Interview with Linda Cundy

Linda Cundy has been a Brighton Therapy Partnership favourite for many years, having hosted numerous workshops on the topic of attachment. She’s covered topics such as the interplay between food addiction and attachment, how attachment issues are changing in the era of digital media, and how counsellors can work with individuals who have avoidant attachment issues – a particularly difficult client group for most therapists.linda cundy

We’re delighted to have Linda visiting Brighton again to cover the topic of intimacy in relationships, and how attachment affects such an essential part of human connection. Linda kindly agreed to speak to us in more detail about her career and her work in attachment theory.

Speaking to Linda Cundy

How did you start out in counselling & psychotherapy?

I was always introspective and was drawn to the idea of therapy and psychoanalysis from my teens. After art school in the 1970s I was teaching art and running ‘therapeutic activity groups’ in mental health centres. It was while working at a day centre in Islington that I was encouraged to do a counselling foundation and diploma course. The skills were very helpful and I learned a great deal about myself, but I didn’t feel I had gained enough theoretical grounding to work at depth with clients so I looked out for a psychotherapy training that would challenge me and give me a firm foundation to base my practice on. My training at the Bowlby Centre in the 1990s, and my own psychoanalytic therapy certainly gave me that.

Here at BTP, we like to think of you as our expert trainer on attachment issues. What first got you interested in attachment theory as a basis for practising psychotherapy?

Thank you for that! I didn’t come across Attachment Theory at all during my counselling training in the 1980s – it was very much the preserve of research and psychology back then. But I happened to attend a conference at Regent’s College – the first ever Bowlby Conference with Colin Murray Parkes. Another speaker that day was Susan Vas Dias, a child analyst who had trained with Anna Freud. She spoke about her experience in a neonatal unit with parents whose babies were very premature and their survival was in question. I felt very moved by her work, encouraging parents to bond with their tiny vulnerable babies. So when I learned that Susan was involved at what is now the Bowlby Centre, I went along to an open day to find out more about attachment.

Attachment theory and research resonates so much for me personally and helps me to think about my own experiences and those of my clients, but I also value Object Relations theories (such as those of Fairbairn, Balint and Winnicott) that complement attachment and are so helpful in the clinical setting. I believe we need to attend to clients’ inner worlds and relationships with themselves, as well as external reality and context. I have also found that Bowlby’s ideas appeal to practitioners from many different theoretical backgrounds, providing a common language and point of connection.

In your view what are the top three ideas from attachment based psychotherapy that you believe invaluable to all therapists (whether they have attachment-based training or not), what would these three key ideas be and why?

  • The concept of intergenerational narrative: thinking about where we came from and the relational environment we grew up in. I think of it as constructing a kind of personal creation story. This also entails reflecting on the environments our parents grew up in and the contexts of their lives. Attachment focused psychotherapy often addresses at least four generations (client, client’s parents and grandparents, and client’s children).
  • Defences are adaptations we developed to help us fit into, and survive in, specific environments. Those defences may be aimed at keeping people at a distance or at holding onto others so we are not abandoned. Either way, they limit us and often impact unhelpfully on later relationships. They also inhibit our capacity for true intimacy.
  • Therapy concerns helping clients to mourn for what they needed in early life but never had, or had but lost – and then to let go of past hurts and move on.

I once heard you say that attachment theory is an evolutionary model and that’s why it appeals to you. What can we learn from the idea that our childhood shaped us, and what is it about this that appeals to you?

In a nutshell, the idea that it is adaptive to shape ourselves to fit into our environment. We are born with an extraordinary capacity to adapt in order to survive – and hopefully thrive. That capacity may become more limited later on in life, influenced by our attachment histories and unmet needs, but we still need to curate ourselves and negotiate needs and roles in all relationships and social situations throughout life. This is true of being a partner, a parent, an employee or member of any group.

linda cundy talk

In recent years you’ve started writing quite a few books: Love in the Age of the Internet: Attachment in the Digital Era (2014); Anxiously Attached: Understanding and Working With Preoccupied Attachment (2017); and Attachment and the Defence Against Intimacy: Understanding and Working with Avoidant Attachment, Self-Hatred, and Shame (2018). After so many decades as a therapist and a teacher what got you started as a writer of therapy books? Why is writing important to you?

The first book was a huge step for me. I was increasingly aware of the impact of screens and the Internet on our lives and was rather puzzled that very little had been published about this from a psychoanalytic perspective. Again, there was a lot of psychology research and a growing body of work about online counselling, but certainly nothing about the impact on relationships and sense of self – the big issues of attachment. I felt that someone needed to address this. I was then invited to speak at a conference on the impact of technology, along with my colleague John Beveridge. So I decided to write up my presentation and invite others to contribute to “Love in the Age of the Internet.” And I realised that I really enjoy the discipline of writing and of curating a book. Since then, as you kindly note, there have been two more books based on conference papers and a number of journal articles. Also, I am beginning work on a new book, “From Cradle to Kitchen” about attachment and food – a subject I have brought to BTP previously.

I’m very excited that you and Jenny Riddell will be back with us this autumn for the BTP conference on Intimacy: The Impact of Attachment on Adult Relationships on Saturday 28th September. This idea that how we learn to ‘attach’ as children moulds the way we allow ourselves to ‘attach’ as adults is a fundamental and important concept in the way we all try to manage our relationships as adults. You’ve done so much research on the issue of intimacy. What are we all doing wrong here?!

On my goodness! I hope that Jenny and I will be able to address some of this at the conference. Perhaps that will need to be another book!

You have been teaching attachment-based ideas for many, many years (and here at BTP we are hugely grateful that you do!). How did you get into teaching and training? What was, and is, your motivation to be a teacher and a trainer?

Teaching and training have been an important part of my career for nearly 30 years. My first experience was back in the early 1990s at ChildLine, where I was a counselling supervisor seconded to the training department. I discovered that I really enjoy providing opportunities for people to learn about themselves and others, and I love being involved in their journeys through counselling and psychotherapy courses. From there I was given an opportunity to teach at Regent’s College, and this really challenged me to develop my abilities in teaching theory as well as skills and personal development. As my therapy work is in private practice, this also provides the opportunity to operate outside a small consulting room and to learn from those who attend my courses and 1-day events. I find it mentally stimulating and a challenge to myself, an adrenaline rush.

I am also aware of the natural order of things – I am getting older! Teaching and writing are valuable ways to pass on what I have learned and discovered to the next generation of counsellors and psychotherapists. I am always thrilled when someone I have taught goes on to write or teach too.

If you weren’t a therapist, what would you be and why?

Well, I always wanted to train in social anthropology. My plan was to study how mental illness and distress are understood and treated in different cultures, and I would have enjoyed the research, the fieldwork and the academic stimulation. But now, I like the idea of returning to art. I also dream of having a big plot of land to turn into a garden, creating a haven for wildlife, family and friends.

Where can people hear more from you? (eg, your own Blog, Website, Twitter, Email?)

Despite writing about our relationship with digital technology, I don’t blog or tweet. I find being a psychotherapist, supervisor, trainer and author is enough! Outside of work I’d rather go for a walk, potter in my garden or go to the theatre. I try to keep my website updated with upcoming training days and courses so if anybody wants more they can sign up for one of those. And I hope they come along to the BTP day on Attachment and Intimacy in September as I’m feeling very engaged in preparing for that, I enjoy working with Jenny Riddell and I always feel looked after by the team at BTP. I guess I’m securely attached!

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