Secure Base Model

The Secure Base model is intended to provide a positive framework within which therapeutic caregiving can be developed.  The aim is to help people move towards greater security and to build resilience. It was developed by Gillian Schofield and Mary Beek at the University of East Anglia.  It developed out of Attachment Theory.

Attachment theory takes the need for psychological security as its starting point and sees much psychological ill-health as resulting from compromised safety systems.  For John Bowlby, the father of Attachment Theory, the key to our psychological security is the strength of our attachment bonds.

Attachment theory puts the search for security above all others psychological motivators and suggest that it is the attachment bond that is the starting point for survival.

For Bowlby, under normal circumstances, when faced with danger the individual would go to their secure base. Problems arise when the individual is confronted with danger but has no sense of a secure base to which to turn.

Attachment theory contrasts secure and insecure attachment. 

Attachment theory considers that our relational competence in adult life starts from the attachment patterns we developed in childhood.

In contrast to those who are insecurely attached or have disorganised attachment patterns, securely attached people are more likely to see other people as safe and to develop compassion and considerateness in their relationships.

The secure base model and storytelling

Jeremy Holmes, author and attachment psychotherapist, has an interest in the stories and narratives the client tells.  In the link between the clients’ stories and their attachments.  For Holmes, the clients’ story reveals things about their attachment patterns.

Disorganised attachments

Disorganised attachments are associated with traumatic caregiving.  In such situations trauma overwhelms and disrupts the psychological system altogether.  Disorganised responses lack a clear coherent and self-protecting strategy.  In experiences which have involved sexual abuse, it is frequently the care giver, the person who should have been the secure base who introduced traumatic threat.

Psychotherapy as a secure base

In psychotherapy and counselling we aim to create some of the parameters of a secure base model.  A psychotherapist should demonstrate consistency, reliability, ordinary responsiveness, they should practice clear boundaries.

By doing this we aim to create a secure base model that the client can trust and come to internalise.  In this way the client uses psychotherapy to develop for themselves a secure base, a place in the psyche to which they can turn. 

The aim of therapy would be that after the work has finished the client retains this renewed sense of a secure and safe area of mind.  There are links here with Peter Fonagy’s work on Mentalization Based Treatment in which people come to develop empathy for themselves.

The secure base model

The first secure base originally referred to the caregiver to whom the child turns when distressed. 

Psychological survival requires some kind of secure base experience

Pathological variations of secure base behaviour include binge eating, starving, substance abuse, self-harm.   Jeremy Holmes suggests that one of the reasons people turn to such self-destructive behaviour is because it creates a sense of being soothed. 

The destructive act can make the person feel temporarily calmer.  The individual has no stable secure base and so resorts to destructive behaviour which creates the temporary sensation of security.

My psychotherapy practice

When I first meet clients, I try gain a sense not only of the reason that has brought them to therapy now, but of their original family organisation, the family dynamics, how siblings related to each other, what was life like with their parents.  I try to understand how the client and their family related to each other.  Crucially I try to gather a sense of what kind of secure base the client has.

What I often find is that where there is insecure attachment, self-esteem is precarious.

Client example

A woman I will call Jo came to see me (all names and any client details have been anonymised).  A lot of the time Jo can focus on her work, but on different days this changes and Jo feels unhappy, depressed, sometimes suicidal. When things are good with her, her relationship with her creativity is good.  When things are bad, she becomes self-destructive.

When Jo was about three or four years old her parents’ marriage broke up. It broke up because her father had a very destructive drink problem.  In the end her father left.

For a few years there was some contact maintained with dad, but it was very unpredictable and came to a stop.

Jo harbours an idea that the reason the marriage broke up was her fault.

Jo retained a deep and serious wound in her psyche around these issues.  The question in therapy is how to develop a constructive way of living with this kind of psychological problem?  To my view, it isn’t something that can be wished away, but it may be they can be better lived with.   Jo starts to experience and provide more consistent care and security to herself.

In this way, psychotherapy helps Jo to start to develop a secure base for herself.

Contact Me

During the coronavirus (covid 19) I am continuing to work using either telephone or video technology.

I have twenty years of experience of working with people, many of whom may not have a reliable secure base to turn to.

Giving yourself the chance to speak in a confidential setting is helpful, it may be the beginning of starting to work out more about how you are living, about what works to influence and possibly undermine your sense of a secure base.

It may give you the chance to develop new and important insights into yourself.  This, in turn, may help you to develop greater confidence and emotional stability.  It might be the beginning of doing things differently.

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.