Attachment and the counselling relationship

John Bowby(1980) recognized the significance of the way we relate to others and he believed that our relationship to early caregivers can create a template for future patterns of relating.
Being able to depend on the caregiver for comfort, support, protection and sustenance gives the child a sense that the world is a safe and reliable place in which distress will be responded to. The mother's availability, responsiveness and caring make the child feel safe and secure and therefore a mutual bond will develop. By knowing that the mother is there to return to, the child explores the world and seek help if he needs to. This will allow the child to tolerate separation and disappointment and to survive loss.

Ultimately the child develops an inner representation of what relationships are like, which Bowlby called "internal working model". By studying what happened to toddlers when they are temporarily separated from their mothers, Bowlby developed three attachement styles. These are:

-securely attached adults tend to have long term relationships
-they tend to have high self esteem, gives and receive support and feel comfortable with other people

-avoidant adults tend to have difficulties with intimacy in relationships
-the are poor at sharing feelings and emotions or expressing needs
-may experience little distress when a relationship ends

-preoccupied attached adults tend to experience relationships as cold and distant and seek constant reassurance
-expect the partners to be able to meet their needs
-they become distraught when relationhips ends.

According to Bowlby (1988) the therapist provides a safe heaven and secure base for the client allowing him/her to explore feelings, problems, conflicts and memories.

The anxiety and vulnerability expressed during counselling will activate the client's attachment system which will lead the therapist to respond with interventions that will support the client to begin to feel more secure and increasingly attached to the therapist(Bowlby1988).

Clients with different attachment styles may perceive warmth, closeness, empathy in many ways and will react to these behaviours based on their own attachments histories.

Bowlby (1985) concluded that gender,culture and the counsellor attachment styles may influence the way people express, interpret or respond to attachment issues in counselling and other forms of relationships.

Bowlby, J. (1988). A Secure Base, New York: Basic Books

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bloomsbury WC1B & Bedford MK40
Written by Gherardo Della Marta, MBACP counsellor in London WC1B, NW1 and Bedford MK40
Bloomsbury WC1B & Bedford MK40

Welcome, As a counsellor, I offer a non judgemental space where you can discuss issues, concerns and feelings you may experience. I can help you to clarify choices you are about to make and to allow you to develop a deeper understanding of any aspects of your life you might find problematic or conf...

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