When people are in distress, seeking out the support and comfort of others can be a natural response.
But for clients who’ve experienced trauma, this response can sometimes signal something more. Their persistent attempts to elicit help from others may indicate that they’re stuck in the attach/cry-for-help response.
So how can we better recognize this defensive adaptation to trauma?
In the infographic below – which is based on the work of Janina Fisher, PhD and Pat Ogden, PhD – we lay out four behavioral patterns that can help you identify an attach/cry-for-help response.
Click the image to enlarge
The attach/cry-for-help response is one of the earliest survival strategies a child develops to elicit help from a caregiver – but it can also be a defensive adaptation to trauma. According to some experts, it’s the least understood of all defense responses and can be difficult to detect. Based on the work of Janina Fisher, PhD and Pat Ogden, PhD, here are four behavioral patterns that can help you identify the attach/cry-for-help response in your clients.
1. Excessive Contact Outside of a Session
Your client may frequently call or text you outside of a session. They may also be reluctant to leave at the end of a session, or complain that there is too much time between sessions.
2. Tumultuous Personal Relationships
The attach/cry-for-help response can be overwhelming in your client’s relationships. Your client may report their partner pulling away when they reach out, or say that their friends think they are too needy.
3. Prominence of a Childlike Part
Your client may use a childlike voice or even physically make themselves appear smaller. In some cases, this may be related to structural dissociation.
4. Idealization of the Therapist
It’s important for any client to feel safe in the therapeutic relationship. But when a client is experiencing the attach/cry-for-help response, they may begin to see you as infallible. This can lead to a fight response to disappointments. For example, if you have to reschedule a session, they might respond with anger.
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If you’d like to print a copy, you can use one of these links:
To learn more about how you can work with the attach/cry-for-help response (as well as other emerging defense responses to trauma) check out the Advanced Master Program on the Treatment of Trauma.
You’ll hear from some of the masters in the field of trauma, including Bessel van der Kolk, MD; Janina Fisher, PhD; Peter Levine, PhD; Pat Ogden, PhD; Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD; Thema Bryant, PhD; and more.
It’s free to watch – just sign up here.
Now we’d like to hear from you. Do you have clients who are stuck in the attach/cry-for-help response? What strategies have you found to be effective when working with this defensive adaptation.