“There aren’t problem children, but families with problems.” writes Alexandra Raicar in her book: ‘Child-centred attachment therapy: the CcAT programme’. It reminded me of my own insight, blindingly obvious, when in a training session about group therapy. Of course the first group we ever know is our family. This is where and how we learn to attach. Those early years of our lives that are “unrememorable and unforgettable” as neuroscientist Doug Watt refers to these formative years.
Information coming through about neuroscience verifies what we all possibly knew, that those early attachment patterns are engraved on the brain and woven into our bodies. No wonder some of us can find it difficult to relate to others and to ourselves. We can find it difficult to trust, express affection, let go of feelings, to forgive and yet not know why. How much more sense attachment patterns made to me when I read Sue Gerhardt’s hugely enjoyable book – “Why Love Matters – how affection shapes the baby’s brain.”
How to work with this body of knowledge when supporting a client? Reflecting on this, I was reminded of my own research when interviewing individuals for my MA in counselling. Again and again randomly selected individuals testified that it was a mutual relationship that meant most to them when receiving help. It was mutuality they saw as key to help and healing. And of course this is what I, and other counsellors do, share our concern, our care, listening and being there for another.
Reviewing the feedback I have received from clients, they highlighted that what they found helpful was the holding and affirming nature of our relationship. Each of us has our own narrative and a relationship that values, supports and shares the telling of the individual’s story can be healing. It mirrors the parenting process of listening to our children and how they make sense of their world. This early interest and care gives us the tools to later form secure and healthy attachments - where trust and risk are part of the experience. Where early caregivers or parents are unable to do this – it is then that we see the well documented pattern whereby individuals may unconsciously chose a relationship characterised by an insecure, avoidant or ambivalent attachment. While a counselling relationship is not a long term relationship with a partner – it is a form of intimacy. And it is the counselling relationship that is key; feeling wanted and cared for and listened to by a supportive other, learning to attach in the safe environment of the counselling room.
In a commercial world that does not seem to value human bonds it can be easy to forget the power of affirmation, care and interest. It is this kind of experience that a good professional counselling relationship can give the client. This can provide a temporary re-parenting experience so that the client can in turn seek and risk those secure attachments with others beyond the counselling room.
Gerhardt S. (2004) “Why love matters; how affection shapes a baby’s brain.”
Raicar. A.M. (2009) “Child-centred attachment therapy: the CcAT programme”
Watt. D. (2001) ‘Emotion and consciousness.’ www.phil.vt.edu/ASSC/watt/default html.
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