Circle Sources

The Foundational Contributors to the Circle of Security Model

G

len Cooper, Kent Hoffman and Bert Powell, the co-originators of the Circle of Security, are indebted to many professionals who made seminal contributions to the development of the model. Glen, Kent and Bert recognized that the individuals that they were seeing in psychotherapy tended to share a common core theme, namely struggling to have a sense of connection and belonging in relationships. The writings of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth convinced them that attachment theory provided a unifying frame for understanding these interpersonal struggles. Furthermore, contemporary research on attachment was offering critical insights into the ways in which early attachment disruptions impacted relationships across time.

Glen, Kent and Bert already had strong grounding in family therapy and object relations theory when they were introduced to attachment theory. As they began to map attachment theory and research on to what they already knew, the following thinkers offered their generosity, enthusiasm and knowledge, all of which were essential to building the Circle of Security model. While many other people influenced the refinement of the Circle of Security approach over the years, the mentors listed here deserve recognition as foundational sources for the work.


James Masterson, MD and Ralph Klein, MD


In 1986, Kent and Bert began a five-year period of study with the Masterson Institute in New York City in preparation for certification in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. It is through the years of supervision with Drs. Masterson and Klein that they were introduced to micro-analysis of defensive process and the underlying patterns of intrapsychic process that would later be described as “core sensitivities.” Glen joined in the learning and the focus expanded to training in the “models of the mind” (history of psychoanalytic thought: Klein, Fairbairn, Winnicott, Guntrip, etc.) ending in an introduction to intersubjective research, including the work of Daniel Stern and Beatrice Beebe. It was at this point, that the link to attachment began to be clearer to Glen, Kent and Bert.

James Masterson and Ralph Klein opened the door to intrapsychic structure for us. The fundamentals of object relations theory through the simplicity of the Masterson Model demanded that we rethink our view of the human personality. Add to this James Masterson’s understanding of the common nature of the abandonment depression in human experience and a therapeutic approach based upon defense analysis was born. For those who know the Circle of Security model, our work is formulated on an understanding of human defenses learned from within the Masterson Model.

Add to this the specifics of their approach to disorders of the self (reconfigured in a non-pathological model in our work as "core sensitivities") and the level of indebtedness we have to James Masterson and Ralph Klein simply cannot be adequately put in words.

Kent Hoffman



Daniel Stern, MD


Portrait of Daniel Stern

Daniel Stern, MD

In 1985, Dan Stern published “The Interpersonal World of the Infant,” a groundbreaking book that bridged the intrapsychic world we were learning through our study with the Masterson Institute and the new world of caregiver/infant micro-analysis via afforded by film and videotape. Stern’s capacity to understand and draw conclusions from moment-to-moment interactions (often naming more than 100 such events in a minute of filmed interaction) let us know that we needed to learn more. In 1989 one of us ventured to New England to study with Stern and his clarity about the nature of how parents commonly either under-regulate or become over-involved allowed us to begin making sense of the struggles we were seeing in our adult psychoanalytic clients. Add to this Stern’s use of the term “being-with” as the heartbeat of what an infant and child most requires and we were beginning to recognize the foundation of an early treatment protocol.

Dan Stern was a giant in the field of both psychoanalysis and infant research. Had we not been introduced to his systematic understanding of infant/parent interaction, it’s quite possible we would have not considered early intervention as a possibility. Our great privilege in presenting with him at the London Psychoanalytic Institute series on early intervention in 2002 quite literally felt like we’d come “full circle” – sharing the platform with someone without whom we would never have been present.

Kent Hoffman



Susan McDonough, PhD


In 1989, during the period of study with the Masterson Institute, Kent attended a week-long seminar with Daniel Stern, MD, a prominent thinker in the growing field of infant research. Dr. Stern spent a portion of his training highlighting Interaction Guidance, a video-based intervention that had been created by Susan McDonough, his colleague at Brown University. In 1990, Glen, Kent and Bert invited Susan to Spokane to present her model of intervention. They were struck by how the use of video in therapy with at-risk clients created a powerful tool for exploring key moments in caregiver-child relationships. They also saw first-hand how showing positive moments of connection enhanced the therapeutic alliance with clients and their conversations with Susan convinced them that video-review had both a place in assessment of relationships and in intervention. Susan’s critical contributions to dyadic intervention in early childhood are captured in a book titled Treating Parent-Infant Relationship Problems that she co-authored with her husband, Arnold Sameroff, and their colleague, Kate Rosenblum.

Although we had been using videotape in our clinical work for some time, our primary focus had been using it as a tool for the therapist to see their own strengths and struggles in treatment. Susan turned our world upside down by inviting parents to learn from videotaped interactions with their children. Although this was an amazing use of the technology, it was not, in itself, sufficient to bring about needed change. However, in conjunction with her wisdom, experience, care and compassion, Susan not only created a wonderfully effective process, she deepened our commitment to the belief that, although tools are useful, it’s the relationship that is essential.

Glen Cooper



Robert Marvin, PhD


Portrait of Bob Marvin

Robert Marvin, PhD

In 1991, Kent approached Bob Marvin at the Society for Research in Child Development annual conference. Over the next two years, Kent, Glen and Bert had a series of ongoing conversations with Bob about attachment theory and research, eventually inviting Bob to Spokane to do an attachment workshop for local professionals. This was the beginning of a connection with Bob that culminated in the very first study on the Circle of Security Intervention; the study was supported by University-Head Start Partnership grant that was in effect from 1998-2001 and Bob served as principal investigator, through the University of Virginia, for that study.

The coding system Bob and one of his many graduate students, Preston Brittner, PhD, created to capture a caregiver’s responses to infants and young children during the Strange Situation Procedure brought a new lens for Glen, Kent and Bert. The systematic video-analysis that the coding system emphasized helped Glen, Kent and Bert to focus on key interactions for intervention.

Bob has continued to use the Circle of Security in his professional life through his training and clinical work, all of which is centered around the Ainsworth Attachment Clinic in Charlottesville, VA.

Bob’s generosity in welcoming us into a worldwide community of attachment researchers was a first step in our ability to build a research-based intervention. His early involvement in our thinking regarding attachment and his insights into systematizing parenting strategies that either enhance or blunt security were important in building the COS model. And his taking on the role of Principal Investigator in the original research of the Circle of Security model was crucial to how this work has found its way into the world.

Kent Hoffman



Jude Cassidy, PhD


Portrait of Jude Cassidy

Jude Cassidy, PhD

In the fall of 1993, Bob Marvin connected Glen, Kent, and Bert with Jude Cassidy, PhD, a professor at the University of Maryland who is also a world-renowned attachment researcher. In addition to her research, Jude contributed to the field by co-editing (with Philip Shaver) the Handbook of Attachment-- considered a definitive text on attachment theory and research.

Glen, Kent, and Bert first met Jude in person when they attended her training on the Cassidy/Marvin preschool coding system for the Strange Situation Procedure. This multi-day intensive training kicked off a collaboration and friendship that has now spanned more than two and a half decades. In 1994, Glen, Kent and Bert convinced Jude to teach her graduate seminar on attachment, by telephone no less: meeting monthly for 2 years. From there, Jude’s supportive insight and thoughtful critique became an essential feature of the emerging Circle of Security paradigm. For example, it was Jude who clarified the equal nature of need on the top and the bottom of the Circle.

In addition Jude challenged Glen, Kent and Bert to question their clinical assumptions within the context of developmental research. She also sharpened their observational skills, pushing them to seek observable data to support their conclusions. Furthermore, Jude helped deepen the understanding of how attachment strategies also offer organization within emotional regulation, and encouraged Glen, Kent and Bert to increase rigor in their clinical and research assumptions. Finally, Jude was the first to conduct multiple clinical trials, publishing findings supporting our belief in the benefits of COS for many families.

We’ll cut directly to the chase: Even though Jude’s mentorship and support have been essential to the building of Circle of Security, it has been her friendship through the years that has been the most important feature of her influence. Our consistent and ongoing connection since we first met her in the early 1990’s has been at the foundation of how Circle of Security has unfolded in the world: within research, in therapy offices, in classrooms. Jude Cassidy’s presence is at the core of how Circle of Security has influenced parents, clinicians, and educators around the globe.

Kent Hoffman



David Erb, PhD


In the early 1980’s, Dave Erb, a local psychologist, would often give public talks to parents of adolescents about his understanding of attachment theory. What remained memorable for these parents was his clear imagery about “the boat and the dock,” a metaphor he created to explain a teenager’s need to have a solid foundation from which to launch and a haven where it was safe to return. His drawing of a boat going out and coming back in apparently made a significant impression on us. A decade later, when we were creating a model of intervention that would eventually be called “Circle of Security” we (unconsciously) drew an oval, with hands as the secure base and safe haven. Only years later did we realize that we’d built our image upon Dave’s earlier brilliance.

So simple. So clear. So wise. We thank you Dave for your goodness in our lives through the years and for the beauty of your 'boat and dock' metaphor. We are, as are thousands of parents, indebted.

Kent Hoffman



Howard Steele, PhD and Miriam Steele, PhD


In 1998, Kent, Glen and Bert were extending their focus on attachment through exploring how to leverage attachment science to create an intervention. They became increasingly interested in the concept of reflective functioning within attachment research and how reflection can be central in promoting security. They reached out to Howard and Miriam Steele, each of whom came to Spokane to give separate workshops and helped us expand and refine our understanding of reflective functioning ( Fonagy,P., Steele,H.& Steele,M. ,1991, Child Development.) Insights gleaned from an ongoing conversations were essential in the creation of the Circle of Security Interview.

Having access to the Reflective Functioning Scoring Manual and the support and friendship of Howard and Miriam laid the ground work for not only the COS Assessment Interview but also the kind of reflective questions we asked the parents as they watched video of their interaction. In other words, helping caregivers develop stronger reflective functioning became a central pathway to help them develop more security for their child.

Bert Powell



Allan Schore, PhD


During the late 1990’s Glen, Kent and Bert reached out to Allan Schore, Ph.D. whose seminal writing (Affect Regulation and the Development of the Self) was highlighting the impact of attachment and on infant brain development. Allan graciously agreed to come to Spokane on two occasions to offer workshops for professionals through their training institute. On each occasion he set aside additional time to share his personal insights in response to the formation of the Circle of Security paradigm. As an example of Allan’s significant impact, it was his focus on how moments of shared joy were critical in early development led to the addition of ‘delight’ as a key need on the top half of the Circle of Security. Later, Bob Marvin would successfully argue that ‘delight’ belonged on both the top and the bottom of the Circle.

Allan Schore has been both a friend and a mentor through the years. His insight and constructive critique early in the creation of our model brought increased clarity regarding key factors to be considered within an intervention approach. On any given day countless parents around the globe are noticing and responding to “delight in me” moments all because of the Allan’s research and the clarity with which he has presented that research. Our gratitude to him for his generosity and insight is immense.

Kent Hoffman



Beatrice Beebe, PhD


Portrait of Bob Marvin

Beatrice Beebe, PhD

Glen, Kent and Bert spent many hours in video-review through the 1990’s. A central focal point was a several year study with Jude Cassidy and Susan Woodhouse, utilizing Jude Cassidy’s video data of parents and infants in the first year of life. This data included split screen video of six-month olds offering an opportunity to observe moment-to-moment interactions. The data set also included video-recordings of later Strange Situation Procedures when the children were both toddler and preschool age. This “video review club” brought to light how critical early attunement (or lack of attunement) was in predicting security of attachment at later time points.

Jude Cassidy knew Beatrice Beebe, a leading authority on studying split-screen interactions with parent/infant dyads,and invited her to mentor our team. (Interestingly, Jude had first met and studied with Beatrice in New York City nearly 20 years earlier, shortly after Beatrice had completed her own training with Dan Stern.) Our two-year mentorship with Beatrice allowed us to begin systematizing key themes of secure support and insecure/disorganized defense in the parents. Our growing capacity to recognize and share these themes with parents remain at the foundation of our understanding of parent/infant strengths and struggles.

Learning to see infant/parent interaction through the eyes of Beatrice’s microanalysis of split screens helped us recognize and come to trust the early precursors of secure and insecure attachment. Her microanalysis became central to our finding dyadic strengths and struggles in the assessment and treatment planning of the mothers in the Tamar's Children project. Without Beatrice’s teaching, support and friendship we would not have been able to organize and make sense of this crucial, moment by moment parent-infant dance.

Bert Powell



Susan Woodhouse, PhD


A key participant in the video-review group that included Jude Cassidy and Beatrice Beebe was Susan Woodhouse, a developmental psychologist at Lehigh University in the United States with a keen interest in studying parent-child relationships. One of Susan’s many contributions was reviewing COS-Intensive treatment videotapes and analyzing the key elements that contributed to successful outcomes. She played a central role in developing the ability to systematically link observations with predictable outcomes.* Her interest in cultural factors relating to parenting and using Circle of Security Parenting across diverse contexts has brought invaluable insights to the work of COS and her ongoing interest and support of the Circle of Security models is notable.

*See, for example, Woodhouse, S. S., Lauer, M., Beeney, J. R. S., & Cassidy, J. (2015). Psychotherapy process and relationship in the context of a brief attachment-based mother-infant intervention. Psychotherapy, 52(1), 145–150. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037335

Working closely with Susan was delightful. That is saying a lot given that much of the work entailed long hours of watching and re-watching videotaped interactions of parents and children. She brought a depth of understanding, laser-like clarity in her thinking, and a knack for creating ingenious formulations of complex material. All of this was in the context of her caring and compassionate way of being, which enriched our lives personally as well as professionally.

Glen Cooper