Attachment issues

Attachment is the deep emotional bond formed between a child and their caregiver. The quality of this attachment is critical for the emotional and social development of children. In addition, it has an enduring effect on the nature of future relationships and wellbeing.

Attachment theory explains how this bond develops and how different styles of attachment are formed. A secure style of attachment leads to the best outcomes for people. Secure attachment lays the foundations for resilience and stable, positive relationships in adulthood. It is most likely to develop when caregivers respond sensitively to the child’s needs and provide reliable and consistent care.

For various reasons, when children do not receive sufficient care, they may not develop a secure attachment style. This can adversely affect relationships and mental health in both childhood and adulthood. There is no quick, complete fix for attachment issues. However, with appropriate support and a skillful therapist, it is possible to develop positive, healthy relationships.

Types of attachment issues

There are two broad types of attachment:

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM 5) recognizes two types of attachment disorders. These are diagnosed during childhood, where a child has experienced extremes of insufficient care.

While there are no formal diagnoses for attachment issues in adults, the effects of the attachment style formed in childhood can be seen in adulthood. For example, adults may continue to have difficulty with close relationships or experience codependency. Or, they may struggle with symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges. It’s equally important for adults and children to receive help.

Causes of attachment issues

A number of different situations can lead to an increased likelihood of developing an attachment issue. Children are at increased risk if:

Prevalence of attachment issues

There currently isn’t enough data available to determine the prevalence of RAD and DSED in the general population. One UK study found that 1.4% of deprived children met diagnostic criteria for RAD. (1) In a Norweigan study, researchers diagnosed RAD in 19.4% of foster children, revealing a relatively high prevalence. (2)

Some sources estimate that around 35% of American middle-class children have an insecure attachment style, although it does not necessarily follow that they are experiencing one of the diagnosable conditions described above.

Symptoms of attachment issues

If you or a child experience some of the following symptoms, seek an evaluation from a qualified mental health professional for attachment issues:

Some of these symptoms are similar to those of other mental health diagnoses, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or Depression. Therefore, if you experience some of these symptoms, it’s important to see a qualified mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Treatments options for attachment issues

There are a number of treatment options to help support children and adults with attachment issues, but therapy is an important component. Effective treatment usually involves a combination of the following:

Therapy for attachment issues

There is a range of therapeutic approaches available that can help people experiencing attachment issues, including:

It’s important to consider different therapy types and how they resonate with you before choosing. If you’re unsure, your prospective therapist is a great person to seek advice from.

What to look for in a therapist for attachment issues

The best-fitting therapist depends on individual factors, symptoms, your location and finances. Other factors to consider include:

The best way to judge how you might feel about a therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. This also enables you to ask about their experience and what therapy with them will be like. Try to speak to a few different therapists before deciding on a provider.

Find therapists specializing in attachment issues

Find therapists who specialize in attachment issues on Zencare. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!

Sources and references

  1. Minnis, H., et al., (2003). Prevalence of reactive attachment disorder in a deprived population
  2. Lehmann, S., et al., (2013). Mental disorders in foster children: a study of prevalence, comorbidity and risk factors
  3. Bowlby, Richard. Attachment Theory: How to help young children acquire a secure attachment (PDF).
  4. Elizabeth E. Ellis & Abdolreza Saadabadi, Reactive Attachment Disorder
  5. Medscape, Attachment Disorders