During my doctoral programs in Italy and in the United States, I became fascinated with the idea that the intimate relationships we engage in (with our parents, partners and close friends) affect our overall emotional wellbeing. Over the years, I developed extensive knowledge and experience on attachment bonds and related issues. As a researcher, I investigated how the type of attachment children have with their parents impact their ability to understand their emotions and to ask for comfort when they are distressed. I became trained in the Adult Attachment Interview, and learnt that how adults think about the relationships with their own parents is connected to the way they care for their children and interact with their partners. In my last research study, I observed caregivers feeding their infants as an important moment to capture how parents-children relationships develop. This was a longitudinal study conducted within the Jacbovitz and Hazen research group at the University of Texas at Austin, and I was able to explore how the quality of the interactions between caregivers and infants during feeding was associated to children's emotional development at age 7. All these research data pointed out for me that attachment is a key area to either foster or hinder people's mental health.
My research expertise drives my clinical work with clients. As an adult seeking therapy, you may feel stuck in a cycle that seems to repeat itself with no end in sight. You may be overwhelmed at work, challenged by significant mental health problems, or struggling to adapt to a new phase in life. As an attachment expert, I frame these challenges within the network of relationships that are part of your life. These relationships may contribute to your present concerns and/or they can become a source of support in dealing with your challenges.
When I work with children and adolescents, I consider children/adolescents' difficulties within the context of the relationship with their caregivers, so that the whole family is an active part of the process of change. Sometimes the parent-child relationship is the main issue to treat in therapy, while other times the child or adolescent presents with other specific problems. Regardless of the reason why parents bring a child to therapy, their relationship can be part of the solution and I rely on my attachment background to make the parent-child relationship a central aspect of treatment. When I work with adolescents I often find that they are thorn between their longing for independence and their need for comfort, leading to confusing and at times upsetting behaviors towards their parents. In these cases, I provide adolescents with tools to express their attachment needs in a healthier way, while I support parents in learning to understand what is really helpful for their adolescents children.
Selection of publications on attachment:
Di Folco, S., Messina, S., Zavattini, G.C., Psouni, E. (2016). Attachment to mother and father at transition to Middle Childhood. Journal of Child and Family Studies.DOI 10.1007/s10826-016-0602-7
Messina, S., Zavattini, G. C. (2013) How do children make sense of their experiences? Children’s memories of wellbeing and distress from an attachment perspective. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38(3) 209-218.
Umemura, T., Jacobvitz, D., Messina, S., Hazen, N. (2013). Do Toddlers Prefer the Primary Caregiver or the Parent with Whom They Feel More Secure? The Role of Toddler Emotion, Infant Behavior and Development, 36, 102-114.
Jacobvitz, D., Hazen, N., Zaccagnino, M., Messina, S., & Beverung, L. (2011). Frightening maternal behavior, infant disorganization, and risks for psychopathology. In D. Cicchetti & G. I. Roisman (Eds.), Minnesota symposia on child psychology: The origins and organization of adaptation and maladaptation,Vol. 36. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.