Attachment-Focused Therapy

Psychological .

Attachment-Focused Therapy

Background & Overview:

Attachment-Focused Therapy (AFT) is a type of therapy that is rooted in Attachment Theory, which posits that early relationships with primary caregivers shape the way we relate to others throughout our lives. Developed by psychologist Daniel Hughes in the 1990s, AFT integrates principles from Attachment Theory, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Experiential Therapy to help clients develop more secure and healthy attachments with others.

Before delving into how AFT works, it is important to understand the history and background of this therapeutic approach. Attachment theory was first introduced by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s, who highlighted the importance of early attachments in shaping an individual’s emotional development. In the 1970s, Mary Ainsworth further expanded on Bowlby’s work through her research on attachment styles, identifying ‘Secure’, ‘Anxious-Ambivalent’, and ‘Avoidant’ attachment styles in children.

Attachment theory posits that individuals develop internal working models of relationships based on their early experiences with caregivers. Those with secure attachments tend to have positive expectations of relationships, whereas those with insecure attachments may struggle with trust, intimacy, and emotional regulation in relationships.

AFT aims to help individuals repair and strengthen their attachment patterns to enhance their relationships and emotional well-being. In this therapy, the therapist works collaboratively with the client to explore their attachment history, identify patterns of relating to others, and develop healthier ways of connecting with others. The therapist creates a safe and supportive environment for the client to process their emotions, identify their needs, and navigate their relationships.

Typical sessions often begin with the therapist and client establishing a secure therapeutic alliance. The therapist may ask the client about their attachment history, childhood experiences, and current relationships to understand the underlying patterns that influence their behaviour and emotional responses. The therapist may also use attachment assessments, such as the ‘Adult Attachment Interview’ or the ‘Attachment Style Questionnaire’, to further explore the client’s attachment style.

During sessions, the therapist may use various therapeutic techniques to help the client develop more secure attachments and to help the client explore their emotions, needs, and relational patterns. These techniques may include:

  • Mindfulness exercises
  • Emotion-focused interventions
  • Role-playing exercises
  • Guided visualisation
  • The therapist may also work with the client to enhance their emotional regulation, communication skills, and conflict resolution strategies to improve their relationships.

One of the key components of AFT is creating corrective emotional experiences. The therapist helps the client process past attachment wounds and develop new, positive experiences that can help re-shape their internal working models of relationships. This may involve re-enacting challenging relational scenarios in therapy, practicing emotional attunement, and building trust and intimacy with the therapist.

The therapist also focuses on building the client’s capacity for reflection and self-awareness. By helping the client recognise their attachment patterns, triggers, and defensive behaviours, the therapist empowers the client to make conscious choices in their relationships and break free from negative patterns of relating.

What can it treat?

AFT can help individuals address a variety of issues, including relationship problems, low self-esteem, grief and loss, symptoms of trauma, anxiety, depression, and personality disorders.

Number of Sessions:

The number of sessions needed for attachment-focused therapy can vary depending on the individual’s specific needs and goals. Some clients may benefit from short-term, focused therapy, while others may require longer-term treatment to address deep-rooted attachment issues.

Benefits:

Some of the benefits of attachment-focused therapy include increased self-awareness, improved emotional regulation and coping skills, enhanced interpersonal relationships, and a greater sense of security and connection. By addressing underlying attachment issues, individuals can gain a better understanding of themselves and develop healthier ways of relating to others.

Overall:

Attachment-Focused Therapy aims to help individuals develop more secure attachments, enhance their emotional well-being, and improve their relationships. By exploring the client’s attachment history, identifying maladaptive patterns, and creating new relational experiences, AFT can help individuals heal from past wounds and cultivate healthier relationships. AFT is a powerful therapeutic approach that integrates Attachment Theory, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Experiential Techniques to help individuals develop more secure attachments and enhance their emotional well-being. By exploring attachment patterns, fostering corrective emotional experiences, and building self-awareness, AFT empowers individuals to heal from past wounds, navigate their relationships, and cultivate deeper connections with others.

References:

  1. Diamond, G., Russon, J. and Levy, S., 2016. Attachment‐based family therapy: A review of the empirical support. Family process55(3), pp.595-610.
  2. Hughes, D.A., 2007. Attachment-focused family therapy. WW Norton & Company.
  3. Johnson, S.M., 2009. Attachment theory and emotionally focused therapy for individuals and couples. Attachment theory and research in clinical work with adults, pp.410-433.
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