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Attachment Disorder Treatment for Adolescents

a teen talks to a therapist during attachment disorder treatmentAttachment disorder is when children fail to develop regular emotional bonds with their parents. A common sign is having challenges in forming or maintaining relationships. This disorder can lead to problems at school and later in life. Attachment disorder treatment is crucial for recovery. 

Attachments form between babies and their caregivers. If these bonds are broken or disrupted, lasting damage can occur. When a child has an attachment disorder, they experience anxiety and fear relating to their caregiver and other significant adults. For more about mental health treatment for adolescents, call us today at 855.940.6229

Reactive Attachment Disorder 

The style of parenting directly impacts the development of a child’s personality. When the parent provides a warm, positive environment during infancy, they form a secure attachment bond with the baby. The parent becomes the child’s primary source of security.  

When the relationship between the infant and caregiver breaks down, the child begins to develop a sense of insecurity and mistrust. This mistrust can lead to insecure attachments.  

Reactive attachment disorder is a pattern of behaviors exhibited by child and adult victims of severe abuse or neglect. Children with severe maltreatment in their caregiving experiences often develop symptoms like social withdrawal and defiance. Patients often suffer from severe emotional problems such as depression, violence, indiscipline, anxiety, social phobia, and low self-esteem. 

Symptoms of RAD 

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) exhibits considerable social skills and relationship problems. Adverse childhood events like physical abuse, neglect, parental separation, and divorce contribute to the onset of this disorder. Children with RAD often struggle to develop appropriate peer friendships, form close adult relationships, and maintain stable families of origin.  

Signs of reactive attachment disorder can include: 

  • The child is overly dependent upon their caregiver 
  • Excessive fear and anxiety around strangers 
  • Exhibiting disorganized or disruptive behavior at home or school 
  • Failure to develop age-appropriate social skills 
  • Lacking empathy toward peers and adults 
  • Lack of emotional connection between parent and child 
  • The individual does not seek comfort from others 
  • Avoidance of close relationships 
  • Showing little interest in others 
  • Anger when the patient cannot control situations 

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder 

Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) is often associated with being highly driven and focused on achieving goals. Experiencing severe stress, fear of rejection, or embarrassment is common with this disorder. Seeking attention through risky behaviors can occur, so avoidance of drugs and alcohol should be encouraged. Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) has only recently gained recognition as a distinct mental health condition. 

DSED has at least three significant symptoms: 

  1. Feeling anxious before going out and meeting new people 
  2. Avoiding certain situations 
  3. Experiencing intense urges to talk about personal matters 

DSED can have a prevalence of up to 20% in at-risk populations. There is no cure for DSED, but treatment options include cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. 

Risk Factors of Attachment Disorders 

Parental Alienation 

Parental alienation is when parents alienate their children from the other parent. The child begins to believe that they are better off without the other parent. Parents may manipulate the child into believing this through emotional abuse, physical violence, threats, and even lying. 

Parental alienation may also refer to a parent distancing themselves emotionally from a child. This causes the child to perceive the parent as rejecting and abandoning. This rejection can affect the child’s relationship with both parents. 

Early Stressful Events 

Attachment disorders may occur due to early life stressors. These stressors include physical abuse, neglect, parental divorce, trauma, or loss of a caregiver before age seven. In addition, inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity are common at ages two through six. 

Poor Emotional Regulation and Self-Awareness 

Disorders characterized by poor emotional regulation and self-awareness, such as oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. These specific disorders are risk factors for later attachment disorders. Children with disruptive behavior disorders may lack insight into their emotions and impulses and fail to recognize their own needs.  

A child with a history of disruptive behaviors and poor impulse control may endure repeated punishments. This leads to a sense of entitlement and low frustration tolerance. 

Attachment Disorder Treatment for Adolescents 

Attachment Behavior Analysis Therapy 

This is the first-line treatment for children and adolescents with attachment disorders. It focuses on teaching parents and caregivers basic parenting skills, including emotional regulation and parent-child bonding. 

Psychodynamic Treatments 

Psychodynamic treatments focus on the history of the patient and its effects. They address maladaptive patterns of thinking and behavior associated with trauma in childhood.  

Attachment-Based Family Therapy Treatment 

During this therapy, a therapist works with the entire family unit to identify underlying issues that may lead to conflict, illness, and dysfunction. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps patients recognize dysfunctional beliefs and develop alternative, healthier thoughts, and behavioral strategies.  

Attachment Disorder Treatment in Massachusetts 

Attachment disorders can be challenging to understand and handle, making parents feel like they are struggling to help their adolescent children. Parents of adolescents with attachment disorders can often feel lost and alone. They may not know where to turn for help or how to best support their child. 

If your adolescent loved one is struggling with an attachment disorder, contact the Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness (MCAW) today at 855.940.6229. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our attachment disorder treatment program.