The relationship between therapist attachment style and clinical style

Mark J. Ostrowski (2001)

The study examined the relationship between therapist attachment organization and therapist helping style. The relationships between attachment and helping styles and selected therapist demographics were also investigated. Surveys composed of a self-report measure of adult attachment, a self-report measure of therapist helping style, and demographic items were distributed to 300 randomly selected psychotherapists. Of the 139 surveys returned, 131 (44% of the original sample) were used in the analysis. The majority of therapists (88%) reported secure attachment. Therapists who reported greater comfort with closeness in their personal relationships showed a weak preference for a Directive ( r = .17, p ≤ .05) helping style as opposed to a Reflective helping style ( r = -.23, p ≤ .01). Therapists who reported greater degrees of comfort with relying upon others were somewhat less likely to prefer a Reflective helping style ( r = -.18, p ≤ .05). Some demographic group differences were observed for helping style and treatment duration expectancy. Eclectic therapists were more Directive than psychodynamic therapists. MSW therapists were more Reflective than Ph.D. therapists and had longer treatment duration expectancies than Psy.D. therapists. Attachment style was not found to be predictive of helping style, theoretical orientation, or treatment duration expectancy. Caution is advised, as cause and effect relationships between variables cannot be assumed. It is concluded that certain attachment dimensions are associated with certain helping styles and that certain therapists grouped demographically showed differences for helping style and treatment duration expectancy. The study has implications for an understanding of therapists' personality characteristics and demographic variables as finding expression in their styles of helping.