Promoting attachment security during the transition to college: A pilot study of emotionally focused mentoring

Atina Manvelian, Savannah Boyd, Karey L. O’Hara, Cassandra Watters, Yilin Liu, David A. Sbarra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attachment insecurity is a transdiagnostic marker of risk associated with interpersonal emotion dysregulation and adverse psychosocial outcomes across the lifespan. Few interventions target the enhancement of attachment security in late adolescence. Most programs focus on strengthening the adolescent-caregiver relationship; meanwhile, youth increasingly spend less time with their families and look to peer relationships as a source of connection, particularly as they transition to college. Drawing from the principles of Emotionally Focused Therapy, we developed a psychotherapeutic peer mentorship program to enhance attachment security for insecurely attached youth during the transition to college. We tested the preliminary efficacy of Emotionally Focused Mentorship (EFM) in an open pilot trial by pairing (N = 82) insecurely attached first-year college students (i.e., “mentees”) with securely attached mentors. Across five weekly sessions, mentors helped mentees identify and express their emotions in close relationships by working through different relational scenarios. Attachment and mental health trajectories were self-reported three times over five weeks and analyzed using Bayesian growth curve models. Across five weeks, participants reported improvements in attachment anxiety and avoidance, emotion regulation difficulties, depressive symptoms, loneliness, and self-esteem. Participants who completed the intervention (n = 55) noted improvements in their psychological wellbeing and interpersonal relationships. Results are promising and highlight the need to conduct a randomized clinical trial to test if these effects are causal. Given rising mental health demands, trained peer mentors may be a cost-effective way to improve attachment and psychological outcomes for insecurely attached participants during the transition to college.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4075-4101
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Attachment
  • emotion regulation
  • emotionally focused therapy
  • insecurity
  • intervention
  • mentorship
  • security

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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