship with Dr. Cassidy.  Toward the end of the 1990’s, the work with Dr. Cassidy also evolved into the Circle of Security.


How Did the Circle Evolve? Video from the 3 guys talking series here. Video Caption: Glen, Kent and Bert talk about their initial attempts to create a graphic representation that would help parents understand attachment.


The 1990’s also included several years of consulting with Spokane Head Start programs—a way of watching the circle of children going out to explore and coming in for comfort or protection happen in real time. Glen, Kent, and Bert were excited to create and pilot a clinical application that combined family systems, object relations, and attachment theory.  The initial groups (led by Glen and Bert) were with parents enrolled in a local Early Head Start home visiting program; at the same time, Kent conducted several groups at a local program serving homeless/street dependent parents. Introducing the Circle of Security to parents led to further refinement of the model as Glen, Kent and Bert struggled to present attachment in a coherent way to stressed parents.


Part 2 of How Did the Circle Evolve? Video from the 3 guys talking series here.


Video Caption: Glen, Kent and Bert talk about how piloting the Circle with parents helped them look for clearer and more coherent ways to present attachment science.


By the end of the first year of piloting work with the Circle of Security, Bert, Kent, and Glen were asked by the director of Spokane Head Start to apply for a University-Head Start Partnership grant.  They invited Bob Marvin, PhD to be the principal investigator and received a three-year grant. It was through this grant that the Circle of Security 20-week clinical group protocol (now called the Circle of Security Intensive model) was developed.  Parents were videotaped for a pre-intervention Strange Situation Procedure (SSP).  That video footage was coded both for research purposes and so the clinician could select clips to be shown to the parents during the group.  The SSP made it possible to discern parents’ interactional struggles with their children based on attachment theory.  In addition, a parent perception interview, the Circle of Security Interview (COSI), made it possible for clinicians to determine a parent’s defensive structure based on object relations theory. Using this information, a series of video clips from the SSP were specifically selected for each parent to be shown during the group.


For more about determining a parent’s Core Sensitivity (e.g., understanding their psychological defenses), see https://vimeo.com/223536755.


The results of the initial Head Start partnership study were published in 2006: Hoffman, K., Marvin, R., 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. You can read the JCCP article here: JCCP COS Published Article. The Circle of Security Intensive model is described in detail in: Powell, B., Cooper, G., Hoffman, K., & Marvin. R. (2006) The Circle of Security Intervention. Enhancing Attachment in Early Parent-Child Relationships. New York: The Guilford Press (add link here).