Making Sense of Anxiety Through the Work of Dr. Neufeld

Last week I was at my third (and last) continuing education workshop for the month. **Side note; don’t attend so many workshops in a short time span because it leaves your head spinning**. This workshop was with Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a well-known psychologist from B.C. who has focused a lot of his career on human development, particularly the role attachment plays in development. I have heard of Dr. Neufeld and have had various colleagues share bits and pieces of his work, but I was not familiar with his theories and I thought a two day workshop titled “Making Sense of Anxiety” would be a great introduction.

This workshop definitely peeked my interest as well as made my head hurt (in a good way). A lot of what Dr. Neufeld had to say made a lot of sense, but his take is different from many approaches that are out there. The focus of the workshop was making sense of anxiety in children, but it was much deeper than that. Dr. Neufeld’s take on anxiety is that it comes from an activated alarm system with alarm being one of our primary emotions. Just as any alarm system has false alarms, so too does our alarm system. A big piece of anxiety is feeling safe and according to Dr. Neufeld’s developmental approach safety is established through attachment.

Dr. Neufeld believes that we are seeing so many children and teens with anxiety disorders because our culture and new ways of parenting are triggering their alarm systems. Attachment is no longer prioritized. Our ways of living have invited children to attach more to each other than parental figures. Children are calling the shots within the family and being responsible for things they should not be, which contributes to feeling unsafe.

Separation based discipline (ex. go to your room) is something 75% of parents use and is something I have worked with many parents on. While this approach might get results, as Dr. Neufeld mused decapitation also gets rid of a headache, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best approach. According to Dr. Neufeld, whenever a child is experiencing any sort of anxiety, one of the solutions is reducing separation and promoting attachment.

This workshop has left me questioning some of the techniques I have used with parents when it comes to discipline and consequences and while I don’t necessarily have the skills to do anything different yet, I know the resources are out there. Dr. Neufeld has written several books for both professionals and parents and has several courses available through his institute. If any of this is striking a cord with you, I’d encourage you to check out his website and explore whether his theories and approach might have a place in your world.



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