approaching therapy

musings as they come, and as they evolve …

attachment vs differentiation

without comments

Couples work is very hard.  That’s why I am fond of that quote, supposedly attributed to a Buddhist Monk: 

“The hardest thing is another person.”

There are several kinds of couples therapy.

One kind helps couples create safety together.  That’s called attachment-focused work.

Another kind helps couples stand on their own two feet, so you aren’t dependent on someone seeing you, validating you, hearing you, agreeing with you, etc.  That’s called differentiation work.

At its worse, I think the therapy that fosters attachment keeps people dependent on each other, and it doesn’t work because when people need comfort the most, it’s when there is triggering going on.  And in those times, because each person is knee deep in his or her own stuff, you can’t depend on the other person to help.  The only thing you have a choice in is how you might respond to the other person.

And at its worse, I think therapy that focuses on differentiation denies what it is to be fundamentally human – that we do care what others think of us (as humans, our sense of self derives FROM others, whether it’s measured by what people say to us or how they view our accomplishments), and that people can help each other by being kind to each other.  Perhaps by holding an empathic or compassionate space long enough for the partners to get back on their own two feet.

Here’s an article on attachment-focused work:

Here’s an article on differentiation:

I like the model that is held by John Welwood, which offers the best integration of the different sides.  And ultimately, I like to keep in mind a model written about in the book Undefended Love.


Written by David

September 1st, 2017 at 8:47 am

Posted in couples

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.