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Attachment: The Origins of Relationship
Attachment Patterns 
Role of the Coach

A client's willingness to engage in the coaching relationship - their ‘propensity to relate’- is a key determinant of outcome (De Haan, 2019). So it's important for coaches and supervisors to understand their clients' patterns of relationship, how they develop and how they might be modified.


According to Attachment Theory, originated by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the 1960s and 70s, how we are cared for in infancy can affect how we relate to others for the rest of our lives. In very broad terms, the main patterns are:

  • a generally attentive and caring mother helps the infant become confident and trusting of others (secure attachment)

  • a remote or preoccupied mother causes the infant to become self-contained with a wariness towards others (self-sufficient or avoidant attachment)

  • a ‘blow hot, blow cold’ mother makes the infant confused and anxious, wanting relationship yet finding it hard to trust that it will work out (sensitive or anxious attachment)


While these patterns are literally built into the structure of the infant brain, the brain's neuroplasticity allows subsequent experience of relationships to modify them. A relationship with a secure attachment figure in adulthood can, over time, increase trust, build confidence and enhance resilience in an insecurely attached person.


As coaching practitioners, we are in the privileged position of being able to act as a secure attachment figure, providing a ‘safe haven’ and a ‘secure base’ from which clients can explore their issues - reflected in coaching practice by the emphasis placed on providing a ‘safe space’ for the client. 


A key aspect of my approach is to help practitioners understand and take account of their own pattern of attachment, and how they might model a secure attachment figure in their work with clients. I routinely ask clients to fill in a family history form at the beginning of our work together as a way of learning about attachment.

  • Reference: De Haan, E. (2019) The Active Ingredients of Coaching: Insight from Research. In Coaching Perspectives (Association for Coaching) October 2019 Issue 23, pp36-38.

  • Books: For more detailed discussions of attachment in coaching supervision, see

    • Campion, H. (2020) ‘Use of Attachment Theory’. In: Lucas, M. (ed.) '101 Coaching Supervision Techniques, Approaches, Enquiries and Experiments'. No 38, pp108-110.

    • Brown, P. Hasani, S. & Campion, H. (2019) ‘Neurobehavioural Supervision: Applied Neuroscience in the context of Coaching Supervision'. In: Birch, J. & Welch. P (eds.) 'Coaching Supervision: Advancing Practice, Changing Landscapes', Chapter 3. See  

  • Workshop:  I have presented on 'Attachment Theory for Coaching Supervisors' to the Global Supervisors’ Network and the Americas Supervision Network. For those who want to learn more about how to work with attachment but don’t want co-vision, I offer a one-off 2-hour, 1-2-1 video meeting.

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