Welcome to our regular feature Inspired by which aims to give our readers an overview of the therapeutic backdrop to which many counsellors base their work today. As the decades roll by we are always privileged to be privy to the newest leaps in psychoanalysis and as behavioural studies continue and neuroscience advances, the way in which we understand the brain and human development is forever changing.


This series is a look into the masters who have come before us; the analysts, scientists, medics and researchers who have helped us map just what makes us who we are, why we think and behave in the way we do and how to help when things feel difficult.


As well as some household names that we are sure you are all familiar with, there may be a few people who are less known and so we at The Henry Centre thought what better way to show them off than to dedicate this series of blogs to them. So dive in!

So who exactly are they?


John Bowlby was a British psychiatrist, psychologist, and psychoanalyst who is best known for his groundbreaking work in the field of attachment theory. His research and theories revolutionised our understanding of child development and the importance of early relationships in shaping emotional and social development throughout life.


He developed the idea that there are many different ‘attachment styles’ between children and primary caregivers, and these styles can have a profound effect on the emotional development of the child and can be replicated with others into adulthood.

So why are they so important?

John Bowlby’s ideas have had a profound influence on psychology, child development, and clinical practice. His attachment theory has been widely applied in fields such as psychotherapy, child psychology, education, and parenting, with much of modern parenting guidance focussing on the importance of these early bonds. Bowlby’s work highlighted the significance of early relationships and laid the foundation for understanding the importance of secure attachments in promoting healthy emotional development and well-being. Attachment theory is now a mainstay in all child development literature, and guidance and shows up everywhere from the therapy room to parenting TikTok videos.


When developing his theory of attachment Bowly proposed that strong emotional bonds, when formed between infants and their primary caregivers (often mothers) play a crucial role in the child’s emotional and social development. He put emphasis on the role that these attachments provide, as he theorised that they create a secure base from which the child explores the world and learns to regulate emotions. Essentially, the more secure the child feels with its caregiver, the more safe and supported they will feel than being apart from them.


As well as the ideal ‘secure’ attachment there are also a number of other attachment styles which include anxious-ambivalent and avoidant attachments, each characterised by distinct patterns of behaviour and emotional responses. It is more typical that those with anxious or avoidant attachment styles as a child will run the risk of replicating more unhealthy relationships with others as an adult, such as being overly dependent on their friends or partners or being afraid to commit as they are not used to relationships feeling safe.


Bowlby also proposed the concept of ‘monotropy’ which suggested that infants have an innate predisposition to form a single primary attachment figure, usually one of the parents. He suggested that there are critical periods during which these attachment bonds are most likely to form, typically within the first few years of life, and disruptions in this can have a profound effect.


Separation and loss were also a big element of: Bowlby’s work, which explored the impact of various disruptions in attachment relationships on the emotional and psychological well-being of the individual. He did this by studying the effects of maternal deprivation and the emotional distress experienced by children separated from their caregivers.


These elements of attachment and its disruption are beautifully illustrated in Bowlby’s ‘Strange Situation’ experiment, which was conducted along with collaborator and colleague Mary Ainsworth. It showed the different attachment behaviours in children when they are placed in the ‘strange situation’ of being separated from their mothers. This research helped identify the different attachment patterns and contributed to the validation of attachment theory. Please note that whilst this video is a perfect demonstration of the theory, it can be a little distressing to watch.

How does this work in the therapy room?


Because of the importance of the relationships we experience in early years, therapists are highly trained in paying close attention to the transference in the room which may give clues as to the type of attachment their client may have experienced while growing up. Being able to spot patterns in relationships can also inform the types of relationships the client feels used to or feels compelled to repeat.


Alongside the attachment theory itself, Bowlby also introduced the concept of ‘internal working models’, which are the mental representations of attachment relationships that individuals develop based on their early experiences. These models influence how individuals perceive themselves, others, and relationships throughout their lives. Again, by examining the early years of the client and the patterns forming, the client can begin to make sense of the dynamics formed in the relationships of those around them and help them understand themselves more clearly.


Here at The Henry Centre, we strive to offer our clients the best possible therapeutic experience. It is because of this that all our therapists are highly qualified and knowledgeable of many different therapeutic approaches and disciplines. Having a deep interest and understanding of those who have paved the way for the work we do today in the therapy room is essential to our practice. If you feel that you could benefit from talk therapy, why not get in touch with The Henry Centre, based in both Westcliff-on-sea Southend and now Chelmsford, then get in touch with our friendly team today.