Attachment Theory

Attachment theory, first developed by John Bowlby, is a psychology concept focused on the importance of attachment in relation to personal development. According to Bowlby’s theory, attachment is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process that begins at birth and continues through the first years of life. Fundamental to attachment theory is the belief that a child's relationship with the primary caregiver (usually the mother), affects their attachment style for the rest of their life. Unresolved or insecure attachment issues experienced in early childhood can have a negative impact on relationships into adulthood. A therapist who specializes in attachment theory can help.  Reach out to one of TherapyDen’s experts today!

Meet the specialists

Both children and adults use their attachment experiences in relationships to design their interactions, inner lives, and beliefs about the world. Sometimes those relationships go awry, and we move through the world without realizing how or why things feel hard. Substance and behavior addictions often develop when we have unhealed attachment experiences. Understanding our attachment styles, how they interact, and how they drive us in our decisions can open up new ways of living and of relating.

— Leah Gregory, Counselor in Portland, OR

I overlay attachment theory over much of the work I do, as it provides a strong foundation for understanding how past hurts and relationships have impacted current emotional communication patterns, trust, relationship building etc. Understanding and applying attachment theory provides clients with great insight to themselves and their relationships.

— Lacy Alana, Counselor in , TX

Attachment Theory is about discovering that how a person was cared for & related to in their early years still effects them today especially in close relationships. When we were young we learned if the world was safe or not. To make us feel safe we isolated or became people pleasers. These patterns continue on into adulthood & can be very disruptive in all relationships. There are ways to feel emotionally safe so you can thrive.

— Kathleen Thompson, Licensed Professional Counselor in Portland, OR

Attachement theory was initially developed by John Bowlby, a behavioral psychologist, who noted that primates will choose proximity to a comforting caregiver, over the option of food. This marked the importance of relationships in human evolution and survival. Further research, by developmental psychologist, Mary Ainsworth, in the 60's and 70's found that we have different attachment styles based on our early experience with caregivers. Some of us are more anxious, when we are in relationships, while others are more avoidant and or a mix of those two emotional experiences. These are patterns that tend to show up, over and over again, as we attempt to have relationships in our adulthood. Gaining insight about these patterns and working through these patterns with a therapist can be greatly helpful in creating more secure and satisfying relationships.

— Addie Liechty, Clinical Social Worker in Oakland, CA

I use Attachment Theory to help clients understand why they may experience challenges i primary relationships.

— Pauline Everette, Therapist in Detroit, MI

My approach to attachment includes the early attachment bonds that you experienced with caregivers as well as those that have been established later in your life. By understanding these relationships, we can identify strengths, patterns, and wounds that you may or may not know are impacting you on a variety of levels. You may or may not have been given the physical or emotional support that you needed when you were young. I am here to provide that experience for you in an environment that is nurturing, safe, and ready for you.

— Sarah Bower Ho, MA, Counselor in Portland, OR

Our relationship with our selves and others begins with our experience of attachment to our caregivers. Attachment is a huge part of our behaviors in relationship with everyone in our lives- our partners, children, parents, families, and friends.

— Emelie Gagliardo, Licensed Professional Counselor in Portland, OR

Each of us is born with a desire and a need to be attached to those we love. Knowing that attachment leads to emotional, mental and physical health, I am honored to help my clients explore how to develop a healthy, happy attachment with others in their lives.

— Elizabeth Pankey-Warren, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Boca Raton, FL

I have been studying attachment theory since 2005. In graduate school, I learned what anxious/preoccupied attachment was, and my practice has been designed to serve people with that attachment style. It goes by different names: people-pleasing, codependency, anxious attachment. Attachment theory, in a nutshell, is this: people heal through relationships. If we don't have supportive and stable relationships in early life, we struggle to feel worthy, loveable, and safe later on. But, early hardship does not necessarily spell disaster. People can heal throughout the lifespan from all kinds of trauma. Having a compassionate, safe companion for the grieving and sorting through can make all the difference. I have participated in my own therapy-- probably 9-10 years' worth by now. I know the power of how safe relationships transform us-- and that is what attachment theory is all about.

— Ann Stoneson, Licensed Professional Counselor in Austin, TX

Fundamentally, I am an attachment theorist. I have extensively studied Interpersonal Neurobiology, and frequently use IPNB approaches in treatment. Our ability to regulate stems directly from the co-regulation we experienced (or did not experience) in early childhood, and affects our regulation and relationships today. In sessions we explore this relationship toward optimal relationships--internally and with others.

— kaseja wilder, Counselor in Eugene, OR

My studies in attachment theory began in grad school and continued with Stan Tatkin, who developed the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy. Stan’s training focused on developing secure attachment for couples to regulate physical and emotional stress. I’ve adapted Stan’s work so that the same stress relieving and security building behaviors can be applied from an inner parent to an inner child. Secure attachment within the self then fosters security in all relationships.

— Julie Levin, Marriage & Family Therapist in Pleasant Hill, CA

Attachment theory developed from the study of preverbal children and their behavior regarding their caregivers. Children were categorized as either having secure attachment, anxious-ambivalent attachment, anxious-avoidant attachment, or disorganized attachment. It was discovered that the attachment style of children mirrored that of their primary caregiver. Attachment applies to adults when adults feel close attachment to their parents, their romantic partners and friends.

— Tony Filanowski, Clinical Social Worker in New York, NY

Through my work with couples, I have been immersed in Attachment work. Our early childhood experiences provide the model for later relationships; Attachment Theory provides a way to help organize and use what we learn from exploring the messages we got early on about what is needed to feel close to an Important Other. I work with clients every day using these concepts.

— Annette Holloway PsyD, Clinical Psychologist in San Francisco, CA

Attachment theory is a psychological model that attempts to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between humans. It addresses how human beings respond within relationships when hurt, separated from loved ones, or perceiving a threat. In other words, attachment theory explains how the connection between a parent and a child in early childhood influences subsequent development in a teenagers and adults.

— Filippo M. Forni, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA