Today I had strong words with a client for disparaging himself. This was my last working day before a 3- week break and we are all familiar with the kind of acting out that can happen ahead of a therapist’s holiday, disguised and distorted attachment-seeking due to separation anxiety. Sometimes there seems to be a regression, an undoing of good work done in previous months and years. As an attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapist, I see part of my role as a symbolic protector, keeping clients safe (or as safe as possible) from harm - physical, sexual, emotional or neglect - at the hands of other people or from themselves. By attacking himself, my client was letting me know that he needs a stronger sense of my presence in his internal world to keep him safe while I am not available - but being on the Dismissing end of the attachment spectrum he could not express his need directly. Another client, more Preoccupied, demonstrated her separation anxiety by becoming distressed in the last few minutes thus ensuring her final session of the year overran. She got a bit more of my time but, I suspect, wasn’t greatly comforted by it.

Attachment Theory (along with Object Relations) has informed so much of my way of thinking, and I’m sure it is helpful to you. But it hasn’t always been that way.

In the mid-1980s I was working at a mental health day centre running various group activities and was encouraged to take a counselling course. The one I chose was a 3-year diploma in what we now would call an integrative approach, introducing us to all the major therapy paradigms. At no point in my three years was John Bowlby or “attachment” mentioned. I gather that psychologists and social workers had heard of it but not counsellors, psychotherapists or psychoanalysts training at that time.

Five years later and I was looking for a more substantial training. I was teaching on Foundation courses at Regent’s College (as it was back then) and noticed a poster advertising “the first John Bowlby conference” being held at there. Top of the bill was Colin Murray Parkes - and I’d certainly heard of him! So I signed up and attended, and heard not only CMP but also a speaker called Susan Vas Dias. Susan had trained with Anna Freud as a child psychotherapist and worked with parents of very vulnerable, very premature babies. She described encouraging parents to bond with their tiny infants, often with the knowledge that the baby may not survive. Susan’s talk moved me for many reasons - a year earlier my son had arrived just a little early but there had been complications. I remembered how fiercely I insisted on holding him rather than have him lying in an incubator next to my bed. I instinctively knew that he needed that contact with his mother’s skin and heartbeat. (I’m happy to say that he both survived and has thrived). Also, I had a client who was born very prematurely and sadly her parents had not bonded with her. Her physical disabilities were nothing compared to the emotional difficulties she struggled with. I wanted to train with Susan Vas Dias.

I found my way to what is now the Bowlby Centre in 1994.  Teaching on the Foundation course at Regent’s College, another broadly integrative course, I realised that none of my colleagues seemed to be familiar with Attachment Theory. My own psychotherapy training was considered to be rather niche, not quite pukka. I now know that there was a sizeable psychology literature about attachment research at that time but almost nothing about its usefulness in thinking about clients (or ourselves!) or the practice of psychotherapy. I’m deeply grateful to Jeremy Holmes and his early writing about Bowlby and the importance of attachment in the therapy room as no-one else was addressing the clinical implications at that time.

Bowlby’s original “classical” theory was a major project developing a model that made sense of human nature. He wrote about maternal deprivation, the impact of separation from, and loss of the people we are closest to, who we turn to for protection, encouragement and care. He was himself a child- and adult psychoanalyst but wrote little about how we should translate this theory into clinical work. And then attachment became the domain of psychology researchers who devised experiments that could be replicated the world over with various populations. This is, of course, important work that underpins, validates and has refined Bowlby’s theory, and it has become almost an industry. But attachment was lost to therapy practitioners for decades.

For younger therapists it must be hard to imagine a time when attachment was considered “fringe”! There are so many new books on all aspects - attachment and parenting, attachment and couples, attachment and trauma, attachment disorders… the list goes on. And many of these books are aimed at the general public too. I sometimes feel there is just too much attachment now!

In 2000 I was invited to run a 7-day training on attachment for the Wimbledon Guild. The co-ordinator at that time, John Priestley, was a Jungian analyst who had developed a great interest in Bowlby’s work. After that first year I was asked back again and again and these courses attracted more and more people each year, eventually developing into a 3-year postgraduate diploma (now, sadly, no more). Teaching opportunities, alongside my client and supervision practice, provided stimulation and challenge - just what I needed to hone my own thinking about the practice of attachment-based psychotherapy. I have developed my own approach based on Bowlby’s original theory, what we have learned from attachment research over many decades, and knowledge emerging from neuroscience, trauma research and mentalisation studies.

I have now been practicing as a counsellor / psychotherapist for thirty years and teaching since the early 1990s. I have reached a stage in my own life when I want to hand on what I feel I have learned to others, through writing, training and supervising, for them to make use of it in what ever way makes sense to them. I hope our paths cross at some point if you want to know more.


Linda Cundy

December 2020

Linda Cundy is a UKCP-registered attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapist and supervisor in private practice, and an independent trainer, consultant, and writer. She has taught on psychotherapy courses for almost thirty years, including a long association with the Wimbledon Guild where she developed and led a Post Graduate Diploma in Attachment-Based Therapy. She has written / edited three books to date, Love in the Age of the Internet: Attachment in the Digital Era; Anxiously Attached: Understanding and Working with Preoccupied Attachment; and Attachment and the Defence Against Intimacy: Understanding and Working with Avoidant Attachment, Self-Hatred and Shame. A fourth, Attachment, Relationships and Food: From Cradle to Kitchen is due in 2021. Linda has worked in the areas of adult mental health and bereavement, and has been appointed Attachment Theory Consultant to the Bowlby Centre.

Linda will be hosting three webinars for STARS Dorset in March and April 2021 around Attachment for full details visit our events page here