Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 5-13-2022


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Daniel Burston

Committee Member

Roger Brooke

Committee Member

Ronald Jalbert


attachment, schizophrenia, motherhood, communication


In recent years, research into the transgenerational transmission of attachment styles has shown that a mother’sattachment style often predicts the attachment style of her infant. Fearsome parental behavior has been found to predict disorganized attachment in infants, which is further associated with a range of mental health disturbances in adolescence. Furthermore, regular patterns of disturbed communication between mother and child have also been found to lead to ‘schizophrenic’ thinking and behavior in the child’s life. While acknowledging that genetic and other biological factors contribute to the emergence of schizophrenia, this study focused on disorganized attachment and disturbed communication between mother and child, and on how these emotional vicissitudes can intensify the child’s genetic vulnerabilities and predispositions. The study’s focus was not to claim that disordered attachment causes schizophrenia, but merely that disordered or healthy attachment in childhood can significantly increase or mitigate the risk of schizophrenia later on. The Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) was conducted with six mothers who had an adult child with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Thematic Analysis was used to analyze the AAI interviews, and five core themes emerged: ‘Death, Significant Losses and Different Expressions of Love’, ‘Instability, Memory Disturbances and Lack of Safety’, ‘Dysfunctional Family Systems and Poor Communication’, ‘Fear, Isolation and Pain’, and ‘Rejection, Hope and Resilience.’ Findings from the study suggest that the schizophrenia experienced by the participants’ children lend support to the transgenerational transmission of the disorganized attachment systems and the disturbed communication between mother and child. These findings further contribute to the fields of mental and maternal health research, offering a deeper understanding of maternal struggles and giving voice to these mothers’ stories. The clinical implications of the findings are discussed at an individual, societal, and organizational level. Suggestions are made on how to offer systemic and holistic support to families with a schizophrenic child.