Attachment-Based Therapy

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Attachment-Based Therapy


When a family adopts a child everyone is on a path to a new family identity. The child becomes part of a network of relationships and attachments, which can give the child a new sense of belonging to a family, which he/she may not have chosen.

Using a systemic approach I will always recognize all attachments and key significant relationships, including past relationships with their birth family but with an emphasis on the present and current developing attachments. Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1992) identifies 3 sphere of influence on the child’s view of himself/herself and the world as follows: early relationships, life experiences and, growth and development. 

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Key significant relationships shape and influence (positively or negatively) children’s self-image, self- esteem and core self-beliefs e.g. I am loveable, I am likeable, I am worth it. If the child’s early carers were uncaring, unresponsive, preoccupied with their own needs, or even abusive, they become the mirror to the child’s self-image, which is internalized. Adoptive children may develop heightened caring attitudes towards people to replicate their caring role towards parents and/or siblings and compensate for this uncaring life script and role reversal. This translates into becoming self-reliant, unable to seek comfort and be comforted by adults, unable to trust that adults will care about them, care for them and protect them.


Adoptive children’s early traumatic experiences, neglect and/or abuse will lead to the development of a negative self-concept which is embedded in negative self-beliefs and lack of self-worth e.g. I am not worthy/I do not deserve to be loved, I am ugly, I am naughty. Furthermore, children will develop mistrust of adults and the view of the world as an unsafe place.

Experiences of separation and loss from birth parents and family lead to a process of self-blame as if the child were responsible for the separation, which is likely to reinforce negative self-beliefs e.g. I don’t deserve to be loved and therefore my parents could not love me or look after me. These negative self-beliefs emerge when the child’s past is triggered and children are re-living overwhelming feelings of loss, anger and distress. This is compounded by an overwhelming sense of isolation and loss of emotional connection with people and the world. If the child is blamed for their behavior this can reinforce a negative cycle between past and present e.g. I am angry because nobody likes/loves me (past) and nobody likes/loves me because I am naughty and unlovable (present).