John Bowlby


“John Bowlby was a British psychologist and psychoanalyst who believed that early childhood attachments played a critical role in later development and mental functioning. His work, along with the work of psychologist Mary Ainsworth, contributed to the development of attachment theory. Bowlby believed that children are born with a biologically-programmed tendency to seek and remain close to attachment figures. This provides nurturance and comfort, but it also aids in the child’s survival. Sticking close to a caregiver ensures that the child’s needs are met and that he or she is protected from dangers in the environment.” 
Reference Cherry, K. (2019) Biography of Psychologist John Bowlby: The Founder of Attachment Theory. Available from: [Accessed 10 March 2020].

L0039184 Dr. Bowlby watching Priscilla
The Wellcome Library (2015) Dr. Bowlby observing a child at play. Wellcome Images reference: L0039184. London: The Wellcome Library.
John Bowlby’s theories are influential in the field of art therapy, especially in regards to the significance of the therapeutic relationship offering a secure base for emotional and cognitive development. The role of creativity offers a means for communication and relationship building, and an opportunity for the art therapist to understand the attachment history and attachment styles of their client.
“To say of a child that he [she] is attached to, or has an attachment to someone means that he [she] is strongly disposed to seek proximity to and contact with a specific figure and to do so in certain situations, notably when he [she] is frightened, tired or ill…Attachment behaviour…refers to any of the various forms of behaviour that a child commonly engages in to attain and/or maintain a desired proximity…”. (Bowlby, 1969, p. 371)
“A young child’s experience of an encouraging, supportive and co-operative mother, and a little later father, gives him [her] a sense of worth, a belief in the helpfulness of others, and a favourable model on which to build future relationships. Furthermore, by enabling him [her] to explore his [her] environment with confidence and to deal with it effectively, such experience also promotes his [her] sense of competence. Thenceforward, provided family relationships continue favourable, not only do these early patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour persist, but personality becomes increasingly structured to operate in moderately controlled and resilient ways, and increasingly capable to continuing so despite adverse circumstances…Thereafter…how someone’s personality has come to be structured [impacts] his [her] way of responding to subsequent adverse events, among which rejections, separations and losses are some of the most important”. (Bowlby, 1969, p. 378)
Reference: Bowlby, J. (1969) Attachment and Loss. London: Random House.


Article to Read

The Origins of Attachment Theory John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth by Inge Bretherton

The Origins of Attachment Theory


The Wellcome Library (2015) An extract from Ursula Bowlby’s journal, “recording her first impressions as a mother”. Wellcome Library reference: PP/BOW/P/3. London: Wellcome Library. This journal extract from Ursula Bowlby, who was married to John Bowlby, reflects her responses to approaches to childcare which did not encourage secure attachment and her own distress at these approaches being “quite alright”.

BBC 3 Sounds Radio Documentary on Mary Ainsworth

Article to Read

What is Attachment Theory: Bowlby’s 4 Stages Explained

Thesis Reference (scroll through to read sections of interest)

Holding, Attaching and Relating: A Theoretical Perspective on Good Enough Therapy through Analysis of Winnicott’s Good Enough Mother using Bowlby’s Attachment Theory  and Relational Theory

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