Thursday, August 23, 2012

Using Attachment Figures

 By Mark Chidley, LMHC, CAP
Certified Practitioner, Rapid Resolution Therapy

In Rapid Resolution Therapy we use attachment figures as the cornerstone piece in relieving what we term as "frozen grief. Frozen grief is the disturbance left in a person's mind after the impact of the physical passing of a loved one. An abiding sense of loss, sadness, regret, or being cut off from the person is the common experience of so many for whom the impact couples with the limitations of our five senses to create this special kind of pain. Frozen grief is accentuated by circumstances of a passing that leave the survivor with the sense that the departure was too early, unfair, abrupt, could have been prevented, or that enough wasn't done.

Attachment figure is one with whom we share a special kind of bond, the attachment bond. We only form these with people our minds recognize as crucial to our survival, some think with only a few people in a lifetime. They are those whom we know have our back, can always be counted on to be there for us. They literally form the secure base and safe haven that we need to launch into the world to explore our identities and capacities as we make the journey through life. They could be a parent, a grandparent, a sibling or some other central figure early on, and later, in adulthood, a spouse or partner. No wonder their passing or even threatened separation is often felt so traumatically.

But years later these figures can serve as valuable sources of inspiration and strength, as inner guides with timely support to get through troubled times. Their wisdom and unique talents live inside us, unless frozen grief blocks our access to them. Or it happens that we may have simply forgotten the learnings they gave us that we still possess.

I'm thinking of a case where a very downtrodden caretaking man couldn't shake his chronic depression and the feeling he could never do enough for the wife who had long since detached from their relationship, but with whom he still lived. The therapist tried to use reasoning, empathy, insight, a host of tools, and was getting nowhere. She then asked him who was the one person he could go to with his hurts and needs as a child. He indicated he could go to his mother. She then brought mother imaginatively into the room with considerable therapeutic preparation and skill. When the man was ready to listen, the mother told her son he'd done enough, that he was dying inside this relationship, and that it was time to take care of himself.  He responded to a source of wisdom and support that he had inside all along, but that he'd forgotten how to access. He eventually moved on to a better life with a total remission of his depression. Attachment figures can be used in this way by skilled therapists.

I was initially certified in Gestalt Therapy, and we used the double chair technique regularly to call upon the qualities of a beloved figure to help the participant through some current life dilemma. It would often go well, but just as often I'd get a participant who just couldn't connect through dialogue. They'd say something like, "This just feels too weird talking to him like this, can't we do it some other way?"

I didn't understand it then but I know now, I was trying to do an end run around the critical, logic-oriented conscious mind without the proper preparation. In RRT we've solved this problem through some special procedures that access the unconscious mind and unleash its power to follow a therapist into new connections. We regularly see Jon Connolly, RRT's creator, successfully get grieving persons back in touch with the experiences they've never truly lost and not just with their memories, but the attachment figure's essence, in a way that is healing, relieving, and life-giving. People come out of session with the color back in their faces, a lighter heart, and able to feel all their feelings again, once energy is no longer trapped in needless grieving.

In private moments when I'm troubled by something, I now practice what I've been taught. I get myself into a relaxed state where my conscious mind with its clumsy steerage isn't running the show, and I get back in touch with my grandfather's tender care, or my dad's dry wit that could bring any problem down to size, or my mom's incredible generosity which is my north star for getting back on track in relationships. They are all inside. It's just a matter of getting out of my own way.

Mark A. Chidley, LMHC, CAP, a fully licensed mental health counselor and certified addictions professional, offers counseling services at his office Kelly San Carlos Executive Center in Fort Myers, Florida.He has been in private practice since 1997. He holds certifications in Rapid Trauma Resolution (2010), Imago Relationship therapy (2001), and now specializes in the treatment of couples as well as individual trauma recovery and anxiety issues. He brings rich experience from a combined 26 years of hospital work and mental health counseling.

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