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Attachment disorders occur when an individual cannot properly relate to others. Different types of therapy can help repair some of the damage done by neglect from parents or caregivers early in life. If the child is still young, therapists can use forms of play therapy and creation of a safe environment to help establish healthy groundwork for the child. Older individuals are typically allowed to talk about the past and are assisted in understanding they can still form healthy relationships.
The type of therapy used often depends on the situation and age of the individual. While attachment disorders form from infancy, the effects are typically seen and felt well into adulthood. Therapists working with children will take a much different approach than those working with adults.
When children enter attachment disorder therapy, they are often introduced to an environment where they first and foremost feel safe and cared about. Some therapists will introduce a child to new toys and games to encourage interaction. Once a place has been established where the child can feel safe and begin to open up, therapy sessions can include the entire family. A child is not only taught how to relate to parents, but parents are also taught how to provide a loving, attentive, and safe environment for the child. Attachment disorder therapy strives to reconnect the bond that never formed between parent and child.
This separation commonly occurs when children are shuffled among foster homes or relatives. Once a steady home is established, a child and the new guardians can benefit from attachment disorder therapy in learning to form bonds. Assurance is given that the child is deserving and worth all the love and attention of parents.
When a neglected child grows into an adult, he or she may still have difficulties relating to others because of the disconnect that occurred in childhood. In these cases, attachment disorder therapy often takes another approach via allowing the individual to tell a sympathetic, caring individual about the past. Affirmation is a valuable tool and can be used to reassure the individual that he or she is justified in feeling abandoned and neglected, the feelings can be overcome, and he or she deserves better.
An individual is then taught proper behaviors and learns what healthy, loving relationships are about. Talking through past neglect can put the events in a new perspective, allow the individual to acknowledge those who care, and begin to develop the self-confidence and self-esteem that will allow healthy relationships. This type of attachment disorder therapy can also be effective in situations where older children find adoptive parents or attempt to connect to peers in school or at work.
While not a DSM diagnosis, it is a descriptive term used to describe problems in the attachment system and attachment behaviors. There is effective treatment for disorders of attachment: Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, for example, is an evidence-based, effective and empirically validated treatment.
See: Becker-Weidman, A., "Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy: Essential Practices & Methods," Lanham:MD, Jason Aronson, 2010.