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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

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

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Attachment Therapist Wears Two Hats, or, Kafka in Colorado

In Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial, the central character, Josef K., is mysteriously accused, tried, convicted, and sentenced for a crime that is never named and by a court that is never seen. Agents of the court try to make the condemned Josef K. kill himself, he refuses—and they carry out the sentence.

Couldn’t happen at all? Couldn’t happen here? Couldn’t happen to anyone like you? I’d like to be able to agree with those statements, but I have a story to tell that has convinced me that Franz Kafka is writing scripts for Colorado courts.

Here is the basic story, with all names changed. (I have permission to use the central person’s name, but I think it may be more prudent not to do so.)

Eve Innocenti was a young Colorado woman with a rough family background who was trying to get on her feet. In her early 20s, she had a baby with a young man with a drug problem—call him Fred—and was awarded full custody of that baby. A second child  with a different father followed a few years later, and Eve also had full custody of that child.. Meanwhile, Fred married Wilma and had another baby with her. Eve’s children visited Fred and Wilma periodically and the co-parenting went well. When Eve needed to be away for a couple of weeks, she asked Fred and Wilma to care for her boys. On her return, however, she was not able to get the children back from Fred and Wilma.

Eve went to court to ask for the boys to be returned to her custody and continued to make this request, with occasional visits from the children, over several years. But Fred was given full custody of both boys, his own son and the second child to whom he was unrelated. Eve was denied contact with either child, and a legal staffer even suggested that a restraining order might be appropriate because Eve walked out of the hearing.

Eve then married a man in the military and the couple moved to a nearby state, from which Eve tried to continue her efforts. She was allowed to drive 8 hours from the neighboring state once each week, to see the children for one hour.  Soon, however, the visits are ordered stopped for a period of a year. Shortly after that time period, the Colorado county filed a Dependency and Neglect case that could ensure that Eve does not have visitation with the boys--- even though Fred and Wilma had separated and Wilma had custody of the children. (Fred later returned.)

This brings the story up to a few months before the present day (Dec. 13, 2012). At that point, some interesting and disturbing new facts began to emerge. Wilma, it seems, had sought the help of an attachment therapist, one Woodrow Thynne, I’ll call him, who conducts an “institute” and residential treatment center in the vicinity of Long Green, CO (which I’m naming for its financial advantages to therapists). Wilma complained that the boys had symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder and were difficult to handle. The boys were treated in Thynne’s therapy program and at least one stayed in a “therapeutic foster home” connected with the center.

County legal and social work staff told Eve that Thynne’s report to the court would determine the custody of the children. Thynne was continuing to act as a therapist for Fred and Wilma’s family. If Thynne had been a psychologist, he would have been prevented by a professional ethical code from wearing both hats--  as therapist and as evaluator. As a social worker, however, he was only required to clarify his position with all family members. This should have included Eve, but in fact he had neither seen or spoken to her at any time. Eve’s appointed public defender, who should have been dealing with the situation, did not return her calls; Eve and her husband could no longer afford to hire a private attorney.

In mid-December, 2012, Eve managed to have a conference call with Woodrow Thynne and the guardian ad litem whose job it is to represent the children’s interests. Several interesting and disturbing points were  revealed during this conference. One was the fact that it was Thynne’s intention to break the attachment that the boys had to Eve, and to re-attach them to Wilma, following what appears to be a Velcro theory of emotional development.. A second was that Thynne believed that the children had been removed from Eve’s custody because of her neglect or abuse, and declared that he was not aware of the actual history (but nevertheless he did not immediately bring the process to a halt, as might have been expected). Third, Thynne referred, apparently without disapproval, to Wilma’s attempts to discipline the younger boy by threatening to send him to visit Eve; such a threat of abandonment would ordinarily be considered highly inappropriate for a child suffering from the effects of a complicated separation history. Finally, Thynne denied that his report would be the basis of the court’s custody decision, leaving open the question of the evaluation that would be used. But because it is part of Thynne’s technique to have children state that they were abused and neglected, his report will provide misinformation that cannot be contradicted by Eve.

In response to statements during the conference call, Eve began seriously to consider relinquishing custody of the children rather than continuing to fight against unknown charges in a process that has no predictable outcome except bankruptcy and court records that may be used against her in the future. She e-mailed her attorney about this and got an immediate answer telling her how to begin.
The likely result of all this is that a stepmother will receive custody of children whose birth mother not only wants them but has shown every evidence of caring for them well. The father of one child will have also have custody of another man’s child. Both children will continue to receive a treatment that has no evidence basis, supervised by a therapist who has apparently not troubled himself to understand the children’s family history.

Like Josef K., Eve has been accused of unstated crimes for which there is no evidence. Those who were supposed to help her have avoided her. Those who claim to be helping her children ignore the facts of the children’s lives and persist in beliefs and practices that have been rejected by organizations like the American Professional Society on Child Abuse. The information she needs has been withheld from her. Now she is offered the knife to stab herself in the form of relinquishment of custody, a step that is not only repugnant to her but predictably harmful to her own professional and personal options, as well as easy for the children to interpret as a final abandonment.

Surely Kafka is alive and well in Colorado and has written Eve and the children into a novel.

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