Beginnings and Endings: An Inquiry into the Attachment Orientations and Termination Approaches among Clinical Social Workers

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Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
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clinicial social work
Clinical Psychology
Counseling Psychology
Social Work
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All therapeutic relationships must come to an end. Although there is ample social work literature on the impact of termination on clients, there is a dearth of scholarship on the experiences of clinicians during this phase. This study explored the links between the levels of attachment orientation of a purposive sample (N=49) of clinical social workers and their subjective approaches to termination. The Adult Attachment Questionnaire (AAQ) and the Termination Approaches Questionnaire (TAQ) (created for this study) were instruments used in this online survey design. The results suggested a statistically significant relationship between attachment orientation of clinical social workers and their approaches to termination. Participants with lower scores on the AAQ had higher scores on the engagement subscale of the TAQ indicating that those with higher attachment security were more likely engaging in the process of termination. Likewise, results suggested that the higher the AAQ scores the higher the scores on the avoidance subscale of the TAQ indicating that those with less secure attachment orientation were more likely avoiding the termination process. Qualitative results highlighted the emotional ambivalence, the opportunities, and the need for education about the termination phase. The worker’s role and the therapeutic relationship emerged as key factors in termination approaches. By bringing increased attention to termination and to clinician attachment in this phase of the work, this study strengthens the potential of clinical social workers engaged in outpatient psychotherapy practice to minimize unfavorable effects of termination on clients and on themselves.

Jeffrey Applegate, PhD
Joretha Bourjolly, PhD
Lani Nelson-Zlupko, PhD
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