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Attachment theory has routinely been considered essential for those working with children. However, contemporary literature and research on attachment offers some compelling insights for work with offenders, particularly in the way that empathy is developed and mood is regulated.
final version prior to publication - Ansbro, M (2008) Using
attachment theory with offenders Probation Journal Vol 55 No.
3 231-244.
Using Attachment Theory with Offenders
Attachment theory has routinely been considered essential for those working
with children. However, contemporary literature and research on attachment
offers some compelling insights for work with offenders, particularly in the way
that empathy is developed and mood is regulated.
Attachment, security, attunement, empathy, self-regulation.
Summaries always run the risk of being crude oversimplifications, but if one
had to summarise the recent history of the theories and methods used in the
Probation Service it would go something like this. Much of the twentieth
century was spent first being driven by an evangelising desire to save
offenders, and then by applying an often psychodynamically informed
treatment model. By the 1970’s a political awareness of the social roots of
crime cast such deterministic views into disfavour. Worse was to follow, when
all methods of intervention available to the criminal justice system were
declared ineffective. At least that was how it was perceived when an American
academic called Robert Martinson published an article in 1974 that is now
usually alluded to as the “nothing works” article (it’s full title was “What works?
Questions and answers about prison reform”). In fact the liberally inclined
Martinson hoped his findings would lead to a reduction in the use of
imprisonment (why bother if nothing worked?) and he was appalled when his
material was used to justify entirely contrary policies.
During the 1980’s, cognitive behavioural methods of work arrived in this
country from Canada, and breathed new life into the rehabilitative ideal. Key
figures in the Probation Service such as Andrew Underdown promulgated their
effectiveness, and oversaw their national implementation (Underdown 1998)
Programmes designed to teach offenders new thinking skills were adopted
enthusiastically, and they remain a key plank of evidence based practice
delivered by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). Chapman
and Hough (1998) and set out the Home Office’s expectation that all practice
in the Probation Service would conform to the principles of “what works”;
essentially cognitive behavioural programmes (delivered according to risk,
need and responsivity), delivered with large helpings of motivational
interviewing and pro-social modelling. Such methods have since produced
mixed results, sometimes showing reductions in reconvictions and sometimes
not (Harper & Chitty 2005). There is no doubt that programme work suits
some offenders very well, but in the Probation Service a climate has
developed in which other methods are frowned on. It has come to feel as if
cognitive behavioural programme work is the only trick that the NOMS pony
can perform. Rod Morgan (Chief Inspector of Probation at the time) wrote in
the Inspectorate’s 2002 Annual Report on the Probation Service that the “what
works” agenda was being accompanied by “a degree of programme
Despite this trend, there have been exciting ideas expounded in recent years
that offer contrasting ways of conceptualising offending and devising
interventions. Of particular interest is the “criminal careers” literature that
reveals clear patterns of desistance and persistence (Farrington 1997, Maruna
et al 2004, Farrell, 2005). This research has identified the constellation of
factors that predispose individuals to embarking on a criminal career, and
likewise the factors that are associated with growing out of crime. Importantly,
the work on desistance has found a natural partner with that on the
“narrative”, which proposes that the opportunity to mentalise and verbalise a
narrative of one’s life, re-writing the script from a hopeless one to an optimistic
one, can be instrumental in the choice to desist. It is proposed that one place
where that re-scripting can take place is within a relationship with a Probation
Officer/Offender Manager (Burnett and McNeill 2005)
This article proposes that attachment theory similarly deserves a place in the
selection of alternative ideas vying for some space alongside cognitive
behaviourism. Moreover attachment has congruence with the ideas around
desistance and narratives because it also proposes that the quality of the
relationship between offender and worker is pivotal to effective intervention.
Any cognitive behavioural therapist would agree that the quality of the
relationship between client/patient/offender effects outcome. However, the
way that this method of work has been translated into the language of offender
management has sometimes made the notion of a relationship (and the
empathy and support that goes with it) an embarrassment, something
politically unpalatable. In comparison, challenging attitudes and breaking down
denial struck just the right note.
Attachment theory examines the early emotional connection between infant
and carers, and how the quality of attachment effects our later development. It
is generally proposed that parents and carers who offer a “secure base” (a
style of caring that is responsive and in tune with the child’s state of mind)
tend to turn out psychologically healthy children, who as adults can form good
relationships, empathise with others and can modulate their own extreme
emotions without losing control. Not even the most fervent advocate would
pretend that the quality of attachments is uniquely formative. However, when
considered as part of a constellation of social and psychological factors, it
contributes to an understanding of patterns of cognitions and behaviours that
practitioners frequently struggle with in their work.
Attachment theory misunderstood
The connection between early neglect or abuse and later problems is written
into the fabric of our lives. It is evident in these two quotations, the first from
the lyrics of West Side Story sung by gang members of the “Jets”, and the
second from a Philip Larkin poem, presenting his typically toxic take on life;
“Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset;
We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get…
…we’re depraved on account we’re deprived!”
(Sondheim 1957)
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you”.
(Larkin 1974)
However, the very ubiquitousness of the connection between early care and
later development can result in it being misunderstood as altogether too
commonsensical, deterministic and excusing of personal responsibility. In
reality attachment theory does much more than set down a simple connection;
it goes on to offer a rich analysis of the mediating psychological processes,
with important messages for practice.
Another corruption of attachment theory occurs when it is perceived as
inherently misogynistic, demanding near unbroken attention from the mother
in the critical early years, and burdening her with total responsibility for the
child’s development. Early Bowlby is employed, (such as his much quoted
1951 statement “mother love in infancy is as important for mental health as
are vitamins and proteins for physical health” ) to rail against contemporary
family trends, from working mothers to single parenthood and high divorce
rates. This is certainly a misuse of the theory, as attachment theorists place no
special mystique upon the maternal bond, instead focusing on the primary
caregiver or caregivers, and have come to examine the quality of interactions
rather that the amount of time spent with a primary carer.
Attachment, the secure base and offending
John Bowlby is credited with the genesis of attachment theory, and the subject
is now widely taught across the disciplines of psychology and social care.
Bowlby trained as a psychoanalyst, but was soon drawn to a more eclectic
approach to development, which could acknowledge the effect of environment
as well as the inner world. He was struck by the responses – initially despair,
then withdrawal and detachment - of children when they were admitted to
hospital. His observations were made in the 1950’s, when parents were
allowed infrequent visits, as they were seen as disruptions to the hospital
regime. Whilst pre-1950s society was not entirely oblivious to the emotional
needs of children, the need for this human attachment was certainly
underestimated, demonstrated amply by film of 1950’s maternity wards, with
infants bundled up and trolleyed off to a separate room, to be reunited with
their mothers at regular 4 hour intervals for feeding.
From work like this two important conclusions were arrived at. Firstly infants
need more than to be kept warm and well fed. They need an ingredient that
came to be termed security - a quality of care that was sufficiently responsive
to the child’s needs to alleviate anxiety and engender a feeling of being
understood. Secondly, it was proposed that when this was absent,
development was likely to suffer. Such work, and all that evolved from it, has
been crucial in informing obstetrics and child welfare services, and early work
on attachment also drew a connection between quality of early attachment
and later delinquency. Bowlby himself (1944) wrote a research paper based
on a cohort of 47 young offenders, proposing that the absence of a secure
attachment figure can result in “affectionless psychopathy” – a condition
characterised by a lack of concern for others, and an inability to form
relationships. The term has, over the years, come to sound dated, and yet has
a prescience when one considers contemporary studies of personality
disorder and risk of harm.
More contemporary research confirms the connection between early adverse
experiences, and later offending and mental health problems. The Cambridge
Delinquency Study (Farrington 1997 and various dates) has been perhaps the
most thorough longitudinal study undertaken in this country. For nearly forty
years it has followed a cohort of 411 males born in south London, and has
identified a number of factors that set the group that came to offend apart from
the group that did not. The offending group were more likely to have behaved
anti-socially as children, and to have displayed hyperactivity, excessive
impulsivity and attention deficit. The offenders’ families were more likely to
have had convicted criminals as members, and to live in poverty, as measured
by income, family size and quality of housing. Most importantly for the
purposes of this paper, the offending group were more likely to have received
parenting characterised by poor supervision, and harsh, authoritarian
discipline, and their parents were more likely to be in conflict with each other.
Without doubt these factors interact with each other, but the quality of parental
care stands out as an important mediating factor in the child’s developmental
On a smaller scale, and focusing on a specific, “heavy end” group of
offenders, Gwyneth Boswell, (1998) looked at the backgrounds of 200 of the
most serious young offenders in the UK Criminal Justice System. They were
being detained indefinitely because they had committed offences such as
murder, arson or rape. She confirmed from their files that nearly all of them
had experienced severe loss, neglect or abuse. To turn to the connection
between mental disorder and early attachment, there is, equally, a range of
supportive evidence. Luntz and Widom (1994) found that in a large sample of
American children who had been subject to abuse or neglect in their early
years there were significantly more who were diagnosed with Anti-Social
Personality Disorder (ASPD) in adulthood than in a control group who had not
been abused. However this last piece of research reminds us of one of the
most important caveats in this area, namely that whilst the connection
between absent or disturbed early attachment and later development is true
for some, there remains the majority who develop well despite their
experiences; 13.5% of the experimental group developed the disorder
compared to 7.1% of the control group, leaving the majority without the
condition. The possibility of different developmental pathways by gender was
also raised, as the adverse early experiences did not act as a significant
predictor for ASPD for the girls in the way that it did for the boys.
Human development is too complex to isolate particular factors as causative,
but in all these pieces of research the quality of early parenting emerges as
one factor that is important in determining later development. Psychologists
like Daniel Stern (1977) have studied the psychological processes at a micro
level that transmit these effects. He analysed interactions between carers and
infants, their gurgling precursors to verbal conversations, noting the patterns
of facial expressions and vocalisations. He proposed that in the majority of
cases there is an intuitive attunement in these interactions, a finely tuned
modulation, from which the infant learns that the carer is available, and can
understand and respond. When the baby is alarmed or in distress the carer
soothes and the baby finds his or her equilibrium without recourse to panic or
major upset. If a baby is left to deal with too much panic and fear on its own
too early — perhaps because the carer is disengaged through mental illness
or substance misuse - the infant does not start to learn this route through
anxiety into relief.
The idea of early attachment providing an essential ingredient for emotional
and cognitive growth can be taken further. Fonagy (2004) proposes that the
carer’s responsivity gives the infant the first inkling that the way he or she feels
is understood in another persons mind. The tendency to somewhat
exaggerate facial expressions when communicating with babies (excited
euphoria at babies first wave, abject misery when baby bumps head) is more
than adult gooiness – it is the mechanism by which baby starts to compile his
or her inner vocabulary of emotions, and goes on to refine a meta-cognitive
ability (the capacity to access ones own thoughts and feelings, to “think about
thinking”) over the years. In this way the infant learns to recognise their own
emotions and read other people’s.
Security of attachment is an indicator of (but not a guarantee of) good social
and emotional development, as measured by independence, sociability, and
absence of behavioural problems (Thompson 1999). Securely attached
children go about life with a blueprint about relationships that is essentially
trusting; they have had enough caring that is in tune with them to be able to
get on with life. Rather than having to worry about whether the carer is going
to be available for the scary moments, and on their wavelength, they are more
or less confident that they will be, and will probably be understood. The child is
free to to get on with important developmental tasks like playing, making
friends and learning. For the minority of children who display insecure
attachments, less optimal strategies are developed, with implications for their
Types of attachment
Types of attachment were first defined by Mary Ainsworth (1985), who devised
the “strange situation experiment”. This was, and continues to be used as a
procedure that reveals the type of attachment an infant has. It is performed at
a developmental point when the child has particular attachments, but is not so
sophisticated that emotions and reactions are rationalised and disguised. The
toddler and their carer enter a room where there is a researcher and a few
toys. After a while the carer leaves. Whether or not the child gets upset when
they are left with the researcher is not particularly relevant – it is how they
respond to the carer’s return that is revealing.
The majority of infants have some contact with the carer on their return; they
may need comforting but that contact serves the purpose of bringing them
down from any upset and re-establishing equilibrium. Within a short space of
time they are back playing. This response is characteristic of secure
attachment; even though they have been worried by being left, they are able
to get over the anxiety by the attention of their attachment object. A minority of
infants show a different type of response in the Strange Situation Experiment -
reactions that indicate insecure attachments. Ainsworth has discerned three
main types of insecure attachment. One group showed what has come to be
known as an avoidant style of attachment, and they seemed to be detached
from their carer when they returned. Superficially they continued with what
they were doing, although they kept one eye on the carer. The other
insecurely attached group showed a mixture of responses – they might
welcome the carer back, but then shy away or rebuff. Their responses could
be quite contradictory, and this came to be called an ambivalent style of
attachment. These types of attachment have been found to be fairly universal,
with the majority falling into the securely attached group, and this group
showing optimal development.
The question that next has to be posed is what steers a child towards secure
or insecure attachments, and the crucial influence seems to be the style of
care received. Although temperament has some part to play in the infant’s
style of attachment the most important factor is the attunement and availability
of care received from the primary carers (Belsky & Rovine 1987). Avoidantly
attached children are likely to be parented in a cold, punitive or violent manner
and ambivalently attached children are likely to have received inconsistent
parenting, a mixture of attention and disregard, warmth and coldness, but
delivered unpredictably and not in response to the child’s state. A parent who
is, for instance, a heavy drinker may be maudlin and affectionate at times, but
at other times angry and violent.
It would be artificial to see these attachment types as fixed and distinct, like a
blood type. As ever, reality is somewhat fuzzier than the model describes.
Ainsworth (1985) put forward the notion of a continuum, with secure
attachment at the mid-way point, and the two main types of insecure
attachment at extreme ends on either side. However, there does seem to be
something enduring about the attachment type which individuals tend towards.
These early patterns have longevity – Bowlby used the term “internal working
model” to describe the way that early attachments form prototypes for later
relationships. The “Adult Attachment Inventory” is a structured assessment
tool devised by Mary Main which evaluates adults’ attachment styles, and it
confirms the tendency for adults to demonstrate similar styles of attachment
as they did when small (Van Ijzendoorn 1994). Avoidant children tend to grow
into adults with what is termed a “dismissing” style of attachment. A parental
style of care which is consistently cold, critical, punitive or violent will signal to
the child not to expect what is needed emotionally. This does not mean that
the child will not love the parent - in fact the reverse may be true, as
suggested in Winnicott’s famous phrase (cited in Holmes 1994) that it is
“better to cling to a bad object than to have none at all”. However, to protect
against disappointment or worse, the avoidantly insecure child cannot afford to
expect much and detachment provides protection. The dismissing adults, who
tend to develop from such early attachments, often repeat this style in their
own adult relationships – avoiding closeness with others, and displaying little
interest or awareness of their own or others state of mind. Ambivalent
children, tend to develop “preoccupied” or “enmeshed” styles of attachment as
adults, anxiously alternating between a wish for intimacy and a need for
distance. Insecure types of attachment are not optimal for development and a
wealth of research has amassed confirming the disadvantages of insecure
attachments (Thompson 1999).
What these two forms of insecure attachment have in common is that the
attachment object cannot be trusted. Different strands in psychology often
arrive at with similar ideas under different headings, and this idea echoes
those of Erik Erikson. Erikson mapped out the stages of life, and proposed
that each one was characterised by a different challenge. The first one, the
most fundamental and the one with the most serious consequences if things
do not go well, is the battle between trust and mistrust. In the first year or two,
the child is learning whether the world around it is reliable, predictable, and
more or less benevolent - in other words the conditions to nurture security.
Attachment theorists propose further that if you have not experienced
someone who has been in tune with your state of mind, it is difficult, in turn, to
be in touch with others states of mind. Again we can witness ideas from
different fields in psychology converging. This idea adds to work from
cognitive psychology, where perspective taking, de-centring, and development
of a “theory of mind” are proposed as capacities that evolve as part of the
maturational process.
Neuropsychology and attachment
Recent years have seen exciting developments linking attachment
experiences with the physical development of certain brain structures. Allan
Schore, a psychobiologist, has found that those with secure attachments have
a more developed pattern of neurotransmitters in the limbic system – which is
precisely the area of the brain known to play an important part in the
regulation of the emotions. Schore (1997) has studied the neurobiological
states that accompany varying types of infant care, and argues that good
enough attunement promotes the wiring of healthy brain circuitry. If we recall
the earlier work of Stern (1977), his examinations of mother and infant
interactions revealed how the carer and infant lock their gazes together, their
expressions modelling and mirroring one another. By tuning in to every subtle
shift in the infants states, the caregiver accentuates positive states of
excitement, joy and pleasure, and minimizes distress. The infant feels that its
inner state is understood by another and in this way the mother serves as an
affect regulator, and a template for later independent regulation. These early
empathic, attuned experiences seem to promote the development of synapses
in the orbitofrontal cortex in the limbic system. Schore contends conversely
that abuse, neglect and chronic states of misattunement lead to an
overpruning of synapses in the orbitofrontal cortex, leaving individuals with an
impaired ability to modulate and regulate emotion in response to stress.
There is another aspect to the physiological correlates of attachment, and that
is in the release of cortisol. This is the hormone that is released when under
stress, and which causes the “fight or flight” response in the body. When
securely attached individuals are exposed to alarm, cortisol is released and
then tapers off. Secure attachments seem to equip the individual to recover
from anxiety. Insecurely attached individuals in contrast seem to have
chronically elevated levels of cortisol, making them constantly primed for an
emergency (Spangler and Schieche 1998). The securely attached use their
secure base to reduce anxiety, and go on to learn to do that for themselves.
Without that experience, the avoidant group’s strategy is to self-manage by
detachment, while the ambivalent group devotes much attention and
emotional energy to coping with the unpredictability. Ultimately the result is the
same – the attachment object cannot be relied on. The implications are that
early experiences underpin organic and chemical differences in brain
functioning, and that inadequate care may leave individuals poorly equipped to
manage levels of arousal.
Applications with offenders
Type of attachment is not posited as a failsafe early predictor of later
development. Many adults who have experienced disrupted or deficient
attachments when young will, from whatever source, find sufficient resilience
to grow into well-balanced adults. David Howe (2005) has suggested that the
intelligence to reflect on adverse experiences and the opportunity to mentally
metabolise them with another makes for resilience. The Dunedin study (a
longtitudinal study in New Zealand) suggests that there is a genetic ingredient
interacting with the environment to offer such protection (Caspi et al 2002).
However, if we look at a population of offenders – particularly those with deep-
seated problems, we find a preponderance of insecure attachments.
Ward and Hudson (1996) looked at a group of sexual offenders, and assessed
their type of attachment style. What was clear was that child molesters were
more likely to have preoccupied styles of attachment (perhaps reflecting an
inability to cope with adults in relationships, where they expect both
unbearable intrusions and awful abandonment) and the rapists (in common
with generally violent people) tended to have dismissing styles (perhaps
reflecting their lack of empathy with others, inability to control aggression, and
avoidance of real intimacy).
Gwen Adshead (2002) has confirmed the over-representation of dismissing
styles in a population of violent offenders in Broadmoor. She comments “It is
likely that a dismissing state of mind is linked with a developmental failure of
empathy, which implies some degree of self-reflective function: it is hard to
imagine the feelings of others if there is diminished capacity to think about
one’s own feelings” (P 35).
For practitioners all this becomes salient when we are working with offenders
who fail to understand and control their extreme states of mind (for example
as in anger management work) and who are unable to access others states of
mind (for example when working to cultivate empathy towards victims). The
essential psychological capacity that is required for both of these is the ability
to “think about thinking” – to know when you are feeling angry or low, and
even better to have some insight into what might make you feel different. This
capacity is sometimes referred to as the “self-reflective function” (Fonagy
2004) and also “meta-cognition” (Main 1991). Securely attached individuals
think about their feelings and relationships, and although they are not
necessarily idyllic they can contemplate them and make sense of them. We
are likely to be working with individuals who are not used to doing this. A
dismissing style of attachment would typically result in an adult who could not
put into words what their relationships were like. They might recall early family
life as “fine”, (even when all the indications are to the contrary) but be unable
to put much detail on that response. Having an attachment object who can
understand your state of mind allows you to grow into an adult who can do the
same thing to others. Having an attachment object who does not want to, or
cannot take in your state of mind forces the adoption of another strategy, one
which will not include accessing your own state of mind or others. For practice
this is useful. Many of our clients are not being wilfully obtuse when they seem
oblivious to others’ situations, whether it is their own partner or a victim of their
robbery. Development of the self-reflective capacity (clear echoes here of
narrative work) with the assistance of a Probation worker offering a taste of
secure base add to and complement a cognitive behavioural understanding of
The second important application with offenders, and somewhat connected to
the last point in that it is about accessing others and our own psychic state, is
the ability to regulate our own emotion. Secure attachments serve to reduce
anxiety when life gets scary. In the strange situation experiment the securely
attached infants became upset just as much as the others when they were left
– but crucially they were able to use their secure base to be soothed and were
soon off playing independently again. Ideally, that process, the “don’t worry,
it’s alright” feeling becomes internalised and the capacity to self-manage
through extremes of emotion develops. Without that capacity, however, other
less optimal other strategies are resorted to. A dismissing style of attachment,
with its typical detachment from emotion and thought, is likely to fast forward
the individual straight into a behavioural, sometimes violent response, or short
cuts will be found to regain equilibrium – alcohol, drugs, violence, sexually
abusive acts. Attachment theory should reassure practitioners that time spent
establishing a well pitched dialogue, and starting to put words to offender’s
thoughts and state of mind is time well spent. Although it may not lent itself to
concrete target setting or completion of paper based exercises, it will be
nurturing an ability to recognise and verbalise emotional states – something
that other psychological perspectives would call emotional intelligence or
emotional literacy.
Sexual offenders are, arguably, more studied and researched than any other
group of offenders, and so it is no surprise that the literature in this field
already employs ideas from attachment. Marshall and Barbaree (1990) have
formulated an integrated theory of sexual offending which draws on the range
of evidence and ideas. They make a connection between early attachments
and later problems in managing negative states of mind, establishing intimacy,
and feeling empathy – difficulties experienced by many sexual offenders.
Ward (2002) comments on Marshall and Barbaree’s integrated theory thus;
“insecure attachment is viewed as particularly important as it results in a
failure to explore the world and to develop trust and a sense of personal
security and power …… insecure attachment results in enduring problems
with mood management, low self esteem, impaired problem solving and
reduced self efficacy.” (P212).
The Kids Company in Peckham is run by Camila Batmanghelidjh and is a
centre for troubled children and adolescents. Moreover it provides an
illustration of the application of attachment theory with young offenders. There
is nothing exclusively psychotherapeutic about her centre (it offers practical
services ranging from food to home redecoration as well as psychotherapy),
but she traces the emotional journey from neglected or abused child to
brutalised adolescent in terms of their attachments. Batmanghelidjh describes
these children and adolescents as “emotionally exhausted” and “suicidally
brave”. She sees value in the therapist/worker showing exaggerated emotional
responses to the youngsters who not venture into their own emotions. Thus
“you’ve been stabbed, you’re not feeling much pain but I am upset for you”
offers a grown up version of Stern’s carers providing a mental model of the
infants state of mind for the infant to internalise This can, when the moment is
right, give a moment of rekindling of their emotional repertoire.
Batmanghelidjh posits the staff group of Kids Company as collectively
representing a secure base – in fact she believes that the more disturbed the
young person, the more important it is for them to avoid having attachments
ruptured. The NOMS management model (2005), with its aspiration for “end
to end management” is, in its own way, acknowledging this need. It states that
offenders should be provided with a continuous supervisory relationship where
possible, but even when there are inevitable changes (when leaving custody,
or when staff leave), then they should receive consistency of service. The
application of attachment theory would suggest to us that, for instance, when
transferred between staff an offender should be kept informed about the
process, should be in no doubt that the new worker knows what has gone
before, and should know exactly what is expected of them. Where possible
there should be an opportunity for all parties to meet, to give offender the
experience of the role being passed on. Gaps in contact and unclear
arrangements simply replicate the behaviour of unreliable attachment figures
from the past.
To extract the message from all of this for practice with offenders is at once
simple and complex. The literature on offenders (e.g. Andrews & Bonta 2002)
proposes particular “cognitive deficits” (particularly lack of empathy and
excess impulsivity) amongst offending populations. The aim of cognitive
behavioural interventions is, put simply, for offenders to learn to think
differently. Attachment theory elaborates on the cognitive behavioural
framework; it helps us speculate about what experiences might have led to
such deficits, to appreciate them as deeply rooted rather than mere gaps in
learning, and to understand how workers in the Probation Service can provide
a taste of a secure base.
To have some understanding how empathy and self regulation grows out of
early attachment experiences gives us the “back-story” to the cognitive deficits
that are recited in the cognitive behavioural literature. We can understand
that, whilst early experiences in no way excuses later offending, a tendency
towards impulsivity and an inability to see others perspectives have deep-
seated origins. Moreover, in our contact with offenders we can try to replicate
in a small way a good attachment object, one that tries to sense the state of
mind of the offender and respond. What an attachment framework has in
common with narrative work is a belief that the relationship in itself is a tool
that can effect change, that the quality of the rapport that is in itself an
instrument of intervention. Here we arrive at something which is qualitative
and therefore difficult to measure. Whereas it is possible to measure whether
a particular exercise in a cognitive behavioural programme has been delivered
according to the programme instructions, it is more a matter of judgement to
say whether the worker has been in tune with the state of mind of the offender,
has made finely tuned interventions, and has been a deft wordsmith to help
the offender put words to thoughts and feelings. This tension between
quantitative and qualitative work has parallels with that between evidence
based practice and reflective practice. Hopefully the state of offender
management is now sufficiently mature to accommodate both perspectives.
As far as we can we should measure the effects of our work, but we should
remember that sometimes things that matter are difficult to measure.
So, we have a school of ideas, bound by the central notion of attachment
which is not tied to one particular end of the cognitive/psychodynamic
spectrum. Rich (2006) explains attachment’s congruence with cognitive
behavioural approaches thus; “cognitive distortions are drawn from the
cognitive map, or internal working model we form of the world through our
early and accumulative attachment experiences, which contains scripts and
automatic thoughts that form the basis for our ideas, beliefs, attitudes and
eventually behaviours” (p 214). At the other end of the theoretical spectrum,
attachment theory is congruent with the object relations school of
psychodynamic thought, viewing early attachments as critical in the
development of the “agentive mind”, and the metacognitive capacity to reflect.
An attachment framework does not give us a set of exercises or a workbook in
the way that cognitive behaviourism can, but it offers us a way of
understanding our offenders, re-activating their sense of being understood,
and nurturing their understanding of themselves and others.
Adshead, G. (2002) “Three degrees of security; attachment and forensic
institutions. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 12, S31-45
Ainsworth, M. (1985) Patterns of attachment. Clinical Psychologist, 38, 27-29
Andrews, D. A., & Bonta, J. (2002). The Psychology of Criminal Conduct (3rd
ed.). Cincinnati, OH Anderson.
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... Attitudes towards violence are important, because they may help explain violent actions and invest in predicting violent behaviour (Bowes, McMurran, 2013). M. Ansbro (2008) has stated that attachment theory provides an insight in the regulation of psychological processes of the offenders (for example, mood and empathy), which is beneficial for forensic practitioners. T. Ross and F. Pfäfflin have come to a conclusion that attachment theory "provides the framework for a developmental perspective on violent behaviour" (Ross, Pfäfflin, 2007, 90). ...
... If this is not the case, a different strategies of problem solutions are adopted that do not include the access of one's own or others state of mind. It is evident that offenders lack the empathy for their victims and are not able to reflect on their problems, deal with stress or apply any other method in reducing anxiety or stress apart from violence or substance abuse (Ansbro, 2008). ...
... Psychological theories and constructs such as attachment theory (e.g. Ansbro, 2008) can also help services tailor interventions and approaches more sensitively. These help professionals hold in mind the biological and social developmental needs of young people, avoiding what can be a common pitfall of agencies falling into treating young people in contact with the CJS as 'mini-adults'. ...
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Besani, C., Kavanagh, M. (2013). An evaluation of the relationship of dependency and ward atmosphere in a Adolescent Inpatient Mental Health Service, Clinical Psychology Forum
... Por último, se ha identificado que los sujetos con apego evitativo son más proclives retirarse del conflicto, pues buscan evitar sentimientos dolorosos o mostrarse vulnerables (Mikulincer y Shaver, 2011). Los agresores con estilo de apego seguro son más defensivos, flexibles, se adaptan mejor y expresan sus necesidades, usualmente sin ejercer violencia (Ansbro, 2008). Los perpetradores preocupados y temerosos son los menos distantes en las discusiones. ...
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La teoría del apego ha sido una de las principales bases teóricas para explicar la violencia de pareja. En este estudio, se analizó la relación entre los estilos de apego y la aceptación de violencia en adultos emergentes. Además, se examinaron las diferencias de sexo en la comparación de dichas variables. La muestra estuvo conformada por 164 estudiantes de una universidad privada del país a quienes, se administraron los siguientes instrumentos: Escala de Experiencias en Relaciones Cercanas-Revisado (ECR-R), Attitudes About Aggression in Dating Situations Scale (AADS) y Justification of Verbal/Coercive Tactics Scale (JTVC), en versión español, además de un cuestionario demográfico. Los resultados indican que no existe una relación estadísticamente significativa entre los estilos de apego y la aceptación de violencia de pareja, pero sí respecto al sexo y la aceptación de la violencia. Al evaluar las diferencias de los estilos de apego y aceptación de violencia, no se muestra una comparación de medias significativas entre el sexo de los participantes y el tipo de apego. Sin embargo, al diferenciar la justificación de violencia específicamente, por sexo, el hombre presenta un nivel mayor de aceptación que la mujer. En conclusión, Estas variables, estilo de apego ansioso e identificación de sexo “hombre”, se conceptualizan como factores de riesgo para estar en una relación violenta.
... The work of Ansbro (2008Ansbro ( , 2019 highlights how a supervisory relationship has the potential to develop attachment through secure base properties which enable a deeper understanding of individuals. Considering attachment recognises the emotional element (Ansbro, 2019) where positive feelings can facilitate collaboration (Bordin, 1979). ...
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Much previous research has considered experiences of bereavement and loss in a prison-based setting. This overshadows the nature of bereavement within the context of community supervision and probation delivery, resulting in inadequate explorations of the potential link to persistence and/or desistance from crime. Research into desistance has predominantly focused on relationships with those who are still alive. This article evidences an emergent theme of bereavement experiences within the context of probation delivery, relationships and desistance. It draws upon narrative research undertaken within a Community Rehabilitation Company in the north of England, collected as part of a doctoral thesis. Evidence demonstrates the similarities between the process of desistance and that of bereavement with the narratives of men and women reiterating how bereavement can influence the onset of criminal or risk-taking behaviour whilst highlighting emergent evidence on how bereavement can disrupt desistance. This enables the article to highlight the importance of resilience in the process of both bereavement and desistance.
... Sin embargo, la controversia que sigue pendiente es que el apego no explica la conducta agresiva, sino que sería un constructo útil para la investigación de mecanismos psicológicos presentes como variable interviniente, entre los modos de relación del agresor y sus diferentes déficits de falta de empatía o tendencia a la impulsividad, inestabilidad, contradicción, y vulnerabilidad (Ansbro, 2008;Babcock et al., 2000). De acuerdo con la teoría del apego, los individuos internalizan modelos de cuidado de un otro significativo. ...
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El presente libro, es un ensayo para mostrar y describir al < > como factor de riesgo en la violencia de pareja, y responder a la pregunta ¿tu pareja, novio, esposo, o conviviente es peligroso?, ¿corres algún peligro? En el desarrollo de los capítulos, se pretende contestar a la pregunta planteada, proponer modalidades de tratamiento con maltratadores, y verificar si la intervención con éste tipo de hombre es realmente efectiva y posible El principal argumento es entender que existe una serie de factores, intrapsíquicos, tales como rasgos de personalidad, estilos de apego, psicopatología, salud mental, entre otros, que configuran un perfil de personalidad determinado que se “gatillan” (elicitan) en la relación de pareja y en otras relaciones humanas. Implica que los distintos rasgos de la personalidad del sujeto o características, que llamaremos “variables”, van configurando un nivel de riesgo para con su pareja y para con el mismo.
... Attachment theory represents a small but significant element in the material they study and is recommended as a valid theoretical framework (e.g. Ansbro, 2008). This research sought to examine how it is utilised in fast-paced, generic probation practice. ...
... These early experiences create a predisposition that can facilitate or hinder the building of a trustful relationship between the offender and the PO. Once a trustful relationship with the PO is established, it can serve as a secure base that eventually can have a healing effect on the offender (Ansbro, 2008;Cassidy & Shaver, 1999). Although many themes remain, like possible interactions with other factors, reversed causality, time-delayed effects of trust, these theories may possibly be the start of a conceptual clarification of the findings. ...
Although the association between working alliance and outcome is a consistent finding in voluntary psychotherapy research, there is a lack of knowledge of the significance of this concept in mandated treatment. This study examined the relationship between the offender-rated working alliance and recidivism in a sample of 199 offenders mandated to community supervision. Working alliance was disentangled in trait-like and state-like components. Cox regression analysis was used. The working alliance subscales were measured by the Working Alliance with Mandated Clients Inventory (WAMCI). When controlling for crime history or risk level, the state-like change patterns of the working alliance subscale Trust predicted general and serious recidivism during the four year follow-up period. When controlling for crime history, the trait-like early alliance subscales Trust and Reactance predicted serious recidivism. These findings imply that the concept of the working alliance and specifically the facet Trust deserves more attention in the training of Probation Officers.
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The purpose of this study is to measure the implementation of a 2014 Act creating a McDonaldised "early release under constraint" procedure - i.e. bad fast early release devoid of reentry work or support, this in four Northern France jurisdictions. Cette recherche portait sur la procédure de libération sous contrainte (LSC) de l’article 720 du C. pr. pén. créée par la loi n° 2014-896 du 15 août 2014. L’article 720 représentait la troisième tentative de création d’une procédure écartant le débat contradictoire (DC) en pensant ainsi favoriser le prononcé d’aménagements de peine. Les deux précédentes avaient échoué sur ce point. Notre méthodologie a été « grounded in theory », mais « réaliste », soit élaborée empiriquement dans le cadre de théories éprouvées et visant, de manière ultime, à proposer une nouvelle théorie. Nous avons ainsi proposé une théorie cadre permettant de lier l’ensemble des théories pertinentes. Celles-ci ont emprunté au droit, à la criminologie, aux sciences politiques et sociologiques, à la psychologie, voire parfois à l’économie, à la philosophie ou à la médecine. L’étude a commencé par une analyse juridique de la LSC : procédure et non mesure. Sur le plan empirique, elle a consisté en deux années et demie d’observation des audiences contradictoires (DC) et commissions de l’application des peines (CAP)-LSC, et d’entretiens avec les praticiens et avec des personnes condamnées en sortie de CAP-LSC. Ce travail a été réalisé outre nous-même par vingt-deux étudiants de Master ainsi que d’un doctorant tous formés aux protocoles établis et monitorés. Nous avons également analysé des rapports de CPIP et des jugements et ordonnances de JAP. Une première question a porté sur la réussite ou, au contraire, de l’échec de la mise en œuvre de la procédure de LSC et notamment en nombre d’aménagements de peine. L’analyse des données a été menée grâce aux théories de l’implémentation et celles relatives à la diffusion de l’innovation. L’ensemble des critères mis en lumière par ces théories a permis de comprendre pourquoi la LSC ne pouvait que constituer un échec, ce que nos données locales, ainsi que des données nationales (Delbos, 2016) ont confirmé. Nous avons, en deuxième lieu, observé les situations procédurales (DC, CAP-LSC avec et sans comparution) à l’aune du paradigme LJ-PJ-TJ (légitimité de la justice, justice procédurale, jurisprudence « thérapeutique »), mais aussi des théories de la compliance et de l’autonomie. L’analyse sur ce point a hélas confirmé que les situations de LSC sans comparution et, à un moindre degré, avec comparution offraient un contexte violant fortement – la personnalité du JAP pouvant réduire l’impact nocébo – les principes d’une justice respectueuse et légitime. Les entretiens avec les condamnés ont confirmé la colère qu’ils pouvaient en ressentir. La littérature empirique LJ-PJ-TJ nous enseigne que, plus gravement, la conséquence risque d’en être une très faible compliance, voire une résistance ainsi que de la récidive. La conclusion sur ce point est que le respect procédural est une arme criminologique qu’il est dangereux d’écarter. Enfin, nous nous sommes interrogée sur la question à la fois théorique et pratique de l’accompagnement des sortants de détention et avons questionné le choix d’aménagements de peine obtenus de manière rapide et sans exigence substantielle. Le législateur en pensant « simplifier » les procédures a confondu emballage juridique et contenu : on ne peut faire l’économie d’une préparation de la sortie et d’un projet viable pour les justiciables et pour la société, ni d’un traitement criminologique adapté ; c’est au demeurant le sens des recommandations de l’ONU. Tant les praticiens qui donnent leur avis, que les JAP qui se prononcent, que les condamnés ainsi non accompagnés, rejettent en majorité des processus dénués de contenu. Au surplus, le temps de CPIP serait mieux utilisé à préparer de manière substantielle des projets de sortie plutôt qu’à produire des écrits de manière industrielle. Le cœur de leur métier devrait être le traitement criminologique et multi-partenarial et la transition qualitative avec le monde libre.
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This chapter represents an attempt to integrate a widely disparate literature concerning factors which play a role in the etiology of sex offending and lead to its persistence. In particular we are concerned that most researchers seem to take a rather narrow perspective of this behavior, stressing their own preferred processes (i.e., psychological, biological, or sociological) to the virtual exclusion of others. We have previously emphasized the role of learning experiences (Marshall and Barbaree, 1984a), sociocultural factors (Marshall, 1984a), and biological processes (Marshall 1984b) in the etiology of rape, but this represents our first attempt at integration and the first time we have extended our theorizing to account for other sex offenses. We believe that a proper understanding of sex offending can only be attained when these diverse processes are seen as functionally interdependent.
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The notion of ‘desistance’ (or ‘going straight’) is becoming a more prominent one in criminological discourse, and the Liverpool Desistance Study(LDS) aimed to provide a deeper understanding of this process from the perspective of the individuals taking this life path. However, the LDS was not intended to address how the research might be applied in practice. This article therefore briefly outlines the research and discusses some of the policy implications, in order to open a debate with practitioners and others about the way that the research might be relevant to everyday practice with people who offend. The papers that follow this article were written in response to the challenge of applying the findings of the LDS in probation practice.
This exciting new book offers a survey of the field of child abuse and neglect from the perspective of modern developmental attachment theory. The book opens with an account of the theory and describes the ways in which attachment difficulties manifest themselves in children's behaviour. The following three sections look at abuse, neglect, and compound cases of abuse and neglect, backing this up with empirical research evidence and vivid case material. The final section provides a comprehensive review of attachment-based interventions. This is a clear and compelling textbook, anchored in research evidence and geared in its structure to answer the kinds of questions practitioners and student practitioners specialising in child welfare are most likely to ask.