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The relative efficacy of two interventions in altering maltreated preschool children's representational models: Implications for attachment theory


A narrative story-stem task was used to evaluate the efficacy of two competing, developmentally informed preventive interventions for maltreated preschoolers and their mothers designed to modify children's internal representations of self and of self in relation to other. One hundred and twenty-two mothers and their preschoolers (87 maltreated and 35 nonmaltreated) served as participants. Maltreating families were randomly assigned to either the preschooler–parent psychotherapy (PPP, n = 23), psychoeducational home visitation (PHV, n = 34), or community standard (CS, n = 30) intervention group at baseline. Thirty-five nonmaltreating (NC) families served as comparisons. Narratives were administered to children at baseline and at the postintervention evaluation. Children in the PPP intervention evidenced more of a decline in maladaptive maternal representations over time than PHV and CS children and displayed a greater decrease in negative self-representations than CS, PHV, and NC children. Also, the mother–child relationship expectations of PPP children became more positive over the course of the intervention, as compared to NC and PHV participants. These results suggest that an attachment-theory informed model of intervention (PPP) is more effective at improving representations of self and of caregivers than is a didactic model of intervention directed at parenting skills. Findings are discussed with respect to their implications for developmental theory, with a specific focus on attachment theory and internal working models of relationships.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Sheree L. Toth, Ph.D., Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, 187 Edinburgh Street, Rochester, NY 14608; E-mail:
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Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
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