Understanding our nature and attachments is the only way to make sense of and improve our work practices, BACP workplace division chair Nicola Neath told a national conference. 

She described how the putting the theory of attachment into action – including looking at how employees act as caregivers or careseekers – can help people at work.

And she explained to the audience at the Health and Wellbeing at Work conference in Birmingham how the future of the workplace is in professional psychological support.

“It seems to me, and my colleagues that the role for and impact of psychological theory and counselling for staff is still not really understood.

“Helping people and organisations navigate their way through is what my colleagues and I do, day in day out,” said Nicola who is a psychotherapist and senior staff counsellor at the University of Leeds.

"We support staff and organisations to find out what they need, help in their discoveries and their disappointments.

“But before any change happens, we quite often have to deal with the experience of fear, fear of change itself, attachment to our existing way of doing things however awful, and fear of owning, accepting or knowing we have a vulnerability.

“I have always found that helping people understand themselves and understand each other makes for better working experiences.”

Nicola told the conference how she used attachment theory as part of a programme she first piloted at the university in 2015.

The programme is now embedded at the university and she uses the model in her one-to-one work as a counsellor, coach and trainer.

“The point of the programme I developed was to take staff from a variety of positions through the theory of attachment to see how they manifest in their ways of working. How some of those early patterns of behaviour formed in childhood might actually be driving them in their professional lives,” she said.

Attachment theory was developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth and looks at people's early experiences as careseekers and caregivers.

And Nicola believes this is very relevant to the modern day workplace.

She said: “Asking for care in the workplace is implicitly normal but explicitly not really understood.  That person has a need – if I can help them identify that need, recognise the signs, I can help them get their need met - which actually feels amazing -  and helps them get back on the task

“The programme itself actually takes enough time to help people see how their careseeking or caregiving patterns work effectively or ineffectively at work.

"The thing is if we can support staff to see these needs arise, think about ways of caring for and resourcing themselves when possible, we are supporting them to be well in their work.

Nicola said that three years on, employees who took part in the pilot programme still meet up and go through the model; thinking about their work and their wellbeing.

She concluded: “Workplace counsellors and psychotherapists are here if you need to talk to us, and we can also shine a light on business as well as mental health at work.

“If you know you or your organisation, might be in fear or burning out – get help now.

“Talking about it really does make a difference, talking about and thinking about how it affects us at work might be the next frontier of well-being that we have to tackle.”

 If you want to seek advice or help about bereavement or workplace mental health you can find a BACP counsellor or psychotherapist via the BACP’s Therapist Directory.