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When Is Attachment the Issue? with Bruce Ecker

Attachment Theory in Practice: NP0028 – Session 2

Explore how to determine when a client needs attachment-based treatment in therapy. Join Bruce Ecker as he describes a three-step process, based on memory reconsolidation, that deals with symptom-generating emotional learnings and how to resolve them.

After the session, please let us know what you think. If you ever have any technical questions or issues, please feel free to email

Posted in CE Comments, NP0028: Attachment Theory in Practice | Tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to When Is Attachment the Issue? with Bruce Ecker

  1. gkatzenstein says:

    Re: reconsolidation work: what does therapist focus on when client is resistant to experiencing the emotion of the contradiction between declarative statement and implicit memory? I imagine that seeing the loss of time, would be life experiences and error in perception could be very hard to allow into explicit memory and feeling. I’m thinking of Bruce Ecker’s example of the man who couldn’t change jobs. gkatzenstein

  2. As you indicated, when a client is guided into vivid knowledge that contradicts the emotional learning underlying the symptom—creating what we call a juxtaposition experience—resistance can develop if that dissolution would bring some initial grief or other distress. The resistance blocks the dissolution of the target learning. What the therapist then focuses on, in Coherence Therapy, is this: With sensitive respect for the client’s need for this self-protective resistance, the therapist focuses on bringing into awareness, in gentle, small-enough steps that are workable for the client, the specific loss or other distress that dissolution would bring. As the client becomes aware of and familiar with it, he or she becomes able to feel and process it emotionally. This eliminates the need for the resistance. (The guiding of a grief process is one form this phase can take; in fact, I did just that with the man who couldn’t change jobs, though I didn’t mention this in the webcast interview.) When the ramifications of dissolution feel tolerable to the client in all areas, the juxtaposition experience is repeated and now dissolution of the target learning readily occurs. Usually this focused resistance work requires a small number of sessions. We’ve addressed this important topic in some detail, with cases examples, in Unlocking the Emotional Brain. –Bruce Ecker

  3. jdombroski says:

    I was looking for that as well, KatCon.

  4. To KatCon, jdombroski and all: Here are the two online supplements I mentioned in the webcast:

    Free access to an online course in Coherence Therapy (normally US$33 tuition fee) titled:
    Obsessive Attachment to Former Lover: Transformational Change of Core Emotional Schemas
    Click here and then enter:
    UserID: coherence
    Password: therapy

    Free download of Chapter 1 of our recently-released Routledge book,
    Unlocking the Emotional Brain: Eliminating Symptoms at Their Roots Using Memory Reconsolidation by Bruce Ecker, Robin Ticic and Laurel Hulley
    Click here


  5. secret agent girl says:

    Very interesting and valuable work. Quite reminiscent of Alfred Adler’s theories and practice.

    I’m looking forward to the in-process manual being released. The lack of accessibility of trainings has been a disappointment.

  6. mario says:

    Interesting – I have been experiencing a reconsolidation of experience on my own – ongoing for a couple of years but did not know where to peg it – how classify it- with this information, I can look at it and work on it consciously. I work with very young children and am intrigued by seeing how I can incorporate this into my work with them.

  7. My practice is entirely devoted to adoption related concerns.My clients experience what I call premature maternal separation often in a preverbal developmental stage. They develop powerful implicit memories that profoundly effect their attachment relationships even as adults.They often react with anxiety to expressions of love. Shame anger and feelings of isolation all become part of the schema. They also experience feeling one way and thinking the opposite about the same concept as in I know I belong but I feel that I dont. This disconnection in, my opinion, drives much of the maladaptive behaviors and anxieties my clients experience.Your concepts appear to perfectly explain this. Cognitive therapy has little effect on them. Can you expand on this for me please?

    • Robert– Understood in terms of coherent emotional learning, the “disconnection” that you describe is the parallel existence of two different learned models of how primary-bond connection works: In the emotional brain there is the implicit learning, including all the feelings, of abandonment and aloneness as what is to be expected from primary-bond connection (generating the anxiety in response to expressions of love); and in the brain’s explicit (neocortical) memory networks there is all the autobiographical knowledge of being included and cared-for consistently in a stable family (generating a largely cognitive sense of “I know I belong”). The implicit memory and model of abandonment generates vigilance and a range of pre-emptive behaviors for protecting oneself from ever again suffering the infant’s experience of abandonment—behaviors such as, for example, disconnecting and abandoning first and fast, before the other person does. Similarly, to open deeply into trusting and feeling a primary-bond connection is absolutely the wrong and worst thing to do, according to the implicit learning, because that would be making oneself maximally vulnerable to the expected abandonment (and that’s a major reason why the long time of being in the adopted family has not engendered richly felt feelings of belonging). Such behaviors and avoidances are widely described as maladaptive, though to my mind it makes more sense to see them as adaptive but very high-cost solutions to a very real problem (abandonment) that the person knows is real and that could in fact actually happen again. “I’ve got to make sure that never, ever happens to me again” is a phrasing that has felt powerfully true to quite a few of my clients who live in this territory. In my experience, the therapeutic process that has been most effective and reliable for bringing a transformational change in this whole configuration relies heavily on having the client feel tenderly accompanied by the therapist, but does not aim for reparative attachment, that is, does not focus on creating experiences of secure attachment (because such experiences only trigger the self-protective, avoidant responses mentioned above). Rather, the focus is on guiding the client to self-compassionately face and feel (in small-enough steps to be workable) the abandonment that was suffered, in its many aspects—the hurt, the terror, the injustice, the helplessness, the deprivation, the desolation—as well as other feelings in response to these aspects (despair, rage, grief, etc.). Again, the therapist’s empathic accompaniment is what makes all this possible. This thorough, complex processing of feelings and meanings results finally in an adult identity-state that is compassionate toward but differentiated from the abandoned infant state and is no longer inhabiting the infant’s version of how it feels to be abandoned. That is the key that allows a liberating shift to occur. Emotional memory takes one’s past experience and turns it into an expectation of the future. But now the adult lucidly recognizes, “I would not again have an infant’s experience of abandonment.” Then all the self-protective solutions are no longer emotionally necessary, so they fall away.

  8. Carrie says:

    I appreciate Rich, but I get very frustrated with the way he interrupts the experts at exactly the moments they seem about to make their most salient points.

  9. J B Dubowski says:

    Golden information for me. Helps connect the dots between a lot of techniques and concepts underlying behaviors that we don’t understand in ourselves, and that our clients don’t understand. I will definitely investigate this further. I brought together mindfulness, neuroscience, and the relationship to the therapist beautifully.


  10. I would like to share another of my cases that can be understood with coherence therapy concepts.I mediated a reunion with a 9 year old child to his mother after 7 years of separation. Briefly, the child was abandoned by his addict mother after he struck his infant sister. She demanded he leave, stated she didnt love him anymore and never wanted to see him again. Grandfather removed him and raised him for the next 7 years. The child spent 14 months in residential treatment, is heavily medicated, and targets all females with violence when he doesnt get his way. He is heavily medicated, needed trauma work, threatens suicide, runs away, hates himself, and experiences intense shame in failure. At the age of 9 he began to ask insightful questions about his mother. They became a daily event and he just wouldnt let go of the feelings to know about her. I believed that his memories of abandonment, explicit and implicit, were driving his violent acting out. I suggested a reunion. Reunion is a complicated process I have mediated many of them. Its also very risky. I counseled the mother and child for 6 weeks preparing them. I had the child write 10 questions he wanted his mother to answer which I presented to her. I also showed the child a current picture of his mother. Separated children will create a fantasy mother image which becomes lost the instant they see their actual mother. I wanted to ease the shock of this transition. Then I brought them together. The child wouldnt make eye contact or speak to her for 90 minutes. They engaged in parallel play only. Then they began to carefully react to each other talking touching playing. The session lasted 2 and a half hours and I debriefed the child over dinner. More contact was by phone and more visits over the next 2 months. The result were the child stopped the violence within a week, began to talk about his feelings instead of acting out, increased his resiliency, school behavior improved, and his medications were cut in half. It was as if his brain was rebooted. What I believe happened was when he was with his mother his implicit memory was triggered and the synapses unlocked. His anger and rage was being experienced while at the same time he was overjoyed to be with her all in the same moment. The mind cant tolerate this kind of conflict so it reconsolidated the memory. I hate you was changed to I love you in that moment by his experience with her. Most adoption reunions have this effect of healing for both mother and child or adult but they can also be disasters. Its very risky. It was also very difficult for me as I am adopted and never met my birth mother. I struggled to maintain a differentiated position and had to constantly review my ideas about this case. My own implicit memories were being triggered as well.
    I hope this illustrates the process and would welcome reflection.

  11. I ran across this article while re-reading articles on memory reconsolidation. THe method I use and teach, BE SET FREE FAST™, uses a similar protocol of 1. deliberate symptom reactivation and SUDS rating; 2. activation and linking of a contradictory relaxation response by means of a cue word that triggers a subconsciously mediated erasure of part or all of elements of the emotional response and underlying emotional learning implicit in the symptom; 3. followed by an attempt to reactivate the symptom and giving a new SUDS rating. The process is repeated until there is no longer any symptom reactivation, and it does not seem to return. The paradoxical juxtaposition of the imagined or real problem context or trigger and a state of equanimity can be confusing to the client in some instances when the symptom has been an organizing theme in their sense of identity. The utility of BSFF is that when resistance, loss & grief, confusion, or whatever other aspects of the emotional learning surface in the processing, they can also each be treated simply by invoking (silently or aloud) the designated cue word. They usually resolve very quickly and fluidly, but sometimes special and careful attention and presence is required by the therapist in order to resolve them. We are finding that very thorough processing is possible within an hour’s session, although chronic and severe conditions can require longer and multiple sessions for complete erasure of problem-related states which drive behavior.

    Alfred Heath

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