Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Katherine C. Ledwith, DSW

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Applegate, PhD


In psychotherapy the relationship between social worker and client, or the working alliance, is thought to be the most robust predictor of therapeutic outcomes. The social worker’s attachment pattern impacts his or her ability to form an effective working alliance, utilize countertransference, cope with stress and use social supports. There is insufficient focus on how social worker attachment patterns may inform the social worker’s chosen theoretical orientation. Theoretical orientation serves as the foundation for clinical practice and provides a framework with which to view the client, the presenting problems and possible interventions. A theoretical orientation aligned with personal values and beliefs has been linked to job satisfaction, increased therapeutic efficacy, and reduced burnout. This study explored the relationship between adult attachment pattern and theoretical orientation among 170 clinical social workers providing psychotherapy in outpatient settings. The Experience in Close Relationships Scale (ECR-R), the Theoretical Orientation Profile Scale (TOPS-R), and the Theoretical Evaluation Self Test (TEST) were used in the online survey design. Findings highlight the large number of clinical social workers with fearful, or disorganized, attachment patterns. No relationship was found between attachment pattern and theoretical orientation, indicating that perhaps clinical social workers are not actively engaging the use of self when choosing theoretical orientations. Careful assessment of social worker attachment patterns needs to be incorporated into graduate education and ongoing clinical practice. Awareness of the social worker’s attachment pattern may serve as a protective factor with regard to career satisfaction, clinical effectiveness, and reduction of burnout.

Included in

Social Work Commons