Attachment-Based Family Therapy

Family therapy is a core component of Charlie Health’s Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). Learn how practices like attachment-based family therapy can provide you with the tools to resolve conflict and foster healthy communication within your family. 

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Family Therapy

Family therapy is a type of counseling that focuses on the family system instead of on individual family members. Through practices such as attachment-based family therapy and multidimensional family therapy, teens and their loved ones have an opportunity to improve communication skills, resolve difficult issues, and cope with major life challenges.

Family therapy can help you better understand another person’s emotions, behaviors, and problems, while addressing challenges such as:

  • Major life transitions (new move, new job or school, divorce, etc.)
  • Mental health or substance use disorders
  • Conflicts over screen time, friends, or curfews
  • Problems between siblings or other family members
  • Loss of a loved one

What is attachment-based family therapy?

Attachment-based family therapy (ABFT) is a trust-based, emotion-focused intervention that was designed to support anxious, depressed, and suicidal adolescents and their families. In addition to improving mental health and wellbeing, the goal of ABFT is to decrease family conflict, repair family relationships, and encourage an emotionally secure relationship between adolescents and their parents (or caregivers).

A teen boy and his father sit outside and are talking about mental health
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Who will benefit from ABFT?

An attachment-based approach can be used for individuals, couples, families, and groups. It’s specifically helpful for:

  • Adopted children, teens, and young adults
  • Children in foster care or with a tumultuous home life
  • Children whose parents are depressed
  • Children, teens, and young adults who have experienced abuse or trauma

Teens and young adults who are depressed and/or suicidal

How ABFT works

Attachment-based family therapy is built on five treatment phases:

  1. The relational reframe
    The goal here is for family members to better understand what damaged the trust in the first place so that they can focus on repairing their relationship going forward. 
  2. The adolescent alliance
    During this component of ABFT, the therapist will conduct individual sessions with the teen to review their strengths, interests, and concerns. They'll also help the teen to better understand and be prepared to discuss the specific issues they have with their parents.
  3. The parent alliance
    Similarly, the therapist will conduct individual sessions with the parents. During this time, they’ll explore any attachment issues the parents may have and how those issues may affect their parenting skills.
  4. Attachment conversation
    A critical step in the process, this is when family members meet to resolve problems and build the foundation for a more securely attached relationship. Teens are prepared to share their concerns in an emotionally-regulated way, while parents demonstrate empathy and understanding.
  5. Adolescent autonomy
    The final stage of ABFT is to promote autonomy and independence for teens. Here, parents should support their child in making their own choices and taking responsibility for their actions. 

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Family systems therapy

As the name suggests, family systems therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps family units unpack and understand their problems. During family systems therapy, each family member has an opportunity to explore their individual role within the family as they resolve issues that directly impact one or more family members. The goal is to support the person who is struggling or suffering, as well as to restore and rebuild family relationships.

Solutions-focused family therapy

Solutions-focused family therapy is a therapeutic approach that focuses on solutions rather than problems. The first step is for a person to understand how their life will be different when the problem is resolved, followed by working with their therapist and others to create a realistic and sustainable solution for change.Examples include prompts to help develop goals, present and future-focused questions, scaling questions (rating something 1 to 10), and coping questions to encourage a person to recognize their determination and resilience.

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Family skills building

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are two of the most common types of psychotherapy used to treat mental and behavioral health conditions. Both are collaborative forms of talk therapy that were designed to help individuals better understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT and DBT can be especially useful for families and parents who are learning how to be more supportive to their teens and young adults.

Which form of therapy is right for my family?

If you’re still debating attachment-based family therapy versus or other forms of therapy models—please know that is normal. Mental health care isn’t one-size-fits-all, so it’s important to find a care plan that is unique to your family.

A good place to start is by documenting problematic behaviors and patterns, as well as your family goals. From there, your therapist will be best positioned to help explore the right form of therapy for your family.

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