Each month, Dr. Levy answers a common question he has received from professionals, caregivers and parents during three decades of pioneering work on attachment theory, treatment and training. This month he answers a question about the importance of creating hope to inspire positive change. 

Regardless of the therapeutic approach, research over the last 40 years has found that hope is a critical component for positive change. Hope is linked to better physical and psychological health, academic performance and recovery from trauma.

Hope develops within the context of early attachment relationships. When children feel safe and have their needs gratified, they learn to trust, which gives them the opportunity to experience hope. Traumatic experiences shatter one’s belief in a safe world and in trustworthy dependable relationships. This leads to a sense of a foreshortened future and the loss of hope, and the symptoms common to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and complicated grief.

Hope and the Therapist

Building hope is a key aspect of healing with traumatized children and adults. Hope empowers and motivates traumatized individuals to believe in the possibility of a brighter future. Connectedness to others plays an important part in engendering hope; the therapeutic relationship serves as a vehicle to combating hopelessness. Increasing hope with trauma survivors involves:

  1. Creating trusting and close relationships.
  2. Teaching coping strategies that bring about positive change.
  3. Identifying and working toward goals.

Using the therapeutic relationship as a secure base, we encourage clients to think about specific goals – “I want to be closer to my parents”– and learn methods to achieve those goals – “I am learning better communication skills.” For instance, in our initial interview, we assist children and adults in writing a list of their treatment goals and discuss how we might reach those goals together. Our clients frequently tell us that this simple exercise makes them feel more hopeful.

It is also important for the patient to sense the therapist’s hope. The practitioner should convey a vision of a positive future for their client. Helping demoralized parents acquire and convey hope to their children is also a major goal of our therapy. Maintaining hope in the face of trauma, loss and depression is difficult, but necessary when helping children, adults and families.

Envisioning a future worth living is essential to recovery. To heal, one must learn to feel safe, build a positive view of self and create trusting and secure relationships. Hope is a basic part of this process.

Previous articles addressed questions about the Seven Functions of Secure Attachment, the Dependency Paradox, the importance of talking about trauma, the First Year Attachment Cycle and the traits of successful and healthy adult relationships.