Attachment Counter-Transference Scale

Social interactions have a feature of a call-and-response sequence.  Two of the most common call-and-response sequences are for social politeness, the “thank  you – you’re welcome”  gracious display and the “sorry – no problem” forgiveness call-and-response.

A call-and-response I recommend for targeted parents is the bonding call-and-response of “I love you – love you too.”  In the attachment pathology of AB-PA, the child will not provide the called for response.   However, that doesn’t matter.  For a fraction of a moment, that response was in the child’s brain, “love you too.”  The child then blusters and flusters to remove it… but it was there for a moment…

“Love you – love you too; uh, no I don’t, I hate you, I hate you so much you can’t even imagine how much I hate you.”

“I know.  Love you – love you too.  Stop it!  Don’t say that.  Stop telling me that.  You don’t love me, and I hate you.  So stop.”

“Okay.  Love you – love you… uggghhhhh, stop it.  I’m out of here, I hate you.  That’s all I have to say.  Hate, hate, hate.”

“Okay.  Bye.  Love you.”

The call-and-response puts the response in the other person’s brain whether they want it there or not. 


The first six questions of the Attachment Counter-Transference Scale use this quality of call-and-response.  They are simple and direct… calls.

“As a child, did you love your mother?”

Simple and direct.  It’s a call.  It will receive a response.  Pop, yes, no, kinda will enter the person’s brain.  The defenses may then kick in, but for a moment the authentic response is in this person’s brain. 

But no one is listening to their response but them.  They can use all sorts of defenses, but they know.  They know the truth.  They know what that first response is, they were there during their childhood, they know what the truth is.  And that truth is the first response, “did you love your mother?” – “did your mother love you” – now there is an interesting question.  Pop.  There it is, there’s the answer.

Does their answer matter?  No.  The question’s direct simplicity is triggering the authenticity of response  – and in the social isolation of the person’s own self-awareness, this is all within the person’s own head – between them and themselves.  They know the truth.  What they say and what they know to be the truth may be two different things, but we’ll deal with that shortly.  The question pops the answer, and they know the truth.

What the question does is prompt their self-realization of the truth to each of these questions, whether this truth quickly becomes layered with defenses is secondary.

“did you love your mother?”  “did your mother love you?”

“did you love your father?” – “ did your father love you?

There they are.  Those are the four counter-transference questions.  To a simple-direct question, each one is answered honestly for a moment in the mind of the respondent.  Defenses may come in reporting, in social exposure, but the person knows.

Then opens the second phase of the counter-transference assessment, does the person respond honestly or does the person lie?

People who authentically answer yes to all four questions are of minimal to no risk for negative counter-transference issues.  It’s the people who answer no or somewhat to one of those four questions who are of concern.  Still, we all have our various childhood traumas and we recover… we recover by acknowledging the truth of our trauma and dealing with it.  Hiding our trauma is a sign of our not having dealt with and processed the trauma experience – we’re still working it through.

So the actual answer to the first six questions isn’t about the actual answer, it’s about whether problems are concealed or admitted.  That is the counter-transference scale.

If the person tells the truth and acknowledges potential counter-transference issues, great.  Go speak with a professional colleague for a bit to make sure you understand the issues you may bring from your own childhood background.  That’s a good thing.  We’ve highlighted an important issue in the treatment of attachment-related family pathology, and we’ve got it taken care of in a simple and efficient manner.

But if the person lies, then we will never know.  They’ll say everything in their childhood was fine, when it wasn’t.

Yes, that is true.  And that’s okay too.  Because they will know.  If you lie on the Attachment Counter-Transference Scale, you 100% have counter-transference issues.  Ta-da.  Exposed.

Yes, granted, it’s only exposed to the mental health professional’s self-secrecy… but they know.  They know their first response to the questions.  They know they deceived, they hid their trauma.  They know.

And that’s the point of the Attachment Counter-Transference Scale.  People can deceive the scale by lying.  But then, they have their answer.  They know they have prominent counter-transference bias and unresolved childhood trauma, and they know that their work is fraudulent, that they are swindlers and charlatans, they have lied and they are not truthful.

We may not know… but they do. And that’s the point of the Attachment Counter-Transference Scale.  Asking six questions, simply and directly – call-and-response for the authentic response, and then… do you disclose or deceive?

Why hugs?  Why hugs for questions 5 and 6?

Affection.  Questions 5 and 6 trigger affection (call-and-response).

But lots of people may not be very huggy.  I know.  But it’s affection none the less.   I’m a clinical psychologist, things are never quite as they appear.  The question triggers affection.  Call and response.  I don’t care what the actual response is, I’m triggering affection and then looking how the person decides to disclose.  The person remembers their childhood hugs, or the absence of childhood affection, it’s a call and response.  And then, do they disclose or deceive?

Therapist:  “I never got hugs from my dad, he was never around.  But that’s okay.  I didn’t really need affection from my dad.  A dad’s love isn’t really important. I’m okay.”

Dr. C:  Of course you are.  and perhaps you may want to look at your relationship with your dad a little bit, perhaps there’s some sadness there that you haven’t noticed, perhaps wanting to bond more to him than maybe you did or could?  Maybe you’ll want to take a look at that a bit more, especially if you want to start working with children’s attachment pathology surrounding parents and divorce.  Wouldn’t want things with your own family of origin influencing how you see stuff with the current families you’re treating.

My goodness gracious, you’re a mental health professional, this isn’t a game.  This family needs your help, answer the questions honestly.  If you’ve got crazy-nutty in your childhood, no worries, trauma happens, we attend to it, we resolve it.  No worries.  Just acknowledge it so we know that you’ve dealt with it.

But if you’re hiding and not disclosing your childhood emotional traumas, then your childhood emotional traumas are going to come back through unconscious counter-transference issues when working with attachment pathology in families.  So this is a self-assessment for all mental health professionals… complete the Attachment Counter-Transference Scale.

First six questions, deceptively powerful. 

If you acknowledge issues in your childhood family of origin, go check in with a professional colleague for 4 to 6 sessions to clarify the issues and their possible influence on perceptions.  And then you’re good to go.

Don’t lie.  Tell the truth.  Deal with stuff if you’ve got stuff.

Simple as that.  Professional standards of practice for all mental health professionals working with attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce.  Have you dealt with your stuff?  Show us.  Complete the Attachment Counter-Transference Scale.

Question 7

Question 7 of the Attachment Counter-Transference Scale is another deceptively revealing question.  Question 7 is qualitatively scored and interpreted.  The stem of the question rules out the three domains of child abuse, physical, sexual, and neglect.  The question then asks about rejection of a parent, are there justified reasons to reject a parent other than abuse?

There are a variety of answers that can be offered to this question.  It is a projective question designed to elicit counter-transference relevant schemas.  There are potential yes answers that can be supported, but what is the support offered?  That’s the schema.  This question will retrieve the schemas of the mental health professional surrounding parent-child relationships, and potentially discipline, loyalty, and affection issues.  This is a schema search question.

Importance of Relationship Questions

Next on the Attachment Counter-Transference Scale are four 0-100 rating scales for the importance of each of the four types of primary parent-child bond; mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, father-daughter.  Scoring indicates that all four scales should be rated as 100, and that any lesser rating requires professional justification and research support.

And there may be times when one relationship might be given preferential treatment, such as the mother-child bond in the first 12 months of infancy.  Cite the research, make the case.  I’m good with that.  But default is 100 for all parent-child bonds; father-son, father-daughter, mother-son, mother-daughter.  Each of these relationships is unique, each type of bond is incredibly important to the child’s healthy development, and none of them are expendable – 100 for each relationship type, or make the case with research.

What these four questions do is get the mental health professional on record – documented.  All four are equal in importance.  Right?  Or no,… which then reveals the counter-transference, which relationship type is valued, which devalued – or make your case by the research.

Family of Origin

The structure of the family of origin is less important than the degree of conflict in the family of origin.  High conflict families of origin can undermine the person’s ability to recognize and use effective problem-solving skills for conflict resolution because this person never had these problem resolution skills modeled by parents during childhood development.

The person may have subsequently acquired knowledge of effective problem-solving and communication skills for conflict resolution, we simply want to be reassured of this, what skills have they learned, where and how, and what skills are they teaching families and applying in therapy?

The primary issue of concern is the ability to resolve conflict (the “repair” in the breach-and-repair sequence).  High conflict families are unable to resolve conflict. 

Moderate conflict families may or may not effectively resolve conflict, and resolution may be more intermittent.  Moderate conflict families of origin can go either way in terms of concern for counter-transference issues in the child who is now grown to adulthood and who is now occupying the role of therapist or evaluator for a client family.

The Curriculum Knowledge Scale

This is the curriculum for knowledge required to assess, diagnose, and treat attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce.  This also exists as a stand alone scale:

Curriculum Knowledge Scale

There is no “acceptable” level of professional ignorance.  Attachment theory, personality disorder pathology, and family systems therapy are all established domains of knowledge and are all relevant to resolving attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA; Foundations) is a scaffolding support to knowledge, it is not the knowledge itself.  The Curriculum Knowledge Scale identifies the information from professional psychology required for professionally competent practice with attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce.

Legal System

I think all family law attorneys should ask for a Curriculum Knowledge Scale from all child custody evaluators along with submission of their reports.  I think it’s kind of important to know what the mental health professional knows as a basis for their opinions.

I think all “reunification therapists” (there’s no such thing as “reunification therapy”; it doesn’t exist) should also be required to complete the Curriculum Knowledge Scale, providing a copy to parents as part of the informed consent process for each family they treat. 

I think family law attorneys working for their clients, should ask the court to formally request a copy of a Curriculum Knowledge Scale for each mental health professional working with the family, including the children’s individual therapists.  Might as well find out what they know… or don’t know.

Personally, I’d just ask for the more complete Attachment Counter-Transference Scale.  It contains the Curriculum Knowledge Scale as part of it, so it’s like a two-fer.


All mental health professionals working with attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce should complete the Attachment Counter-Transference Scale as a standard of practice.  Document family of origin concerns, address family of origin concerns… or lie… and become a charlatan and fraud. 

We know the counter-transference bias is out there.  We want to put the pressure of exposure on it.  We want to identify it – to itself, so the person has the opportunity to do the right thing and deal with their childhood trauma issues, so that their own childhood stuff won’t affect their work with current families.  That’s the right thing to do. 

The Attachment Counter-Transference Scale puts pressure on them to do the right thing, we know you, even if you hide… and we know that you know you.  Tell the truth.  Do the right thing, be authentic, acknowledge childhood trauma, deal with whatever needs to be dealt with.


From Aaron Beck on schemas:

“Evaluation of the particular demands of a situation precedes and triggers an adaptive (or maladaptive) strategy.  How a situation is evaluated depends in part, at least, on the relevant underlying beliefs.  These beliefs are embedded in more or less stable structures, labeled “schemas,” that select and synthesize incoming data.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 17)

“The content of the schemas may deal with personal relationships, such as attitudes toward the self or others, or impersonal categories.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 27)

“When schemas are latent, there are not participating in information processing; when activated they channel cognitive processing from the earliest to the final stages” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 27)

“When hypervalent, these idiosyncratic schemas displace and probably inhibit other schemas that may be more adaptive or more appropriate for a given situation.  They consequently introduce a systematic bias into information processing.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 27)

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Beck, A.T., Freeman, A., Davis, D.D., & Associates (2004). Cognitive therapy of personality disorders. (2nd edition). New York: Guilford.



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