Implications of Attachment Theory for Social Work Education

Part of the Essential Clinical Social Work Series book series (ECSWS)


Historically, attachment theory has been an explanatory theory of human behavior applied to child development and, more recently, adult pair–bond relationships, ­personality structure, and psychopathology. In previous chapters, this book has ­demonstrated the current upsurge of the application of attachment theory to adult treatment processes and clinical relationships as well. Research studies on these ­topics have maintained a “micro” or “mezzo” center of attention, but over the past decade, attachment research has extended into institutional settings, adding an ­organizational focus to the theory (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007). This new focus is useful for educators in the helping professions in understanding relationships between students and their instructors and for conceptualizing the development of professional identity and leadership.


Critical Thinking Attachment Style Secure Attachment Attachment Theory Effortful Control 


  1. Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1989). Attachments beyond infancy. American Psychologist, 44(4), 709–716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  3. Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Women’s ways of ­knowing: The development of self, voice, and mind. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  4. Benack, S. (1988). Relativistic thought: A cognitive basis for empathy in counseling. Counselor Education and Supervision, 27(3), 216–232.Google Scholar
  5. Bennett, S., & Deal, K. (2009). Beginnings and endings in social work supervision: The interaction between attachment and developmental processes. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 29(1), 101–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bennett, S., Mohr, J., BrintzenhofeSzoc, K., & Saks, L. (2008). General and supervision-specific attachment styles: Relations to student perceptions of social work field supervisors. Journal of Social Work Education, 42(2), 75–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bennett, S., & Saks, L. (2006). A conceptual application of attachment theory and research to the social work student–field instructor supervisory relationship. Journal of Social Work Education, 42(3), 157–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bordin, E. (1983). A working alliance based model of supervision. The Counseling Psychologist, 11, 35–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  10. Clark, H. G. (2002). A comparison of the critical thinking skills of BSW and MSW students. The Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 7(2), 63–75.Google Scholar
  11. Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). NEO-PI-R professional manual. Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.Google Scholar
  12. Council on Social Work Education. (2008) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards. Retrieved from
  13. Cozzarelli, C., Hoekstra, S., & Bylsma, W. (2000). General versus specific mental models of attachment: Are they associated with different outcomes? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 605–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Creasey, G., & Ladd, A. (2005). Generalized and specific attachment representations: Unique and interactive roles in predicting conflict behaviors in close relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1026–1038.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Davidovitz, R., Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P., Izsak, R., & Popper, M. (2007). Leaders as attachment figures: Leaders’ attachment orientations predict leadership-related mental representations and followers’ performance and mental health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(4), 632–650.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Deal, K. H., & Bennett, S. (2009). Developmental-relational approach to field supervision: An empirically based training model. San Antonio, TX: Council of Social Work Education Annual Program Meeting.Google Scholar
  17. Deal, K. H., & Pittman, J. (2009). Examining predictors of social work students’ critical thinking skills. Advances in Social Work, 10(1), 87–102.Google Scholar
  18. Elliot, A. J., & Reis, H. T. (2003). Attachment and exploration in adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 317–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fonagy, P. (2003). The development of psychopathology from infancy to adulthood: The mysterious unfolding of disturbance in time. Infant Mental Health Journal, 24(3), 212–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fonagy, P., & Target, M. (2002). Early intervention and the development of self-regulation. Psychological Inquiry, 22, 307–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Forguson, L., & Gopnik, A. (1988). The ontogeny of common sense. In J. W. Astington, P. L. Harris, & D. R. Olson (Eds.), Developing theories of mind (pp. 226–243). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Foster, J. T., Lichtenberg, J. W., & Peyton, V. (2007). The supervisory attachment relationship as a predictor of the professional development of the supervisee. Psychotherapy Research, 17(3), 343–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Geddes, H. (2003). Attachment and the child in school. Part 1: Attachment theory and the “dependent” child. Emotional and Behavioral Difficulties, 8(3), 231–242.Google Scholar
  24. Geddes, H. (2005). Attachment and learning. Part II: The learning profile of the avoidant and disorganized patterns. Emotional and Behavioral Difficulties, 10(2), 79–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gendrop, S. C., & Eisenhauer, L. A. (1996). A transactional perspective on critical thinking. Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice: An International Journal, 10(4), 329–345.Google Scholar
  26. Goldberg, A. D. (1974). Conceptual system as a predisposition toward therapeutic communication. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 21(5), 364–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Grossmann, K. E., Grossmann, K., & Zimmermann, P. (1999). A wider view of attachment and exploration: Stability and change during the years of immaturity. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications (pp. 760–786). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  28. Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1990). Love and work: An attachment – theoretical perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 511–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hesse, E. (2008). The adult attachment interview: Protocol, method of analysis, and empirical studies. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (2nd ed., pp. 552–598). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  30. Humfress, H., O’Connor, T., Slaughter, J., Target, M., & Fonagy, P. (2002). General and ­relationship-specific models of social cognition: Explaining the overlap and discrepancies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43(7), 873–883.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kadushin, A., & Harkness, D. (2002). Supervision in social work (4th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Keller, T. (2003). Parental images as a guide to leadership sensemaking: An attachment ­perspective on implicit leadership theories. Leadership Quarterly, 14, 141–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kersting, R. C., & Mumm, A. M. (2001). Are we teaching critical thinking in the classroom. The Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 7(1), 53–67.Google Scholar
  34. Kirkpatrick, L. (2005). Attachment, evolution, and the psychology of religion. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  35. Klohnen, E. C., Weller, J. A., Luo, S., & Choe, M. (2005). Organization and predictive power of general and relationship-specific attachment models: One for all, and all for one? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1665–1682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kurfiss, J. G. (1988). Critical thinking: Theory, research, practice, and possibilities. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education.Google Scholar
  37. Larose, S., Bernier, A., & Tarabulsy, G. M. (2005). Attachment state of mind, learning dispositions, and academic performance during the college transition. Developmental Psychology, 41(1), 281–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mayseless, O., & Popper, M. (2007). Reliance on leaders and social institutions: An attachment perspective. Attachment & Human Development, 9(1), 73–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2007). Attachment in adulthood: Structure, dynamics, and change. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  40. Mohr, J., Bennett, S., & Deal, K. (2009, August). Effects of a supervision training workshop on the supervisory relationship. In Theodore R. Burnes (Chair), Reaching for the stars with counseling supervision: Training the new generation. Symposium conducted at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.Google Scholar
  41. Moss, E., & St-Laurent, D. (2001). Attachment at school age and academic performance. Developmental Psychology, 37, 107–119.Google Scholar
  42. Munson, C. (2002). Handbook of clinical social work supervision (3rd ed.). New York: Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  43. Neswald-McCalip, R. (1995). Development of the secure counselor: Case examples supporting Pistole & Watkins’s (1995) discussion of attachment theory in counseling supervision. Counselor Education and Supervision, 41, 18–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Padykula, N. F. (2008). Baccalaureate social work curriculum: A study examining student ­attachment styles, capacity to mentalize, and reflective learning style (Doctoral dissertation, Smith College School for Social Work, 2008). Dissertation Abstracts International 69, 11A.Google Scholar
  45. Paul, R. W. (1992). Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. Santa Rosa, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking.Google Scholar
  46. Pierce, T., & Lydon, J. (2001). Global and specific relational models in the experience of social interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 613–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pistole, C., & Watkins, E. (1995). Attachment theory, counseling process, and supervision. The Counseling Psychologist, 23, 457–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Plath, D., English, B., Connors, L., & Beveridge, A. (1999). Evaluating outcomes of intensive critical thinking instruction for social work students. Social Work Education, 18(2), 207–217.Google Scholar
  49. Reio, T. G., Marcus, R. F., & Sanders-Reio, J. (2009). Contribution of student and instructor ­relationships and attachment style to school completion. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 170(1), 53–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Riggs, S., & Bretz, K. (2006). Attachment processes in the supervisory relationship: An exploratory investigation. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 37, 558–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rom, E., & Mikulincer, M. (2003). Attachment theory and group processes: The association between attachment style and group-related representations, goals, memoires, and functioning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(6), 1220–1235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Watkins, E. (1995). Pathological attachment styles in psychotherapy supervision. Psychotherapy, 32, 333–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. White, V., & Queener, J. (2003). Supervisor and supervisee attachments and social provisions related to the supervisory working alliance. Counselor Education & Supervision, 42, 203–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Catholic School of Social ServiceThe Catholic University of AmericaWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations