Teen Attachment Issues Treatment

Treatment Center for Teens with Attachment Issues

As a parent, it can sometimes be difficult to identify what your child is struggling with specifically. They may be having trouble making friends, their grades may be plunging, or they may be isolating themselves but you may have a hard time figuring out exactly what’s at the root of the issues. Attachment issues, or an “insecure attachment” as they are known clinically, are the inability of individuals to develop and sustain secure attachments with others. This can lead to difficulty socializing with others, feeling close to parents, or trusting a therapist they see on an outpatient basis.

Finding a residential treatment center that specializes in working with teens with attachment issues and co-occurring mental health struggles can help your teen develop a stronger support system and heal from attachment issues.

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

Table of Contents

Why choose a treatment center for teens with attachment issues?

Attachment issues and disorders are most certainly treatable. The key to success with attachment disorder in teens treatment is early comprehensive assessment and intervention. This allows treatment programs to guide young people towards healthy ways to meaningfully connect to family members and individuals in their community. Generally, the approach to treatment is a combination of family, individual, and a variety of group therapies.

Residential treatment centers, like Elevations RTC, specialize in working with adolescents who have experienced significant histories with mental health struggles and a level of disruption of attachment development. As a all gender treatment program that offers a typical school experience, Elevations helps teens build healthy relationships in a real-world environment.

What are the causes of attachment issues in teens?

When detecting potential insecure attachments among students, our initial approach has always been to defer to attachment behavior theory. This theory explains that attachment issues are caused by certain situations (i.e. adoption, abusive primary caregiver, etc) that create an inability to form a secure bond with the primary caregiver.

However, we’ve learned that this is not always the case.  It wasn’t until our clinicians began to view insecure attachment through the lens of developmental trauma that these puzzle pieces of attachment began fitting together and helped uncover what picture the puzzle was putting together. Elevations RTC is dedicated to staying up-to-date on current research and therapies as the puzzle of attachment and trauma continues to expand in years to come.

There are several risk factors associated with developing attachment issues, including:

  • Frequent changes in caregivers
  • Parent divorce or remarriage
  • Mother who has post-partum depression
  • Parents with mental health struggles, substance issues, or anger management problems
  • Physical health problems at a young age
  • Being removed from a neglectful or abusive home
  • Institutional care, extreme neglect
  • Being adopted
  • Living in an orphanage

How is developmental trauma connected to attachment issues?

We’ve recognized that the common denominator in teens with attachment issues is that they have experienced developmental trauma, which includes trouble bonding with their primary caregiver but can also extend to other types of interpersonal conflict. This knowledge can be helpful in detecting potential insecure attachments; especially if specific trauma hasn’t been reported in the past and the student is experiencing trauma symptoms.

Attachment issues tend to be ongoing, while many traumatic events are recurrent, or involve multiple, isolated events. Developmental trauma shapes one’s belief system in relationships, compared to traumatic events that shape one’s anxiety in relationships, particularly soon after the event.

For many students, their developmental trauma may include pre-verbal experiences which have contributed to the disruption of the attachment process. This means there are no words, memories, or images to be able to process or address in therapy. As a result, it is easier to identify attachment issues by looking for signs of relationship struggles than trying to name adverse childhood experiences.

What are signs of attachment issues in teens?

Every teen has a unique attachment style that is characterized by adaptive (or maladaptive) responses to relationships. Almost half of teenagers have a secure attachment with their parents. Types of attachment issues might include anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, or disorganized attachment, which is characterized by a combination of the previous two styles.

Teens who struggle with anxious or insecure attachment are more likely to be clingy in relationships and have trouble being by themselves or doing things independently. Anxious attachment stems from inconsistency in relationships, such as if one divorced parent has primary custody and the other is in and out of their lives or if one parent struggles with substance use and is only present during periods of sobriety.

Teens who struggle with avoidant attachment have trouble developing intimacy in relationships and trusting others. They are more likely to grow up with parents that worked all the time or in a single-child household where they were treated more like a self-sufficient mini adult than a child.

Some signs of attachment issues might include:

  • Avoidance of eye contact.
  • Avoidance of physical contact.
  • Rejection of touch or attempts at emotional connection.
  • Frequent, inconsolable crying.
  • A tendency to self-comfort.
  • A lack of interest in socializing.
  • Emotionally detached
  • Unresponsive or resistant to comforting
  • Socially withdrawn
  • Trouble understanding social boundaries
  • Separation anxiety
  • Fear of being clingy
  • Trouble trusting and opening up to others
  • Seeks attention from anyone
  • Displays inappropriate childish behavior
  • Frequently asks for help doing things
  • Manipulative and controlling in a relationship
  • Blames others for their mistakes or challenges
  • Destructive, defiant behavior

What are some examples of therapeutic approaches that our professionals may use with students who struggle with attachment issues?

As there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach for teens with a wide range of attachment issues, our clinical team is trained in a variety of therapeutic approaches and integrate different techniques based on the diagnostic and individual needs of the client and their family.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Our clinical programming is based around the modules of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, known as DBT. One of the four main DBT skills, interpersonal effectiveness, teaches students techniques that allow a person to communicate with others in a way that is assertive, maintains self-respect, and strengthens relationships. DBT treatment typically consists of individual therapy sessions and DBT skills groups.
  • Family Systems Models. Structural family therapy (SFT) is a treatment that addresses patterns of interaction that create problems within families. The goal of SFT is to improve communications and interactions among family members and to highlight appropriate boundaries to create a healthier family structure. We also use principles of internal family systems to highlight how teens have developed different “parts of themselves” to respond in different relationships and in different social interactions.
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that treats problems and boosts happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Trauma-focused CBT focuses on solutions for social struggles rather than processing traumatic events that have affected relationships, encouraging patients to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior.
  • Group Therapy. In group therapy, students learn to share with others and to provide mutual support. This helps them build evidence that they can be vulnerable in relationships without someone “leaving them” and is a great way to practice social skills.

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What specialized groups are offered at Elevations that focus on attachment issues and adoption?

At Elevations, we help students create individualized schedules by offering specialty processing groups based on specific diagnoses or special topics on a rotating basis. For example, we may offer processing groups based on trauma for a few weeks, a group based on attachment issues for a few weeks, and a group on healthy relationship dynamics for a few weeks. Groups rotate based on our therapists’ areas of research and specialties.

Specialty groups help students thoughts and feelings, such as all gender interactions, trauma that they’ve experienced, and strengthening social skills and self-esteem, in smaller groups of peers that have gone through similar struggles.

What aspects of the therapeutic milieu at Elevations can help students who struggle with attachment issues?

The therapeutic process is complex, as is the impact of stressful life experiences. Trust and safety in the therapeutic relationship is foundational to the healing process. Relationships heal relational trauma.

This is why we are a relationship-based program where staff try to build rapport with students rather than solely serve as authority figures. We also encourage family involvement through weekly family therapy, flexible visitation schedules, and quarterly parent seminars. Being in a all gender environment can help teens develop healthy relationships with people of all genders. For example, if a teen girl has grown up with negative experiences around males, they may struggle with trusting them as much as they would their female peers. However, isolating them from males may only reinforce this anxiety rather than helping them confront it.

Healing that occurs in a community setting helps teens challenge their negative belief systems about relationships and develop a more positive outlook on interactions with others.