Attachment versus differentiation: The contemporary couple therapy debate

Nathan R. Hardy*, Adam R. Fisher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


This paper reviews the current debate between differentiation and attachment in treating couples through exploring the tenets of crucible therapy (Schnarch, 1991) and emotionally focused couple therapy (Johnson, 2004). We provide a review of the two theories—as well as the two “pure form” example models—and explore the debate in light of the integrative movement in couple and family therapy (Lebow, 2014). We also examine points of convergence of the two theories and models, and provide clinicians and researchers with an enhanced understanding of their divergent positions. Both differentiation and attachment are developmental theories that highlight the human experience of balancing individuality and connection in adulthood. The two models converge in terms of metaconcepts that pervade their respective theories and approach. Both models capitalize on the depth and importance of the therapeutic relationship, and provide rich case conceptualization and processes of therapy. However, they substantially differ in terms of how they view the fundamental aspects of adult development, have vastly divergent approaches to how a therapist intervenes in the room, and different ideas of how a healthy couple should function. In light of the deep polarization of the two models, points of integration—particularly between the broader theories of attachment and differentiation—are offered for therapists to consider.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)557-571
Number of pages15
JournalFamily process
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Attachment
  • Couple therapy
  • Crucible therapy
  • Differentiation
  • Emotionally focused therapy
  • Integration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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