‘People who need people’: attachment and professional caregiving


Prof. Carlo Schuengel, Department of Clinical Child and Family Studies and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Amsterdam, Van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT Amsterdam, the Netherlands (e-mail: c.schuengel@psy.vu.nl).


From the perspective of attachment theory, this paper discusses individual differences in the quality of caregiving by direct-care staff for persons with intellectual disabilities. Theoretical arguments and findings from related literature are cited to support the probable role of professionals’ own attachment experiences and their mental representations thereof. Case examples are drawn from a study on video-based interaction guidance for direct-care staff in group homes for persons with multiple, serious disabilities. These examples illustrate how interventions may avoid attachment-related defences against changing the quality and affective mutuality of personal contact with clients. However, the possibility is discussed that in parallel processes, quality management systems and institutional culture may selectively reinforce care patterns associated with insecure, dismissing attachment, while failing to reward the positive contribution that sensitive, affectively attuned caregiving makes to wellbeing of persons with disabilities.