Attachment-based family therapy for depressed adolescents: programmatic treatment development

Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2003 Jun;6(2):107-27. doi: 10.1023/a:1023782510786.


Few effective psychosocial treatment models for depressed adolescents have been developed, let alone ones that use the developmentally potent context of the family as the focus of intervention. Attachment-based family therapy (ABFT) is a brief, manualized treatment model tailored to the specific needs of depressed adolescents and their families. Attachment theory serves as the main theoretical framework to guide the process of repairing relational ruptures and rebuilding trustworthy relationships. Empirically supported risk factors for depression are the primary problem states that therapists target with specific treatment strategies or tasks. Parent problem states include criticism/hostility, personal distress, parenting skills, and disengagement. Adolescent problem states include motivation, negative self-concept, poor affect regulation, and disengagement. Intervention tasks include relational reframing, building alliances with the adolescent and with the parent, addressing attachment failures, and building competency. A small, randomized clinical trial provides initial support for the model. Several process research studies, using both qualitative and quantitative methods, have helped refine the clinical guidelines for each treatment task. ABFT is a promising new treatment for depressed adolescents and more research on it is warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Family Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Object Attachment*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Self Concept