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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Alternative Therapists Pounce on Florida School Tragedy

Alternative therapists must have been waiting impatiently for an adopted person to commit a tragic school shooting. Now that this has occurred in Florida, various proponents of alternative belief systems have jumped onto the fact , which they claim supports their unsupported equation: adoption=feelings of loss and rage=attachment disorder=violent actions. And, they hope, this horrible situation will give them an entry into the national discussion, fame and fortune.

As I often do, I received an email message from Heather Forbes, former colleague of Bryan Post (a  smooth “plausible fellow”, well-known for his store-bought doctorate), and present ruler of the Beyond Consequences mini-empire. There is a link to the message at, but let’s look at what she had to say:
“As I watched the news on last night and this morning, all I saw was discussions about gun control, active shooter school policies, mental health, and proper law enforcement protocol. While these are all valid issues to discuss, I believe the most important issue continues to be overlooked. We aren't looking at our students from a social/emotional, heart-centered perspective. This shooter's history was rampant with experiences of rejection. He was adopted and then lost BOTH his adoptive parents. Then he was expelled from school. That is three experiences of severe rejection and loss: 1) the loss of his birth family, 2) the loss of his adoptive family, and 3) the loss of his school family. As humans, we are a social species....we are designed to live in families, especially as children… 
 I can only see that there is no coincidence that this horrifying event took place on Valentine's Day--the day we celebrate love and relationships. “ (Heather then proposed that she be a spokesperson to the nation on these issues and asked her followers to suggest her to various news outlets.)

So, let’s examine Forbes’ thinking under a strong light. What we see is the usual “proof by assertion”.
First, she equates rejection with loss, implying that the sadness and grief of loss are accompanied by equal amounts of the resentment and anger that stem from rejection. While no one can deny that we human beings often feel some anger toward those who have left us, even when they did this unintentionally, the feelings and effects of rejection and loss are not the same, and conflating them confuses the issue. As is the case for most pseudoscientific explanation, the misused terms obfuscate rather than clarifying the discussion.

Second, Heather Forbes states that the loss of the birth family is an experience of severe rejection and loss. There is no evidence that this is the case for children who are adopted early in life, especially those who are adopted before the age of 8 or 9 months when emotional attachment to familiar caregivers may have begun. The idea that adopted children are enraged and full of grief because they have been separated from a birth mother is not based on any observations of children; instead, it is implausibly based on beliefs that mother and child are genetically attached or that attachment occurs prenatally—all these ideas being fostered by alternative groups like the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH). These beliefs are worth their weight in gold to those who offer their guidance to adoptive families and adult adoptees, and who do so by creating unnecessary anxiety about the future for people who are doing very well.

Third, Heather Forbes points to losses in the adoptive family, and I will not try to argue that these may not have contributed to emotional disturbance, although the adoptive status is irrelevant here. Losses in any family act as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and may contribute to disturbed emotions and behavior—although they are even more likely to create later physical disorders than mental illness, and are not thought to be a major factor in serious mental illness.

Fourth, Forbes points to the loss of the “school family”, apparently reversing cause and effect. The shooter was expelled from school because of disciplinary problems, so this loss followed rather than caused his disturbed behavior.

Finally, let me note the twisted argument Forbes presents about Valentine’s Day, just as  a further example of the cherry-picking of evidence and illogical conclusions drawn in her statement. According to Forbes, it is “no coincidence” that the shooting happened on Valentine’s Day, so it should be attributed to loss of love as the triggering factor for the shooter. But it was also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent—can Forbes not parlay this fact into a further non-coincidental connection? Was the shooter disturbed by seeing people with ashes on their foreheads, reminding him of life’s ultimate end and therefore his losses? Was the anticipation of giving things up for Lent too much for one who felt he had been robbed of his rights? Sorry, Heather Forbes, but if you use one fact to support your argument, you can’t ignore the other facts, whether they are about attachment or about holidays.

Not surprisingly, our old friend Nancy Thomas has chimed in, recognizing this tragedy as a way to advance her brand. She says, at Yes, it is possible this young man may have demonstrated many of the characteristics of RAD when he was younger. The more likely outcome at this point is he may receive a diagnosis of Conduct Disorder. That is usually the go-to dx for adults who have been or should have been diagnosed with RAD when they were children. For those who worry this is where their child is headed we have this. There is always hope as long as they are breathing. Those who have a diagnosis of RAD are not automatically killers.

Well, what a relief Thomas has given us here! Children diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder will not necessarily grow up to be killers. However, she suggests, killing allows us to detect that the killer did as a child have Reactive Attachment Disorder. Presumably this means not Reactive Attachment Disorder as indicated by sadness, lethargy, and disengagement from social interaction, but instead the alternative version in which children are liars and thieves and manipulate or harm others—and, saliently, in which it is predicted that children who show no symptoms are simply too cunning to be caught, but still need an alternative treatment so they will not become either serial killers or prostitutes, depending on gender. (And I’ve always been fascinated by the equation of these two forms of misbehavior.)

One more of these, though I am sure they are multitudinous: by a person somewhat disturbingly called Bill the Butcher, who states that guns don’t kill people—psychiatrists kill people. Bill the Butcher states that his granddaughter has Reactive Attachment Disorder and as a result “ripped the ears off a small dog to get its bows for her hair”. This kind of claim is often made by people who are devoted to the alternative view of attachment and of causes of mental illness, but anyone who has jointed and skinned a chicken (a dead one, I mean!) knows that tearing flesh apart with your bare hands is not readily accomplished. I would suggest that this story is a myth related to various alternative therapists’ stories of children who have torn the heads off puppies.  By use of this myth, the child is identified as a powerful, hostile, evil being, and, as Bill the Butcher suggests, incarceration is the only legitimate response. According to B the B, mental health professionals and teachers cause school shootings by attempting to help disturbed children, and responsible people must simply lock the children up.

As most killings are not committed by adopted people (who are only about 2% of the population), it has taken awhile for  alternative therapists to get their chance to claim that mass shootings are related to adoption and to attachment disorders. But their opportunity has finally come and they are taking advantage of it as best as they can. Let’s hope that media outlets do not act in haste to accept, Forbes, Thomas, or B the B as spokespersons for the role of mental health in these tragedies.   

1 comment:

  1. Here's a collection of quotations by Heather Forbes, who was until recently a colleague of Ronald Federici: