Contemporary attachment theory

How can it inform social workers?

Authored by: David Shemmings , Yvonne Shemmings

The Routledge Handbook of Social Work Theory

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415793438
eBook ISBN: 9781315211053
Adobe ISBN:


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In this chapter, we attempt to summarize the contribution attachment theory can make to social work practice. We argue that this contribution has been hampered by misunderstandings about what it does – and, more importantly, what it does not – say about close human relationships across the lifespan. Unfortunately, attachment theory and research have tended to be seen as more relevant to social workers working with children and families but less so with practitioners working with adult service users. Consider the attachment dynamics when a 60-year-old daughter provides personal care to her 80-year-old father if, when she was a teenager, he sexually abused her. In what follows, therefore, we will try to relate the growing compendium of research into attachment theory to all forms of social work practice.

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