The Practice of Attachment-based Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy

The Practice of Attachment-based Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy aims to:

  • provide a sufficiently secure base to enable a person to explore emotional experiences of the past and the present

Attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapy sets out to repair the capacity to regulate affects. Where this capacity has been damaged by trauma it is difficult for people to experience these affects themselves. Attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapy provides a framework that both allows desire and conflict to come forward and contain associated feelings.

  • assist the person to explore current relationships with significant others and the unconscious repetitions that may be re-occurring

Where the feelings associated with attachment and separation can not be contained in the self they are managed in relation to others. This is normal and people relate to each other in this way all the time. The need for therapy arises when the relationship with others has developed in compulsive and uncreative or counter-productive directions. Avoidant and enmeshed attachment patterns are basic categories of repetition: the avoidance of connectedness and the avoidance of separation. Other “objects” also become caught up in this repetition. Foremost amongst these is the body experienced as other and used to contain attachment feelings through illnesses, eating difficulties, addictions, and other self harming behaviours.

  • explore the particular relationship between person and therapist

The therapist is not a detached observer but is in a relationship with the person with whom they are working. This relationship will be the site of the unconscious repetitions that appear in other relationships. It is this insight (the transference and the counter-transference) that distinguishes psychoanalytic psychotherapy from clinical psychology. The exploration of the counter-transference and transference re-enactments is fundamental to the practice of attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

  • become aware of the effect of childhood and adult experiences on current feelings

The narratives that people have of their lives form a vital part of the capacity to orientate themselves in the world and to contain (which also means allow) their affective life. People construct narratives to make sense of their lives. They also construct narratives to avoid difficult feelings. The understanding of human development, of the mind, and of relationships is used in therapy to question the client’s narrative. Because the feelings that are avoided are difficult, the questioning is resisted in one way or another. Knowing how to work with this tension is a central feature of attachment-based psychotherapy.

  • explore the nature of governing images and models that arise from early experience and how they can be changed in the present and future

Fundamental to our way of being, deeper than narrative, are the images that we have of others and ourselves in the world. To capture these images and bring them into the world of verbalised thought is distinctively the task of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. It demands of both the client and the therapist a form of poetics: the capacity to find language for ineffable feelings. The capacity of attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapy to create change lies partly in the management of the affective relationship in ways which work against the repetition and partly in the contemporary bringing into thought through language, the emotional experience which creates an opening for a move beyond repetition.