A lot of people don’t have a great first experience with therapy. They try once, decide that therapy doesn’t work, and go on trying to cope with their lives alone.
But if you don’t know what to look for, the odds of getting a therapist that matches you aren’t the greatest.
Therapy Types are not Equal
Every style of therapy came from a different mindset for a different goal. Therapists who use these styles tend to share that mindset, because it’s something that worked for them & their issue.
Wait, their issue?
Yep. Carl Jung, one of the fathers of psychology, believed that people are called to healing professions because of their own wounds. Over 70% of mental health professionals in recent research were aware they chose their career as a result of their own traumas.
If someone’s had a similar trauma to you (similar emotions, not details), they’ll be more familiar with the kinds of approaches that work for it.
And there’s a big difference in what works. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example, has been shown to be less effective for the anxiously attached – even if they’re not working on your attachment issues.
This brings us to the next point,
Therapists are not Equal
Even if healers are motivated by their wounds, that doesn’t mean they all finish healing before they start practicing. And once they identify with the role of a healer, it’s a good excuse to stop growing.
Sadly, it’s a lot harder to confront your own issues, than it is to justify your trauma reactions by telling other people that it’s ok to be that way.
Even with the best of intentions, the ego (conscious mind) is a slippery thing. When you’re insecurely attached, an approach that works for problem-solving/managing day to day stresses is likely not going to also go deep enough to solve your attachment issues.
For example: therapists that specialize in anxiety and learning how to constantly manage their emotions? They probably haven’t spent all those years studying it because they lack constant anxiety.
Therapists that think Cognitive Therapy is the answer to everything? Rationalization and “mind over emotion” is a major defense mechanism of Dismissive-Avoidants.
This is not to say that these modes of therapy are invalid, just that they tend to work better with the types of problems they were designed for.
How to Choose a Therapist
Some people say that you should pick your therapist based on the vibe from their websites. However, most therapists are awful at technology and horribly camera shy.
Instead, make your judgments based on how open they are about the struggles they’ve faced in their life, and how compatible their attachment style is with yours.
Getting an avoidant therapist to help you with your anxious attachment might somehow be super rewarding in the end, but you’re picking a hard road for yourself.
What should you do if you don’t know your therapist’s attachment style? Ask!
Any therapist who’s unable (or unwilling) to answer that is someone who isn’t comfortable with their attachment.
If they haven’t gone to earned secure themselves, they clearly haven’t found an answer. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad therapist, but it does mean your attachment issues won’t get better.
For example, take a look at my own attachment style at two points in my life.
I’d like to think that during the left handed graph I was still an effective therapist – at the work I was focused on. I could show my clients how to deactivate, communicate, and understand themselves better.
But healing attachments? That’s a whole other kettle of fish.
Effective Styles of Therapy
First, I want to make clear that I have my own biases due to personal experiences and interests. There may be multiple styles of therapy that are efficient for attachment trauma.
However, these are the methods that are the most supported in independent research and in my own clinical experience. They also offer certification and systematized training, so therapists have to put in significant effort to say they offer these.
It’s weird to make my top recommendation something that I’m not trained in, but many of my colleagues swear by this. It’s effective for all kinds of complex trauma, including borderline personality disorder. Best of all, it’s easily adaptable to an online format so you’re not limited by location, and the training is pretty consistent.
This is pretty much the modern gold standard of working with attachment trauma. Created by Dr. Sue Johnson, the author of Love Sense, it follows specific steps to overcoming unhealthy attachments by… building healthy attachments.
This is traditionally best suited to couples, but they offer therapy strategies for individuals too.
Ask your therapist if they’ve done the EFT training that’s right for your situation.
Jungian Analysis/Analytic Psychology
Psychoanalysis isn’t very popular in North America, because it’s deeply personal, subjective… and isn’t a quick fix.Focused on making your subconscious conscious, it helps you understand all your instinctive patterns that sabotage your life. More importantly, it helps you accept what you truly want.
Finding a good analyst is difficult (and potentially expensive), but in my opinion is the best route to a true transformation.
Sidenote: Bowlby himself (the creator of attachment theory) was a trained psychoanalyst.
Freudian psychoanalysis has a similar focus on the unconscious, and is much easier to find a therapist. However, Bowlby’s work contradicts some core teachings of Freud, and he was professionally ostracized by Freudians while alive. Many Freudian analysts in my experience tend to be DA as well.
As with any other of these approaches, make sure to ask your potential therapist about their views on attachment and their own style.
Imago Relationship Therapy (Couples)
Along with EFT, this probably boasts the highest success rate of helping couples get out of the anxious-avoidant loop. Designed by a married pair of Psychologists, they’ve spent their lives treating couples – as a couple.
Technically IRT isn’t an attachment-based method because they decided to invent their own names for attachment styles, but it’s the same concepts.
So, what next?
My best recommendation is to read up a little on the therapies I listed, then start looking for someone trained in what you liked the most.
As long as your therapist has relevant training, the main thing is that you feel that they’re honest and up-front about who they are. Attachment traumas come from relationships where trust wasn’t an option, so finding someone safe to trust is the first step.