Attachment-based therapy is a form of short-term counseling that aims to improve a person’s ability to develop or rebuild trust and connection within personal relationships. This therapy format encourages clients to express emotions through talk therapy within the client-therapist relationship.
What Is Attachment?
Infants are born pre-programmed with a survival need for attachment, which is why infants cry or show distress when separated from their mothers.1 How a mother or other primary caregiver responds to this need for attachment, along with experiences later in life as well as other various factors, affects how we behave as adults in emotional and physical relationships. These experiences affect our ability to form meaningful relationships that include appropriate levels of trust and vulnerability.
Why Is Attachment Important?
Studies on attachment and attachment disorders reveal that early patterns of attachment between parents and children can predict adults who have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships.2 Attachment-based therapy looks to heal unconscious psychological processes in the brain that inhibit the formation of relationships, and it also works to promote the development of higher-level capacities. Examples of these capacities include:
- Being able to recognize and reflect upon what’s happening in one’s own mind
- Being able to distinguish what’s happening in one’s own mind from the minds of others
How Does Attachment-Based Therapy Work?
Attachment-based therapy may be used for individuals, couples and families. Since research has shown that early patterns of attachment between children and caregivers impact the psychological processes of the brain, a therapist will focus on helping the client overcome the effects of negative early attachment by establishing a solid and strong bond with the client.
Once this client-therapist relationship is sufficiently established, the therapist can help the client to develop their own communication skills. The client can then better explore and understand the connection between subconscious thought patterns and the impact those thought patterns have on their ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships.
How Does Attachment-Based Therapy Fit in With Addiction Treatment?
Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression that result from an inability to maintain healthy relationships can be major factors that lead to addiction. If a person experiences ongoing anxiety or depression, the need to self-medicate for relief can cause someone to drink alcohol or take drugs to alleviate the symptoms.
The problem develops when drinking or taking drugs becomes a pattern of regular substance abuse, and the person needs more and more of a substance to achieve the same effects. As this tolerance develops, brain changes occur. The more a person consumes, the more is needed to gain the same effects, and eventually escalating substance use can lead to dependence and addiction. If a person who has developed a dependency or addiction attempts to stop taking substances, painful withdrawal symptoms occur that in turn motivate the person to take substances for relief.
Comprehensive Therapy Approaches for Addiction Treatment
Addiction treatment may use attachment-based therapy as one of many different therapeutic approaches. A comprehensive treatment program will also include cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapies, motivational interviewing and other holistic approaches. Therapists may include psychologists, psychotherapists, clinical social workers, family therapists, or other licensed clinicians who have experience and education with attachment-based treatment approaches.