Create the family you want to have

Finding a therapist for a traumatized and/or attachment disordered child

Some elementary school counselors use books an...

Some elementary school counselors use books and other media to help their counseling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As therapist who specializes in both trauma and attachment disorders, I can tell you it is important if you are searching for a therapist for one or both of these issues, that you find the right therapist for your child.  Doing so will save you a lot of money and aggravation and is more likely to speed the healing time for your child.  To start, look at my post on  finding the right therapist for you or your child (you can find the link at the bottom of this post).  With these particular children, and probably people with other specialized issues as well, there are further steps you would want to take to ensure that you have the right person.  I see the steps for this particular issue as follows:

1.  Figure out if your child has “only” trauma, or has trauma with attachment related issues.  Here is the distinction, a child with trauma without attachment disturbance usually experienced a one time occurence, or something that happened over a relatively short period of time and was quickly identified.  Trauma with attachment related issues is trauma that also impacts a child’s ability to bond with their caregivers in a healthy way, for example abuse or neglect by a primary caregiver or ongoing abuse or neglect that a child did not disclose.  If you feel as though your child’s trust in adults to provide care for them has been altered significantly, you will want to see someone with knowledge of attachment related issues.  To clarify this distinction, a teenager carrying on a short-term, secret relationship with a much older adult that they thought was younger or who was tricked into a situation where they kept a secret because they were breaking the rules when they were traumatized does not fall into this category of attachment disturbance.  It is within reason to anticipate that teenagers will try to stretch or break the rules and it does not signify a break in a child’s core ability to trust that their parents will care for them.  A teenager whose step sibling was abusing them for an extended period of time whenever their sibling came to stay at the home does fall under the category of possible attachment disturbance.  The difference is the primary caregivers were around at the time of the trauma and did not know to stop it, while in the first example, the teen was doing an activity it would be reasonable to assume is developmentally expected but someone took advantage of them inappropriately.  When in doubt, I would see someone who specializes in both trauma and attachment.   If you find that there is an attachment related issue for your child’s situation, I would always make sure to take the child to a therapist that understands attachment because in order to work on attachment disorders or disturbance, you must know about trauma since the two go hand in hand.

2.  Once you have determined whether you are looking for a therapist with trauma training or whether you need someone with an attachment and trauma focus, follow the steps from my first post on finding a therapist and ask these additional questions.

  • What is your training in attachment and trauma?
  • What recent trainings have you attended or conducted that relate to attachment and/or trauma?
  • How do you conduct your sessions?

The answers to these questions, if you are talking to the correct therapist, should indicate that the person stays actively engaged in seeking training for attachment and trauma related issues.  Additionally, an attachment specialist will indicate to you that you will be in the room for most, if not all, of the time that your child is in therapy with them.  Attachment oriented therapy is significantly different in that a therapist focuses much more on your relationship with your child rather than their relationship with your child.  In traditional therapy including therapy for singular trauma, you would take your child to see the therapist, you might check in with the therapist at the beginning or the end, then your child would see the therapist alone for the majority of the session.

While traditional therapy is effective with many children, for children with attachment disturbance, it can actually damage a child’s relationship with their parent.  I have seen this happen, since a child with attachment disturbance has a tendency to reject caregivers, and, while they are alone with a therapist they may talk to their therapist about how terrible and difficult their parents are.  The therapist and child will bond over this and the therapist shakes their head in disbelief, meanwhile they may be overlooking a parent who is really trying their hardest to meet the child’s needs while reinforcing for the child that the caregivers in their lives are, in fact, inadequate.  Remember, children with attachment disturbance see adults as unsafe on some level and tend to fit them into these categories.  A skilled attachment therapist will spot when a child is doing this and help them to retrain their system of trust by teaching them how to find trustworthy adults and by training the adults in their lives to be trustworthy in the way the child needs them to be.  To learn more about attachment disturbance you can see my post linked below “What is attachment disorder?”

**A note to providers- I understand that you have seen parents who are, in fact, inadequate.  For this post, I am assuming that a parent who cares enough to read this post is adequate because they are involved and caring enough to research this issue.

Stay tuned for my post on getting specialized treatment for your child- the things insurance companies won’t tell you that can help you get your child’s treatment paid for.

April 16, 2012 - Posted by | attachment, attachment disorder, health insurance, help for parents, thinking about therapy? | , , , , , ,


  1. You are so right about the child bonding with therapist and complaining. As the parent, I’ve seen our therapy sabataged as soon as that happened. The child manipulates and deceives and therefore no progress is made. Keep up the great work!

    Comment by daniellesstory | April 17, 2012 | Reply

  2. Great advice, very helpful!
    Can I send you my stepdaughter to use as a case study? Feel free to traumatise her as much as you’d like 🙂
    Only kidding, I love her to bits, but one question:

    Step daughter never had her abusive biological father in her life to any great extent. She is comfortable and trusting of new stepfather – yet when biological mother steps out the house for a few minutes, child becomes almost inconsolable with tears, stating “mommy’s gone”. Sure, she can be distracted, but it’s a regular occurrence and wondering if there’s something underlying a 3.5 year old behaving that way?

    Comment by GorillaParenting | April 17, 2012 | Reply

    • Hello, thanks for your question and for your “likes,” following, etc. 🙂 To answer your question without seeing the 3.5 year old, I would have to say acting like your mommy is on a train leaving the country to leave for a month when she is actually going to the grocery store for 10 minutes without you is, I’m sure you will be happy to know, quite normal. Although if it is long lasting and she is not easily comforted after a few minutes- maybe 10 at most let me know and we can talk about ways to help her feel better.

      Comment by help4yourfamily | April 17, 2012 | Reply

    • I am a mother of 3 and woekrd until my oldest was 4 1/2. At that time, I quit my job as a teacher to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. My youngest started kindergarten today. I have volunteered in my children’s classrooms for the past 2 years and will continue to do so this year. Volunteering is one of the most satisfying experiences you will ever have! You get to know all of your children’s classmates on a personal level and it allows you to participate in your children’s lives on a whole new level. There are many wonderful public schools out there! Do some research. Talk to some parents who have children attending the schools. This is the era of choice. If you live in a district that is unsatisfactory, you can open enroll and choose a school that works for you. No school is perfect, but with parental involvement, all schools are made better!

      Comment by Jagadish | June 22, 2012 | Reply

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