Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

A Review of Attachment and Its Relationship to the Working Alliance/Analyse De L'attachement et De Son Lien Avec L'alliance De Travail

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

A Review of Attachment and Its Relationship to the Working Alliance/Analyse De L'attachement et De Son Lien Avec L'alliance De Travail

Article excerpt

A strong working relationship contributes to positive therapy outcomes (Bohart &Tallman, 2010; Norcross, 2010; Wampold, 2010), and therapists' contributions to the working relationship predict alliance strength (Baldwin, Wampold, & I mei, 2007). Daly and Mallinckrodt (2009) suggested using attachment theory (AT) to adapt the working alliance to meet clients' needs. In this article, AT is presented as a construct that can be applied in the development of a positive working alliance across different models of counselling.

First, AT and the importance of the working alliance are discussed, and evidence for the importance of attachment in the relationship is outlined. Next, Daly and Mallinckrodt's (2009) model of therapeutic distance is reviewed, and methods to integrate client culture into this model are identified. Finally, recommendations for integrating client attachment needs into the development of the working alliance are provided. Attending to clients' attachment patterns can assist therapists working within different theoretical paradigms in developing a positive working alliance.


Bowlby (1969, 1973, 1988) pioneered AT, but he has not been the only contributor to its development. Several other researchers have built upon Bowlby's initial hypotheses to expand AT across cultures. In this section, the development of AT is discussed, cross-cultural applications are examined, and the importance of self-awareness of therapist attachment is emphasized.

The Development of Attachment Theory

Bowlby (1969) developed AT to explain relational patterns. According to Bowlby, attachment to others is a cross-cultural survival mechanism that is favoured by evolution. He hypothesized that although individual attachment patterns may change through the lifespan, they usually do not. Attachment is defined by the ways that people engage with others in times of stress (Bowlby, 1969)· Through interaction with caregivers, infants develop internal working models that inform how they interact with caregivers and others throughout their lifetime (Bowlby, 1988). Bowlby (1973) emphasized the importance of caregiver responsiveness in the development of attachment. AT "assumes that proximity seeking and activation of the attachment system are basic to intra- and interpersonal functioning" (L'Abate, 2009, p. 782).

Ainsworth, Bell, and Stayton (1971) built on Bowlby's (1969, 1973, 1988) theory of attachment, proposing that children form one of three patterns of attachment: secure, anxious resistant, and anxious avoidant. The first pattern, secure attachment, develops when infants are confident that their caregivers will be available and responsive (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). Securely attached infants use the caregiver as a secure base from which to explore, confident that the caregiver will be available if needed (Pearce & Pezzot-Pearce, 2007).

Ainsworth et al. (1 971) described two insecure patterns of attachment: anxious resistant and anxious avoidant. Anxious resistant infants are uncertain whether the caregiver will be available to them in times of need. They are prone to clinging behaviour. Ainsworth et al. proposed that some infants develop this pattern of attachment because their caregivers are inconsistently available - sometimes responsive and helpful, other times distant and unhelpful. Anxious resistant infants learn to over-express their feelings to increase the likelihood that the caregiver will respond (Pearce & Pezzot-Pearce, 2007).

Anxious avoidant attachment, in contrast, involves an infant's lack of confidence that the caregiver will ever respond helpfully (Ainsworth et al., 1971). Infants with anxious avoidant attachment patterns attempt emotional self-sufficiency. They avoid intimacy with the caregiver (Pearce & Pezzot-Pearce, 2007).

The three patterns of attachment described by Ainsworth et al. (1971) involve organized and predictable attachment styles. …

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