Skip to main content

Attachment-Based Intervention Strategies in Family Therapy with Survivors of Intra-Familial Trauma: A Case Study

Abstract

There is little research to date on the role of sibling relationships in mitigating attachment-related trauma. This paper is a clinical case study that illustrates the therapeutic process involved in working with siblings as well as the parent–child dyad, following a history of intra-familial trauma. We present an attachment-based treatment approach that recognizes and makes clinical use of a secure sibling attachment system. The process of facilitating therapeutic change in children with an insecure attachment style in relation to their parents, contrasted with a relatively secure sibling attachment system, is discussed. The implications of improved parent–child relationships on family outcomes, as well as on sibling relationships, are also explored.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. The term “avoidant” will be used throughout the paper to refer to avoidant, dismissing, or dismissing-avoidant attachment.

  2. For this case, the first author (M.F.) was the therapist, working under the supervision of the second author (R.M.).

  3. The concept of sharing “by proxy” refers to the phenomenon of a child being more likely, in the initial stages of therapy, to share traumatic memories on behalf of their sibling, instead of about their own experience.

References

  • Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: a psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bank, S. (1992). Remembering and reinterpreting sibling bonds. In F. Boer & J. Dunn (Eds.), Children’s sibling relationships: developmental and clinical issues (pp. 139–151). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bank, S., & Kahn, M. (1997). The sibling bond. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baradon, T., & Steele, M. (2008). Integrating the AAI in the clinical process of psychoanalytic parent-infant psychotherapy in a case of relational trauma. In H. Steele & M. Steele (Eds.), Clinical applications of the adult attachment interview (pp. 195–212). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bateson, G. (1972). (1972, 1999) Steps to an ecology of mind: collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology part III: form and pathology in relationship. University of Chicago Press, 1999, originally published. San Francisco: Chandler Pub. Co.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowlby, J. (1940). Personality and mental illness. Florence: Taylor & Frances/Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol 2. separation: anxiety and anger. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowlby, J. (1977). The making and breaking of affectional bonds: I. aetiology and psychopathology in the light of attachment theory. British Journal of Psychiatry, 130, 201–210. doi:10.1192/bjp.130.3.201.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1 attachment. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brennan, K. A., Clark, C. L., & Shaver, P. R. (1998). Self-report measure of adult attachment: an integrative overview. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 46–76). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bryant, B. K., & Litman, C. (1987). Siblings as teachers and therapists. J Child Contemp Soc, 19(3–4), 185–205.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cassidy, J., & Kobak, R. R. (1988). Avoidance and its relation to other defensive processes. In J. Belsky & T. Nezworski (Eds.), Clinical implications of attachment (pp. 300–323). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Caya, M. L., & Liem, J. H. (1998). The role of sibling support in high-conflict families. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 68(2), 327–333. doi:10.1037/h0080342.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Collins, N. L., & Read, S. J. (1990). Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(4), 644–663. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.58.4.644.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cummings, E. M., Schermerhorn, A. C., Davies, P. T., Goeke-Morey, M. C., & Cummings, J. S. (2006). Interparental discord and child adjustment: prospective investigations of emotional security as an exploratory mechanism. Child Development, 77(1), 132–152. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00861.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dozier, M., Stovall, K. C., & Albus, K. E. (1999). Attachment and psychopathology in adulthood. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: theory, research, and, clinical applications (pp. 497–519). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Edelstein, R. S., & Shaver, P. R. (2004). Avoidant attachment: exploration of an oxymoron. In D. J. Mashek & A. P. Aron (Eds.), Handbook of closeness and intimacy (pp. 397–412). Mahwah: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Feeney, J. A., & Noller, P. (1990). Attachment styles as a predictor of adult romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(2), 281–291. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.58.2.281.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Forehand, R., Long, N., & Brody, G. (1988). Divorce and marital conflict: relationship to adolescent competence and adjustment in early adolescence. In E. M. Hetherington & J. D. Arasteh (Eds.), Impact of divorce, single parenting, and stepparenting on children (pp. 155–167). Hilsdale: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Foroughe, M. F., & Muller, R. T. (2011). Dismissing (avoidant) attachment and trauma in dyadic parent–child psychotherapy. Psychol Trauma Theory Res Pract Policy, 4(2), 229–236. doi:10.1037/a0023061.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • George, C., Kaplan, N., & Main, M. (1996). Adult Attachment Interview. Unpublished manual, University of California, Berkeley, Department of Psychology

  • Goldsmith, J. (1982). The postdivorce family system. In F. Walsh (Ed.), Normal family processes (pp. 297–330). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Greenberg, M. T. (1999). Attachment and psychopathology in childhood. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: theory, research, and, clinical applications (pp. 469–496). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hetherington, E. M. (1988). Parents, children and siblings: Six years after divorce. In R. A. Hinde & J. Stevenson-Hinde (Eds.), Relationships within families (pp. 311–331). Oxford, England: Clarendon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jenkins, J. (1992). Sibling relationships in disharmonious homes: Potential difficulties and protective effects. In F. Boer & J. Dunn (Eds.), Children’s sibling relationships: developmental and clinical issues (pp. 125–138). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kelly, J. B. (2000). Children’s adjustment in conflicted marriage and divorce: a decade review of research. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 39(8), 963–973.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kempton, T., Armistead, L., Wierson, M., & Forehand, R. (1991). Presence of a sibling as a potential buffer following parental divorce: an examination of young adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 20(4), 434–438. doi:10.1207/s15374424jccp2004_12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Main, M., & Goldwyn, R. (1984). Predicting rejection of her infant from mother’s representation of her own experience: Implications for the abused-abusing intergenerational cycle. Child Abuse and Neglect, 8, 203–217. doi:10.1016/0145 2134(84)900097.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Main, M., Hesse, E., & Goldwyn, R. (2008). Studying differences in language usage in recounting attachment history: an introduction to the AAI. In H. Steele & M. Steele (Eds.), Clinical applications of the adult attachment interview (pp. 31–68). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., Gillath, O., & Nitzberg, R. A. (2005). Attachment, caregiving, and altruism: Boosting attachment security increases compassion and helping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(5), 817–839. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.89.5.817.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., Sapir-Lavid, Y., & Avihou-Kanza, N. (2009). What’s inside the minds of securely and insecurely attached people? the secure-base script and its associations with attachment-style dimensions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(4), 615–633. doi:10.1037/a0015649.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Muller, R. T. (2009). Trauma and dismissing (avoidant) attachment: Intervention strategies in individual psychotherapy. Psychother Theory Res Pract Train, 46(1), 68–81. doi:10.1037/a0015135.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Muller, R. T. (2010). Trauma and the avoidant client: attachment-based strategies for healing. New York: W.W. Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shumaker, D. M., Miller, C., Ortiz, C., & Deutsch, R. (2011). The forgotten bonds: the assessment and contemplation of sibling attachment in divorce and parental separation. Family Court Review, 49(1), 46–58. doi:10.1111/j.1744-1617.2010.01352.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Simpson, J. A. (1990). Influence of attachment styles on attachment relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(5), 971–980. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.59.5.971.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steele, H., & Steele, M. (2008). Ten clinical uses of the adult attachment interview. In H. Steele & M. Steele (Eds.), Clinical applications of the adult attachment interview (pp. 3–30). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Waldinger, R. J., Vaillant, G. E., & Orav, E. J. (2007). Childhood sibling relationships as a predictor of major depression in adulthood: a 30-year prospective study. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(6), 949–954. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.164.6.949.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mirisse F. Foroughe.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Foroughe, M.F., Muller, R.T. Attachment-Based Intervention Strategies in Family Therapy with Survivors of Intra-Familial Trauma: A Case Study. J Fam Viol 29, 539–548 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-014-9607-4

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-014-9607-4

Keywords

  • Attachment
  • Family
  • Sibling
  • Family therapy
  • Trauma
  • Violence