What is IPF? Ideal Parent Figure Protocol
The Ideal Parent Figure (IPF) method, also known as the “Ideal Parent Figure Protocol,” is a pivotal psychotherapeutic tool within Daniel Brown’s Three Pillars model. It is specifically designed to address and remediate attachment disturbances in adults. I learned this model through trainings taught by Daniel Brown and as explained in his book Adult Attachment Disturbances: Treatment for Comprehensive Repair. This method is based on the principle of therapist-as-good-attachment-figure and involves the use of patient-and-therapist co-created imagery of positive attachment experiences. This imagery is rooted in the five qualities of secure attachment and aims to foster relational healing and adult earned secure attachment.
Ideal Parent Figure Protocol – Five Qualities of Secure Attachment
Secure attachment is essential for a child’s emotional and psychological well-being, as it lays the foundation for healthy relationships and personal growth throughout their lives. To foster secure attachment, five key conditions must be present in the child’s relationship with their caregiver. By modeling these conditions in our relationships with our partners, children, and close friends, we can promote healing and growth for ourselves and others.
1. Felt Safety: The child feels a sense of security and safety in the presence of their caregiver, allowing them to confidently explore their environment and take risks. This sense of safety also enables the child to return to their caregiver for reassurance and support whenever needed, fostering trust and a strong emotional bond.
2. A Sense of Being Seen and Known: Caregivers must be attuned to their child’s emotional states and needs, being able to recognize and respond to changes in their feelings promptly. This involves accepting and validating all emotions unconditionally, ensuring the child feels understood and valued for who they are.
3. Felt Comfort: The caregiver plays a crucial role in soothing and comforting the child during times of distress or upset. By providing consistent and empathetic support, the child learns to self-regulate their emotions and develop healthy coping strategies for future challenges.
4. Sense of Being Valued: It is essential for the caregiver to express delight and pride in their child’s achievements and unique qualities, helping them feel valued and cherished for who they are. This fosters a strong sense of self-worth and encourages the child to develop their strengths and interests.
5. Felt Support for Fostering Self-Development: Encouraging the child to explore the world, develop independence, and grow into their best selves requires unconditional support and guidance from their caregiver. This involves providing a nurturing environment in which the child feels free to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from their experiences, all while knowing that their caregiver is there to offer reassurance and encouragement.
How it Works
The Ideal Parent Figure Protocol relies on the fact that the unconscious mind does not distinguish between images from memory and those from imagination. With deliberate visualization practice, individuals can come to “know” something they did not directly experience.
In this method, patients are asked to visualize themselves as a young child and imagine ideal parent figures that are perfectly suited to them and responsive to their needs. They are then asked to imagine playing and exploring with these ideal parent figures, offering perfect support and encouragement. Once the imagery is established, patients use these Ideal Parents to respond to them in moments of distress, giving them a visceral sense of an attuned, soothing, and encouraging relationship, as well as a vivid sense of how they can treat themselves.
The Ideal Parent Figure visualization protocol aims to reverse the deliberate failure of imagination that can result from a difficult childhood. It helps individuals discover the kind of support that fosters further exploratory behavior and provides a solution to the frustration of “not knowing how” to be self-compassionate.
The specific imagery comes from the patient themselves, tapping into the wisdom of their own imaginal experience to create parent figures ideally suited to them. These ideal parent figures provide a source of support and resiliency more effective and powerful than anything a fallible, human parent or therapist can provide.
Patients may initially struggle with the visualization process, but with persistence and encouragement from the therapist, they can eventually access their inner wisdom and create a vivid, supportive relationship with their ideal parent figures. This leads to improved mood, increased confidence, and a greater ability to engage in self-compassion.
It’s more effective to work with a trained therapist, but it’s possible to do this on your own. This youtube video from Dan Brown is a good place to start, as well as the guided meditation library provided by my colleague and friend Cedric Reeves.
EMDR therapist Laura Parnell discusses using the ideal mother resource in her book Attachment-focused EMDR, which is very close to the Ideal Parent Figure Protocol. She helps clients envision an ideal mother or father or both as resources to help them manage difficult memories. In cases where clients have vague symptoms and no apparent precipitating incident, Parnell uses what she calls a bridging technique where she helps the client go back to generate a childhood memory where the ideal mother can come in to support her better.
She shares a story of a woman with Generalized Anxiety Disorder who claimed to have a great childhood, but through guided imagery, Parnell discovered the woman felt frightened as a child due to a lack of parental presence. From there, Parnell was able to focus on specific instances of fear and help the client reprocess those memories. For clients who lack secure attachment, Parnell suggests going back and redoing the developmental stages with an ideal mother. This involves creating a new, calm, and loving mother figure, and reimagining the client‘s experiences with this ideal mother. The goal is to rewire the client‘s brain, creating new neuro-circuitry that provides a sense of being held, contained, and consistently cared for. In cases of complex trauma and insecure attachment, Parnell believes resourcing work can be very helpful, including helping the client remember times when they weren‘t anxious and focusing on those memories. For clients with anxiety rooted in childhood experiences, Parnell suggests creating an ideal mother figure that embodies calmness, love, and acceptance, and tapping into those resources to help the client heal.
I like to combine EMDR with the traditional Dan Brown approach. This video gives some insight into how it looks like with EMDR.
Ideal Parent Figure Protocol is Evidence Based
Though Ideal Parent Figure Protocol is still a relatively new technique, a research team led by Federico Parra found some impressive results. Their study found that using the IPF method can help improve the quality of life for those suffering from childhood trauma and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) symptoms. The study focused on a group of severely traumatized participants with a history of childhood trauma and found statistically significant improvements with medium to large effect sizes in psychological symptoms and traumatic dysregulation. The study also found an increase in the quality of life following the completion of a very short treatment program.
The Ideal Parent Figure Protocol method works by helping to change representational models through the visualization of more ideal caregiving relationships than those experienced during the participants’ childhoods. These new representational models were more efficient in helping to keep the participants regulated and restoring regulation when distressed. This, in turn, led to a pronounced reduction of reported psychological symptoms and evaluations of having a higher quality of life than before treatment.
The use of recorded visualizations at home was found to be an instrumental factor contributing to these changes and observed outcomes. Using the recording between formal sessions facilitated a daily experience with positive caregiving experiences. Several participants indicated at follow-up that they were still using the recording at home as a coping mechanism to regulate distressing emotions after difficult life events.
The study was the first independent empirical evaluation of the IPF method and the results suggest that this approach to the treatment of attachment disturbances is a promising approach to the treatment of CPTSD involving childhood trauma, particularly during the stabilization phase of treatment. This phase focuses on developing essential psychological competencies, such as emotional regulation, and on reducing disabling symptoms.
The outcome of the IPF-based protocol is that regulation of affect and impulses, relationships with others (including trust in others), and systems of meaning (including anticipative beliefs about the world) were all improved, whereas disabling symptoms were reduced, meeting the stabilization goals. Post hoc analyses revealed that some participants’ classifications did change, with four participants resolving their unresolved status during the course of treatment and three participants that began treatment as insecure changing to secure.
Overall, the study suggests that the Ideal Parent Figure Protocol method is a promising approach to the treatment of CPTSD involving childhood trauma and can lead to significant improvements in quality of life and psychological symptoms.
Why Ideal Parent Figure Protocol in Sex Addiction Recovery?
Attachment security is crucial in sex addiction recovery, as research indicates that individuals with insecure attachment are more likely to develop addictions and face mental health challenges. Attachment theory suggests that addressing attachment insecurity can lead to freedom from addiction. By achieving secure attachment, individuals can improve their relationships and overall mental health, reducing their reliance on unhealthy coping strategies such as sex addiction. Combining attachment repair work with behavioral change programs, such as 12 Steps or therapeutic guidance, can optimize progress in aligning sexual behavior with values and expedite the journey towards freedom from addiction.
Rob Terry is a therapist for clients in Utah and coach for clients outside of Utah and across the globe. He specializes in sex addiction recovery for individuals and couples. He integrates the CSAT, OCSB, and Minwalla models for individual recovery and Gottman Method, RLT, and ERCEM for couples recovery. He is betrayal trauma informed. His therapy modalities are IFS, ACT, CBT, EMDR, and Attachment Theory.