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Cortina, M. (2015). The Use of Attachment Theory in the Clinical Dialogue with Patients. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 9(1):1-18.

(2015). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 9(1):1-18

The Use of Attachment Theory in the Clinical Dialogue with Patients

Mauricio Cortina

Attachment theory specifically addresses the ability to use an attachment figure as a haven of safety and base of exploration. While many other relational issues are important during the development, a foundation of trust based on having positive expectations that others will be available when needed is clearly relevant in the practice of psychotherapy. Yet many patients come in with histories of insecure or even disorganised attachment and have suffered different forms of maltreatment. Understanding affect-regulating strategies, defensive processes, and transference and countertransference patterns associated with insecure or disorganised patterns is enormously useful during the clinical exchange. In addition to paying attention to affect regulation strategies, it is important to note that two other motivational systems may become co-opted for defensive purposes in order to cope with disorganised attachment: the caregiving system and the ranking system (the latter being the legacy of dominance hierarchies we observe in primates). The other theme in this article is the importance of paying attention to a cooperative and social engagement motivational system (sometimes referred sometimes to as a social or affiliative motive) in building a therapeutic alliance. This prosocial motive is not about safety (attachment) but about sharing and developing positive social relations with others (Cortina & Liotti, 2010). The article explores the significance of building on this cooperative and social engagement system when there is not a foundation of trust based on a secure attachment history.

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