Questions to Consider When Selecting an Attachment or Trauma Therapist

Many professionals will say they are familiar with working with children with attachment disorders or trauma problems. The following are suggested topics to consider when deciding on which professionals to work with.

*         What training has the therapist received? How many hours of supervised training in attachment therapy? What specific trauma training have they received?  Was this training provided by a recognized, competent attachment therapist or trauma therapist?

*         Is the therapist licensed by the state in which they practice? Has the therapist ever been censured or disciplined by a State Licensing Board?

*         How long has the therapist been treating children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder, Developmental Trauma Disorder, or PTSD? 

*         How does the therapist keep up with the latest findings in this field?

*         What initial assessment of the child and the family is done prior to treatment?

*         Does this therapist have experience treating children of a similar age or with similar challenges as your child?

*         What are the treatment philosophies and goals?

*         What are the specialties or modalities this therapist is trained in?

*         What techniques are utilized? Are these explained prior to treatment?

*         What attention is given to helping the parents explore and heal their own issues?

*         Are the parents part of the treatment team, and in what way?**

 **It is very important that parents are included in the therapy sessions either as a participant or being able to see what is going on in therapy at all times.  Your overall goal is to have your child build a healthier attachment to you, not the therapist.  And children with RAD/DSED can use triangulation as a powerful tool meant to keep those trying to develop an intimate relationship with them at arm’s length.  Therapists who don’t include the parents in the therapy sessions present an opportunity for the child to triangulate the parent and therapist, which further harms the child and strains the family relationship. And frankly it causes the child to feel unsafe.  Plus, including the parents in the therapy gives therapists a great way to model and coach the parents on strategies that may work.

Sometimes therapists will offer telephone numbers of a few parents you can call, including families who the therapist is no longer seeing (assuming their children are healed).  Or ask the therapist to have other parents call you, if confidentiality is an issue.  The important thing is to get the chance to speak with other families who have used this therapist.  Also ask what the therapist recommends as far as reading and training for you as a parent.  If the therapist is familiar with and recommends books by Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. Dan Hughes, Deborah Gray, Dr. Dan Seigel, or the therapists certified under ATTACh, you can assume they have a working knowledge of trauma and attachment issues.  If the therapist mentions books by Dr. Bruce Perry, Dr. Bessel Van de Kolk or Dr. Dan Seigel, they have a basic understanding of trauma and its impact on children.

Similarly, children who are traumatized and manifest it through dissociative behaviors need very careful, nurturing, yet structured therapy.  Parents should be included in the sessions and listened to, as we usually know our children better than anyone, and are aware of the things that trigger their trauma.  Therapists who work with the parent/caregiver as a team often find better outcomes for the children they treat.  Parents need to realize that therapy is not a “quick fix” and that working on a healthy attachment/healthy relationship means that the parent will participate. Parents should also be open to pursuing therapy for themselves if suggested, so that the parents can better be available to be healing agents to their children.

All attachment & trauma therapy for children should be experiential.  Talk therapy with our children isn’t really therapeutic because in many cases the trauma happened prior to language development in and because the anxiety brought on by the trauma truly impacts the brain’s ability to process (using language) what has happened.

For more information on what constitutes good trauma-informed, attachment-focused therapy, we encourage you to join ATN and to explore our website and members only resources.

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