Types Of Therapy: Adult Attachment Issues

By Mary Elizabeth Dean|Updated April 25, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Stephanie Chupein, LMFT

Attachment theory appeared in the 1960s; it was the result of research into the attachment a child forms with their caregivers. Researchers developed this theory for several decades, but it was only applied to children during that period. In the 1980s, research into adult attachment issues and disorders finally resulted in treatments for adults. The best medicine for adults with attachment issues is psychotherapy, otherwise known as talk therapy.

The Root of Attachment Issues

Everyone forms attachments to others, both children and adults. Attachment issues arise when individuals are apart for any period of time. Most people don't like to be separated from those they love, but for those with attachment issues, being separated triggers various problems for them.

People Who Have Attachment Issues Can Work On These Insecurities In Therapy

The following is a list of signs that indicate the presence of adult attachment issues/adult attachment disorder. A person may:

  • Have problems dealing with conflict
  • Use manipulation or hostility to control others
  • Exhibit impulsive behavior and have trouble controlling their emotions
  • Have trouble receiving and giving love
  • Experience depression or feelings of isolation
  • Have problems showing remorse or empathy
  • Deny responsibility in conflicts and other situations
  • Be argumentative and destructive
  • Exhibit addictive behaviors
  • Feel helpless
  • Be hyper-vigilant and have trouble concentrating
  • Take actions that can trigger anger in others

Adult Attachment Issues and a Maladaptive Childhood

Adult attachment issues usually originate from a maladaptive childhood. This means the behaviors one learned as a child are not adaptive, so it becomes difficult to interact with one's current environment in a positive, successful way.

During childhood, everyone forms connections in the brain, so they can interact socially, emotionally, and mentally. When a child is raised in an abusive or neglectful environment, the links they make are maladaptive. Children living in an unhealthy home environment make connections that help them "survive," and they learn to rely on these maladaptive survival skills long past the time when they're needed. When these children become adults, the social, emotional, and mental skills they have developed can cause difficulties.

Adults who suffer from attachment issues display behavior and thought patterns that can be destructive to relationships. These adults may not even realize their actions are the reason they cannot maintain healthy relationships. Attachment issues in adults can be complicated to treat because these maladaptive behaviors have been in place since they were children, so they may be challenging to repattern.

Source: Charles Whitfield, M.D., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Public Domain]

Psychotherapy and Adult Attachment Issues

Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy, and research and personal stories both show that therapy can be a powerful tool in healing from attachment issues. The therapist and patient talk through problems to identify and heal troubling issues. The best therapeutic technique for adult attachment issues depends on the individual and the professional opinion of the therapist. Therapy tends to be successful in dealing with attachment issues because healing is achieved through the patient/therapist relationship. As therapy progresses, the patient learns that relationships can be stable through the developing relationship with their therapist. The patient begins to trust the therapist, and as the trust builds, the relationship becomes beneficial.

Once trust is established, the therapist addresses symptoms by talking to the patient through the events/situations that triggered the symptoms. They work together to uncover and understand the basis of maladaptive behaviors. As mentioned above, therapy is a proven treatment method for attachment issues. Confronting and identifying behaviors driven by attachment issues is a significant step to healing, and there are many ways to achieve this through therapy. Read on to learn about the various techniques that patients find helpful.

Psychotherapy Techniques

Couples Therapy - Couples therapy is a technique that incorporates a significant other into treatment. When someone is experiencing any mental, emotional, or social issue, it also affects their partner. Including your partner in therapy helps to heal problems that are present in the relationship as well.

During couple's therapy, the therapist will work with both individuals to recognize problems. Once the issues are identified, the therapist can begin providing targeted therapy, including any of the following techniques.

Experiential Therapy - Experiential therapy is all about action. This type of treatment uses role-play, art, and other activities to deepen the patients understanding of the underlying issues that are provoking specific attachment-related behaviors.

Gestalt Therapy - Gestalt therapy is an experiential type of psychotherapy that is all about personal responsibility. This is an exciting approach for dealing with adult attachment issues because many of the problems stem from a denial of personal liability. This type of therapy aims to help the patient recognize their responsibility in everyday interactions by focusing on why their behaviors trigger specific events.

Cognitive Therapy - Cognitive therapy works on a model that says feelings, behaviors, and thoughts are all related. With that in mind, a person can learn to identify issues and work toward overcoming these obstacles. The therapist helps the individual to see faulty logic and unwanted behaviors, so they can work toward modifying belief. The theory has shown that changing these thoughts patterns leads to more desirable behaviors.

As the patient gains greater awareness, the therapist helps them acquire the skills to overcome the issues. A therapist teaches the individual to test their beliefs and learn new ways of understanding situations that have triggered maladaptive behaviors in the past. A person's internal reality can be very different from actual reality. Learning to tell the difference can help many with adult attachment issues.

Behavioral Therapy - Behavioral and cognitive therapy are used together by many therapists, but they can be used independently as well. Behavioral therapy focuses on identifying maladaptive behaviors and using specific techniques to control unwanted behavior.

This type of therapy is useful for many who deal with adult attachment disorders. Once the patient can correctly identify the actions that lead to maladaptive behaviors, they can use specific techniques to overcome them. Behavioral therapy notes that practices may be independent of any obvious trigger, but there is always an underlying trigger that can be addressed, controlled, or eliminated.

Holistic Therapy - Holistic therapy is not about herbal medication or meditation. Instead, a holistic therapist will use multiple psychotherapy techniques at once. This method allows the therapist to test out all of the different methods available to create a custom therapeutic approach.

A holistic therapist will combine techniques such as cognitive and behavioral therapy to help a patient move forward. For instance, one or more psychotherapy techniques may be used to identify the issues, and completely different methods may be used to create a plan for healing. A holistic therapist cares only about the result, so they're comfortable pulling from many different modalities.

Working with a holistic therapist is not for everyone; some people are more comfortable with one specific technique. However, a holistic approach may provide more opportunities for healing: the more resources available, the better the outcome. If one method doesn't work, there are others available. This is an excellent technique for dealing with adult attachment issues because it is so flexible.

People Who Have Attachment Issues Can Work On These Insecurities In Therapy

Humanistic Therapy - The humanistic approach to therapy centers on the therapist-patient relationship. All psychotherapy depends on the bond between therapist and patient, but this approach puts both the therapist and patient on equal ground. The therapist helps the individual to work through their issues by discovering answers together.

Humanistic therapy drives the patient to acquire more profound wisdom and a new understanding of themselves. This is very beneficial for those who suffer from adult attachment issues. Adult attachment disorder begins to develop in childhood, but the results appear in adulthood. The humanistic approach involves reaching back to those past events and discovering new ways to change maladaptive behaviors.

Which Therapy Is Best?

The answer to this is personal; the only way to find the best type of therapy for you is to find a good therapist. Your comfort level with your therapist is just as important as their skill set. The right therapist will make you feel at ease, and a relationship will develop naturally. As the therapist gets to know you and your problems, they will be better equipped to choose the technique that will work best for you.

Psychotherapy/talk therapy has many different ways to help individuals get on the road to a happier, healthier life. The relationship between therapist and client should be an open and honest one. If you are not satisfied with therapy, it is essential to tell your therapist. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to find the perfect fit, but the right treatment with the right therapist can change your life.

Seeking Attachment Help

No matter how long you have been struggling or how impossible recovery may seem, you can overcome adult attachment issues. A licensed counselor with BetterHelp is ready and willing to help you take those first steps today. Using one of the methods above, you can lead a life free of attachment issues. The best thing about BetterHelp is its online platform. You have someone ready to help you at your fingertips, so you don't even have to leave your home to put these problems in your past. Read below for reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Margaret is simply fantastic. She's really easy to talk to and she offers insights and advice and support that really help me feel I'm in more control of the issues I'm facing and working on. She constantly positively reinforces my progress and helps me set and manage personal development goals. In any given session we cover issues of trauma and abuse, as well as practical applications of practicing assertiveness and setting boundaries for healthy relationships. I would highly recommend working with Margaret. Thank you so much for everything, Margaret."

"It's like having a completely unbiased friend who never tires of hearing me out and never tires of helping me sift through the stories I tell myself. Julie has helped me see a lot of things in my life and in my relationships that I would never have seen without her insights."


Adult attachment issues can seem like a huge thing to conquer alone. The problems you're experiencing probably started in childhood, but even after all of this time, they can be overcome. With the right tools, you can build a truly fulfilling life with enriching relationships. Take the first step today.

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