Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

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

Friday, January 25, 2013

Russian Adoption: Letter to Senator Mary Landrieu


Dear Senator Landrieu:

I am writing to you because of your involvement with the congressional adoption coalition and because of your recent attempts to communicate with the Russian authorities about the adoption ban. I want to comment on some issues that have rarely been mentioned in connection with the ban. Sad though the Russian decision was for some American families and some waiting children, it may offer us an opportunity to examine factors affecting the success of  both foreign and domestic adoptions in this country.

The Russian legislation was named for Dima Yakovlev, a toddler adopted from Russia who died a tragic but purely accidental death. It would more appropriately have been named for children like Viktor Matthey and Nathan Craver, or others who died as a result of systematic maltreatment of a type advised or countenanced by some adoption caseworkers and educators.

Popular sources of information about adoption and Internet sites such as www.focusonthefamily.com  and www.attach-china.org have to a considerable extent been hijacked by an unconventional, non-evidence-based view of emotional attachment and treatment of mental illness. This perspective claims that all emotional disturbance derives from poor attachment experiences, and that adoptive parents can cause children to become attached to them by displaying their power and authority. In order to display authority, parents must make children completely dependent on them and obedient to them; children may eat and drink only as parents allow them, must not use the toilet without asking, and may be kept in cold or uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, including cages. Such treatment is physically as well as mentally unhealthy and accounts for the frequent findings of malnutrition in deaths of adopted children.  

Because Internet sources present these types of maltreatment as appropriate for adopted children, adoptive parents may have become convinced of this misinformation before they ever receive the pre-adoptive training required under the Hague Convention. Whether their pre-adoptive education contradicts or confirms their beliefs may make the difference between mistreatment of adoptive children and appropriate treatment. Unfortunately, evidence from education of social workers, CASAs, and GALs suggests that in some cases the mistaken beliefs may be confirmed rather than contradicted.

How can the U.S. alter this situation so that adopted children from all countries are safer? As I suggested in a letter to Pavel Astakhov two years ago, an important step would be to review pre-adoption training materials. I would like to see this done for all pre-adoption education, but in light of the Russian ban this may be the time to begin with materials from agencies that work with foreign adoptions. I don’t believe that such a process can constitutionally be created by Federal legislation, and I believe that state legislation would be strongly resisted by groups like the ones I mentioned earlier. However, it should be possible for a congressional committee to request co-operation from agencies that deal with foreign adoptions and to have their materials vetted by independent scholars.

What I suggest here would obviously be only a first step,  but it may be an essential one both toward improving the outlook for adopted children and toward convincing the Russians that the ban is unnecessary.

Sincerely yours,

Jean Mercer,Ph.D.
Professor Emerita of Psychology, Richard Stockton College

NOTE: Senator Landrieu's office answered this the day after it was sent, with a form letter in which the Senator deplored the conditions of children in Russia.

I was recently interviewed on this issue by the Russian magazine Za Rubezhom. Perhaps Senator Landrieu's staff will read about the matter there.    J.M.



5 comments:

  1. Jean,
    I would really like to meet with you in person to talk about your erroneous beliefs about attach-china.

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    Replies
    1. You're the one in Lawrenceville, aren't you? Certainly we could meet, but why don't you first state here what you think are my erroneous beliefs about attach-china? Let's make this a public discussion.

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    2. I'd be happy to. Here is a copy of the e-mail I sent to Senator Landrieu:

      Dear Senator Landrieu,

      I am writing to you to refute accusations made about my website, www.attach-china.org, which are completely false and misleading. It is clear that we do live in an age when people can say things, such as “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” and call it a fact. Jean Mercer’s statements about attach-china.org are the same kinds of “facts.” That she places Focus on the Family, an organization whose beliefs are the polar opposite of Attach-China/International Parent’s Network’s, in the same sentence, is the first clue that poor scholarship is at work here.

      To refresh your memory, the following was sent to you, and then posted on her blog:
      http://childmyths.blogspot.com/2013/01/russian-adoption-letter-to-senator-mary.html?m=1
      The "Childmyths" blog is a spin-off of Jean Mercer's book "Child Development: Myths and Misunderstandings"

      “Popular sources of information about adoption and Internet sites such as www.focusonthefamily.com and www.attach-china.org have to a considerable extent been hijacked by an unconventional, non-evidence-based view of emotional attachment and treatment of mental illness. This perspective claims that all emotional disturbance derives from poor attachment experiences, and that adoptive parents can cause children to become attached to them by displaying their power and authority. In order to display authority, parents must make children completely dependent on them and obedient to them; children may eat and drink only as parents allow them, must not use the toilet without asking, and may be kept in cold or uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, including cages. Such treatment is physically as well as mentally unhealthy and accounts for the frequent findings of malnutrition in deaths of adopted children.”
      Jean Mercer,Ph.D.
      Professor Emerita of Psychology, Richard Stockton College

      As a licensed clinical social worker, I do believe that most non-organic emotional disturbances have their origins in poor attachment experiences. I also believe that children who are not attached to their parents and therefore reject them by being subtly, but overly independent or, at the far end of the spectrum, oppositional and defiant, will benefit from learning to trust their parents and to have a healthy dependence on them until they are mature enough to be truly independent.

      However, I do not believe that this can occur by having parents display power and authority for authority’s sake. It comes about through empathy. I do not advocate any abusive behaviors, such as withholding or forcing food, locking children in rooms, basements, cages or sleeping in the cold.

      I do advocate meeting children’s needs, which includes parenting to the emotional age. Freud, Erikson and Piaget all believe that individuals cannot progress developmentally until they have mastered each developmental stage. To help children become “unstuck,” and to therefore overcome undesirable behaviors, parents will need to parent to an earlier developmental stage than the child’s chronological age may indicate. However, this is never done in a punitive or shaming way.

      I would welcome the opportunity to provide any additional information about attachment theory and treatment for attachment disorder, and especially to refute any other erroneous “facts.”

      Lynne Lyon, MSW, LCSW
      Center for Attachment & Trauma Therapy, LLC
      183 Franklin Corner Road
      Lawrenceville, NJ 08648

      phone: (609) 217-2366
      fax: (609) 219-6664

      http://attachmenttherapynj.com
      http://attach-china.org

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  2. I think I'd better do a whole post about the attach-china web site, in order to show why I made the comments I did.

    Please understand,Lynne,that I make no claims about your own practices, except that I see you are a proponent of EMDR and DDP, both methods with highly questionable evidentiary support (in spite of the insistence of Arthur Becker-Weidman that DDP will be evidence-based if he only says so often enough). I also see that you present a "testimonial", which is in my opinion an ethically-challenged way of claiming efficacy for treatment.

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  3. See today's post for a discussion of the material presented by attach-china.

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