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Dr Una McCluskey

BSocSc (UCD), DipSW, CQSW (Edinburgh), DPhil (York)

  • Honorary Fellow



My primary interest is in the conditions which maintain and support well-being and vitality throughout the life-cycle. My theoretical work has focused on developing a theory of interaction for adult psychotherapy, social work and other forms of care-giving. I have a major interest in the use of video technology both as a research tool and as a means of improving communication skill through providing feedback on interaction.


During my undergraduate degree in social science I came across the effect of gross poverty on people's lives. I had placements in Dublin and in centre city Philadelphia, USA. In both countries social security systems were grossly inadequate.

Following my professional training as a social worker at Edinburgh University I then worked for five years in an innovative department of child and family psychiatry where I developed an interest in functional and dysfunctional relationships and how these intertwine with issues of poverty, health, cognitive and emotional development and well-being. We were the first child and adolescent department in the UK to admit whole families for work on the dynamics of their relationships and how these were affecting the development of personal and social competence in all the members of the family.

I developed a real interest in the effective use of relationship-based work with couples (both as partners and parents)  and families as a means of promoting competence to manage everyday affairs. I became involved in the beginning of the Family Therapy Association and served on the executive for many years. I trained in Analytic Group Work and Associated Applications and both ran therapeutic groups such as support groups for single parents and worked as staff on Tavistock Management Consultancy courses for staff working in major industrial companies and in the NHS and Local Authorities. I have since completed an extensive training in Systems Centred Group Psychotherapy and am currently the only licensed practitioner in SCT in Europe. I am applying SCT to organisational work, leadership mentoring and coaching.

Following the research I undertook for my doctoral thesis,  I have since identifed five typical care-seeking patterns of behaviour and five typical care-giving responses which give rise to nine different patterns of interaction, each presenting distinctive vitality affects.   Two of these patterns of interaction are effective in terms of providing the conditions for exploration and development and seven are inhibitive. These are elaborated in a forthcoming book; To Be Met as a Person: the dyamics of attachment in professional encounters.  


I am currently engaged in four areas of research:

  • Adult couples: Assessing security in couple relationships and developing a measure of intimacy in couple relationships.
  • Therapeutic Groups: Assessing and measuring the way in which individuals re-edit internal working models of attachment relationships through group interaction.
  • Individual work: Researching the most effective way of promoting empathic attunement amongst professionals  when interviewing or communicating with  people  who are in states of anxiety, depression, distress or disorganisation.
  • Theoretical: Exploring the implications for practitioners of extended attachment theory


McCluskey, U. (forthcoming). Fear Free Exploratory Caregiving:  A challenge for therapists in the present social, political and cultural environment, Attachment:  New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis.

Heard, D., Lake, B., and McCluskey, U. (2012). Attachment Therapy with Adolescents and Adults: Theory and Practice Post Bowlby. Revised edition. London: Karnac. 

McCluskey, U. (2011). The Therapist as a fear free caregiver supporting change in the dynamic organisation of the self, Association for University and College Counselling (AUCC) Journal, May 2011, 12-17.

McCluskey, U. (2011) Reflections on my journey as a family therapist in Scotland and North Yorkshire in the 1970s and the 1980s, Context, May 2011.

McCluskey, U. (2010). Understanding the self and understanding therapy: an attachment perspective, Context, February 2010.

McCluskey, U. (2008). Attachment-based Therapy in Groups: Exploring a New Theoretical Paradigm with Professional Care-givers, Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 2(2):204-215.

McCluskey, U. (2005) To Be Met as a Person: the dynamics of attachment in professional encounters , London: Karnac.

McCluskey, U. (2005) 'Object relations and attachment in group psychotherapy: Communication, regulation and exploration of affective states', in J. Savage Scharff and D.E. Scharff, The Legacy of Fairbairn and Surtherland: Psychotherapeutic Applications , London and New York: Routledge.

McCluskey, U. (2003) 'Theme-Focused Family Therapy: Working with the dynamics of emotional abuse and neglect within an attachment and systems perspective', in M. Bell and K. Wilson (eds.) The Practitioner's Guide to Working with Families , New York, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp103-126.

McCluskey, U. (2002) 'The Dynamics of Attachment and Systems-Cantered Group Psychotherapy', Group Dynamics, Theory, Research, and Practice , APA 6, pp131-142.

McCluskey, U. (2002) 'Exiled from home and country: abuse of children in religious institutions in Ireland, an exploration of the effects on the dynamics of attachment', Conference Proceedings of the 1st International Congress on Child Migration. New Orleans.

McCluskey, U., Bingley Miller, L. (2001) 'The contribution of the Scottish Institute of Human Relations to Social Work Education and Continuing Professional Development', A Feasibility Study Commissioned by the Scottish Executive.

McCluskey, U. A theory of care-giving in adult life: developing and measuring the concept of goal-corrected empathic attunement. Unpublished DPhil Thesis. University of York Library, 2001

McCluskey, U. (2000) 'Abuse in religious institutions: an exploration of the psychosocial dynamics in the Irish context', in U. McCluskey and C.A. Hooper, (eds.) Psychodynamic Perspectives on Abuse: The Cost of Fear , London: Jessica Kingsley, pp99-116.

McCluskey, U. (2000) 'Abuse, the individual and the social' in U. McCluskey and C.A. Hooper, (eds.) Psychodynamic Perspectives on Abuse: The Cost of Fear , London: Jessica Kingsley, pp7-23.

McCluskey, U. and Hooper, C.A. (2000) Psychodynamic Perspectives on Abuse: The Cost of Fear , London: Jessica Kingsley.

Dr Una McCluskey

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Dr Una McCluskey
Honorary Fellow