Attachment therapy is a type of therapy that fosters healing by focusing on trust and the ability to create deep and meaningful connections. It’s rooted in the ideas based on attachment theory, which acknowledges how childhood experiences can significantly impact future relationships.
A form of psychotherapy (talk therapy), attachment therapy can help you overcome past trauma and strengthen your sense of self-worth. It can be a valuable way to teach you how to trust others, and its benefits go much further.
Read on to learn about this transformative, powerful form of therapy. We’re discussing what attachment therapy is, what it entails, how it can help, and when it might be an appropriate method to use.
Attachment theory research shows the importance of healthy, formative relationships and bonds. These allow us to explore our environments while trusting we’ll be cared for. When these bonds break down for any reason, it can become problematic. For example, separation from a parent or caregiver because of illness, neglect, or anything else can cause long-term effects, often even into adulthood. In short, experiencing trauma in childhood can result in insecure attachment problems and great difficulty in developing and maintaining healthy adult relationships.
Attachment theory stems from psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s work in 1958. His research encompasses a belief that how children bond with caregivers plays a role in all future relationships. Thus, connections throughout life heavily depend on those healthy attachment bonds (or are impacted by a lack of them).
“Attachment theory revolves around how early childhood experiences on attachment can impact a person’s attachment type as they develop into adulthood. It was through the work of Bowlby and Ainsworth that this theory really took form. Through the original work of Bowlby and later through Ainsworth, 4 types of attachment were created: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.”
Ultimately, the type of attachment issues we develop in childhood can have a lifelong impact on our relationships. There are four basic attachment patterns or styles:
Secure attachment (a healthy form of attachment)
Anxious attachment (also known as preoccupied, one of the more common styles)
Avoidant attachment (also known as dismissive avoidant attachment)
Disorganized attachment (also known as fearful-avoidant)
Attachment style therapy is a form of talk therapy that can be effective in helping people overcome the effects and impacts of early childhood trauma. Anyone who’s experienced trauma or attachment wounds and, as a result, struggles to form healthy relationships might benefit from this therapy style.
According to studies, attachment trauma therapy can help someone learn to develop trust in intimate relationships. During attachment therapy sessions, techniques like deep breathing exercises can be beneficial therapeutic tactics. For example, relaxation techniques can make it easier to enter a calm state, where learning can occur quickly without attachment anxiety or fear getting in the way.
Attachment therapy can help with a variety of issues. First, it can significantly benefit children who find it challenging to connect (either physically or emotionally) with their parents or other caregivers. It can be effective in treating children who struggle with:
Attachment therapy can also help adults heal from past harmful experiences.
The first step is developing a bond and sense of trust between the patient and therapist. While it might seem counter-intuitive, attachment therapy can even help in setting boundaries with parents, family, and friends by teaching them how to say “no.”
Attachment is vital for our psychological well-being. Therefore, we must learn how to foster healthy relationships early in life or heal from painful past experiences. Only then can we navigate conflict and establish positive relationships in healthy ways.
Attachment therapy focuses on building meaningful connections. The goal is to help people feel safe and comfortable in their relationships. For example, children must have strong ties and trust the relationships with their caregivers as they grow up, or they can find it challenging to trust in the future. Without strong ties, it can be challenging dating someone with abandonment issues.
Having healthy attachments as children means forming positive functioning relationships later in life will be easier.
Emotional vulnerability is a sign that someone has developed trust and can open themselves up. Being able to show emotions and vulnerability (in other words, letting people see how they feel) is essential to healthy relationships.
Knowing how to communicate in a relationship or connect with others on a deep level is impossible without this skill. Attachment therapy can foster behaviors that allow people to feel emotionally vulnerable and, thus, safe.
“Attachment therapy can help in addressing childhood forms of attachment and how to work through those to gain a healthier outlook and perspective on emotions and other areas that may be stressors in a person’s current status. A lot of looking in the past and how to unlearn and come to terms with certain situations are discussed during sessions..”
– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
Fear of abandonment
People with attachment issues can have a genuine fear of abandonment. This fear can manifest in many ways — from being unable to live alone or date to avoiding relationships altogether.
The attachment therapy method is effective in helping people overcome this fear and deal with their abandonment issues by creating a safe space for them.
Poor self-esteem can make trust and honest connections difficult. Attachment therapy can help improve self-image and build confidence, so someone believes they’re worthy of a healthy relationship.
Attachment style therapy can be effective in many situations. For example, it can be valuable for children and adults who have trouble:
Communicating with others
Building self-esteem and confidence
Dealing with depression and types of grief
Fearing abandonment or loss
Those who may significantly benefit from attachment therapy include people who:
Grew up in a home where they couldn’t form healthy attachments
Had parents or caretakers with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety
Experienced neglect or abuse as a child
Grew up in foster care
Were adopted as children
Some people in abusive relationships may use attachment therapy to try to recover from the experience.
Attachment therapy can help young children develop healthy relationships, even if they have a troubled past. For children under the age of 5, attachment therapy can be a form of play therapy. During sessions, a therapist will work with a child and parent(s) to help the child learn to trust others and themself.
Adolescents and teens are at a stage in life when they experience a lot of change. You may have had your battles with an angry teenager, as their hormones are raging. Attachment therapy can help some of them manage those changes. Additionally, social anxiety in teens is at an all time high thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attachment therapy focuses on improving self-esteem, confidence, and social skills — which are crucial during adolescence.
Attachment therapy is a type of treatment that can help children and their families resolve issues in their lives and relationships. The therapist is a neutral party who works closely with parents and children to help them understand one another. The therapist can also give parents insight into ways to better care for their children.
Attachment therapy helps people heal from a negative attachment style that stems from past abandonment trauma, abuse, or neglect. This type of therapy can be effective for anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and specific attachment issues like fear of abandonment or rejection or an inability to trust.
Attachment therapy reinforces the idea that we can feel safe, loved, and understood as we create close relationships with others. It can be an excellent, effective approach for anyone struggling with creating and maintaining healthy relationships.
If you’re ready to get help and think attachment therapy might be a path you want to try, reach out to Talkspace. Our online therapy platform is a resource for simple, affordable, and accessible care. With Talkspace, you can experience the benefits of online therapy, meeting with experienced, skilled, and trained therapists and mental health professionals. We understand how essential it is that you know how to create and maintain strong, healthy bonds with others. So don’t wait any longer — get started today.
Diamond G, Russon J, Levy S. Attachment-based Family therapy: A review of the empirical support. Family Process. 2016;55(3):595-610. doi:10.1111/famp.12241. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27541199/. Accessed November 11, 2022.
Cassidy J, Jones JD, Shaver PR. Contributions of Attachment Theory and research: A framework for future research, translation, and policy. Development and Psychopathology. 2013;25(4pt2):1415-1434. doi:10.1017/s0954579413000692. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085672/. Accessed November 11, 2022.