Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Exploring attachment incoherence in bereaved families’ therapy narratives: An attachment theory-informed thematic analysis

Willcox, Rachel; Moller, Naomi; Clarke, Victoria


Rachel Willcox

Naomi Moller

Profile Image

Dr Victoria Clarke
Associate Professor in Qualitative & Critical Psychology


Attachment theory predicts that family bereavement leads even securely attached individuals to experience temporary attachment insecurity. This paper explores how incoherence, a narrative marker of attachment insecurity, is displayed in the talk of families undergoing bereavement family therapy. This study uses the lens of attachment theory, and specifically the Adult Attachment Interview, to explore how members of five families talked about the loss of a close family member and how interactions between therapist and family members could hinder a coherent dialogue about the death. The families were recruited through Winston’s Wish, a UK-based family bereavement charity. The analysis centres on the “Telling the story” intervention, used at the start of therapy, in which family members together tell the story of the death. Families also re-told the story in an extra family session towards the end of the therapy for the purposes of this research. Transcripts of the therapy sessions were analysed using thematic analysis, with some codes developed directly from the unresolved loss codes of the AAI and other codes generated from analysing the transcripts through the lens of attachment theory. Through a micro focus on therapy process, the study provides tentative support for suppositions in attachment theory about the psychological importance of (fostering) coherent speech as well as information about potentially helpful versus unhelpful therapist actions in family bereavement therapy. The findings have relevance for bereavement therapy interventions, therapy training and research practice.


Willcox, R., Moller, N., & Clarke, V. (2019). Exploring attachment incoherence in bereaved families’ therapy narratives: An attachment theory-informed thematic analysis. Family Journal, 27(3), 339-347.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 1, 2019
Online Publication Date Jun 2, 2019
Publication Date Jul 1, 2019
Deposit Date May 13, 2019
Publicly Available Date May 13, 2019
Journal The Family Journal
Print ISSN 1066-4807
Electronic ISSN 1552-3950
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Issue 3
Pages 339-347
Keywords adult attachment interview, attachment insecurity, process research, therapeutic micro-processes, unresolved loss
Public URL
Additional Information Additional Information : © 2019. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications


You might also like

Downloadable Citations