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Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety when separated from the people or caregivers with whom they have a strong emotional attachment.

John Bowlby, who developed attachment theory, argued that one of the key objectives of early attachment styles is to be able to maintain a safe proximity (distance) to the primary caregiver.

The inability to maintain a safe proximity can be thought as as experiencing a degree of separation.

As young children grow up and learn how to develop autonomy and independence from their caregivers, a certain degree of separation anxiety is perfectly normal and is not a sign of a mental health disorder.

However, because the quality and nature of our early attachments depends on the characteristcs of our caregivers and the contexts in which we all grew up, some people can develop attachments styles that involve lots of stress and anxiety.

In adults separation anxiety is generally related to their earlier attachment experiences and is only classified as a disorder when the level of anxiety reaches intolerable levels.

Woman with Separation anxiety disorder sitting on bed feeling sad

Separation Anxiety Symptoms

Separation anxiety is almost always experienced in relation to the proximity or availability of the primary attachment figure (spouse, partner or parent for example) and frequently involves the following symptoms or behaviours:

  • Distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from attachment figures.
  • Worrying about losing attachment figures or about possible harm coming to them.
  • Worrying about getting lost, being kidnapped, having an accident or becoming ill that could result in separation from an attachment figure.
  • Reluctance or refusal to go out, go away from home, to work, or elsewhere because of the fear of separation.
  • Fear about being alone or without major attachment figures at home.
  • Refusal to sleep away from home or to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure.
  • Nightmares about being or becoming separated.
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach-aches, nausea, etc. when separation from attachment figures occurs or is anticipated.
Separation anxiety disorder Diagnosis

Diagnosis of Separation Anxiety Disorder

Technically, only a psychiatrist can diagnose separation anxiety disorder, but in the UK general practitioners have tended to diagnose mental health problems by using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

The DSM lists specific symptoms against a range of disorders and whenever a person meets this criteria, they are said to be suffering from that disorder.

Diagnosis does NOT make use of medical testing (for example blood tests) in order to produce a diagnosis, but rather is an opinion based on the observation of certain behaviours in the person who is suffering.

Because of this lack of verifiable medical testing, diagnosis remains a controversial subject, particularly within the psychological community.

However, in the UK access to support services is often contingent on receiving a diagnosis, so in this sense, a formal diagnosis may be useful.

Getting a Mental Health Diagnosis

Please be aware that Lee Psychology do not diagnose mental health disorders.

Our psychological counselling services do not require you to have been formally diagnosed but should you wish to obtain a formal mental health diagnosis, then please contact your GP who can arrange it for you.

Therapist and Separation anxiety disorder sufferer in counselling session

Counselling for Separation Anxiety Disorder

We offer a number of different types of therapy and counselling for Separation anxiety disorder and related problems.

Choosing the most suitable therapy depends on a number of different considerations including factors such as:

  • How long you have had the problem.
  • Your personal preferences.
  • How your problem is affecting you today.

You can read more about the different types of therapy for anxiety on the following links:

Although all therapies use slightly different approaches, the one thing they all have in common is the relationship that is formed between the client and therapist.

Research suggests that this therapy relationship may be the most important factor in achieving a good therapy outcome.

Psychiatry Through the Looking Glass

Read what the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) and the United Nations (U.N.) said recently about the biomedical models of mental illness on Psychology Today.

W.H.O. and U.N. Join Calls to Transcend the Medical Model

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We offer a FREE 50 minute initial consultation to all prospective clients.

Call Paul on 07434 776125 - paul@leepsychology.com

Call Joan on 07434 776504 - joan@leepsychology.com

Paul Lee MSc.

Psychologist Paul Lee BSc MSc

About Paul

TEL: 07434 776125

Joan Lee D. Hyp.

Hypnotherapist Joan Lee D. Hyp. MIAEBP

About Joan

TEL: 07434 776504

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