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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

Letter to ABC About Their Inaccurate Portrayal of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Some readers may have watched an ABC 20/20 program in late October that dealt with a very disturbing adoption story from Arkansas. While the program itself was passable, a video trailer posted as a "teaser" for the program was not. A number of psychologists and social workers have written to David Sloan at ABC and to the ABC ombudsman, outlining our concerns and asking that ABC make some positive move to undo the harm done by the trailer's misinformation.

Here is the text of that letter:

David Sloan, Senior Executive Editor, ABC                                              Nov. 5, 2015

Dear Mr. Sloan:
As psychology and social work professionals concerned about public understanding of childhood mental health, we are deeply disturbed by the video clip The material in this clip conveys to the public a view of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)  that belongs to “fringe” therapists and is not shared by professionals with serious training in psychology. In addition, this view has been used to support the use of potentially harmful interventions with children and to argue that abused children have somehow forced their caregivers to harm them.

The opening scenes of the clip appear to show a method called “holding therapy” or “attachment therapy”, which was strongly rejected in 2006 by a joint task force of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Professional Society on Abuse of Children (APSAC). This method has been associated with child deaths and injuries.

A later part of the clip features women stating that their children a) had RAD, and b) were dangerous to other people and to animals, as has been suggested by “fringe” therapists. The implication was that the disorder itself is characterized by aggressive and oppositional behavior. This is not the case, as can be seen by consulting the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders of the American Psychiatric Association, 5th edition (DSM-5). Sadness and social disengagement are in fact the leading features of RAD. In addition, it has been recommended that RAD be diagnosed in young children and not in the teenagers some of the women mentioned.

Our concerns are not simply that there was some inaccuracy in the clip, or that the discussion of RAD was insufficiently nuanced. The problem is that the content of this video supports a common misunderstanding that, among other things, can cause people to fear and reject children who have histories of abuse or abandonment, or can lead the children’s caregivers to seek “fringe” treatments that may cause real harm. In addition, this content can be used to support the “RAD defense” in abuse cases--  the argument that children who have been mistreated are so dangerous because of RAD that their caregivers were forced to hurt them.

Now that the inaccurate clip is on the Internet, it will be available for a long time. Taking it down from the ABC website will not get rid of it. For that reason, we would like to ask you to create an additional, accurate video about RAD, with our help, and to post it with a message that it is to correct the previous clip in a responsible fashion.

We hope that you will understand the reality of our concerns and respond positively to our request.

[signed by 19 professionals in psychology and social work]

Readers who are concerned about the 20/20 presentation may also want to express concerns to ABC.

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