We’re two aging therapists who’ve worked with abused children and adolescents for many years and are keenly interested in the neurobiology of attachment. We met a few years ago, when we were asked to work with an agency that wanted to incorporate an attachment-based model in their treatment of highly stressed kids, teens, and their parents. This story of the new therapeutic path that emerged as a result of this collaboration starts, as so many do, with a failure.
There was one case at that time that Dan found particularly galling. He’d begun providing treatment for a young mother, Rebecca, and her 4-year-old son, Eric. The family doctor had described her as being a tense, discouraged mother, overwhelmed by the day-to-day responsibilities of caring for her son. Still, she’d seemed to want help for herself and her son, and agreed to see a therapist.
Yes, she said, when Dan did her intake; she was discouraged, all right—and frustrated! Eric was impossible! Why wouldn’t he just do what she asked? Why was everything a fight? Why wouldn’t he play by himself when she just wanted to relax? Why wouldn’t he eat? Sleep? The list of complaints seemed endless.
By contrast, Rebecca recalled how happy she’d been when he’d been an infant. He needed her! He loved her! She didn’t think that she’d ever felt as close to anyone as she’d felt to him. Certainly, she told Dan, she’d never felt close to her own parents. When they weren’t fighting with each other, they were…