Depression affects approximately 11% of adolescents by the age of 18 and suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged between 15 and 24. Treatment for adolescent depression can be tricky and often involves a combination of medication and psychotherapeutic approaches. Clinical research has demonstrated some support for several psychotherapeutic approaches including those rooted in more traditional cognitive-behavioural tendencies as well as more inclusive models that incorporate the wider family unit into treatment. Attachment Based Family Therapy or ABFT for short falls into the latter categorization. This is a model of treatment that was developed in by psychologists, Guy Diamond, Gary Diamond and Suzanne Levy in response to increased understanding of the important role of the family unit in adolescent treatment efficacy.

ABFT, as the name would suggest centres on repairing fragmented attachment bonds between parent and child as a means of overcoming depression and suicidality. According to this model, healthy attachment patterns between parent and child are reflected by the child feeling safe, cared for, understood and supported whereas unhealthy attachment patterns are demonstrated by the absence of these relationship qualities. It is the absence of these qualities that may cause a child to develop depressive features. This rupture can also occur following a traumatic life event that affects the relationship significantly. ABFT asserts that though these qualities may be present some and even most of the time, they can often be misrepresented by faulty communication patterns. ABFT therefore encourages reparation of attachment bonds by working both independently and together with both parent and child to encourage a conversation. This conversation involves both parties essentially placing all of their cards on the table and moving forward in way that is line with a healthy attachment pattern.

Prior to this conversation ABFT aims that both adult and parent through, their participation in individual therapy sessions, will develop increased awareness of their faulty communication styles and personal issues that may be contributing to the unhealthy attachment pattern and will become equipped with the necessary skills required for moving forward. These skills include teaching the parent how to validate their child’s experiences appropriately, how to adopt a non-defensive posture and how to react non-judgementally. Though still in its relative infancy, ABFT has already garnered significant research support. Randomised clinical trials have demonstrated it to be effective in reducing levels of suicidal ideation and depression by approximately 50% over the duration of brief treatment time of 12-16 weeks.

For further information regarding ABFT as well as where to find services please see the links below:


Ms. Niamh Allen, M.A. B.Sc.

An introduction to Attachment Based Family Therapy (ABFT)

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