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A New Era for Couple Therapy: Theory, Research, and Practice in Concert

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In this plenary address, presented at the Emotionally Focused Therapy “Summit” in 2006, Sue Johnson describes attachment theory as the new way of understanding adult love. It provides the road map for couple therapists to make their way through the complicated territory of adult attachment and attachment injuries. She suggests that couple therapy is more than a set a techniques in search of a theory because attachment theory offers a language for adult love—for effective dependency. The points made in this plenary include:

  • 1) People's most basic need is for a safe emotional connection;
  • 2) Seeking a safe haven is a sign of strength, not enmeshment or weakness;
  • 3) This connection provides a secure base to deal with the world;
  • 4) Fights that matter are about the quality of the emotional connection—mutual emotional accessibility and responsiveness;
  • 5) Separation distress follows the pattern of protest, clinging on, to abandonment rage;
  • 6) Intense emotions are the key organizers of the relationship “dance,” anguish and sadness, shame, fear of rejection, abandonment, and loss;
  • 7) Emotions around insecure relationships are managed either by spiralling anxiety (turning up the attachment signals) or by avoidance and shutting down the attachment system;
  • 8) Our sense of self depends is shaped by our attachment to others—if we are securely attached we see ourselves as trustworthy, dependable, lovable, entitled to care;
  • 9) Visual interactions are more important than words alone.