The Use of a Transitional Attachment Object to Facilitate Psychotherapy.

[The excerpt below is taken from the manuscript – “The Sensation of Discovery”]

The Adult Attachment Repair Model “AARM“ can appear to be a deceptively simple process. This simplicity yields a physical healing script activated by a felt connection with the therapist. Do not be fooled by the appearances of simplicity when observing the use of a transitional attachment object (TAO) in the form of a stick shared between therapist and client. A therapist and client, on opposite ends of a stick, in a traditional counseling situation, with the client’s eyes closed, serve as conditions for guiding the client’s focus to passively permit their attention to drift to the dominant physical sensation in her body.

The client has a multitude of options in response to this seemingly strange request:

  • She may grasp her end of the stick confidently or tentatively, aggressively or meekly, curiously or resignedly and almost any other way you can imagine.
  • Sometimes, she may stall for time to think and ask more questions.
  • She may refuse.

Is she able to reach out for connection or not? Past experiences of attachment intersect with this offer of physical connection through the stick. A host of past experiences: child–adult, male–female, young–old, trust–distrust, hope–disappointment, safety–danger, security-vulnerability and many more routine human experiences are stimulated. In effect, the stick becomes an attachment thermometer instantly revealing the client’s attachment history from an energetic point of view. An attachment-deprived individual can only learn about bonding experience through feeling connected with another versus talking about it.
John Muir, an American Naturalist and American icon is pictured above. He introduced President Roosevelt to the concept of creating national parks as a way for the public to commune with the spectacular vistas of nature and feel enriched. He deeply understood how nature carries the unique ability to forge inner connection: “When we pick up a stick, we discover it is connected to everything in the universe… Unity has a second piece that is organic and flowing meaning that it is not simply that it has parts, but that the parts are connected and communicate in spontaneous ways that enhance our essence as human beings.”

Surfacing a body-narrative is the goal from the very first moment of contact via the TAO-stick. It and is erroneous to think that we are separate from one another, and detrimental to think that we are all one … This model suggests that people should interact with…another as different, yet not entirely separate, which can be a guide for the therapist-client relationship as well as healthy family and social relationships. Separate but united is how organicity works. Most attachment-deprived clients only know the separate part of life while developing a discomfort for uniting with others. The actions associated with the purposeful triggering of the client’s urge to hold on to the TAO-stick gives an attachment temperature like a thermometer for the therapist to read regarding the client’s level of motivation to connect (attach) above and beyond what the client might think about their ability to connect.

The therapist needs to support and acknowledge the client’s intention to form a healing bond, no matter how tentative. Immediately, a sensory narrative of some sort commences with the institution of the TAO-stick. The sensations she feels – cold or warm, light or heavy, streams of energy or empty and hollow – may occur immediately within the core of her body. As theses sensations shift and change, they will begin a narrative of physical sensation that has its roots in development all the way back to infancy. In a few simple moves, she has begun a corrective healing process that will activate her social engagement system and stimulate neurons in her attachment system revealing a body narrative that begins with spontaneously occurring comfortable or uncomfortable sensations.

The stimulation and tracking of these sensations produces a body narrative to replace the verbal narrative that has forever been the medium of exchange in most psychotherapeutic encounters. This is a significant paradigm shift from cognition to sensory awareness. This paradigm shift ignores the professional ethos about how to approach the emotional healing process when one considers that we as a profession have been pursuing talk therapy for more than a hundred years as a diverse group of professionals. After all this time, the main lesson gleaned at a neuro-biological level is that talking does not create the psycho-physiological changes indicative of biological healing where body-based neuro-modulating interventions do. See Schore , Porges, Perry and Siegel for research findings to support my claims.

[Manuscript available to registered trainees only]