Social Work Theories in Action

By Mary Nash; Robyn Munford et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 12
Attachment Theory and Social Work

Sue Watson


International concern about the transmission of family violence across the generations means we need to discover how to break this cycle. Attachment theory has led the field in explaining and testing hypotheses about the link between early experiences and later development. There is growing recognition that the intellectual and emotional development of children is strongly conditioned by the care an infant experiences (Schore 2003; Siegel 2001). Social workers need to be increasingly alert to the key features of family interaction that are being revealed by attachment research so that new ways of making sense of client behaviour may lead to effective interventions (Howe 1995).

There is widespread acceptance that what parents do has long-term consequences for children. Theoretical approaches offer explanations as to how and why some child-rearing practices produce adults who are healthy and productive citizens while others lead to problem behaviours and emotional difficulties (Fonagy et al. 1994). Social workers, teachers and others depend on these theories to inform and guide their interventions. The influences of nature and nurture are both acknowledged in recent theories such as attachment theory. In addition, individuals' interpretations of their own environments can shape their development, as do events which occur in an individual's life that can alter the course that their social environment or their personality type might otherwise have predicted (Oppenheim and Waters 1995). Attachment theory is particularly important for social workers, who are often working with troubled people, to have an understanding of the different ways that the caregiving received by infants influences their subsequent beliefs about themselves and the world they live in.

This chapter discusses how attachment theory focuses on the human need for belonging, for membership of social groups regardless of culture or ethnicity, and in particular, the need for intimacy. Throughout life, people need to matter to those who matter to them. It is this that binds social groups through


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