Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Attachment Therapy: Where Are the Testimonials From the Children?


It’s been a long time since I posted anything about Attachment Therapy on this blog. For those of you who don’t remember or never knew, Attachment Therapy, also known as Holding Therapy, is a physically-intrusive mental health intervention presented as a treatment for disorders of attachment. It has most often been proposed as a treatment for adopted children whose moods and behavior are difficult for the adoptive parents to accept. Although many conventional treatments can be described as “attachment-based” therapies, and most mental health interventions for children focus to some extent on relationships, Attachment Therapy/Holding Therapy (AT/HT for short, or just AT) is a term that refers to an unconventional, non-evidence-based treatment, one that belongs to the complementary-and-alternative-medicine (CAM) category.

Two colleagues and I described AT/HT in detail in our book Attachment Therapy on Trial (Mercer, Sarner, & Rosa; Praeger, 2003).  We discussed the poorly designed research that has claimed to support the effectiveness of AT/HT, as well as a number of child deaths associated with the method. We pointed out that AT/HT would probably not kill any healthy child, but that attitudes and beliefs connected with the method have led parents and therapists to push the treatment in ways that have proved fatal. Michael Shermer has referred to this very accurately as “death by theory”.

When I get into arguments on this blog--  as I did some months ago with supporters of Nancy Verrier’s supposititious “primal wound” concept—I’m usually the one arguing in favor of systematic research that can provide a reliable evidence basis, and the opponents are claiming that individual experiences are the measure of whether a concept is true or a treatment is effective. I don’t think the latter argument is true, but today I’m going to come and play on that side of the field. I want to ask people to tell me if they as children experienced AT/HT and believe that it had a positive effect on their mental health. Even if your experience was not with the bad old, intrusive, painful AT/HT, but with the “kinder and gentler” version claimed by ATTACh following the death of Candace Newmaker in 2000, I’d still like very much to hear about it if you can give a positive testimonial.

Here’s the thing: I’ve come across a number of people who have reported bad experiences with AT/HT. Some are reluctant to speak out, possibly because in the course of their long treatment they received little education and are self-conscious about telling their stories. Others simply want to forget it all and get on with their lives. One young woman spent several years contacting survivors of the treatment and posting their story on her web site; she has now dropped out of sight, but conversation with her revealed the terrible mark of her memories of her experience. Another young woman, who had managed to go on for some years without thinking about AT/HT, began to have disturbing memories after a relationship ruptured, and was eventually treated for an anxiety disorder at a University of Pennsylvania clinic. The “Invisible England” blog reports the experiences and outcome for a young British man who was subjected to AT/HT for years.

But where are the positive testimonials? On a number of web sites, including jl10ll.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/children-of-rage/, I find references to Beth Thomas, adopted daughter of Nancy Thomas, a strong proponent of AT/HT thinking, a “therapeutic foster parent”, and a parent educator who runs camps based on the AT/HT philosophy. Beth is described as having been a terrifying child, sexually vicious, cruel, and unpredictable. Now, having gone through the AT/HT program, she is a registered nurse and goes on the lecture circuit with her adoptive mother--  no longer a “child of rage”, but an “adult of admiration”. The site I just mentioned, by the way, also refers to Mary Bell, a British woman who as a young girl killed and mutilated a little boy. Maltreated by her mother from birth, Mary Bell was mistreated in the juvenile facility she was sent to and later was raped while incarcerated. She served a further sentence as an adult, during which time she read and thought deeply and expressed great remorse at her actions. Mary Bell never received AT/HT, but for some reason the site classes her together with Beth Thomas as a former “child of rage”.  

All right, suppose that all that has been written about Beth Thomas is true, and she feels she owes it all to AT/HT methods. Where, then, are the others who feel they have benefited from the AT intervention? I mean, where are the people, now adults, who as children were treated with AT/HT, and who now come forward to say it was a marvelous idea?

I don’t want to hear from the adoptive parents who think AT/HT is fine. After all, the criterion is personal experience, yes? There are plenty of adoptive parents who are ready to say the treatment is a big help. Rachel Stryker’s book The Road to Evergreen quoted a number of people who felt that the treatment had been effective even though their children were in residential care; the parents said it had helped them become a family, and they were still a family with their children elsewhere, “loving them at a distance”. The same attitude shows up at http://www.findinghopefoundation.com/blog-2, where a mother describes how she looked forward to having her adopted daughter go into respite care, and how long it’s been since the daughter lived at home--  but it’s okay, because now she Has Hope--  for what, it’s not too clear. And there are plenty more blogs where adoptive parents tell what a big help AT/HT in various forms has been to them.

It’s the positive testimonials of people treated with AT/HT methods as children that I want to see. And to help me and everybody be sure it’s really you and not your parent or therapist pretending to be you, maybe you could explain whether and where you’ve ever spoken up before--  and if you haven’t, why not.

    

82 comments:

  1. You present an interesting question about why young adults healed through attachment therapy don't speak up. However, one thing crosses my mind and that is that because their early behaviors were so negative, many of them probably don't feel comfortable sharing. Many children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) or attachment issues are violent and aggressive. It might be a bit like an adult who had anger problems and beats their spouse or children. They go through therapy and are now healed and are good parents. These adults might not be comfortable telling everyone about their past in very public formats.

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    1. Heal? I wouldn't personally consider complete compliance to all commands in fear of my life to be "healing". Wrapped in sheets, laid on, insulted, called a Bitch and a liar, while chatting 7k a week to do so, isn't treatment. It's abuse.

      Maybe I'm partial, because Connell Watkins at evergreen attachment center almost killed me, literally, and killed my spirit.

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    2. I lived through attachment therapy for 2 years(8-10). I had a challenging childhood already. Adoption twice lots of foster homes sexual abuse physical abuse. Being unwanted. I'm pretty open. If you asked about my childhood I'd tell you my story without blinking. I'm 25 now. I started talking about attachment therapy at age 24. It wasn't until I began to speak that I realized I never had. All those bad stories I had to tell and I never told that one. I noticed that the words were unfamiliar coming out of my mouth. Talking led to research. I research everything. Until I did the research, I didn't know this was a widespread form of therapy. I thought it was just a few crazy cruel people I'd been unfortunate enough to cross paths with. I knew of Candace in Colorado. I was at the same center right before her. They talked and defended that evil therapist we all feared. Attachment therapy is not therapy, its child abuse to the extreme. I have always considered that the darkest time in my childhood. They punished us by physical abuse, sleep deprivation, withholding food and education. They cut our hair like boys. We didn't "deserve" anything we weren't "normal" we were "treatment children". They made us feel less than human. It still effects me. I keep my hair long and have nightmares about it being cut off. My hair is like my security blanket. My sleeping has been out of wack ever since. I use to wake up in a panic thinking I wasn't suppose to be sleeping. During the AT I trained myself to sleep unnoticed. I slept for a few minutes standing in the shower or curled up on the toilet rug during a bathroom break. I could sleep during " strong quiet sitting " without moving a muscle and still being alert to my surroundings. The one time I accidentally fell asleep on the floor I woke up to being kicked in the ribs. I hid food in the kitchen trash can and ate it later. I'm terrified of not being able to breath because they wrapped me in a sheet laid on top of me and put their hands over my mouth and nose. I could go on and on really. I was shocked to discover that every last detail of that 2 years was all a form of therapy I could read about on the internet. Things I'd never told anyone right in front of my eyes in writing. Its abuse. You don't find good outcomes because there are none. And honestly even if anyone ever said it fixed or helped them I would assume they were confused and brainwashed into believing that. Which is exactly what its meant to do. Break down your spirit and self esteem and brainwash you.

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    3. Dear Jessica-- thank you so much for reporting your experiences and their present effects on you. I think it is not unusual for people who have been through AT not to understand for some years that the treatment was actually abusive-- they have been told that it's therapy, so therapy it is. Unfortunately, this can mean that the "statute of limitations" (time limitations on complaints of personal injury) has already run out by the time the victim is ready to sue the practitioner.

      I would like to know a lot more about your experience-- where you were living, who made the decision to take you to Evergreen, why you were moved from there, and what happened to you next.
      If you feel like communicating to me privately, my e-mail is jean.mercer@stockton.edu. Or, if you don't feel like letting me know your e-mail, you can send comments to this blog and let me know whether to post them or not-- I can read them without letting anyone else read them.

      Thank you again for being willing to let others read about your experiences in your present comments.

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  2. That's possible, but I'm not asking them to tell about their pasts-- just to say, I had AT, I think it was a good idea, I'm doing okay now.

    In any case, I see that Beth Thomas or her spokespersons are eager to tell about some very disturbing behavior from her childhood years. Wouldn't you expect some others to do the same?

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    1. I was placed in foster care right before the age of 4. My foster mother at the time tried AT, and it was a very negative experience for me. I am 30 years old now and was adopted by a wonderful woman who loved me and worked through my emotions. My foster mother had gone to some "classes and assumed she knew what she was doing. Perhaps it works for some but I have a different view point.

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    2. I appreciate your speaking up. Would you be willing to give any more details about your experience?

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  3. Beth Thomas' story was the subject of an HBO show, so it was out there when she was still a very disturbed little girl. Why wouldn't she want to speak up about her progress? She has more to gain by talking about it than most, since her story was already public.

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  4. I'm not sure why the producers of the show, and presumably Nancy Thomas, made it possible at some point to identify Beth. That would ordinarily be considered very inappropriate for any mental health professional (but of course Nancy Thomas is not a mental health professional). But it seems to me that Beth has made a great point of her background and treatment, after reaching adulthood. If she hadn't done that, how many people would remember that she was the same person as the HBO girl?

    It's true that she does have much to gain by talking about it, as it appears that talking about it is how she earns her living.It's also true that we have only the words of Beth and Nancy that any of the problems existed to begin with.

    Be all this as it may-- I still haven't seen any other positive testimonials.

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  5. Beth does speak up about her story. She talks at workshops and seminars and has a DVD where she talks about it. She's very open and public about her history.

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  6. I don't think anyone has said otherwise-- just that she's the only person who does talk, as far as I know. Also, my comment was that there is no independent evidence about her childhood mental health, only the statements of Nancy and Beth herself.

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  7. I followed WaywardRadish's "Search for Survivors" blog for some time which contained some very painful memories of AT from recipients but I don't recall any recipients of the therapy responding with positive recollections although the blog was plainly well known in AT circles. However, I will look through the blog again to see if there are any. (Of course I appreciate it may be that people with positive memories may not wish to contribute to such an avowedly anti-AT enterprise but I think it likely Wayward would have published such comments. There are many comments on the blog with which Wayward disagreed and this was made clear but they were still published.)

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  8. I do not think Beth make her living talking about her past. Beth is a neonatal nurse, nominated for nurse of the year in the western states, http://tinyurl.com/897bobc

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  9. Am I wrong in thinking she's on the lecture circuit,then? I seem to have seen her advertised quite frequently--are you saying that nursing is all she does?

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  10. From what I know, Beth has been a full-time nurse for a number of years. From time to time, she also does talks and workshops about RAD that include information about her own past.

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  11. And, to return to our moutons-- are there other post-AT people other than Beth who would give a positive testimonial? They can do this anonymously, of course.

    I'm surprised that ATTACh doesn't have a whole crew waiting to tell about their successful treatment.

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  12. Are there websites for other therapeutic approaches such as person-centered therapy, or solution-oriented therapy, or sensory integration therapy, or equine therapy, or CBT, or family-systems approach, or EMDR, or bipolar treatment, where recipients of the therapy share their positive testimonials? That sure would be helpful to people with emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues.

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    1. Cognitive behavioral therapy worked or me - here is one :) -Shannon

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  13. Well, this seems to be a slightly different flavor of red herring, but a red herring all the same. For one thing, I can't fathom why that would be useful, and for another, the issue here is whether anybody besides Beth Thomas thinks AT was good for them.

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  14. The below are my opinions:

    I have listened to a number of survivors of Attachment Therapy (AT). I sometimes asked if there was anything good about AT: One said she now felt she could endure anything painful that life might throw at her. Another said it made her a good reader because all she had good in her life as a child were books. One fellow said AT wasn't as bad as the military school where he was left on the ground for a week with a dislocated hip, in his feces, without much food, after being kicked by an instructor.

    I have listened to Beth Thomas' DVD. It is remarkable how much she sounds like a clone of Nancy Thomas, even that sickeningly derisive intoning of the word "sweetums."

    Beth suggests that as an older child, she had some responsibilities in carrying out the AT parenting on the children who were brought to Nancy Thomas' ranch. If so, that sounds like just more abuse to me, i.e. not only subjecting a child to AT, but then also training that child to be an abuser. Horrible.

    Beth also reveals her motivation for choosing to work in neonatal intensive care: to help premies attach to their parents. That would indicate to me that she wasn't paying attention in nursing school to her child development class.

    Beth Thomas has recently removed her DVD from Amazon.com. She also has no more presentations scheduled for 2012. One wonders if she has had an awakening about the abuse she endured. Or has she realized that promoting AT is not exactly ethical nursing practice. As a survivor of AT, I wish her well.

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  15. I was wrong. Beth Thomas is schedule to speak before the Nebraska Foster an Adoptive Parent Association this coming August.

    http://www.nfapa.org/Data/Sites/1/education/2012nfapaconferences/gretnaonedayconferenceaugust2012withbeththomas.pdf

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  16. If you watch the HBO documentary "Child of Rage" which was made when Beth was six years old and still living with her adoptive parents, you will see Beth's adoptive parents being interviewed about her behaviors that included abusing family pets, sexual acting out and abuse of her brother. Beth is six years old in the video and talks about her desire to hurt her brother and how she killed animals and tortured family pets. Her parents had to lock her in the bedroom at night to prevent her from hurting her brother. She hurt him to the point of needing medical attention and admits to wanting to kill him. The parents discuss the background of Beth in detail before being placed with them which included horrific physical and sexual abuse as explained to them by a social worker. The parents sought out her older sibling, a stripper, who confirmed the childhood events. So yes, do the research, there is independent documentation that the behaviors existed.

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  17. I wouldn't say that statements made on a TV program made by supporters of Attachment Therapy were exactly "independent documentation". That documentary is basically an infomercial.

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    1. Not only that the sources for reporting were adoptive parents ho were convincing themselves they had a valid reason to rehome their "out of control" daughter.

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  18. Do we know how, or why, Beth ended up adopted by Nancy Thomas? I was just curious and can't find any information anywhere.

    It honestly sounds to me like this therapy is just an excuse for her to continue to abuse other children but its been a LONG time since I read up on this kind of therapy - I honestly didn't realize it was still going on!

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  19. All I know is that N. Thomas used to foster and do "respite" work with a lot of children. But I don't know whether that was Beth's particular background.

    The treatment has been here for a while,is still here, and I suppose will continue-- perhaps because of its resonance with "old-fashioned" practices.

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  20. By the way, an e-mail just came to me from a NJ adoption worker who wants to buy a Nancy Thomas book. No, it hasn't gone away.

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  21. There is a This American Life episode called 'Unconditional Love' that deals with a couple who adopted a seven year old from Romania and the attachment therapy they went through. During the program, the child involved give a speech at his synagogue as a 17 year old expressing his gratitude and love to his parents. He also explains some of his thoughts and emotions during the therapy.

    So not an adult, and I don't know how reliable a witness he is, but the program would still be in the show archives.

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  22. This is very interesting. I'll try to find it. Can anyone help on this?

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  23. Here is the program : www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/317/unconditional-love. Maybe I'm missing something, but I didn't see where the boy talks about his thoughts and feelings during therapy.

    I wish this had been done by "Science Friday" instead (and I have tried to get them to do it). This episode tries to discuss a number of different issues, including Deborah Blum's then-recent book about Harlow and the methods of non-mainstream therapists like Keck and Federici, and tries to wedge all of these things into the category "unconditional love"-- a category that really doesn't have much to do with any of them. I'd love to know how this was put together. I know that at about that time Blum was speaking at the annual meeting of ATTACh, and she may have made the connections that are suggested, after her publicist made the contact with Ira Glass.

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  24. I'm not a proponent of AT, but do know fuve families who adopted severely abused children at a young age and have done nothing but show unstinting love for those children. The parents in three of these cases have been beaten within an inch of their lives, falsely accused of rape, their homes have been trashed, smeared with menstrual blood, faeces, they have stones thrown at them, knives held at their throats. These are adoptive parents who have such self-control and such enormous reserves of empathy that they continue to show nothing but love and understanding to the children about why they act in this way. But I don't see how that love is helping or guiding the children towards a happy and solid adulthood. It is tragic to watch them all self-destruct. I think in their place I'd have fallen on AT. It goes against the instincts, but where love has no effect whatsoever, what is the alternative?
    My point is: AT looks oppressive but it may be curbing something far more vile, more aggressive and socially dangerous. I'd be interested in your response to this.

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    1. Dear Anon-- certainly there are children who for a variety of reasons cannot live in a family without danger to themselves and others. Malcolm Shabazz, Malcolm X's grandson,is a famous example of this.I don't claim that love alone can normalize these children, but I think there are evidence-based parent-child programs that can be effective for some parents children when started early. Those are the alternative to AT on the one extreme and "love alone" on the other.

      But my response to your point is: what evidence can you offer that AT has ever curbed seriously disturbed moods and behavior? Until such evidence is offered (and I'm afraid "Child of Rage" doesn't count), I can't see why we would think that AT "may" have a beneficial effect.

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    2. it would be hard to share anything so personal with people who are negative and looking for problems

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    3. Actually, if your experience was negative and full of problems, it might not be so hard.

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    4. I agree with anonymous on this one. Lots of people only look at this therapy and think bad. It goes against what we are taught. when I say it worked for me I am told there is no way. I was just a kid they must have brainwashed. If I said it didn't work though you wouldn't ask me to defend my opinion. the more I defend the more people against it will pick me apart and my life story.

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  25. Dr. Mercer, I don't have any personal experience with AT, but I have read extensively about it and believe it is abusive. Before we adopted from foster care we heard stories of kids with AD. My husband is a scientist and has access to (and brains to understand) scientific articles. He was able to resolve concerns that might have kept us from adopting. Our kids are in great shape. One has some early trauma and sometimes panics at unfamiliar situations. We have been in therapy to teach us how to help her and use techniques such as soft voice, helping her express her feelings in words, teaching her to self-regulate through breathing, keeping a consistent routine, etc. I would characterize our issues as mild.

    Is AT still going on? Holding therapy is outlawed in our state. Nobody seems to know about it. I am concerned about foster and adopted kids being exposed to this abuse.

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    1. It's great to hear a good adoption story! I know there are lots of them, but the families are too busy with other things to be have time to say they're doing well.

      Your question about AT is a good one. As I'm sure you know,no records would be kept about this unless it was done in an institution or paid for by public funds. However, there is evidence that therapists have been trained in this method in recent years in the U.S., and that a small number of children have continued to be treated with AT in Britain until today. A current movement to ban AT in Britain suggests that it is an ongoing problem. A recent German book and conferences and discussions in the Czech Republic show that a version of the treatment continues in those places.

      Can you tell me the exact wording of your state's ban? It can be easy for AT practitioners to state that they use restraint only with a child's agreement, or that holding is for nurturing purposes, and thus to get around legislative language. There are also forms of treatment in which children are not provoked by the classical AT methods, but instead are restrained at length when they are upset, in the belief that there is a specific therapeutic effect of this technique. Practitioners of that technique say that they are not doing AT.

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  26. I don't believe the part about the Beth Thomas story that says she is remembering abuse that happened as an infant. I think she was brainwashed into believing that she is remembering certain horrific acts (some which may very well had happened).

    AT looks like a way parents can get revenge under the guise of therapy. OTOH, it allows both sides to get out some bottled up anger and also shows without question who is boss. I don't want to go into this any deeper right now but they may as well go with "switch or belt therapy." The results would be the same and it would cost a lot less.

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  27. Your point is a good one, and the whole false memory issue has shown that it's very possible to suggest memories of abuse.

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    1. In my case, my memories of medically confirmed and witness testified abuse was denied. I was told I made up severe sexual abuse for attention and to manipulate people to feel bad for me. I was tormented during holding sessions until I "admitted" making it all up, even though I had been hospitalized prior to my adoption for fluid in my lungs and resulting pneumonia. My sibling's screams during abuse caused a neighbor to call 911, which was documented by police. After my adoption at 5, I was physicaly examined resulting in more confirmation of the abuse.

      They had no reason to do this, or even think I was lying. I'm sure it was standard treatment for all of us.

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  28. I was in "AT" as a child, on my 10th birthday. I was severely sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by my biological parents until I was adopted at age 5, separated from my sibling, grandparents, aunt/uncle, and cousins, who were all healthy and loving. My entire name, even first name, was immediately changed. I was not encouraged or sometimes allowed to speak of my past. My adoptive mother was mid 40's, with my adoptive father in his mid 60's. Somehow, my mother adopted me when my father did not want more kids. (He had 2 from previous marriage, who were grown and married by that point.) My adoptive mother was a narcissist, who did not understand the needs or actions of a severely abused 5 year old. I didn't like to be touched, was scared of school, and did not "adore" her like she had envisioned.

    She took me to evergreen Colorado, to be "treated" by Connell Watkins and Julie ponder, the women who killed Candice Newmaker, just a year after my experience.

    The atmosphere in the "center", their house, was terrible. Do not speak, do not move, do not go to the bathroom unless given permission. I was overweight, so they gave me very little food. Others who were underweight, were forced to eat sickening portions. We were punished often, but especially confusing was the punishment for being good. We sat cross legged, in a corner, nose touching the wall, with hands flat on the floor beside us, for 30 minutes to hours. Again, this was for punishment, and control. To show us who was in control, remind us who's boss, and keep us in line. An example of what they considered acting out: we were instructed to draw a our house, with very, very specific instructions. I am an artist, so I was as excited as I could be in a place of torture. I finished my drawing with a simple addition of the mailbox. I was punished for being "manipulative", and deviating from instructions.

    The actual holding therapy is what caused me additional PTSD. I was wrapped tightly in several sheets, only my head exposed, laying on the bare floor. I then had up to 3 or more adults push, shove, smother, and lay on me. This was video taped, so my mother could watch from another room. For hours they screamed taunts and insults at me, often inches from my face, sometimes grabbing my hair and face. They called me fat, lazy, selfish, and manipulative. They told me I had a black heart, with no capability of love. They called me a liar and a Bitch. For hours they did, smugly insisting they would make me rage. They had to "get it out of me". The most damaging thing they did was one session, they insisted I lied about being brutally sexually abused by my father, for attention and to manipulate. They would not stop torturing me until I "admitted it". In defeat, I finally did.

    They released me to my mother after these sessions, to drink warm milk out of a bottle in her lap, being rocked. I was 10 years old. I was tested of my progress by being taken in public (parks, grocery, etc) and ordered to take commands like a dog. My test was to be humiliated in public, required immediately to comply to verbal commands. "Sit", "stay" "come". In front of strangers, I had to fall to the ground and sit, while my mother walked away and ignored me.

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  29. After news of Candace Newsmakers death made headlines, my mother was incredibly angry that Connell Watkins, and others were held accountable. They did a wonderful thing for her, "saved our lives". I confronted her about not believing me about the abuse I suffered as a toddler, and how terrifying the AT was. She still insisted it was the best thing that ever happened to her. I was sent to "therapeutic boarding school" and residential treatment centers shortly after this, until I turned 18. I left home a month after I was released, because I would rather be homeless and broke than be abused any more. I paid for my own therapist, and she would not participate. She wrote her own prescriptions for xanax and pain pills as she was in a medical field that she she could do so undetected. She drank brandy until she passed out. I did not want to be called an ungrateful Bitch anymore. I did not want to be slapped anymore. I left, and it was a struggle, but I made it.

    I have not spoken to my mother since a week after I moved out, 7 years ago. A few of her friends who I love and still associate with have gently confronted her. I did my part, got healthy, worked on my problems, took accountability for my life and my actions. She does not want to change. I have a three year old son she wants pictures of, to show pictures to her patients, yet wants nothing to do with us. I have been homeless several times since leaving home. I've been in and recovered from a violently abusive relationship. I worked hard and received my g.e.d. while in a women's treatment center. I've come from hopeless homelessness, and narrowly surviving hanging myself, both mentally and physically ill, to having my own two bedroom apartment with my son, a proud single mother, working full time at the same employer for four years, with a paid for vehicle. I am now in EMT school. I hope to one day either be a paramedic, or work as a metal health crisis first responder. My AT experience, along with multiple other severe trauma experiences, have been challenging and at points almost deadly. I am stable, but recovering. However, my trauma and and experiences throughout my life have also given me an uncommon and vast amount of understanding and compassion in regards to mental illness, as well as the acute response and PTSD that results from trauma.

    Connell Watkins, the evergreen attachment center in Colorado, all four of my abusive parents, my childhood bullies, and my emotionally and physically abusive ex, and countless negligent and indifferent mental health care providers DID NOT "give me the strength to be who I am", etc. I have realized I am lucky to have been strong all along. I survived. I persisted. I made it out alive, some how. My abusers will not be credited for my strength and hard work. The people in my life who cared, listened, and helped to the best of their ability, as well as myself, deserve the credit. There were few therapists (from LPCs, psychiatrists, and LCSWs) who have made it possible for me to thrive and grow. One had helped me for almost three years, regardless of my recent inability to pay. The therapists that have persisted in helping me over the years have literally saved my life.

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  30. McKenzie, even though I have heard these stories before, I am completely stunned by your account and the way you make clear that these treatments occurred frequently and close together in time, rather than just occasionally as some AT proponents want people to think.

    I want to forward your comments to another victim, who is working on writing an account of her experiences.

    It's so important to communicate to therapists today the reality of these experiences and how they went far beyond "ordinary" abusive treatment. How wonderful it would be if therapists would speak up about the misdoings of their colleagues and make it possible for victims to sue for compensation!

    Thank you so much for telling about this. I am overcome with respect for your ability and the dignity with which you are claiming your own life. Please let me know how life continues to go for you.

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    1. Thank you. The small number of therapists since age 17 that have helped me have all been supportive when I tell them this story. While it is not typical a counselor admits to being appalled, a few have. One was shocked and was grateful I trusted him. He felt honored to help me. He explained that when he heard of Candice Newsmakers death, years prior, he was outraged. I doubt he ever expected to encounter a victim of these people, time zones away from the location of the center. (I'm in Tennessee)

      I am lucky. Candace Newmaker was not. I am grateful I didn't aspirate my vomit and die, like she did. Candice died covered in her own vomit, urine, and feces, while begging for her life, enduring insults and being told to go ahead and die. On tape, it is even confirmed that they were aware of her vomiting, urination, and defecation, because they insulted her about that too.

      Like her, I told them (when I managed to take a breath, that is) that I couldn't breathe. They responded by being rougher.

      Recently, I've wondered about Connell Watkins and how she only served 7 years of her 14 year sentence, for killing Candace. "Good behavior" pays off, I guess. With video evidence in court, there was no question of her guilt. The jury's vote was a unanimous guilty verdict.

      Upon release from prison, Connell Watkins changed her name and took up an alias, and is living a comfortable life, even publishing a book, relating to reactive attachment disorder.

      My memories of the three weeks there are choppy and a bit scattered time wise, but they are very clear. I distinctly remember long shelves, hung very high packed to the brim with their video taped sessions.

      How is it that with the ideal evidence of clear video, Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder were not prosecuted for capitalizing on cruel torture of vulnerable children? None of the other victims received justice. While I was in their home with the other children being "treated", there were at least 10 of us at a time for certain, but probably more. How many years did they practice? How many victims were there?

      Feel free to forward my remarks. I would be honored to assist. What is the best way to contact you privately? I have a few questions regarding whether I would like anonymity or not. I have more to my story, but some details are highly personal.

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    2. Thank you again. You can contact me privately at jean.mercer@stockton.edu.

      Your question about Watkins (I think she now calls herself C.J. Cooil) and Ponder is a good one. I don't have any idea why Watkins was released when she was, and Ponder continued to serve her sentence. But I think the reason for the lack of prosecution that you mention is simply that it was not against any specific law to do the things they did. If you will look at definitions of child abuse used in research, you'll see that those actions are included-- but unless they do demonstrable harm, and that harm is complained about by some knowledgeable adult, there is no law to prohibit them.

      What is the book by Watkins? I searched under Cooil but didn't find anything.

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  31. McKenzie, I would like to hear more of your story as I also experienced Connell. I lived with these people over a year. Please email me at mronningen12@wou.edu

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  32. Mary Bell was a special case, poor kid - she had a genetic predisposition to obsessive behaviour, which ran in her family, and a deranged mother who repeatedly half-strangled her, so it wasn't surprising that she became obsessed with strangulation. But she recovered from her behaviour *without* AT and grew up to be a normal adult and a good mother, which raises the possibility that Beth Thomas too just grew out of her mania, and the AT was irrelevant.

    It seems to me that HT is a perversion of a natural behaviour. If you have an animal which is scared and excitable it can help to catch hold of it and hold it close for a minute or two, but the idea is to show it that even when it's in your power you aren't going to hurt it, so it's safe for it to be around you. To get something in your power and then hurt it can only be counterproductive.

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    1. You may well be right about spontaneous recovery from emotional disturbance, but I think it's also possible that Beth Thomas's childhood behaviors have been exaggerated for the sake of the AT narrative. This way, the story has a TERRIBLE child becoming a WONDERFUL adult; without the exaggeration, a somewhat troubled child becomes an okay adult-- not nearly as exciting.

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  33. I know many speak against. I might have hated going through it and I know bc of it I have other issues. Yet, in my case I know it saved me. This therapy is a last resort. most of the time you can just love someone and prove it over and over again and "heal" them that way But not always.

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    1. It would be very interesting to hear more of your story. And can you explain-- if this treatment is effective, why is it viewed as a "last resort"? That term is usually used for something that is potentially harmful, or at least more harmful than beneficial.

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    2. Have you tried dealing with somone though who blacks out with rage. who will and would do anything to hurt you And if that doesn't work will turn around and do it to themselves? I tried to stab my brother with those old metal scissors when I was five. To the outside world though I was sugary sweet. People called my parents crazy thinking they were making it up. I could convince any person that I was an angel. if the cats could talk though they would tell you I terrorized my household for years.

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    3. my parents are amazing people and they beloved if they just loved me enough it would work. There is just one problem with that issue. Love is what made me that way. Well, correction what I had been told was love. Mother's who were suposed to take care of me I bonded to automatically(being an infant) and then one day just were not there. Try having your heart ripped out that many times in three years. I know adults who go crazy from one bad relationship. How about a child who starts beleaving it is there fault. By the time my parents got to me what they offered I hated. They tried to love I couldn't accept it.

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    4. Anger is a great best friend and an amazing motivator in life. It is also unhealthy and controlling. My parents tried every thing. My brother was moved out of the house for a while. They didn't give up. I know the idea of an animal that has been hurt is used a lot to try to explain but I agree with the anolgy. Some animals are hurt and if you just take the time to gain their trust they will in time come out and help you fix there wounds. Some though strike out attack you over and over again. The nicer you are the meaner they are even if they have wounds that are pouring blood they are not letting you near. For them to get better you have to find a different way to help them. I also like this anolgy bc animals can't tell you what happend. Being so young I don't know a lot that happend. My heart does, nightmare reflected some, and my subconscious did. My brain though could not tell you. It was almost like I was just born that way. My parents had to find a way to prove to me I wasn't born to be unloved or bad. I was created from circumstances. The rad therapy is what that is about. you have to get the child to need you. This is were it is very tricKY and that is why I say last resort. the story you hear about cages and chains those are fucked up people using this idea in a fucked up way. Just like guns are not evil the person behind it can be. RAD belive in a cycle. You have to get the anger out. Have you seen a person who gets just so mad and fustrated that they break down? They can't handle it and they are vulnerable. That's what is forced to happen. it is forced to make this kid need you even for a second. Give you the chance to show them what love really is. Now this is one reason this is last resort. It is torture I won't deny it. Having people hold you down( remebember to get my way I would hurt not just others but myself) and say the things that broke you. I would get so angry and theN just so tired. They then held me, talked to me, asked me questions I would never have be open to answering and tried to show me love can be good. Now in my opinion I feel it is backwards that the parents do the breaking and the fixing. Like what one do I belive. Idk what I would have done if the therapist had been the one to break me would I have turned to them or to her. This is a last resort bc it is exactly how it sounds(horible) the place I was heading though with all the anger I had was no where good. Age five and I'm hurting people. I could see an adoptive parent who now holds resentment doing this and it going wrong. I could see a kid just no longer caring and it not working. The only way this works is if the parents doing it actually have the well being of the child in mind and the kid somewhere deep down wants to change. This does not work without consequences. My parents and I are not close and probably never will be. I prob do have different scars bc of the things they said. They stoped doing it the second I started showing improvement. Then it was lighter therapy. Kicking therapy. you can feel anger in your muscles that helped. Conell was who helped that 1st break through happen for me in my Situation. Oh how I hated her while I was there as well. She and the house mother made me see though that this was my last chance with my parents. if I wanted it at all it was then or possibly never. I don't talk about it much bc people look at me like I am crazy. If I don't admit to at least one of the horrible things I did they look at my parents lime they are evil once I said what I have done they look at me like I am. I know the therapy did not come near to healing me I still go through emotions everyday I can't explain. I know though I don't want to hurt, munipulate, and or push people. For me and again I can only speak for me. It gave me a chance to actually be open to love and a healthy love.

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    5. Also last resort does not always stand for more harmful then beneficial. people when choosing surgeries won't pick the most painful one 1st if another could help. They won't pick the most costly one of another can help. They will pick the most costly and painful one of they have tried everything else. That doesn't mean it will work. It was just the last option. The things you will use to defend your side will be facts you read and or things you have been through. My side comes from what I have been through. Just like some of us learn differently some people are just more broken and have to be healed diffently or at least given the option.

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    6. Also, remember to most people who finally saw what I was capable of behind my sweetess I was a lost cause. I was un-fixable and to some a monster. Not saying I am 100% but who is. I am not a lost cause though. :)

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    7. Let me make one correction not MORR broken differently broken.

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    8. Dear Maria-- thanks for giving these details, but I would also be interested to know the length of your treatment, frequency of sessions, whether you were in a respite home, and whether anyone other than Connell Watkins was involved with you.

      Your early life was certainly sad and rough, but I don't see your behavior at age 5 as far outside the normal range. Although we'd much rather they didn't, children of 5 do sometimes hit or even stab at others, and hassling the cats is not unusual for children who have not received careful early instruction on being gentle with pets.

      It seems to me that you were told, and have told yourself, many disturbing narratives about who you were and what you might do. Whether these narratives were based on the Attachment Therapy theory of who you must be, or on actual facts about you, is something I can't tell. However, I think it's essential to keep in mind that the constant repetition of statements about children's evil character and hatred can easily have an impact on beliefs about the self-- even though the children are said by AT proponents to trust no one, they do in fact think adults know what they are talking about.

      Have you ever thought that your recovery may have occurred *in spite* of Watkins' ministrations rather than because of them?

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  34. I had already done holding therapy I started it here in Madison I was in 3rd grade. the therapist I had here recommended me to Connell. it was 3 weeks of extreme holding sessions. my parents and brother stayed in hotels and I stayed in a family home that Connell had recommended. I did some vacation stuff with my family and everyday we did holding sessions. it wasn't Connells therapy so much(I had already been doing that) that made me decide to change. It was the situation my parents created. my parents were told to tell me that if they didn't see improvement or at least the want to change they were leaving me in colorado. I remember thinking finally you understand I don't want you I hate you. I was so relieved that i was finally getting what I wanted.

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  35. there were two things that made a difference. A Book Connell bought for me and my brother. the book was about a kid who had gone through more and worse things then I ever had and had done more and worst things that I had done. the book said the kids emotions so perfectly correct and made me feel like someone understood the kid also changed. it was not the book that first made me want more it was the fact that this kid was younger and a boy and if he could do it so could I. my brother overheard my parents talking and came to me and told me he knew I could change he didn't want me to stay behind.

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  36. have you ever stayed in a home with a kid who has AT. and not just for month or two. I could convince someone and anyone that I was the best little kid you would ever find Easily for a month or two. The thing that would actually probably make you start being weary is that it was to good..fake. once I realized you noticed then I changed my tactics and showed you who I really was. kids do fight my brother and I had many kid fights. there is a big difference in the fights that were us just being a kid and me wanting to hurt him. You make it seem light by using the word hassle I didn't hassle I tourtured him and my mom. My dad for some reason. I mostly left alone. My parents and my brother would never tell you this or remind me of it. I was there I was the one who did it. I might have been young but I stoped being a child the moment my birth mom left. When someone is forced to grow up they don't think the same way as another child. I thrived off of hurtING my mom and brother. Making people think they were crazy, seeing them cry, bleed, angry sad. Knowing I had control over them made me high. Even to this day I see me get that way when angry at someoNE in my life. I work hard everyday to not cave in to that feeling. so having my brother say that to me made me sit up

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  37. Also, the things my parents yelled at me in therapy were not things I didn't already feel. I came to them thinking I must be bad and unlovable and so I did the things to prove to them that I was all of that. Probably the only time I would fight back about that definition on who I was. Was during thag therapy. It was alright for me to say it or think but how dare they. In the most backwards way it made me state I wasn't bad or evil or unlovable. When I was a kid all the things I did I didn't care if they were wrong. As an adult I do. Like I said though my parents did it rt. I could see how some parents could take it to far and start taking their anger out on the kid instead.

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  38. I firmly belive that bc of how Connell set up everything. The situation she created my recovery started. On a side note. I asked my parents years later about how they were going to leave me there. One of the rules Connell had was that the parents had to make the kid belive this was the last chance. My parents had a round ticket for me no matter what. I just wasn't allowed to know.

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  39. Maria, I'm sorry you thought you deserve that. I however know that I did not. I had severe PTSD from repeated near death experiences at the hands of my parents. I had a normal reaction two very abnormal events.

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    1. I am still completely baffled by the idea that manipulation by parents can cause a child to trust them, or that physical and emotional intrusions somehow enable a person to feel love. But you are providing some very interesting information, Maria, so I would like to hear more details if you are willing. I'm especially interested in knowing how you went from being pleased at the idea of abandonment to being motivated by the threat. McKenzie does not seem to agree with you about the effects of the treatment-- can you tell us why you think there is this difference?

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  40. I wasn't motivated by the threat I was motivated by my brother. Also, I have stated many times it is who is doing. Mckenzie said that the parents who did this with who were not good people to begain with. The way they performed the treatment probably was in an abusive nature. When looking at fact yiu have to remember people can change facts. life is not back or white. Each person is different and situations that sound exactly the same can end in two different ways bc of the people in Them.

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  41. I do feel Jean yiu pick and choose what you listen to from my story. You also never answered my question about living with a kid who has RAD.

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  42. Mckenzie I am not saying I deserved this. To say I deserved it would be saying I deserved all the stuff that had happened to me. I am saying for me it did work. Remeber people are what make outcomes different. Sounds to me your adoptive parents did not have the best intentions.

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  43. Also physical and emotional intrusion(as you say) are not what made me feel love. It is what made get all my anger out. You have three times munipulated my words. Read what I am actually writing and not your interpretation on them. I am not stain here if I am for against AT I am saying for me it worked. Plain aND simply.

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  44. I now respectful am going to end this discussion. You asked for a side a story. That is mine. I don't need you to agree with it but just bc it doesn't match your opinion does not make it wrong.

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    1. Thanks for what you've told here. I don;t think I've disagreed with your description, but I do disagree with the interpretation you put on what happened-- for example, the idea that there is such a thing as catharsis of anger.

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  45. Please do not speak for me.

    So, the treatment is different because of the intentions behind it? I was abused and frankly tortured. Called evil, called a bitch, threatened to be abandoned again, physically assaulted, Connell (of all people) made fun of me for being overweight, and didn't let me eat much. She also mocked me as I ate. , in front of everyone. (This, after experiencing hunger from my birth mother when she was angry toward me) Their spit hit my face as they screamed at me, insisting I MADE UP being raped as a child to "get attention". I said what I needed to live.

    They physically took my ability to breathe, and I'd already nearly died that was as a younger child, so yes, I was threatened to be killed. I was going to get left out there. That torture severed any possibility of attachment towards my abusive adoptive mother.

    I am now a loving mother of a 4 year old, I am a licenced emt, full time work AND full time school again this semester. I pay my bills etc. I love animals and have been a strict vegetarian for 9 years. I do not have a black heart, as Connell said. I've defeated homelessness. I help others. I am constantly improving my life.

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    1. Sorry for the delay in posting this, McKenzie. It's heart-rending to read what you went through. My thanks for your descriptions, and congratulations on pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps as you have.

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  46. I just came across this and am horrified that this type of therapy continues to be used with kids who have an attachment disorder.

    I don't feel this helps kids rebond at all with parents. What it seems to be is a series of torture methods designed to break the child down and then build the child back up in a way where the adult has all the control and power.

    What does the child learn through these methods? That the adult has the power to inflict pain and punishment, the adult can decide whether you starve or eat that day, the adult can decide everything in your life and you don't matter..what you think, want, etc doesn't matter because you're no longer a real person.

    Essentially, it's a form of brainwashing. If kids behavior improves from this I believe it is likely because the child lives in fear and tries to be perfect so they won't be punished.

    Rad children can be very scary and disturbing and lack control..so I can see how teaching them rules etc would be good ..but this form of therapy boggles my mind.

    I can't believe these women ..so called therapists..have tapes and tapes,of,this abuse and they were let go early from prison after murdering a child!

    They seem like adult bullies who love,to,belittle and abuse children because it makes them feel powerful. Disgusting.

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    1. Your points about the treatment are well taken. However, I'd caution against calling them "rad children". If the children are confrontational, obsessive, dangerously disobedient, etc., those are the issues that need treatment. Whether there is "RAD" or not is irrelevant -- and there is no known way to diagnose such a disorder in children of school age or over.

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  47. I'd love to tell my story. But it is hard. going through that time again is not something i would normally do. Plus i would love to be able to talk to other survivors. I've never really talked to one. I still feel like im alone out there in all of this. It was a living hell, it didnt stop untill i was 18 and was able to break from all of it. I still hate my parents and im doing everything i can to see things from their point of view but its hard to. To this day they still believe what they did was right and have not done anything to make up for what i was put through. "sorry" is never going to be enough. My entire childhood was taken from me. Ive blocked out most of it cause its to painful. I still have nightmares, i still cant trust, i have so many issues that its hard to just function like a normal member of society. Im just glad that i found a group of friends that are willing to be there for me and help me through this. Unless you have gone through it, you will never be able to fathom the terror that it put me and other kids like me through. You can read all the articles on it you like, you can watch all the attachment videos you like, you'll never be able to understand what it is, or what we had to go through. The hell of having to retake k-12th grade, of having to tell people you have no idea what they are talking about when they bring up a great event of the past, getting scared of something so simple, having people give you that look when you just cant do something cause it reminds you of what youve been through. not wanting to tell them what you have been through for fear they wont believe you. Not being able to get help from friends or family cause "your just getting attention" " shes manipulative" "shes a lair" " she has sever mental problems and acts out were getting her help" No one believes you when you say you are not safe, if they do go to the parents they already know what to say so the "treatment" can continue. your a killer to be, your manipulative, you never tell the truth. Hearing that so many times, starts to make you question your own reality. "maybe the way i act is like a killer" "maybe is should just start to lie cause at least then id be getting in trouble for something im actually doing" "im done saying i love them cause every time i say it they think im just minipulating them" being raised up to believe you are a monster. you are a killer, you are pure evil. is one of the hardest things anyone could go through. So yes i want to tell my story, but understand, that no matter what, i will be reliving hell, and that can be hard for anyone to go through.

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    1. I know it will be painful, but I hope you will consider telling your story with the hope of preventing other children from having that experience--

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  48. BTW, there is a closed Facebook group called Attachment Therapy is Wrong. You can ask to join it if you would like to discuss related issues with other people who have experienced AT as well as with interested professionals.

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  49. I experienced ht, I met with Dr. Welch herself at her therapy center in new york city. My whole family went, because my brother had autism. HT was used on me and it is honestly my worst memory. HT was used on my brother more than me but I experienced it as well, it is truly torturous, watching my brother go through it was extremely scarring. The only reason it SEEMS to work is only because you are so distraught that you want the torture to end. There are much better strategies for helping people express feelings that don't leave lasting scars. My family life was very unstable, I need therapy badly but can not afford it yet, when i can though i will throw a lot of money at my mental health, I need a lot of therapy and I know it.

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    1. I am so sorry to hear this. I do wonder how many people are out there suffering the aftereffects from Welch's treatments. (She got a special award from Columbia for her contributions, did you know that?) It must have been ghastly for an autistic child, but you are not the only one to say that it is your memory of seeing other children tormented that is the worst.

      I had a contact some years ago with another person who had been through the Welch treatment. When in her twenties, she began to have serious anxiety attacks. She was finally treated at the U. Penn anxiety clinic and has done very well since then. When she went for treatment, she took along videos of the method, and that helped shape the treatment plan. If you do manage to get treatment, I'd suggest that you do the same thing, because most therapists do not really know what was done or understand its traumatic nature.

      Good luck, and if you ever want to tell more of your story I would like to hear it. BTW, there is a Facebook site called Attachment Therapy is Wrong-- you have to ask to join but you might find it worthwhile.

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    2. Hi Jean,
      It's so nice to be acknowledged by your comment. It was very difficult to see my brother cry and be tortured like that, even when it was done behind closed doors, I could still hear. I was younger than him so there was nothing I could do. I'm sure being autistic was difficult enough for him, and experiencing parents who would inflict this type of torture on him, just added to the trauma. It is good to hear that others think watching people go through this therapy is as difficult as I thought it was. The fact that she received an award from Columbia is absolutely pathetic, if the award was given by people who received her "treatment" then she would not have an award at all.
      I will definitely follow your advice when I get treatment, it must really help them understand what I went through to see it. I read a review of her book on amazon and one person said that the licking was the worst part for him, I felt so validated to read that comment because I know that was the worst part for me as well. If your idea of therapy entails trying to make someone break down through humiliation, torture and making them as uncomfortable as possible to bring them to tears, then you are the one that needs therapy.
      I think it is important to add that the people who buy into this therapy can be unstable parents in other ways. I think quacks must gravitate to Dr. Welch and this therapy for help because they are crazy themselves. I hope everyone here finds help to reverse the damage done to them by these "doctors". Thank you for your help as well too. I am so grateful for the internet, it has really helped tide me over until I can afford more personalized therapy.

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    3. Thanks so much for those comments! I had never looked at the Amazon reviews, and they are eye-openers. One mentioned a book by Catherine Maurice that discusses the effects of holding on a child-- I want to see whether I can get it.

      It is really shattering to think of this stuff being done to autistic children.

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