Attachment-based therapy is a type of mental health counseling that’s used to treat childhood trauma, relationship issues, anxiety disorders, and other mental health issues.
Attachment-based therapy stems from attachment theory, which studies how people’s early interactions with their primary caregivers during childhood impact their ability to form healthy relationships as adults.
The four types of attachment styles are secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized. Your attachment style informs your ability to develop deep and meaningful connections with others.
People seek therapy for various reasons, like treating mental health issues, navigating life changes, and strengthening their sense of self. Another common reason that people decide to work with a mental health professional is to learn how to create more authentic and fulfilling relationships.
Attachment-based therapy in particular can be an effective method for people who are interested in understanding how their childhood experiences impact the way they connect with others as an adult.
Note: Attachment-based therapy is different from attachment therapy, a controversial treatment that was developed in the 1970s for children with behavioral challenges.
What is attachment-based therapy?
Attachment-based therapy is a type of talk therapy that helps people cope with past trauma and increase their ability to develop deep and meaningful connections. It’s based on something called attachment theory, which studies how people’s early interactions with their primary caregivers during childhood impact their ability to form healthy relationships as adults.
Founded by John Bowlby in the 1950s then later expanded by Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory suggests that having a strong relationship with your parents or caregivers during childhood is an important predictor of mental and emotional well-being later in life.
According to Bowlby, attachment is defined as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” An insecure attachment style can cause issues like separation anxiety and low self-esteem in kids. In adults, it can lead to an increased risk for anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, and relationship issues.
The four attachment styles
According to attachment theory, there are different types of attachment styles and each person’s style affects their approach to relationships. The four attachment styles are:
- Secure: People with a secure attachment style are likely to be emotionally available, trusting of others, and able to form long-lasting and healthy relationships.
- Anxious: Due to a fear of abandonment, people with an anxious attachment style may be seen as clingy, needy, or in constant need of reassurance.
- Avoidant: People with an avoidant attachment style are more likely to be emotionally guarded and may not feel comfortable with intimacy.
- Disorganized: Mental health disorders or personality disorders are common among people with a disorganized attachment style, making it difficult to maintain close relationships even when desired.
How does attachment-based therapy work?
Knowing what to expect when starting therapy can make the process less intimidating. For teens and young adults, attachment-based family therapy uses family therapy, individual therapy, and parenting skills to help repair fractured family relationships. With adults, therapists often take a trauma-informed treatment approach to help people set and meet individual goals.
Similar to other types of mental health treatment, attachment-based therapy is rooted in a strong relationship betwen therapist and client. Starting with the first session, your therapist should provide a safe and nonjudgmental space for you to share and heal.
Through discussions and observations with your therapist, you’ll have an opportunity to unpack your early experiences with caregivers. This insight can help you:
- Understand your attachment style
- Improve your emotional expression and communication skills
- Develop healthier coping skills to manage emotions, triggers, and stressors
Who can benefit from attachment-based therapy?
Attachment-based therapy is a type of mental health counseling that’s used to treat issues like unresolved childhood trauma, relationship issues, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders. It can also help folks who find it difficult to make meaningful connections with others and families who are struggling with communication and trust issues.
Attachment-based therapy might be an effective form of treatment if you:
- Have trouble being emotionally vulnerable
- Struggle with low self-esteem
- Worry about abandonment in your relationships
- Worry your partner doesn’t love you despite their words and behaviors
- Prematurely end relationships out of fear
Attachment-based therapy might not be the right fit if you:
- Don’t have childhood trauma
- Don’t suspect that childhood issues are the root of your problems
- Have mostly healthy, stable relationships in your life
- Prefer to discuss more recent issues or current life changes in therapy
- Need support for mental health symptoms not described above
What can you expect during an attachment-based therapy session?
Each person’s therapy experience is unique to their healing journey, but most therapists will use the following techniques during attachment-based therapy.
- Reflect on your relationships, both past and present, with your caregivers.
- Think about how those dynamics have impacted your current relationships.
- Identify patterns that prevent you from feeling secure in your relationships.
- Develop the skills to better cope with or change those behaviors.
How Path can help you find a therapist with experience in attachment-based therapy
If you’re struggling to build meaningful relationships or overcome past trauma, it might be time to speak with a mental health professional. Path’s network of thousands of therapists makes it easy to find a professional who’s the right fit for your needs, who takes your insurance, and is currently accepting new clients. Let us help you find the right type of treatment for your mental health needs, including attachment-based care.
Once you identify a prospective therapist, here are some example questions to help you understand if they’re the right person to provide your attachment-based therapy.
- How long have you been practicing attachment-based therapy?
- How do you incorporate attachment-based therapy into your approach?
- Based on what I’ve shared, do you think an attachment-based approach would be helpful for me or would I benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or another form of care?
- Can you share some of the potential benefits of attachment-based therapy for my issues?
Check out our website to learn more about how Path can help you find the right type of treatment for your mental health needs, including attachment-based care.
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