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Title: Attachment and mentalizing in counselling psychologists and psychotherapists : an exploration using self-report, behavioural and eye-tracking measures
Author: Hill, Mary
Awarding Body: University of Roehampton
Current Institution: University of Roehampton
Date of Award: 2013
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In recent years, the psychotherapeutic world has become increasingly interested in the characteristics of the relationship between client and therapist. Two key influences on this relationship are the therapist’s ability to mentalize and the therapist’s attachment style (or the degree to which they are securely or insecurely attached). The main aim of this study was to evaluate mentalizing abilities and attachment orientation in therapists, but in particular to explore the relationship between the two. A group of 20 therapists and a matched group of 21 nontherapists undertook a battery of self-report, behavioural and eye-tracking mentalising tasks, and a self-report attachment questionnaire. Mentalizing tasks were designed to measure various aspects of mentalizing including not only mental state comprehension but also the proclivity to use mentalizing skills. In terms of group differences, therapists showed a greater proclivity to use elaborative mental state language and a greater focus on social cues when visually scanning the same situations. Therapists also demonstrated a self-reported higher level of affective and cognitive empathic ability than non-therapists. However, in behavioural terms, therapists did not evidence a significantly enhanced ability in traditional Theory of Mind tasks, emotion understanding, or visual perspective taking tasks. Thus, therapists generally exhibited a greater tendency to process some but not all aspects of social and emotional information more thoroughly. The influence of attachment orientation on the mentalizing skills of both the therapist and the non-therapist group was complex. Non-therapists tended to behave according to the expectations of previous attachment related research. For example, attachment anxiety was associated with poorer perspective taking and a preoccupation with the use of mental state words. Avoidant attachment correlated with a significant reduction in the first-fix looking time at social information. In the therapist group however, only two significant associations between attachment and mentalization were seen: avoidance and the proclivity to use mentalization skills as measured by the use of elaborative mental state language, and avoidance and self-reported empathy. No other significant influences of attachment on therapist mentalization appeared to exist. Thus, therapists who reported an insecure attachment orientation still generally managed to behave as though they were more secure. Some suggestions are made as to the underlying reasons for this phenomenon, and the clinical implications are discussed.
Supervisor: Richards, Angela ; Slade, Lance Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Psych.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: counselling psychology