In September 2021, we launched the Neufeld Scientific Research Centre website! This project was established in order to popularize the science behind the relational developmental approach as articulated by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and the Neufeld Institute. Here we collect the results of already published scientific research on specific topics that relational developmental psychology deals with. We hope, that thanks to our activities, the availability of knowledge about the relational developmental approach will increase both in the scientific world, as well as with specialists and students.
There are a number of approaches to this question, depending upon what it is that is being asked. Hopefully the answer to your particular question lies somewhere in the following response.
Dr. Neufeld’s theory is an articulation of the attachment-based developmental approach. The model has been formed through synthesis and integration of the scientific research. So yes, the theory is completely research-based. Dr. Neufeld has joined the dots of thousands of research findings to create a comprehensive model that can be put into practice. Theoretical models are evaluated by their power to explain, their power to predict and the absence of conflicting data. By this criteria, Dr. Neufeld’s model is completely evidence-based. As any student of science knows, a theory itself cannot be proven however, only disproven by evidence that conflicts with what would be predicted by the model.
The question that most often gets asked by those representing school systems or public health systems is whether this approach constitutes evidence-based practice. In other words, does it work or does it have an immediate positive effect? This is not actually a relevant question for developmental science, for a number of reasons. The construct of ‘evidence-based practice’ comes from pharmacology and was applied originally to assess whether a certain pill worked. As everyone knows, a pill can work amazingly well, and yet have dreadful side-effects, terrible long-term consequences, and be completely counterproductive to ultimate health and well-being. In the developmental approach, we do not ask if something works in the short-term as growth does not happen instantly. In fact, a developmentalist would never trust a method that showed immediate results. Unfortunately, longitudinal studies are difficult to come by, as this is not generally how universities operate. The longitudinal studies that do exist certainly confirm this model, that is, the pivotal importance of relationship and the need for conducive conditions for unfolding of human potential.
Secondly, this is an insight approach in which practice flows from theory. The theory must be scientifically solid, but the practice can and should vary as circumstances and dynamics dictate. As anyone knows, what works with one child will not work with another, and what works one day will not work on another day.
The third issue is that ‘practice’ – or what one does – is not the main factor in change, making irrelevant the fact that there is some evidence that a particular practice has been demonstrated to work. Studies have confirmed that it is the context of relationship that is more significant that any particular practice, especially for therapists or teachers. By logical extension, we would hold the same to be true of parenting.
So if the question is whether Dr. Neufeld’s theory is evidence-based, the answer is an unequivocal yes. When a picture is put together that is based on thousands of independent findings, it is much more reliable than when something is based on isolated bits of research.
There are a couple of caveats here, however. When Dr. Neufeld originally constructed his model of the attachment-based developmental approach, he was doing this primarily for himself and his immediate work as a therapist. He never expected to have an invitation to share this with the world. Once a piece of the puzzle fit into place, the piece became irrelevant to him. It was the picture that was important. However, Dr. Neufeld now regrets that he didn’t record all the original bits and pieces of research findings that went into the process of constructing the model. The big picture of course, lies in none of these pieces, and even if those pieces were available to reference at this point, there would be nothing to refer to that could tell the story, so to speak.
On this matter, Dr. Neufeld has been hoping for someone among his faculty or facilitators to take up the challenge of embedding this material in the current scientific literature. We have run into a problem, however: as soon as someone truly understands this approach or finds it useful to make sense of themselves or their loved ones, the insights become self-evident. At such a point, individuals, even students of science, are no longer interested in the supportive research as it seems irrelevant once you see. In fact, one wonders why we couldn’t see this before. So it has been challenging to find individuals willing to devote themselves to the laborious work of reframing and explaining and documenting research findings from this perspective. Nevertheless, we take this seriously and are working on this. We hope to have some reference lists on our website soon.
One more thought on this matter. If the question is, does delivering the Neufeld courses result in changes in parenting and teaching and therapy? This is a valid and important question. By our own assessment measures, the material is transformative, but we are not aware of any formally published research findings regarding this as yet. We would welcome this! There has been research regarding the effectiveness of delivering the ‘teachability factor’ course to educators. We would be happy to forward these studies to you upon request.