Putting attachment theory to work…

Book review...

Clarks book

Photo courtesy of ©Pavilion Publishing

Great for working with TEENAGERS

Attachment-Based Practice with Adults: Understanding Strategies and Promoting Positive Change, Pavilion Publishing, Brighton, UK. ISBN-13: 978-1908066176

In recent years I’ve come to really appreciate what attachment theory has to offer. And I find it fascinating!

But theories by themselves don’t offer much. Particularly to those of us involved in direct work with troubled people.

We know that these folks have a messed up development. And we know that attachment is a huge part of it.

But one nagging question just won’t go away:

How do I practice in an attachment-based way?

In late 2009 I attended one of the best training courses I’ve ever been on: Clark Baim and Tony Morrison on attachment-based interviewing.

This book was a work in progress at the time.  The training was running in parallel to its development.

The course changed the way I work. For the better. Forever.

And it started me on a journey of personal research into attachment and the implications of it for anyone who works with people. Particularly troubled people with challenging problems.

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What sets this book apart from the rest?…

At the outset, I should say that this is not really a book. It’s much more than that. It’s a resource… But even that is a little understated. It’s more of an arsenal!

Working with damaged and challenging people can be a battle sometimes. This gives the worker the equipment they badly need to meet such challenges.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/blnd

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/blnd

We’ve long known that many of the worst problems our service users experience are rooted directly in their early years. Attachment theory articulates this.

John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth gifted us with a theory of human development that urges us to look beyond behaviour, beyond presenting problems, to examine causes. Causes rooted in the nexus of the child-caregiver relationship.

Putting legs on theory…

The problem I have found is that this is hard to do. Not only do we need to know our theory extremely well, we need to know what the practice implications are. We need to know what we can do with the people to help them progress.

That’s where Attachment-Based Practice comes in. It will do two key things:

1.  Help you understand the theory of attachment as it applies to your clients

2.  Help you to turn this into positive practice, so you know what to do

This latter point is perhaps the greatest gift this book brings to practitioners; it puts legs on the theory.

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Not only will it refresh, challenge and extend your understanding of attachment theory itself, it will teach you to see and understand your clients through the lens of attachment, right through to the point of practice.

I believe that Bowlby himself would delight in the sheer practicality of this book!


As you know, my thing is helping troubled kids. But this book has the words, “practice with adults” in the title. So how do we square that circle?

Boy in handcuffs upset...

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AlexRaths

Easy. Attachment applies to everyone. You, me, the people we work with. Everyone.

Teenagers are young adults. I have found that much of the learning in this resource is brilliantly applicable to teenagers.

Whilst the case examples and scenarios are focussed on people who are adults now. Some of them cover their story from being little. So you get the child element too.

Also, if you work with teenagers you’ll be able to do the work of applying the principles to them quite easily.

Final thought…

This is an expensive bit of kit. No doubt about it. But if you’ve ever:

  • Wanted to understand attachment better
  • Wished you had a clearer grasp of what different attachment styles look like
  • Known you’ve got a client with attachment-related problems but not known how to help

The answer is here. If it changes the way you practice forever-as it did for me-the investment is more than worth it!

Take me to the AMAZON page to read more about this book… Click here

What do you think?…

  • Please let me know your thoughts…   Join in the conversation – Leave a comment below or click here.

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  © Jonny Matthew 2014

(With grateful thanks to Clark Bain and also to Graham Hoare of Pavilion Publishing for providing a review copy of this resource. I have not been paid for writing this! Honest!)

Disclosure of material connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means that if you click the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • David Mortimer

    Broadening the definition of abuse gives the state more power to question parents & put more children into care regardless of the poor outcomes & cost. The current adversarial family justice system is abusive towards the parents & children it’s supposed to best serve.

    The Baby Bonds study says four in ten children don’t have a secure attachment to their parents & it will be used by financially incentivised social workers to put children up for adoption.

    Who could ever reasonably claim that family court judges act in the best interests of children when they don’t give equal consideration to the harm it causes a child to remove it’s father or any consideration of the harm it causes fathers to remove them from their children.

    Commentators opposed to shared residence and overnights for infants and toddlers have been relying on misleading interpretations of very flawed research to argue that young children need to spend most of their time, and every night, in the care of one primary parent.

    In order to clarify where social science stands on these issues, the February 2014 paper published in the prestigious peer-review journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law with the endorsement of 110 of the world’s top authorities from 15 countries in attachment, early child development, and divorce, recommends that in normal
    circumstances, overnights and “shared parenting should be the norm for children of all ages.”

    The study is a major intellectual event and its importance cannot be overstated. The calibre of the distinguished international authorities is exceptional and the names and affiliations are listed in the Appendix. Charlie Lewis, Ph.D., Head of Department and Professor of Family and Developmental Psychology, Lancaster University is the United Kingdom signatory.


    • jonnymatthew

      Hi David, Thanks for your comment. I read your web page with interest, too. Thanks for the link.

      I’m sure that there are some cases, though not in my 25+ years of experience, where birth families are denied contact without very good cause. This, if it happened, would be an unmitigated tragedy, for sure.

      Only those who’ve had to make a case for termination of contact will truly know how hard it is to apply successfully for such an order. The thresholds make this a very difficult thing to achieve, rightly in my view.

      Denying the child access to birth family and denying that family or those individuals contact with their child/ren is no small thing. And should only be granted where there are clear grounds for doing so. Those grounds should, in my view, be where the child’s hope of a recovery would be jeopardised by contact – sadly, this I see regularly.

      Even the most superficial understanding of the impact of trauma and poor attachment on children, lends cogency to the argument that in many cases, ongoing contact with birth family just isn’t in the child’s best interests. For most it needs to be curtailed. For some it needs to be terminated. Overnights and shared parenting can work in divorce cases. They have no place in severe child abuse cases. I guess the ones in between are where the anomalies are and where the real challenges of social policy are played out.

      For those who deal with the children thereafter, working in an attachment-focussed way (the subject of this blog post) is the best option of maximising the child’s chances of a successful recovery. In my view, this should be the aim of all concerned.

      Thanks for your comments, David. Cheers, Jonny.