Attachment Theory | Counseling | Therapy

Attachment Theory

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A client once told me that the one thing he would have liked to know prior to starting therapy is that “your unbiased opinion you’re paying for is still biased, the therapist has their own take on life and that’s what they’re going to give to you in your sessions.” I agree whole-heartedly with this client. Each therapist pulls from different theories. The theories being pulled from, most likely, are easier to relate to for that particular therapist than other said theories. Attachment theory is just one model for therapists to use in order to interpret their client’s lives and work to guide them into improvement.

The basic theme of attachment theory, originated by Psychologist John Bolby, is based on the emotional bond we create with our caregivers. The emotional bond guides how we interpret the world and behave throughout our lives. There are four main attachment styles: secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment, avoidant-insecure attachment, and disorganized-insecure attachment. The attachment styles picked up by the therapist can help them to conceptualize their clients and better guide them into making changes.

The first attachment is secure attachment. This is the healthiest form of attachment and will most likely not be seen by therapists in a therapeutic setting. People who are securely attached tend to have a higher self-esteem, more confidence and independence, better social relationships, and usually experience less depression and anxiety. Securely attached infants will show a sign of distress at the onset of separation from their caregiver. However, after a short period of time will become accustomed to their new surroundings and feel assured that their caregiver will eventually return. Once the caregiver returns, the infant will show elation. In times of need, securely attached infants will seek the comfort, reassurance and guidance of their caregiver knowing that the caregiver will be able to provide what they require. Caregivers tend to be more responsive to the infants and tend to play more with the child.

As the infants who are securely attached grow older they are able to show more empathy for others, are less disruptive and aggressive, and are seen as more mature than their piers who are not securely attached. As securely attached children turn into adults they are able to form longer lasting, healthier relationships. They are able to seek out social support when necessary, but are also able to work through most of their issues on their own due to higher confidence levels and self-esteem. Securely attached adults are able to assert themselves while also caring for others. They also tend to have healthy boundaries with others, and at the same time can share their emotions and thoughts in order to grow closer to others.

The second attachment style is ambivalent-insecure attachment. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to this as ambivalent attachment from here on out. Ambivalently attached infants tend to become very distressed when their caregiver leaves and continue to be distressed. Upon the caregivers return, the infant continues to be distressed and is not comforted by the arrival. This may be caused by the lack of availability by the caregiver, as they are not consistent. The infant then distrusts whether the caregiver will return or not.

As ambivalently attached infants grow older, they tend to be more clingy and dependent. They tend to be anxious in relationships and think that the other person does not share their same feelings. This can make their relationships feel distant, often leading the ambivalently attached adult to break off the relationship. Despite having ended the relationship themselves, ambivalent adults become very troubled with the onset of another relationship ending.

Another attachment style, avoidant-insecure attachment (again for simplicity sake I will refer to this as avoidant attachment), tends to be the most distant of all attachments. An infant who is avoidantly attached will not seek comfort or contact from their caregiver. In fact, the infant shows no preference toward their caregiver and a complete stranger. Often times, the infant will avoid their caregiver all together.

Avoidantly attached adults struggle to make connections in relationships. They tend to invest little to no emotion or feelings into their relationships and therefore have little distress when, or if, the relationship ends. Avoidant attachment also affects the adult’s ability to comfort others in times of need. A partner may need support in stressful times; the avoidantly attached adult often times cannot provide this support. Avoidantly attached adults are more likely to partake in casual sex or think about others during a sexual encounter with a loved one in order to decrease the intimacy.

The last attachment style for infants is disorganized-insecure attachment (referred to as disorganized attachment in this tip). Infants who have disorganized attachment often look disoriented or confused. Caregivers tend to be a source of anxiety and fear for disorganized infants. Disorganized attachment is also caused by inconsistent behaviors and unreliability from the caregiver and therefore distrust on the infants’ behalf.

As disorganized infants grow older their relationships tend to be precarious. These adults have been frightened by their caregiver and therefore react in unpredictable, confusing, and erratic behaviors to stressful events in their relationships. When recalling information about their relationships, disorganized adults are unable to make sense of the events. Often, disorganized adults have fragmented stories and find it difficult to regulate their emotions through self-soothing techniques.

In knowing what the different types of attachment are, you can now start to recognize what your own attachment style is. Therapists use attachment theory to help clients identify their weaknesses as well as strengths within relationships. The therapist can then help the client to explore how these strengths and weaknesses are being played out in their relationship and what they can do to make improvements if secure attachment has not yet been obtained.

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The Center for Growth has offices in multiple states. We offer both Couples Counseling and Marriage Therapy inperson as well as virtual appointments.

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If you would like to schedule a therapy appointment, you are encouraged to look at our clinician biographies and schedule online. Each therapist's phone number is listed on their home page, or you can call (215) 922-LOVE (5683) x 100 to speak with one of our intake specialists. You may also contact our Director, “Alex” Caroline Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW at (267 324 9564) to discuss your particular situation.

Why go to counseling?

People seek the support of mental health counselors for a variety of reasons, as these professionals are trained to provide therapeutic assistance for a wide range of emotional, psychological, and behavioral issues. Here are some common reasons why individuals might choose to see a mental health counselor:

  1. Emotional Distress: Counselors provide a safe and nonjudgmental space for individuals to discuss and process their emotions, whether it's anxiety, depression, grief, anger, or other difficult feelings.
  2. Relationship Issues: Counselors can help individuals and couples navigate challenges in their relationships, improve communication, and work through conflicts.
  3. Stress Management: Learning effective coping strategies and stress-reduction techniques can be incredibly helpful, especially in today's fast-paced world.
  4. Mental Health Conditions: Counselors can work with individuals diagnosed with various mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and more.
  5. Life Transitions: Major life changes like moving, starting a new job, getting married, having a child, or going through a divorce can be overwhelming. Counselors can offer guidance during these transitions.
  6. Self-Exploration and Personal Growth: Counseling can provide an opportunity for individuals to better understand themselves, identify their values, and work toward personal development goals.
  7. Trauma and Healing: Individuals who have experienced trauma can benefit from therapy to process their experiences, manage symptoms, and work towards healing and resilience.
  8. Addiction and Substance Abuse: Counselors can assist individuals in overcoming addiction and developing strategies to maintain sobriety.
  9. Behavioral Issues: For children and adolescents, counselors can help address behavioral problems at home, in school, or in social settings.
  10. Parenting Support: Counselors can offer guidance to parents dealing with challenges related to parenting, co-parenting, or family dynamics.
  11. Self-Esteem and Body Image: Counseling can help individuals develop a more positive self-image and build self-esteem.
  12. Decision-Making: Counselors can assist individuals in making important life decisions by exploring options, weighing pros and cons, and considering personal values.
  13. Crisis Intervention: In times of crisis, such as suicidal thoughts or an immediate emotional breakdown, counselors can provide support and coping strategies.
  14. Coping with Loss: Grief and loss are complex emotions, and counselors can help individuals navigate the grieving process.
  15. Workplace Issues: Counselors can help individuals manage work-related stress, conflicts with colleagues or supervisors, and career transitions.

Overall, mental health counselors provide a confidential and supportive environment where individuals can openly discuss their concerns, learn coping skills, gain insight into their thoughts and behaviors, and work towards positive change and personal growth. If you're struggling with any aspect of your mental or emotional well-being, seeking the help of a mental health counselor can be a valuable step toward improving your overall quality of life.

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Getting the most out of your therapy session: Getting the most out of your therapy sessions involves active participation, open communication, and a willingness to engage in the therapeutic process. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your therapy sessions:

  1. Be Open and Honest: Honesty is crucial in therapy. Share your thoughts, feelings, and concerns openly with your therapist. The more they understand your experiences, the better they can provide guidance and support.
  2. Set Clear Goals: Work with your therapist to establish clear and achievable goals for your therapy. These goals will provide a sense of direction and purpose for your sessions.
  3. Participate Actively: Therapy is a collaborative process. Engage actively in discussions, exercises, and assignments. This involvement will help you gain insights and make progress more effectively.
  4. Take Notes: Bringing a notebook to sessions and jotting down key insights, coping strategies, and action items can help reinforce what you've learned and provide guidance between sessions.
  5. Practice Between Sessions: Put into practice the skills and strategies discussed in therapy between sessions. This practical application is where real change takes place.
  6. Be Patient: Personal growth and change take time. Don't expect instant results; progress often happens gradually over several sessions.
  7. Be Open to Feedback: Therapy might involve exploring uncomfortable topics or receiving feedback. Approach these moments with an open mind and a willingness to learn and grow.
  8. Ask Questions: If something is unclear or you want to understand a concept better, don't hesitate to ask your therapist questions. It's okay to seek clarification.
  9. Discuss Your Progress: Regularly review your progress with your therapist. Share what's working well and what challenges you're facing. This dialogue helps tailor your therapy approach.
  10. Manage Expectations: While therapy can be immensely helpful, it's not a magic fix for all problems. Be realistic about what you can achieve through therapy.
  11. Reflect on Sessions: After each session, take some time to reflect on what you discussed, what insights you gained, and any action steps you plan to take.
  12. Communicate About the Process: If you're unsure about the therapy process or have concerns, don't hesitate to bring them up with your therapist. They can provide clarity and address any worries.
  13. Be Kind to Yourself: Therapy can bring up challenging emotions and insights. Practice self-compassion and acknowledge that growth involves ups and downs.
  14. Consistency Matters: Attend sessions regularly and stick to your agreed-upon schedule. Consistency helps maintain the momentum of your progress.
  15. Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge your achievements, even small ones, along the way. Recognizing progress boosts motivation and confidence.

Remember that therapy is a journey, and the progress you make is a result of your efforts and collaboration with your therapist. Openness, commitment, and active engagement will greatly enhance your therapeutic experience and help you achieve your goals.

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