Attachment Based Therapy

What Is Attachment-Based Therapy?

The bonds we form in childhood make a lasting impression on the way we relate to others throughout our lives. Attachment-based therapy explores how our fears, needs, and wants impact our ability to connect. For some, a fear of abandonment or rejection permeates our relationships, and we can never seem to get enough reassurance. Or maybe a fear of being engulfed by another fuels a need to keep a distance and avoid getting close to others. In attachment-based psychotherapy, clients will discover their tendencies with the goal of striking a healthy balance between togetherness and autonomy.

Attachment theory therapy’s earliest roots can be traced to Dr. John Bowlby and Dr. Marsha Linehan in the 1950s. These founders performed research studies on children and adults to inform their theories about how relationships with caregivers contribute to attachment styles. [1], [2] In later decades, the additional contributions of Dr. Steven Porges, Bessel Van der Kolk, Dr. Dan Siegel, and Diana Fosha have built upon these earlier studies, further confirming how early caregiver experiences shape our neurological development and adult relational templates.

happy family on sofa

How Does Attachment-Based Therapy Work?

Attachment styles usually fall into one of four categories:

  • Secure—these relationships are based on safety and support. When individuals experience unconditional love from their caregivers, they develop a healthy balance of dependence and independence, comfort with intimacy, and positive self-worth; 
  • Insecure-anxious—this attachment style is highlighted by an underlying fear of abandonment. Without a secure foundation, individuals often exhibit clingy, dependent behaviors in relationships. Fearing rejection, they often become people pleasers and put others’ needs ahead of their own; 
  • Insecure-avoidant—individuals who fall into this category tend to be more emotionally distant, detached, and value independence over intimacy. They often think of themselves more positively than others and view relationships idealistically; 
  • Disorganized—displaying contradictory behaviors, the disorganized attachment style seeks out intimacy while simultaneously avoiding it. They may fear vulnerability, have difficulty regulating their emotions, and struggle to form close relationships. 

Identifying your attachment style can help shed light on your relational experiences. With this insight, you can recognize your emotional wounds and unmet needs and understand how they impact your current relationships. Once you become more aware of your recurring behavior patterns and tendencies—such as pulling away from people when emotions grow deeper or giving mixed signals—you can develop an earned secure attachment. Defining the healthiest version of yourself and making modifications to strive toward this ideal, like expressing your needs without fearing rejection or setting boundaries, makes secure attachment possible.

Another important aspect of the attachment-focused therapy approach is achieving a corrective emotional experience within the client-therapist relationship. Building a secure connection in therapy allows you to experience what may have been lacking or absent in your early relationships, such as trust, vulnerability, and validation. Establishing a foundation for healthy attachment makes it possible to bring this growth to relationships outside of therapy. 

If we mutually decide including partners or family members could benefit your attachment-based therapy sessions, we can include them in conjoint sessions. We would then prepare ahead of time how their participation will address the goals and benefits of your healing process.

Who Can Benefit From Attachment-Based Therapy?

Attachment-focused therapy can benefit adults who experience anxiety or depression exacerbated by a history of unhealthy, toxic relationships. If childhood trauma contributes to lingering fears of abandonment, intimacy, or commitment, attachment-based therapy can help you recognize the relational templates that formed with your early caregivers and how they continue to influence you now. 

Oftentimes, a pervasive sense of feeling unlovable or focusing on other areas of life instead of close relationships—such as career or travel—can signal an insecure or disorganized attachment style. Attachment-based therapy allows you to dig deep to reveal what your limitations have been so you can create new, intentional templates and rewrite any false narratives that have kept you stuck. With this newfound self-awareness, you can nurture relationships that are based on authenticity and vulnerability.

Starting in the 1990s, research from brain scans has demonstrated how we are neurologically wired for relationships and that our early childhood experiences shape this wiring. What’s more, the neurological alterations achieved with attachment-oriented therapy can re-wire our brains. By forming a relationship with a therapist informed by attachment-based principles in therapy, adults can develop a secure attachment style. [3]

My Background As An Attachment-Based Therapist

image of Kirstin Carl smiling at camera

When becoming a practicing therapist in 2007, I was eager to find a modality that brought about deep and lasting change that could be individualized for each client rather than adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. After attending lectures about attachment-based therapy from world-famous attachment researchers, such as Bessel Van der Kolk, Dr. Steven Porges, Dr. Dan Siegel, and Diana Fosha, I was excited to find a model that bridged a connection between early experiences and current struggles.

As an attachment-based therapist, I can help you recognize the patterns that play out again and again in your relationships. By connecting the dots between the past and present, we will focus on ideas and strategies for dealing with present difficulties while examining the root causes underlying current challenges. 

I integrate Emotionally Focused Therapy into my practice, a modality based on attachment-based theory and principles. This approach focuses on identifying and transforming unhelpful cycles of interacting with others and identifying and expressing vulnerable emotions—such as shame, sadness, and fear—that stem from unmet attachment needs. Additionally, I may integrate developmental theory and somatic approaches to therapy to achieve a well-rounded approach.

Rather than needlessly dredging up the past, I’m passionate about journeying to deep places of wounding as a way to heal. In my career as a therapist and personally, I’ve found that we move toward the past to enable ourselves to live more fully in the present and build the relationships we deeply desire. Utilizing attachment-based therapy can help you break free from what's holding you back and bring about transformation and lasting change in all types of relationships.

Find Out How Attachment-Based Therapy Can Help You

To find out more about attachment-based therapy with me, call 818-593-9047, or visit my contact page to schedule a free 30-minute call.

Step 1: Schedule your free phone consultation.

Step 2: Complete your pre-consultation questionnaire.

Step 3: We meet for our scheduled consultation!

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