Self-reported anxious- and avoidant-related attachment correlated to interpersonal problems by patients starting psychotherapy

Mona Wilhelmsson Göstas, Britt Wiberg, Ingemar Engström, Lars Kjellin

Abstract


Attachment theory is an encompassing theory for understanding human reactions to life stressors, such as loss and separation, and interpersonal problems are common reasons for seeking psychotherapy. Psychotherapy may be an opportunity to revise insecure attachment and handle interpersonal problems. This study examined attachment styles and interpersonal problems in a clinical sample of psychotherapy patients (n = 168) at the start of psychotherapy. The main aim was to study how self-reported attachment styles, measured by the Attachment Style Questionnaire (ASQ), correlated with interpersonal problems measured using the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems (IIP). Avoidant-related and anxious-related attachment scales correlated positively to the total IIP scores. Inconsistent with findings in non-clinical samples, specific interpersonal problems in the dominant and affiliative parts of the IIP correlated positively to both the anxious-related and the avoidant-related attachment scales. The findings imply that a challenge for the therapist at the start of psychotherapy is to balance providing security with encouraging exploration of feelings, thoughts, and behaviour in the patient’s interpersonal problems in current relationships. Exploring individual profiles of attachment styles helps to clarify motives in expressed interpersonal problems.

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Keywords

Attachment styles; Interpersonal problems; Psychotherapy; Psychiatry; Patients



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ISSN 1832-7931
Swinburne University of Technology