How Attachment Therapy Helps Build Stronger Family Relationships

Updated April 8, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Family is one of the building blocks of our society, and the backbone of the family unit often relies upon the emotional bond between a child and their caregivers. This bond, known as attachment, is critical in shaping a child's development and emotional well-being.

Psychologist John Bowlby's theory of attachment stresses the significance of forging meaningful bonds between caregivers and children through nurturing a sense of security and trust. 

When children feel secure in their relationships with their caregivers, they may develop better social, emotional, and cognitive skills. While it is often never too late to strengthen these vital relationships, understanding the power of attachment early in a child’s life can create a supportive environment for them to thrive.

As we explore the intricacies of attachment, it is important to note that the quality of adult-child relationships is not simply a result of genetics or circumstance. Attachment therapy offers invaluable guidance on creating and strengthening secure attachments in families, helping children feel more confident and secure as they grow up. 

Keep reading to learn more about the key principles of attachment therapy and how its insights can provide a solid foundation for stronger family relationships.

Could insecure attachments threaten your family dynamic?

Understanding attachment theory

Attachment theory can provide the groundwork for understanding the emotional bond between two people who share a relationship, focusing on the internal working model formed early in life. This model dictates how children and adults interact with one another, guiding expectations of relationships and behavior.

The basics of attachment are rooted in four primary components: proximity maintenance, safe haven, secure base, and separation distress.

  • Proximity maintenance refers to the desire to remain close to one's attachment figure.
  • Safe haven represents a child's comfort and security when they are near their caregiver.
  • Secure base is the sense of safety that an attachment figure provides, allowing the child to explore without fear while knowing they have a reliable source of support if needed.
  • Separation distress describes the feeling of unease and distress that children may experience when separated from their attachment figure.

Attachment is a dynamic process that can change over time. While the core principles remain constant, individual attachment styles may evolve as children grow up and form close relationships. As a result, two primary types of attachment styles have been identified: secure and insecure.

Secure attachment involves a child feeling safe and protected by their caregivers. When a child has a secure attachment, they often feel comfortable exploring their environment, knowing their caregivers will support them. Emotional regulation, trust, and empathy are built upon this foundation of security.

On the other hand, an insecure attachment can be detrimental to a child's development, leading to difficulty forming close relationships, low self-esteem, and behavioral concerns. Insecure attachment patterns may also lead to difficulty managing stress or anxiety.

Insecure attachment is often divided into three categories: anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.

An anxious attachment pattern can make children uncertain about their caregiver's reliability. They may be clingy, overly dependent, or live with separation anxiety. This attachment style can result in heightened sensitivity to perceived threats and difficulties with emotional regulation.

Children with an avoidant attachment pattern may appear independent but avoid emotional closeness because they do not trust their caregivers. A person with emotional detachment may have difficulty seeking help or expressing emotions.

When children have experienced trauma or neglect, their attachment is often disorganized. As a result, they can show a combination of anxious and avoidant behaviors, appearing confused or disoriented in response to their caregivers. Disorganized attachment can also make it difficult for children to form healthy relationships later in life.

Even in the absence of trauma, attachment styles may vary from child to child and within the same child at different points in life. Navigating this flux of emotions can be overwhelming for caregivers, but some steps can be taken to develop more secure attachment styles.


A conceptual framework for attachment therapy

Attachment therapy aims to strengthen family relationships and improve insecure attachment patterns. There are a variety of therapeutic modalities within attachment therapy, all intending to help individuals form and sustain secure attachments, including:

  • Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP): DDP emphasizes the importance of attachment between children and caregivers. Families can benefit from DDP by learning more about each other's emotional needs and creating an environment conducive to healthy attachments.
  • Theraplay: This therapeutic approach focuses on enhancing the relationship between parent and child through playful, interactive sessions. Through fun and engaging activities, Theraplay can promote trust, empathy, and emotional regulation to strengthen attachment bonds.
  • Circle of Security (COS): COS is a relationship-based program that aims to help parents and caregivers better understand their children's emotional needs. The COS program encourages caregivers to be emotionally available to their children and to respond appropriately to their cues.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Primarily used to treat trauma, EMDR can also be effective for insecure attachments. It helps clients process and integrate past attachment experiences through a combination of eye movements, sound or tactile stimulation, and talk therapy.

Depending on the family's needs, a combination of different attachment therapy techniques may help build positive and secure relationships. With the support of a mental health professional, families can learn to identify and better manage their attachment patterns.

The attachment therapy process

Once you begin working with a mental health professional on attachment therapy, the process generally involves several steps.

  1. Assessment and goal setting: Each family is thoroughly assessed to determine its unique dynamics and attachment patterns. This assessment identifies areas of concern, and therapy goals are set.
  2. Developing a tailored treatment plan: A customized treatment plan is developed based on the assessment. The therapist will incorporate therapeutic approaches that are most appropriate for the family.
  3. Implementing the therapy: Therapy sessions are conducted, and techniques are executed according to the treatment plan. Attachment therapy is generally most effective when integrated into the family's daily routines and interactions.
  4. Evaluation: Progress is monitored, and successes and challenges are addressed. The family's progress toward the goals is measured to ensure that the therapy is effective. If necessary, modifications to the treatment plan are made.
Many families have overcome attachment challenges and built stronger relationships through attachment therapy. For example, in a study by Becker-Weidman and Hughes, children who received Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP) demonstrated significant improvements in their relationships with caregivers and overall psychological health.

In addition to attachment therapy, families can support healthy attachment patterns in various ways. Being emotionally available and attuned to your child's cues, creating a secure and loving environment, and modeling healthy behavior are just a few ways families can promote secure attachment.

Promoting open and honest communication, setting boundaries, and managing expectations are also important for establishing secure attachment bonds. Consistency and predictability can help children feel safe and secure while encouraging trust and respect. Through routines, children can learn how to express their emotions and understand the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

A caregiver who prioritizes their own emotional and physical health is better positioned to support their children's attachment needs. To that end, caregivers need to recognize the signs of burnout and take steps to avoid it. For example, attending support groups or seeking professional help can be beneficial in managing parenting stress.

Professional support for building secure attachments

Online therapy can also be a great way for busy parents and caregivers to get the help they need without taking time away from their children. A licensed therapist can provide you with tools and resources to better manage the stress and challenges of parenting and support your family's attachment goals.

A 2021 study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health indicates online therapy may positively affect parents' psychological flexibility and emotional regulation. Parental psychological flexibility and emotional regulation are key elements of secure attachment, so therapy can be beneficial in helping families create safe, nurturing relationships.

Self-care, therapy, and other forms of support can be investments in the health and well-being of caregivers and their children. When parents prioritize their mental health and seek professional help when needed, they're often better equipped to give their children the secure attachment they need.

Could insecure attachments threaten your family dynamic?


A family seeking to improve their relationship may greatly benefit from attachment therapy. In exploring attachment theory, families can gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to create a nurturing and supportive environment within their household. In addition, by understanding the importance of attachment, families can work towards fostering stronger ties and creating lasting bonds that will only continue to strengthen over time.

The journey toward improving attachment within a family may not always be easy, but it can potentially transform your lives in countless ways. Online therapy can be a great resource for caregivers who need additional support and guidance. Professional help can equip families with the knowledge they need to manage stress better and create a loving space where children can flourish.

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