What is attachment based therapy?
Most of us have heard the word attachment. Nowadays it is associated mostly with emails and the internet. However the more traditional meaning of the word needs to be linked with the way we humans form intimate relationships with other people. It was John Bowlby (1907-1990), the British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who first became fascinated by how small children were attaching themselves to adults in order to feel safe, to form connections and to later grow into independent and well-functioning adults. He made valuable observations and links between early childhood deprivations and issues with mental health in adult life. His fascination was shared and followed by other prominent researchers and thinkers (e.g. Mary Ainsworth, Mary Main), which led to the formulation of the attachment theory and subsequently the attachment based therapy.
As we know, choosing the right therapist along with the right therapeutic approach is crucial for the efficacy of what talking treatment is. We also know that in general one finds it extremely challenging to actually know who to choose and what theoretical approach they should subscribe to.
My view is that the more knowledge we have around the variety of therapeutic schools the easier it should become to make the right choice. However, it needs to be acknowledged that making the right choice is extremely difficult.
Below I will shortly describe what you might expect if you were to decide to enter the attachment based therapy.
As I have mentioned, this approach is based on the attachment theory. The theory itself helps us understand how and why we function in our own unique ways within intimate relationships. It is actually a very helpful approach for those who struggle in relationships, for instance find themselves often in arguments with bosses or managers or those who notice recurring unhelpful patterns within intimate relationships - with partners, wives, husbands or even sisters and brothers.
When we try to make sense of our adult relationships we need to also think about early childhood relationships. If we agree that the very first relationships we form are hugely important and that they often determine how we function later on in life and also how we make use of others, then it makes sense to embark on the exploratory journey in order to discover helpful links between then and now.
Interestingly the way we form close attachments will be also noticeable within the therapy session. If you happen to be challenged by overwhelming and confusing emotions your therapist will help you untangle and understand why you react the way you do. And if you allow yourself to stay in the process for some time then you can expect to begin to explore your own attachment style, which can be both rewarding and liberating. You will be able to work towards changing your core style into one which is much more beneficial and one, which will be working for you rather than against you. That is, of course, if you decide that change is necessary in order to live a more fulfilling life.
The attachment based therapy is an open ended therapy, which means that the end of the process is decided by yourself and your therapist however neither of you are preoccupied with it. Both of you will feel when the ending should take place and both of you will be working towards it. The ending itself is one of the most important parts of any therapy, therefore it is recommended that when you begin to feel that ending is approaching you should consider raising it with your therapist so that you can explore it and end therapy when it feels just right.
This approach is very gentle and you can expect to be in the driving seat most of the time. Your therapist will guide you through the initial confusion, painful memories, difficult feelings to greater understanding of yourself and perhaps your ancestors too, to acceptance and happiness defined by yourself. It is a rewarding process at the end, one which has a potential to change your life and open new possibilities for your.
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About Miroslaw Polanowski
Humanistic Integrative Counsellor, MBACP
Addictions Specialist, FDAP
Attachment Based Therapist
Mirek works privately and also within NHS. He specialises in relationship issues, anxiety, depression, addictions and life transitions. He is also keen to work with trauma, including early childhood neglect.