A Comparison of Attachment Outcomes in Enactment‐Based Versus Therapist‐Centered Therapy Process Modalities in Couple Therapy


enactments, attachment, clinical process-outcome research


Attachment issues are viewed by many therapists as lying at the heart of couple distress. It is critical to empirically validate therapy processes that facilitate couples in responding to each other's attachment needs. This study examined enactments as a therapy process and change mechanism to promote secure attachment in couple therapy. Sixteen couples were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 experimental groups—1 group received 3 therapist‐centered sessions followed by 3 enactment‐based sessions, and a second group received 3 enactment‐based sessions followed by 3 therapist‐centered sessions. To measure between‐session and within‐session change, each spouse completed presession and postsession measures of attachment security each week. Results showed that couples who received enactment‐based sessions first reported greater increases in attachment security than those receiving therapist‐centered sessions first. These same couples continued to show improvement after switching to the therapist‐centered sessions. Conversely, couples who received therapist‐centered sessions first did not increase attachment after switching to enactment‐based sessions. For wives, enactment‐based sessions produced the greatest improvement in attachment, yet both therapy process modalities led to some improvement. Conversely, for husbands, attachment improved only when they received enactment‐based sessions first. Enactment‐based sessions may therefore be more important for husbands than wives. Overall, with some qualification it appears that enactment‐based therapy process may improve attachment more than a therapist‐centered process. These observed trends and findings are generally consistent with previous research supporting use of enactments in couple therapy.

Original Publication Citation

Butler, M. H.*, Harper, J. M.*, & Mitchell, C. B.* (2011). A comparison of attachment outcomes in enactment-based vs. therapist-centered therapy process modalities in couple therapy. Family Process, 50(2), 203-220.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


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Family Process




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor