Website content copyright © 2015 Chris Purnell
My theoretical approach to psychotherapy is attachment-based and psychoanalytic. This means that I draw upon the attachment theory of Bowlby and subsequent attachment research, plus my own knowledge of adult attachment gained through personal research, to help me to understand you as an individual. I also draw upon concepts from psychoanalytic theory to further understand some of the unconscious patterns that may be getting repeated in your close relationships, and which may also emerge as part of a therapeutic relationship that we might develop.
A Secure Base
A primary focus of an attachment-based approach is to offer you what Bowlby called a Secure Base. This is a space where you feel sufficiently safe and secure to begin to talk about and explore the difficulties that you may be experiencing. Safety and security is not just about the physical environment, but also about feeling heard and understood as you begin to talk about the things might be troubling you. A psychotherapeutic secure base is as much about the relationship between you and your therapist as it is about the environment. It is also about feeling safe enough to explore the particular relationship that you develop with your therapist. This is important because within this relationship you are likely to repeat some of the patterns of relating that you have previously learned. The purpose of having a secure base from which to explore is so that you can if you wish, revisit past experiences that may have been very difficult or traumatic, and gain a clearer understanding of how they are influencing your current life. A clearer understanding can help you to change old patterns and to consider new ways of dealing with relationships or the particular difficulty that is concerning you.
Although I do not practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I do incorporate ideas that CBT has claimed as its own, but which are in fact also part of an attachment-based approach. The way that we develop strategies for handling close relationships is based upon the information that we receive about other people as we interact with them. There are two forms in which this information is processed – through how we think about it and also through the feelings that the information generates within us. Both forms of information are equally as important, but if there is an imbalance, i.e. overly rigid thinking and restricted feeling, or overwhelming feeling but restricted thought or reflection about thinking, it results in distortions that will influence the way in which we are able process information and thus our perceptions about ourselves and about other people. This in turn will influence the ways in which we then handle relationships. Therapeutic work might involve the need to address some of these distortions and imbalances, which are also likely to manifest within a therapeutic relationship. The ultimate aim would be to support the development of a more secure way of being in close relationships.
Trauma and Loss
Something that has become very clear to me through listening to accounts given by adults is that the severity of a childhood loss or trauma does not alone determine whether the experience remains unresolved. If there was also an experience of the love, care and protection that is part of a secure caregiving relationship, then there is also a possibilty for a child to grow up with a secure attachment in spite of very significant losses and traumas. Where there is inadequate care and protection, a child has only its own resoucefulness and ability to adapt to fall back on. Adaptation without adequate security and protection from a caregiver increases the likliehood that experience of trauma or loss will remain unresolved. This means that it may be blocked out consciously or unconsciously or it may become a preoccupation that is impossible to let go of. Either way it is has the potential to distort or disrupt current relationships, and so a task in therapy might be to find some form of resolution that will allow a more secure way of being in close relationships.