Attachment Therapy Brooklyn
Let’s talk about Attachment
It’s probably not surprising to hear that our early emotional attachments and experiences shape how we behave and who we become. Most of us have learned this truth somewhere along the way. We hear the echo of early memories in our minds, or just feel it in our bones. How we were raised and the bonds we establish with primary caregivers impacts our early development, and extends beyond those years. Attachment is the basis of every relationship and is the foundation on which we build future connections.
Attachments are developed through close emotional relationships typically involving the provision of care and comfort. Whether these connections can be characterized as secure or insecure, consistent or inconsistent, loving or unloving, or somewhere in between, they will inevitably impact our sense of self and how we engage with others. Our ability to employ adaptive behaviors and form new bonds relies on the patterns established in early childhood, as well as those formed through adolescence and into adulthood.
Attachments can be amplified or reinforced by later experiences, but they can also be observed, acknowledged, and rebuilt through emotionally-focused therapeutic treatment. Specifically, by working with a therapist employing attachment-based psychotherapy, you can begin to see how your early attachments may be holding you back or pushing you in a direction that doesn’t serve you. By focusing on your own attachment needs as well as those of others, you can begin to rebuild relationships with a healthy foundation of trust and authentic connection.
How will attachment-based psychotherapy work for me?
The way attachment-based psychotherapy works is for client and clinician to come together to explore the client’s relationships through the lens of attachment. The type of attachments we have made continue to inform our feelings and actions, and it’s important to delve a little deeper into what affects our relationships. The hope with this therapeutic approach is to understand how unhealthy attachments play a role in our relationships, and re-writing that attachment narrative to form healthier bonds, and get our needs met.
Of course, to achieve such goals in therapy it’s important for you, the client, to feel comfortable with how we communicate. I do everything I can from a clinical perspective to create a warm and welcoming environment, even if we are using telehealth tools and meeting online. My goal is to foster a safe and secure space for you to share your past and present struggles with me, which is one of the keys to moving forward in this work. My hope is that our relationship can provide a model for forming (or re-forming) relationships that are built on mutual trust, care, and respect.
Whatever frustrations, hopes, or concerns you come to me with, together we will explore the nature of your attachment. Your attachments inform the relationships you have, both with yourself and with others, so we will take a step back to see how attachment applies to the issue at hand. It’s important to remember that this is where you are because this is what is learned. You may have learned unhealthy attachment patterns from your childhood or from your past relationships. That's okay. We all do. We humans are products of our environment. Myself included.
There’s an important thing to remember when it comes to therapy, or life in general, for that matter. You are not defined by where you are now or destined to remain there. You are going to move forward from that place, and I will be there to help you forge a path. Whether the focus is on you and reassessing your formative relationships, or you are concerned about how to create an environment so your children develop healthy attachments, I commend you for coming to talk with a mental health professional like me and do the work that matters in order to create meaningful emotional connections in your life.
How we develop healthy attachments
Attachment is about building trust in relationships. The attention provided (or not provided) by primary caregivers begins to establish our attachment style and form our expectations of how relationships work. As an infant and toddler trust builds over months and then years of receiving food, affection, comfort, and compassion. In general, if consistent care is provided and a child’s emotional needs are met, that will lead to a greater chance for healthy relationships later on.
Of course, our early childhood doesn’t entirely determine our ability to adapt and learn. There are other formative relationships that have an effect on our attachment formation, such as friendships made in adolescence, as well as the romantic relationships we enter. Every new relationship is another chance to nurture a more secure attachment, but we need to understand where we’re coming from as well as how to re-write unhealthy narratives about our attachments.
It may be helpful to remember that quote from the Tempest, “what’s past is prologue.” And as with any Shakespearean reference, this is up for interpretation. In this context, perhaps we can understand it to mean that we are the authors of our lives and we write our own story, while also acknowledging the formative role our early years imprinted on us. Our back story is just our beginning, but isn’t how the tale ends. While it lays the foundation, we can work to re-write our narrative of unhealthy patterns by being present and aware of attachments in the unfolding of new relationships.
Can this type of therapy help couples?
Your early childhood won’t entirely determine your disposition or explain everything about your current relationship, but an increased understanding of how your family was formed can provide valuable insight. Experiencing similar unhealthy relationship patterns in your friendships or romantic relationships point to how early attachments may inform your understanding of these relationships. Without understanding the formation of our attachments it is difficult to discern why we are making the same choices repeatedly and ultimately hurting ourselves in the process.
If you sense within yourself a hesitancy to connect, does it remind you of a feeling you’ve had before? Maybe you react in a way you immediately regret. You yell at a partner or push them away when they disappoint you. Does it feel like an instinctive reaction almost outside of your control? Or maybe you’re always trying to fix the other person’s problem. You play the role of caretaker and don’t prioritize your own needs. You believe you can’t find a better solution. Many people experience such feelings, and you don’t have to go through it alone.
There is help available. In a clinical setting, a therapist such as myself can ask you questions about your childhood that may cause you to consider certain situations in a new light. You can reflect on traumas or losses that you haven’t felt comfortable saying out loud before. Perhaps identifying a pattern from the past will enable you to identify triggers that cause issues with your partner now. Doing this work will make a difference and give you the tools to grow in a healthy relationship, including one with yourself.
How can we parent through an attachment lens?
Emotional security comes from relationships that have established trust and clear communication. Our children’s relationship with us will set the scene for the unfolding film that is their life. When our children feel secure, they can flourish. No pressure, right? Parenting involves patience, love, and a lot of work. Some of that work involves reconsidering our reactions, or in fact, how we think about parenting overall.
Rather than looking at your child’s behaviors as a series of unfortunate events (a la Lemony Snicket), try to see how they might be acting out their inner wants and needs. Is it for attention or approval? Do they crave more decision-making power or connection with a parent? Maybe they don’t have the words to express exactly how they feel, or they received sharp criticism when they came to you with that concern before, so now are afraid to share. How do you put them at ease in a way that solidifies that secure attachment and tells them they are safe?
If we look at parenting through the lens of attachment versus parenting through a behavioral lens, let’s see how that can change things up. Maybe you can ask yourself: What does the child need right now? No, not the iPad they are throwing a tantrum over or the dessert they’re demanding, but that deeper need. What are they asking for in those moments when behaviors are particularly challenging? Does a child having a tantrum need you to be with him in whatever he is feeling as opposed to receiving discipline and being sent to his room? Maybe your teen doesn’t need to snap out of it. Perhaps you can just sit by her side (or text her messages of support without any expectations that she’ll acknowledge your existence).
If we work from a place of love and caring rather than looking for the “right” behavior or results we’d ultimately like to see, we can help provide them a safe and solid foundation. You can be like that tree when kids play tag - you are the touchstone of safety. And if you slip up, don’t give up. Have the difficult conversations ahead of time to acknowledge everyone’s imperfections. And know there will always be frustrations, because people are people and the little ones often know how to push big buttons.
As a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW/LCSW), I have experience working with children and adolescents within the foster care and adoption system. Many have suffered trauma or loss. These are undoubtedly challenging circumstances. Still, there is a path forward for everyone, including those who face additional obstacles along the road. Whatever the size or configuration of your family, this emotionally-focused therapy can support you on your journey.
Can an attachment-based approach address anxiety & depression?
Loneliness, Helplessness and Hopelessness are symptoms of depression. Ongoing irritability, worry, stress, and difficulty concentrating can all be signs of anxiety. If you’re concerned that you or anyone in your family is suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, it may once again be helpful to see the situation from this particular clinical approach. These issues can arise for a variety of reasons, from neurochemical irregularities, to loss, or major life changes, but an important factor to healing is the strength of your support system. It might make a difference how far someone can fall if they don’t feel plugged into a positive network of people they trust. A lack of strong, healthy connections with others can negatively affect mood and an overall sense of well-being.
We can take a multi-pronged approach to these issues while also fully activating the attachment lens. For example; we can work to change family interactions in such a way to bring down the fever pitch of negative emotions in your teen. You can remind them of the pillar of support you provide. If you are experiencing anxiety, focusing on interpersonal connections and the safety net can decrease the tendency to get caught up in the cycle of action/reaction, and might be a way to reduce some of the uncertainty present in the family structure.
We might try posing new questions. Ask yourself or your family member: what are the triggers that flip the switch? What sets someone off? Are there recurring conflicts between certain family members? What are those inflection points? Then, when you’re outside of the clinical context and you notice a situation escalating, you may be more prepared to pause, take a breath and remember what’s been discussed.
Vulnerable emotions occur both in and outside of therapy sessions. Remembering the root of the problem, and having empathy and acknowledgement of one’s needs can enhance your tolerance of conflict. Increased attunement and awareness of potentially explosive or negative events can decrease reactivity and provide space to identify and express your own needs and listen to the needs of others.
Reach out with questions or to start sessions
I look forward to hearing from you and discussing what it might look like to work together. Though my in-person practice was based in Brooklyn, NY, I am currently conducting all sessions online via Telehealth. I am able to work with clients from anywhere in New York, or across the country. Just know that treatment with me is a safe space, wherever it is.
I have a Master of Social Work from New York University. Additionally, I was trained in Art and Dance Therapy at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. I approach therapy through an attachment lens and understand the importance of developing healthy, emotionally-fulfilling connections with people close to you. Let’s talk.
Becca Leitman's lens and therapeutic approach are rooted in Attachment Therapy. I believe there is great importance in developing healthy, emotionally-fulfilling connections with yourself and those closest to you. I am currently conducting all sessions online via Telehealth. I am able to work with clients from anywhere in New York, or across the country. Just know that treatment with me is a safe and confidential space, wherever it is. Let’s talk. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest , Psychology Today and LinkedIn for mental health guidance, stress and anxiety tips, therapy resources and more.