The first year is a year of needs. When the infant has a need, it initiates attachment behavior in order to summon a nurturing response from the attachment figure. The need-gratifying response usually includes touch, eye contact, movement, smiles and lactose. When gratification occurs, trust is built. This cycle occurs hundreds of times a week and thousands of times in the first year. From this relationship, a synchronicity develops between parent and child. The caregiver develops a greater awareness of the child and learns just how to respond. The child develops good cause-and-effect thinking, feels powerful, trusts others, shows exploratory behavior and develops empathy and a conscience.
Parenting children with attachment difficulties is a job that requires a great deal of patience, understanding, courage, solid support systems and personal fortitude. Children with attachment difficulties rarely and only superficially return love. Therapists, teachers, child protective services and even spouses often do not understand the challenge and deception an attachment-disordered child displays toward an adoptive or foster parent in charge of primary care. Often times the child will project the greatest amount of pathology towards the mother figure in an attempt to make the world believe that if the mother was not so harsh and controlling, the child would be as lovable as he superficially displays.
Therapists often times are introduced to attachment disorder cases by witnessing a burned-out parent in their office who is angry, resentful and full of blame toward their child. The child, however, is engaging, full of energy, innocent and displaying confusion at the parent’s anger. Unfortunately, the therapist reacts by thinking (and sometimes saying), “If this mom would just lighten up on this kid, she would not have so many problems.” This can lead the therapist to scolding the parent much in the same way the parent scolds the child. Many well-intentioned but naive healthcare workers believe that, “All this kid needs is love,” and end up creating an alliance with the child against the parents that further prevents the family getting the help they desperately need.
The basic purpose of attachment therapy is to help the child resolve a dysfunctional attachment. The goal is to help the child bond to the parents and to resolve the fear of loving and being loved.
A major dynamic in the treatment is the affective regressive work needed to heal the emotional wounds that drive these children’s behavior. Therapeutic holding allows the child to access deep, genuine, and intense emotions needed to work through the feelings, not simply get over them. A corrective emotional experience is orchestrated when allowing the child to express these feelings, recognize and recall them, and identify the events and the people involved. In essence, the child going through this experience with their parents allows for resolution of old pathological emotions while simultaneously creating powerful new bonds.