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The Attachment Motivational System as a Guide to an Effective Therapeutic Process

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In this article, we have drawn upon the attachment motivational system (Bowlby, 1988; Lichtenberg, 1989; Shane, Shane, and Gales, 1997) as a guide to providing "positive new experience" as the cornerstone of therapeutic progress. We see positive new experience as paramount, over and above insight and/or interpretation because insight and interpretation are so varied among different theories. The common denominator that is effective in therapy, then, must be something beyond insight and interpretation. We call that therapeutic factor the positive new experience and will draw from attachment theory to understand its components. In addition, using the attachment motivation system and trauma research, we elaborate on why certain types of negative experiences in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis should be avoided. We address, in particular, harmful repetitions of traumatic relational patterns or traumatic events in the transference, overemphasis on the "empathic stance," and the search for motivation in patients’ behaviors where such a search may be based on the false assumption that all behavior is motivated. This latter category addresses aspects of behaving that may not be motivated; that is, they just "are," and as such, the search for and attribution of meaning in such instances may lead to failed understanding and insight and to faulty correctives. We have illustrated with clinical examples both positive new experience and three types of negative experiences to be avoided in treatment.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. Adult and Child Psychiatry, UCLA

Publication date: December 20, 2001

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