What Types Of Therapy Work For Adult Attachment Disorders?

Updated November 24, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you noticed you repeat yourself in relationships? Perhaps you always cut ties when things start to get serious or you’re constantly the person in the relationship looking for deeper intimacy. According to attachment theory, your relationship habits may be due to your innate attachment style.

If you are desirous of changing your relationship patterns, online therapy may be able to help. Research shows that online therapy is effective for reducing depressive, obsessive-compulsive, interpersonal sensitivity, and anxiety symptoms in people with all attachment styles. A supportive online therapist may help you learn strategies to create healthier relationships and assist you with mental health challenges.

Attachment Therapy Can Help You Improve Your Relationships

What Is Attachment Theory?

Attachment theory is the idea that the relationships formed in childhood with primary caregivers, like parents, may impact the way we interact with others throughout our lives. When attachment theory was first theorized in the 1960s, it was only applied to the behavior of young children, but in the 1980s attachment theory was expanded to include adult behavior as well.

Children who experience a maladaptive childhood characterized by either emotional abuse or neglect may cope with this experience by learning maladaptive survival skills such as emotionally distancing from relationships. Over time, the social, emotional, and mental skills these children developed may become destructive to their adult relationships.

Researchers have identified four categories of attachment styles: secure attachment, anxious attachment (sometimes called preoccupied attachment), avoidant attachment (sometimes called dismissive attachment), and disorganized attachment (sometimes called fearful-avoidant attachment). Based on an individual’s relationship, or attachment, patterns, researchers may be able to determine their individual attachment style. 

By understanding your attachment style, you may be able to learn to change unhealthy attachment patterns, In the past decade, researchers have come to agree that the most effective treatment program for both children and adults with attachment disorders is a specific type of psychotherapy called attachment therapy.

Common Signs Of An Attachment Disorder

Attachment theory posits that the attention and safety you experienced during the first few years of life may influence your view of relationships throughout your life. For example, if you were frequently left alone as an infant, you may experience difficulty building trusting relationships as an adult.

People with unhealthy attachment patterns may be able to trace their experience back to their childhood memories with their primary caregiver. They may also exhibit some common signs of attachment disorders, including: 

  • Problems dealing with conflict

  • Use of manipulation or hostility to control others

  • Impulsive behavior

  • Difficulty controlling or expressing emotions

  • Trouble receiving and giving love

  • Feelings of isolation

  • Difficulty showing remorse or empathy

  • A tendency to deny responsibility in conflicts

  • Argumentative and destructive behavior

  • Addictive behavior

  • A feeling of helplessness

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Hypervigilance

  • Frequently angering others

  • Inconsolable crying

  • Anxiety

  • Difficulty maintaining trusting or stable relationships

  • Neglectful behavior

It’s important to note that these common symptoms of attachment disorders may appear differently in adults and in children. If you experience any or all of these common symptoms, attachment-based therapy may help you overcome them. 

Psychotherapy For Adult Attachment

Attachment psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a research-based treatment for adult attachment challenges. In attachment therapy, therapists may help their clients consider their unhealthy attachment techniques and learn strategies to modify their innate behaviors. 

There are several different techniques that can be utilized in attachment therapy. Each technique may work well for different individuals, but they all have one thing in common: their emphasis on the therapeutic relationship. As therapists and clients build a close relationship, the partnership becomes an example of the trust-based connections that the client can create. Once trust is established, the therapist and client may work together to uncover the genesis of maladaptive behaviors. 

Common Psychotherapy Techniques Used In Attachment Therapy

Common types of psychotherapy interventions for attachment disorders include:

  • Couples/family therapy

  • Experiential therapy

  • Gestalt therapy

  • Cognitive therapy

  • Behavioral therapy

  • Holistic therapy

  • Humanistic therapy

Couples/Family Therapy

Couples and family therapy may incorporate a significant other or family into treatment. During attachment-based therapy, therapists may use attachment theory to help clients recognize attachment patterns and build trusting relationships within the family.

Because mental health challenges can impact the partner, child, or family of the client, including your family in therapy may help you explore the ripple effects of your attachment challenges. Attachment-based family therapy may also be helpful if you have young children who may be at risk of absorbing your harmful attachment style. 

As a parent, attachment-based therapy and holding therapy can help you improve parenting techniques and family life, create a supportive relationship, and change negative attachment patterns that formed when you were a child. Ultimately, the goals of attachment-based family therapy treatment are to help you understand your attachment disorder and ensure that you help nurture attached children.

Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy may use role-play, art, and other activities to deepen the client’s understanding of the underlying motivations that are provoking specific attachment-based challenges.

Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy aims to help the client recognize their responsibility in everyday interactions by focusing on why their behaviors trigger specific events. Because many attachment problems may stem from a denial of personal liability, Gestalt therapy can be a helpful treatment modality for adults with attachment disorders.

Cognitive Therapy

In cognitive therapy, therapists may help the individual recognize faulty logic and unwanted behaviors so they can work toward modifying beliefs. As the client gains greater awareness, the therapist may help them acquire skills to overcome their disorder, test their beliefs, and learn new ways of understanding situations that have triggered maladaptive behaviors in the past.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy focuses on identifying maladaptive behaviors and using specific techniques to control unwanted attachment-based behavior. Once the client can identify the actions that lead to maladaptive behaviors they adopted as a young child, they may be able to use specific techniques to overcome them. 

Holistic Therapy

Holistic therapy involves the use of multiple psychotherapy techniques at once. A therapist using the holistic method may create a custom therapeutic approach for each client to best help them move past unhealthy attachment behaviors. For instance, one or more psychotherapy techniques may be used to identify the problems at hand, and completely different methods may be used to create a plan for healing. In holistic therapy, the focus is on the result, not on the treatment modality.

Humanistic Therapy

In the humanistic approach, the therapist and the individual work together to discover the cause of maladaptive behaviors. Humanistic therapy drives the client to acquire more profound wisdom and self-awareness. Adult attachment disorders begin to develop in childhood. The humanistic approach may help clients reach back to those past events and discover new ways to change maladaptive attachment-based behaviors.

Attachment Therapy Can Help You Improve Your Relationships

Online Therapy Can Help With Attachment Disorders

Online therapy is an evidence-based treatment method for relationship struggles, including for people with attachment disorders. Online therapy has been proven to help develop a strong, trusting therapeutic alliance between the therapist and client, which may help drive treatment outcomes. Clients may feel more comfortable obtaining treatment from the comfort of their home or feel more confident having intimate details of their childhood or past relationships with a therapist online. Additionally, clients with attachment disorders may experience attachment anxiety. Online therapy makes it possible to connect with a therapist via messaging, which may make some people with attachment disorders feel more trusting of their therapist.

Many people have matched with BetterHelp counselors for help with relationship challenges, attachment disorders, and mental health conditions. Keep reading for reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar disorders.

BetterHelp Counselor Reviews

"Margaret is simply fantastic. She's really easy to talk to and she offers insights and advice and support that 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 my relationships that I would never have seen without her insights."


Attachment disorders may develop in childhood, but they’re not a life sentence. Targeted treatment methods like online attachment therapy can help individuals unlearn their maladaptive attachment behaviors and build new healthy relationships. Take your first step towards healing with online therapy from BetterHelp.

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