The Neufeld Scientific Research Centre

A note about evidence-based research and the attachment-based developmental approach to making sense of children.

For very good reasons, there has been much concern about ‘snake-oil’ in treatment and intervention. This has led to adopting the approach that had already developed in the pharmaceutical sciences of testing for effectiveness of a pill against a placebo. While well-intentioned, this simplistic approach did not take into account that the placebo effect is quite profound in psychological treatment, that relationship and not practice is the most significant factor in psychological treatment, and that short-term benefits are often at the cost of long-term functioning and development. Since little of the actual evidence-based research is actually longitudinal in nature, or interpreted from the perspective of development, evidence that a treatment is effective should therefore not in itself ever be sufficient reason for employing that practice. In fact, from a developmental perspective, interventions that are situationally effective should be doubted by default, as true growth requires seasons, not hours, and changes character from inside out. As a result, there is considerable controversy in developmental science regarding the use of situational effectiveness as a basis for endorsing or legitimizing practices involving children.

Hence the urgent need for a comprehensive developmental model by which to generate and evaluate our treatment of children.

Creating a working model involves a theoretical process of joining the dots that have been generated through empirical research as well as through the distillation and synthesis of existing scientific literature. A theoretical model is evaluated by its power to explain, its power to predict, and by its power to guide practice and generate testable hypotheses. A theoretical model cannot be proven, only disproven by conflicting evidence. The following references in the scientific literature are but a sample of the plethora of evidence that is congruent with the attachment-based development model articulated by Gordon Neufeld. There is no known empirically validated evidence that conflicts with this approach to making sense of children. Dr. Neufeld has created over 25 courses for parents and professionals based on this model. The model itself is fleshed out in his flagship series, Neufeld Intensive I and II, available through the Neufeld Institute.


Situational research evidence of the effectiveness of a practice and the attachment-based developmental approach.

The attachment-based developmental approach is essentially an insight-based approach. In other words, it based on the well-established premise that what we see is the greatest determiner of what we do. The effectiveness therefore is based on how well adults can make sense of the children in their care. The best strategies applied without insight can make matters worse. Unfortunately, the current paradigm that drives evidence-based research  does not consider insight a researchable variable.

As mentioned previously, since this approach is developmental in nature, short-term behaviour change is not only irrelevant but not to be trusted. True maturation requires both time and conducive conditions. These conditions are often sabotaged by strategies that manage symptoms and result in superficial change.  Today’s evidence-based research is biased towards short-term change. Behaviour is the focus, not true maturation.

Since this approach is relational in nature, practice is not the focus and certainly not assumed to be transferable, thus violating the sacred tenets of the evidence-based practice mythology.  The primary discovery of attachment science is that the most significant factor in raising children is the child’s attachment to the adults responsible. The power and effectiveness lies in the child’s relationship to the adult, not in the actions taken by the adult. This was already proven to be the case in adult therapy years ago – that the relationship of client to therapist was far more significant that the particular practice of the therapist. Making practice the focus of research violates what has already been established scientifically. The assumption of the transferability of techniques has already been amply disproven.