Attachment Theory

Attachment theory describes the dynamics of human bonding including our initial bonding experiences as children and our adult relationships. The drive to attach is a human imperative which provides a way to understand that much of human behavior in many contexts is normal. It also provides a roadmap to facilitate deep and permanent change.

This theory grew from the original work of John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist who began his career working with maladapted and delinquent children in the 1920s. His interest became child development and was heightened after WWII when wartime events separated young children from familiar people. By the late 1950s he had accumulated observational and theoretical work to indicate the fundamental importance for human development of attachment from birth. Attachment theory was born.

Developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1960s and 70s reinforced the basic concepts of attachment, the idea of a secure base and attachment patterns. Her seminal research is called the Strange Situation Protocol. In the late 1980s, further research extended this theory to include attachment in adult romantic relationships.

Some tenets of Attachment Theory are:

–       The drive to attach is an innate, primary motivating force in all human beings across the lifespan.

–       Deep emotions stem from our attachment history.

–       Secure dependence (attachment) complements independence (autonomy).

–       The internal quality of one’s attachment is profoundly affected by childhood experience but can change through safe secure bonds with others across the lifespan.

For a more extensive explanation about how this theory is applied to working with couples see:

Attachment Theory – A Guide for Couple Therapy by Susan Johnson

My favorite song on attachment

Interpersonal Neurobiology

Interpersonal neurobiology is a term used to describe the way the brain is changed with intention and by personal relationships. Often times, we forget the way our physical brain operates has anything to do with our “problems.”

This emerging interdisciplinary field is a collective conversation about the nature of the mind, the body, the brain, and our relationships with each other and the larger world in which we live.

I was introduced to interpersonal neurobiology by Dr. Dan Siegel in 2003.  It was the first time I had heard of mirror neurons, a type of neuron that fires in the brain mirroring the firing in the brain of a neuron in the brain of another. I was a psychotherapist. I sat with others, talked with them, did therapy. I struggled with understanding why what I was doing was causing change, was healing. The hypothesis that our brains are “connected” to each other, actual neuronal firing occurring simply by being attuned to another, gave me a new lens to understand how therapy works.  It wasn’t just my presence or my words but my brain that could help bring change.

Since that time there has been much growth in this field:

–       It encompasses the attachment perspective.

–       It works to understand the mind and explain the differences between the mind and the brain.

–       It defines mental health, mental wellbeing, as an integrated state when one is able to be “flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable” (Dr. Siegel’s FACES acronym).

–       It speaks to the effectiveness of mindfulness practices.

–       And so much more.

New research in neuroscience, one of interpersonal neurobiology’s disciplines, is providing a wealth of knowledge about the brain – how the brain works, why we behave how we do and how we might be best able to change that behavior.  Enlightening scientific information about the neuroscience of caregiving, parenting, is one example.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field but know that I seek out and soak up this new information.  Every time I learn something new it helps me connect the dots and affects how I work with people.

Dr. Dan Siegel’s Website

Yoga and Mindfulness

I was first introduced to Yoga as a college student in the ‘70s. It later became an integral part of my life when I was diagnosed with cancer and experiencing all the stress that comes with that. I found that through breathing in hope and breathing out fear I could calm myself, feel less overwhelmed and scared, make choices I had to make and better face surgeries. Because of the impact Yoga made on my personal life, I decided to partake in Viniyoga training so I could teach these methods to others and use them in my psychotherapy practice.

I learned that Yoga is a methodology not a doctrine or a dogma.  The ancient teachings of Yoga provide incredible tools that we can use, as others have for thousands of years, to have a healthier body and a clearer mind.

Viniyoga is Yoga that values function above form.  More attention is given to adaptations for people with specific goals or needs, than to the form of the practice itself.  As my teacher says, “Yoga is for the person, these tools exist to serve us. Not the other way around.”

I use these tools in creative, individualized ways. Some examples are:

–       Mindfulness practices to strengthen the ability to gain some distance from the reactive brain, promoting self-awareness, helping you stay in control

–       Asana practice (the poses in Yoga) for the needs of each person’s body, to increase comfort and decrease pain

–       Guided relaxation to activate and cultivate a state of relaxation

–       Meditation to hasten change, build desired qualities, achieve desired intentions and alter ingrained habitual behavior and addictions

–       Breathing practices to stabilize emotions

For some real life examples of my work with people

In my training, I learned the Sanskrit term “Acharya”, a word that means one who teaches  by example. To me this means that I can teach best what I know to be true in my experience. I use these methods because they work for me and I use them every day (actually not quite every day).


If you are interested in learning more about Viniyoga here are some resources:

Yoga for Wellness- Healing with the Timeless Teachings of Viniyoga  by Gary Kraftsow,  Penguin/Arkana, NY, NY 1999  

The Heart of Yoga – Developing a Personal Practice  by T.K.V. Desikachar, Inner Traditions International, Rochester, Vermont 1995

American Viniyoga Institute

Photo credit: Laurie Werner

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT)

A primary focus of my practice is working with couples, often marriage counseling. The methodology I use, Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT), is grounded on relatively new research about the nature of adult love.  Adult love is a bond. Our brains are wired with a drive to attach. Adults, in every culture, seek secure reciprocal bonds with another.

The task of EFT is to facilitate the development of a secure, safe bond.  A solid relationship, one where couples can depend on each other, has been shown to positively affect autonomy and self-confidence. This secure base not only allows the confidence to risk, learn and respond to life’s changes but is also associated with positive physical and mental health.

EFT, originally developed by Dr. Susan Johnson and Dr. Les Greenberg in the 1980s, systematically addresses deep relationship issues and empowers profound and lasting change. The model has been well researched which has shown positive outcomes that significantly exceed other methods of couples counseling.  Studies consistently show excellent follow-up results, and some studies show that significant progress continues after therapy.  We know it works across different populations and problems.

Research has also been done to determine how EFT works so therapists can be trained to intervene efficiently. Training for therapists is a certification process overseen by the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) which was established in 1998.  It involves experiential training, supervision by a certified EFT supervisor and the presentation of video tapes demonstrating competence in the model.

EFT is a collaborative process with therapist and couples, not one where the therapist has one size fits all answers. My responsibility is to provide a safe place, a place safe enough to explore and express your emotions and needs and to guide a process of interaction that short circuits negative cycles and creates positive ones.

For more information about Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) see:

Hold Me Tight by Susan Johnson

Short Summary of EFT Research from the ICEEFT website

The International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy

Wikipedia does a good job with an overview of EFT