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.