Attachment Theory and the Multiplicity of Spiritual Relationships: Theory, Assessment, and Therapeutic Applications

  • 22 Feb 2019
  • 9:00 AM - 12:15 PM (EST)
  • Live Webinar
  • 0


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Attachment Theory and the Multiplicity of Spiritual Relationships: Theory, Assessment, and Therapeutic Applications                                                                                       

Presented by: Peter Martin, Psy.D. and Andrew Sodergren, Psy.D.

When: February 22nd  9:00 am - 12:15 pm EST 

Where: Live Webinar via Zoom   

Who: Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, MFTs, Counselors, Substance Abuse Counselors, and Nurses.

Cost: FREE for CPA Members, $40 for Non-members. 3 CE's will be available for $20. A link will be provided to purchase CE's, complete evaluations, and download your certificate after the webinar.             


Bowlby’s attachment theory has had a profound impact in developmental psychology and increasingly in the practice of psychotherapy as well as in understanding religious and spiritual experiences. The attachment behavioral system is one example that is theorized to aid survival by promoting an ongoing connection with a stronger, wiser caregiver who can provide protection in the face of threat, comfort in distress, and a secure base from which to explore the world. 

Attachment research has validated key aspects of the theory and shown how early experiences with caregivers can set mental templates (internal working models) for what to expect and how to behave in future relationships (e.g., with subsequent caregivers, spouses, and offspring).  Starting with Kirkpatrick & Shaver (1990), attachment theory has been explicitly applied to studying the psychology of religion including understanding God image, conversion, and prayer. The concept of internal working models has been especially helpful in examining how experiences with human attachment figures impact the way adults think, feel, and behave in regard to God and other spiritual figures. 

In working with Christian patients, it is important to recognize that Christians conceptualize God as three distinct persons in the one divine being.  This presents three potential attachment figures (i.e., Father, Son, Holy Spirit).  Many Christians (especially Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) also incorporate other spiritual entities (e.g., saints, angels) into their spiritual practices. These valued spiritual figures can also be understood as attachment figures and potential resources for affect regulation and psychological coping.

Through psychoeducational lecture and dialogue with the audience, this workshop will explore the theoretical grounds for the notion that people may possess distinct relationship styles with different spiritual entities based on underlying IWMs that get activated in those specific relationships.  Various methods of assessing these relational styles—including self-report and projective techniques—will be presented, and the audience will be invited to engage in some of these tasks during the workshop to begin assessing their own spiritual relationships.  Lastly, clinical strategies to work with these distinct relational styles in psychotherapy will be explored and demonstrated, allowing attendees to gain conceptual and experiential knowledge of how to work with their spiritually involved patients in sensitive and innovative ways.

Learning Objectives:

1.    Describe the nature and function of the attachment behavioral system (“attachment instinct”)

2.    Explain the concept of “internal working models” and their relational significance for human and

spiritual relationships.

3.    Identify ways that a person’s attachment style can shape implicit experiences of spiritual figures

4.    Identify various self-report and projective assessments to identify client’s attachment styles to valued

       spiritual resource figures

5.    Describe various clinical strategies to improve implicit relational security with spiritual figures to

       enhance psychological and spiritual coping


9:00-10:15       Overview of Attachment Theory

                        Internal Working Models

                        Patterns of Attachment in Children and Adults

                        Review of Research on Attachment and Religion

10:15-10:30     Break

10:30-12:00     Overview of Self-Report and Projective Assessments

            Practical applications of experiential strategies tailored for clients who value

spiritually-integrated therapy

12:00-12:15                 Q&A

Our Presenters

Peter, a 2009 graduate of The Institute for Psychological Sciences’ PsyD program, holds Master’s degrees in Clinical Psychology from IPS, in Religious Studies from Providence College, and in Counseling Psychology from the University of Kansas. A licensed psychologist in the state of Nebraska, he is also the Internship Director of Integrated Training and Formation at Catholic Social Services (CSS) of Southern Nebraska, an APA-accredited site where he is responsible for the psychological and faith-integrated formation of pre-doctoral psychology interns. In 2008, through CSS, he started and currently heads a clinical outreach site at the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He provided counseling services from 2012-2013 to seminarians at the Institute for Priestly Formation summer program in Omaha, Nebraska. He served on the Executive Board of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association from 2013 to 2016.  He has served on the Board of Witness to Love: Marriage Preparation Renewal Ministry since 2015. His areas of interest include supervising therapists in faith-integrated treatments of psychological disorders, in practicing trauma-informed therapy, Forgiveness Therapy, group therapy, depth therapy, treating implicit God image problems, in studying the psychology of belief and unbelief, and in the social scientific understanding of religious 

conversion. Peter and his lovely wife have been married for 7 years and have 3 children.

Dr. Andrew J. Sodergren is a Catholic psychologist and director of psychological services for Ruah Woods, a Theology of the Body ministry in Cincinnati, OH.  In addition to his Masters and Doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology, Dr. Sodergren also holds a Masters degree in Theology from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, DC where he teaches as an Adjunct Professor.  He and his wife Ellie have been married 19 years and five children.

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