An exploration of psychotherapist attachment styles and its impact on the therapeutic relationship

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Gallagher, Hannah
Issue Date
BA (Hons) Counselling and Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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The purpose of this research was to explore the attachment styles of therapists and to investigate if various attachment styles impact the therapeutic alliance and outcome. As this report was based on therapist self-reported attachment styles it was essential that participants had an awareness of their own attachment style. The participants chosen were experienced psychotherapists who had knowledge of attachment theory. This criteria allowed for an in- depth exploration of the research question. A qualitative approach was used for this report where five semi structured interviews were conducted. Questions were designed in order to create as open an exploration as possible. The researcher transcribed the interviews verbatim and used thematic analysis to analyse the data. The findings were compared to existing literature and discussed. The overall findings obtained facilitated the researcher in drawing a conclusion. The findings established that attachment theory was useful and relevant in the field of psychotherapy. Participants reported that they used it as a guide to discover how clients interact in relationships and their world. This was then used as an indication as to how they may interact in the therapeutic relationship. It was found that therapist attachment styles impacted the therapeutic alliance and outcome both positively and negatively. The findings also showed that both insecurely and securely attached therapists reported having both a positive and a negative therapeutic alliance and outcome at some point in their work. This finding differed to literature and other studies conducted in this area. The findings also showed that the activation of therapist attachment styles in the therapeutic relationship and client attachment styles had contributed both negatively and positively to the alliance and outcome. Therefore the findings reflected that therapist attachment styles contribute significantly in shaping the therapeutic alliance and outcome. One limitation of this study was a lack of therapist’s knowledge of attachment theory and their attachment styles which impacted recruitment of participants for interviews. However the researcher did find that relatively little research has been conducted in this area and that it requires further investigation.