change the world badge

change the world badge


Child Psychology Blogs

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Of Pigs, Parlors, and Unconventional Views of Attachment Disorders

On a number of occasions I’ve pointed put how Christian fundamentalists have attributed mental illness to demonic possession, and demonic possession in turn to some malfeasance, not just of the possessed person, but perhaps of a near relative or parent. I’ve felt a little guilty about making this connection and citing (for example) Pigs in the parlor, a book originally published in the 1970s but reprinted more recently. Maybe (I’ve said to myself) I’m not being quite fair to present-day fundamentalists—maybe they have dropped these ideas and I just don’t know about it.
But, no. My finger-pointing was fair. The pig-in-parlor analogy is still at work. For example, see the following article: Owen, C. (2017). Obscure dichotomy of early childhood trauma in PTSD versus attachment disorders. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse.  I can’t quite figure out what is going on here, but this article may originally have been published under a different title in 2016 in Fidei et Veritas: The Liberty University Journal of Graduate Research. This is not a veiled accusation—I have only found this at ResearchGate, and the sources are not easy to follow.

In any case, Owen begins by objecting to the 2013 descriptions of Reactive Attachment Disorder and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder in DSM-5. She insists that these descriptions fail to include many symptoms she ascribes to RAD, such as lack of conscience, destruction of property, pathological lying, food hoarding, etc., etc., combined with superficial charm. These symptoms and behaviors, which have never been considered to be aspects of RAD except in an alternative, fundamentalist-influenced belief system, are the ones described by Hall and Geher (2003), whom Owen cites. For example, Owen states that “Some of the typical RAD behaviors (such as deliberate enuresis/encopresis) are designed as self-defense measures to repulse caregivers and make them back away from the childthus insulating the child from further rejection and trauma” (p. 3)..Hall and Geher picked up this list, including this quite unsupported claim of intentional wetting and soiling-- from an obscure paper by Reber (1996), in which the author stated firmly that these are symptoms of attachment disorders—without referencing any empirical work or even speculative peer-reviewed material to support his claims. Owen sees DSM-5 as omitting full descriptions of RAD, rather than realizing that the symptoms she lists have never been associated with RAD by any of the mainstream researchers like Zeanah whom she also cites. Some, but not all, of them have been described as aspects of PTSD, but it is not, as Owen suggests, inexplicable hat they are not included as part of RAD. They may be part of problems that are co-morbid with RAD, but they are not part of RAD—by definition.

Owen’s paper continues with a vivid, not to say histrionic. account of an adopted child who was extremely uncooperative, screamed, bit herself, ran away, and made her family’s life difficult, despite “intensive” treatment, including holding therapy (which Owen interestingly classes as a fringe therapy even though she appears to accept many of the beliefs behind the use of this treatment). The child’s treatment at the time of Owen’s writing was in a residential program described as a “non-profit ministry”.

Owen’s treatment plan for the child contains elements of family therapy, of psychoeducation, and of TF-CBT, but also sets as a treatment goal “Train the child up in the ways of the Lord without inadvertently retraumatizing her”. This goal is of interest first in its acknowledgement that this kind of training may be retraumatizing, but also in its emphasis on religious authority as a source of decisions about needed behavior change.

Owen goes on to search for religious argument about the causes and cures of mental illness, and she finds it in the work of the Texas Christian  University psychologists David Cross and Karyn Purvis.  Using Scripture, Cross and Purvis defined the nature of evil, the nurture of evil, the roots of evil, and the pathology involved. In the end, they concluded ‘with some degree of certainty, that although not all maternally deprived (or psychologically abandoned) individuals will become antisocial, virtually anyone who in fact becomes antisocial will have been maternally deprived’ (p. 77). Thus, it is clear that ‘maternal deprivation may actually be the root of all evil’ (Cross & Purvis, 2008, p. 77)”[typos corrected-JM]. Owen thus accepts a convoluted argument about the existence and causes of evil as a substitute for consideration of the complex causes of antisocial behavior, omitting, in particular, the factors that would have to exist in addition to maternal deprivation in order for the Cross and Purvis statement to have a possibility of accuracy. But presumably shifting codes from the psychology of early development to a statement of religious belief has been taken by Owen as a good way to avoid either empirical evidence or strictly logical argument.

Toward the end of her article, Owen abandons the pretence that the discussion is about identifiable trauma or about treatments like TF-CBT.  Instead, she says this: “ Christians need to be aware of and vigilant against the dark spiritual forces that undergird these children’s behavioral and emotional disturbances (Eph. 6:10-18). Above most other disorders, the dynamic of the conflict in children with PTSD from ECT [early childhood trauma] and their new caregivers has a particularly demonic element to it. Many of the night terrors, for example, include emission of a deep, guttural-growl that sounds non-human. The level of rage and cold, calculating revenge that these children can inflict (i.e. evidence of deprivation, according to Cross and Purvis,2008) defies rational explanation ….Competent counselors in full armor who recognize a child with PTSD from ECT as rooted in fear and work to overcome the dark, spiritual influences that threaten to destroy the family, can help bring hope and healing to these families in a way that those treating for RAD/DSED cannot” (p. 16).

If I interpret these last sentences correctly, the claim seems to be that for full religious authority and therapeutic power, practitioners need to accept the argument that the RAD/DSED categories are wrong, and that they are wrong because they do not fit into the belief system shared by this author and other Christian fundamentalists. Acceptance of a scientific view that excludes supernatural causes and demon possession makes good therapeutic outcomes impossible, Owen implies.

The pigs of yore seem to have been moved out of the parlor and into the clinic.  

Friday, August 10, 2018

Torturing Kids for Fun and Profit (or Non-Profit)

Ten years ago I was involved in the trial of Sylvia Jovanna Vasquez, an adoptive mother in Santa Barbara who had been found to keep some of her adopted children in cages with buckets as sanitation. Vasquez claimed to have been given this idea by a book by Nancy Thomas, given to her by her adoption caseworker—and although Thomas does not exactly say that, it’s true that she implies that restraint and seclusion are suitable ways to treat adopted children if the mother is dissatisfied with them. I will always remember from that trial the day that sheriff’s officers brought the cages on a truck to the underground parking lot of the courthouse, and judge and all went to examine them. The judge actually crawled inside one of the cages, and when he came out it was evident that he had formed a whole new view of what had happened to the children. Vasquez was convicted and given a short jail term—she had bargained for assurance of this in exchange for her telling what she had done and why.

Other caged kids cases have occurred, almost always with adopted children, and usually with those who have been labeled as “RAD”—a term that actually means Reactive Attachment Disorder, but is used by proponents of some alternative therapies to indicate disruptive and aggressive behavior as well as lack of affection for the adoptive parent. The reasoning (if I may call it such) behind caging these children is two-fold: first, that the children are dangerous, and cages protect them from themselves and protect others from them; second, that such children are suffering from disorders of attachment that are corrected by displays of adult power and authority. (I am just reporting the news here, so please don’t assume that I agree with these views.)

I was hoping that we had come to a lull with respect to child-caging, but a new case (pointed out by my invaluable colleague Linda Rosa) shows that this is not the case. In Farmington, MO, a couple have been arrested and charged with several counts of endangering the welfare of a child and of second-degree kidnapping after caging four adopted children between the ages of 6 and 12. You can read more about this at these links:                                                                                     
The adoptive mother, Laura Cheatham, was said to have adopted the children together with her ex-husband, who seems not to have been her co-torturer, a man called Daryl Head. Cheatham, who had worked for the Missouri corrections department, ordered child-size prison uniforms for the kids, and she and Head constructed and used cell-like boxes, closed with plywood and screws, in which the children had no light, water, or toilet access.

These are horrible events, but to my way of thinking the last straw in this case was the effort by Cheatham and Head to present themselves as “researchers” and managers of a related non-profit organization—identities that would carry social and financial benefits as well as enabling the pair to pass on their cruel practices to others who might be impressed by their claims of status. With unheard-of brass, chutzpah, cheek, and arrogance, these two are said to have obtained non-profit corporation status for their organization RADDLE (Reactive Attachment Disorder - Developing Attachment Through Love and Empathy). (As this word actually describes an unattractive, splotchy complexion, I can only assume that they didn’t know what it meant.) According to the press report, the RADDLE mission statement included references to “data collection” and “research”, which neither party would seem to have been competent to do, and which no IRB would ever have approved in any case, although I don’t suppose they knew what an IRB was.

However, on the Missouri attorney general’s page listing 501c3 organizations, I do not see any mention of RADDLE or the organization’s full name. Could it be that Cheatham and Head went through some of the motions of organizing a non-profit, but did not actually finish the job? And did anyone make charitable contributions to the supposed non-profit RADDLE, I wonder?