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Therapist attachment and perceived working alliance among student clinicians

27 February 2012


Although the working alliance is consistently identified as a strong factor in successful treatment outcome, relatively few studies have examined the role of therapists’ attachment style in its formation. The available research suggests that therapists' attachment styles influence their perception of working alliance quality (Black, Hardy, Turpin, & Parry, 2005), that insecure attachment in therapists’ contributes to weaker alliances (Sauer, Lopez, & Gormely, 2003; Black et al., 2005), and interaction effects between client and therapist attachment styles significantly influence the trajectory of working alliance development (Tyrell, Dozier, Teague, & Fallott, 1999). This study examines the relationship between therapist attachment style and perceived working alliance strength in response to vignettes of fictional therapeutic encounters. It was hypothesized that significant differences in working alliance strength would be detected among therapists’ based on their attachment style (i.e.,, Secure, Fearful, Preoccupied, and Dismissing). A sample of 72 graduate-level psychology students were recruited by

e-mail and provided with an on-line survey consisting of the Experiences in Close Relationships Scale (ECR), the Working Alliance Inventory (WAI), and two fictional vignettes. Analyses revealed no significant differences in perceived working alliance strength between the four attachment styles. The Bond subscale of the WAV, assumed to be most representative of attachment-related characteristics, was not significantly related to attachment style. Secure attachment had the highest representation within the sample (n= 33), but the distribution of this attachment style within the sample (45%) was not consistent with previous research (Leiper & Casares, 2000; Ligiero & Gelso, 2002). Implications of these findings, limitations and future research are discussed.


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