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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

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

Friday, May 15, 2020

Yet More on Attachment Therapy in Russia

If you have read my last two posts about current attachment therapy events in Russia, you might be wondering whether the Frohock “seminars” are about something new, or whether their material is related to the attachment therapy versions of years gone by. 

I  have no intention of claiming that Frohock’s methods cause deaths or even injuries as we used to see resulting from holding therapy in the 199s and early 2000s. This is admittedly a low bar, of course, but it is a good idea to be clear on this. However, failing to kill anyone is not exactly evidence of effective treatment or even of the absence of injury.

Following the deaths of Candace Newmaker in 2000  and of other children in treatments associated with holding therapy, a number of practitioners asserted that they did not use any coercive methods. It became more common to speak of attachment therapy rather than holding therapy. The organization ATTACh stated that children were not held without their permission (although to what extent a child could freely make a decision about this is questionable), and Daniel Hughes together for a time with Arthur Becker-Weidman, spoke of using Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, a non-evidence-based method that uses holding but is said not to be coercive. Those practitioners who admitted to using holding at all reframed the practice as “hugs” or “loving embraces”. Their basic philosophy remained the same, however--  the children had problems, the parents were good, and the job of the practitioner was to make the child be different. Explanations of problems and treatments were characteristically treated reductionistically, as related to one or two aspects of brain chemistry like cortisol or oxytocin; physical contact was a key to causing changes in the child.

Frohock’s presentations in Russia may be advertised as the work of an extraordinary new thinker. The man himself presents his approach as derived from his experiences treating drug addicts and therefore as a novel way to work with children whose parents are concerned about him. On examination, though, we see the same old same old.

The concentration on adopted children is characteristic of the views of holding therapists from the early days onward. This has to do with their misunderstanding of attachment. In reality, emotional attachment, as seen in toddlers’ desire to be near a familiar person and willingness to explore only one such a person is close by, develops in the fourth quarter of the first year and in the second year. Attachment occurs readily under the tight circumstances but requires sensitive, responsive caregiving and limited numbers of caregivers. In contrast, the view of attachment given by Frohock and others is that it begins prenatally and is disrupted by adoption. Such disruption is followed by noncompliance, overt disobedience, and a lack of gratitude or affection for caregivers. Adopted children are thought to lack attachment even though they were with sensitive, responsive caregivers during the sensitive period for attachment, and therefore are expected to show attitude and behavioral problems. The recommended response to the problems (perhaps only anticipated rather than observed) is to apply treatments like holding to the child , rather than helping parents change so they can support the child’s development.

Frohock and his colleagues share those views with other attachment therapy proponents. They are not independent thinkers or originators of new approaches. For example, in 2016 Frohock was named an “ATN angel” by the attachment trauma network ( , as have other holding therapists before him.

As I have mentioned before, the reason for concern about spreading misinformation in these ways—whether in Russia or elsewhere—is not simply that direct harm may be done to children by holding therapy. Indirect harm to children and families is also done when family resources of time and money are expended on ineffective and possibly unnecessary treatment. Indirect harm comes not just from the use of these treatments, but from the expectations that adopting parents are given, leading them to look for “RAD symptoms” in their children and to be ready to seek “attachment” treatment whether the children need that (or indeed, whether they need any treatment) or not.

I hope that Russian adoptive parents will give some thought to this whole picture before they sign on to the Frohock seminars.

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