Family Christian Counseling Center uses the lens of attachment theory to aid in their diagnosis and treatment of children. One of the tenets of attachment theory is that relationships actually shape neural processes and emotional regulatory abilities throughout life.
Attachment and Neurobiology
The NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), a branch of the National Institute of Health (NIH), states in an article entitled “Neurobiology of Infant Attachment”:
“A strong attachment to the caregiver is critical for survival in altricial species, including humans. The powerful influences of infant experiences on adult life are well established with strong support from both clinical and basic research.” (if you are anything like me I had no idea what an altricial species was – I looked it up and found out it was species where the young need adults to take care of them.)
While much of the article goes on to delve deeply into portions of the brain and changes that occur in the neural circuitry of mammals, it is impossible to read it without knowing that the NIH believes brain changes can occur (both positive and negative) from relationships formed with early caregivers.
In a second article from the NIH entitled “The Neurobiology of Attachment”, the author writes in the abstract:
“It is difficult to think of any behavioral process that is more intrinsically important to us than attachment. Feeding, sleeping and locomotion are all necessary for survival, but humans are, as Baruch Spinoza famously noted, "a social animal" and it is our social attachments that we live for. Over the past decade, studies in a range of vertebrates, including humans, have begun to address the neural basis of attachment at a molecular, cellular and systems level.”
I would like to go into a little more detail with a third article from the NIH titled “Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome”. The Pediatric Journal article states: “Attachment theory is one of the most popular and empirically grounded theories relating to parenting”. Research over time has shown that having a ‘loving’ primary caregiver and developing ‘organized and secure’ attachment to a primary caregiver acts as a protective factor against social and emotional problems for infants and children. Most authorities list the attachment categories as:
- Secure Attachment. The parent is responsive and consistent. The child feels secure in their knowledge that they can express negative emotion, which will bring about comforting from the caregiver. They feel emotionally safe and secure. As toddlers they explore the area around them while knowing where the parent is located.
- Avoidant Attachment. The parent is rejecting and distant. The child feels insecure because of parent’s lack of response. They respond by avoiding the caregiver in times of need. Toddlers do not orient to the attachment figure when distressed. They may have strong emotional outbursts.
- Ambivalent Attachment. The parent is inconsistent, unpredictable and intrusive. The children may have clingy and dependent behaviors but reject the attachment figure when they try to interact. They do not have a feeling of security from the parent. They are difficult to soothe.
- Disorganized Attachment. The parent or caregiver has “frightening, dissociate, sexualized or otherwise atypical” responses to the child. The same person that is caring for the child is also a source of terror. The child shows fear and confusion around the caregiver. He/she has unpredictable behaviors. Disorganized attachment in infancy and early childhood is recognized as a powerful predictor for serious psychopathology and problem behaviors in children.
These 3 sample articles from the National Institute of Health highlight the research data in this field. The clinical expertise of the center is founded on empirical, tested research.
It is important to have a therapist who is able to use the lens of attachment in viewing relationship issues. Attachment Relationships can most often be repaired with willing participants and attachment informed therapeutic interventions.