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Attunement and the Therapeutic Relationship

During the first few years of life the ability of a mother to be attuned to the needs of her infant is crucial to their development. Failure at the early stages to create a sense of safety results in insecure attachment as research by theorists such as Bowlby and Winnicott tells us. However, from a secure attachment to a primary caregiver the child learns how to build relationships and feel safe in the world.  To provide a safe environment a parent needs to create boundaries – to be mindful of when the child is going too far and may hurt themselves or when they need to be encouraged to try new things. The space created by the parent then is one where the child learns that it is okay to relax and enjoy the experience and is a safe base from which to explore the world. 

 This is a similar experience that occurs in the therapeutic  relationship.  My professional boundaries are created and held within the guidelines of the BACP Ethical Framework. My person-centred background is the basis upon which all of this is built. Carl Rogers, the founder of person-centred therapy, offers a theory of personality in that the human being  begins life congruent and unselfconscious. As we grow we discover what he calls ‘conditions of worth’ in that we learn that if we behave in certain ways rather than others we are more likely to receive approval from others.  Therefore we develop ‘configurations of self’. These defensive layers protect us from further hurt but can prove to be a hindrance in relationships. 

 How does a mother know when she is getting it right?  No two mothers will bring up a child in exactly the same way, nor, if they have other children, do they treat each child the same, but respond to them as individuals. The relationship grows as the parent attunes to the needs of the child.  If I can attune to my clients and notice when the process may be too fast and overwhelming or too slow that nothing is happening and adjust my approach accordingly, safety is maintained and emotional growth ensured.  The skill then is to know when to provide  more space around an experience, or know when to challenge unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. 

Being attuned to  my clients enables me to continually make adjustments that respond to what is needed. A bond develops between parent and child at the early stages of life. Whilst there are parenting handbooks that list techniques, parenting cannot be learned from a text book, it has to be lived and experienced.  A big part of that learning involves play. Likewise in therapy, play is an important component. I incorporate creative techniques into my practice and through the use of art materials and toys I offer a variety of ways clients can explore the space.  

To experience this for yourself please contact me to book a confidential consultation. 

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