Does psychotherapy help treat attachment disorder?

As a Clinical Psychologist in private practice, so-called "attachment disorders" are quite possibly the most common concerns that people seek therapy to address. Thinking broadly, it might be more helpful to imagine these disorders as "styles" of the ways that we interact with others. The current scientific literature is fairly convincing in suggesting that the way that we "attach" to important "others" such as caregivers and family members during childhood is fairly predictive of the way we are likely to attach to others across our lives. When people seek psychotherapy for "attachment disorders", they are really asking or help in dealing with significant relationships in their lives.

Four distinct attachment styles have been identified: secure attachment, anxious-ambivalent (preoccupied) attachment, anxious-avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment. Each of them have their own patterns and some of them can be a cause of significant emotional distress. For example, a person struggling with an anxious attachment style is likely to find themselves seeking attachment to close others but also they tend to become dependent in ways that push others away. At once, they appear extremely needy of closeness but also never seem to quite trust that the person they love will be there for them. One can imagine how this might cause interpersonal distress in an adult who is attempting to form close bonds.

Psychotherapy can be very helpful for those struggling with attachment patterns that result in frequent emotional distress. Psychodynamic psychotherapy can help a person observe, recognize and understand interpersonal patterns which can help them develop insight into why they are feeling what they are feeling, tracing these experiences all the way back to childhood. Cognitive behavioral therapy may help some people identify patterns of thoughts and beliefs that contribute to mistrust of close others. Finally, mindfullness-based psychotherapies are helpful in assisting people in learning how to tolerate the anxiety and discomfort that frequently are associated with attachment.

Finding an understanding psychotherapist can be a key component for learning how to cope with and adjust in response to one's attachment style. A good psychotherapist of any orientation will be useful in helping one identify unhelpful relational problems and self-defeating thoughts and feelings.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.