AT News
Archived Issue
Originally emailed 1 December 2004

Deseret Draws Picture (Literally) of Attachment Therapy

The Deseret Morning News gives “Attachment (Holding) Therapy” proponents an opportunity to appeal for public support. But more is revealed than may help Attachment Therapists. (Jesse Hyde, “Therapy or abuse? Controversial treatments may sink Cascade”.) — Don’t miss their diagram of “Holding Therapy.”)

Back in 2003, at the national ATTACh conference for Attachment Therapists in Pittsburgh, ATTACh’s public relations consultant spoke with two women from Utah, one identifying herself as the office manager of the Cascade Center for Family Growth (Orem). The Utah women bragged how supporters of Cascade recently got an unsympathetic reporter removed from the local bureau for reporting which was unfavorable to Cascade. The PR consultant was pleased to hear it: “Good. So, you had an impact then.” But the conversation revealed a desperation in Utah AT supporters about the controversy and their resolve to “blow it out of the water.”

Fourteen months later, a change in attitude towards Attachment Therapy and the Cascade Center was noticeable at the
Deseret Morning News. Previously critical of holding therapy on its editorial pages, the Deseret published a huge front-page story that gave a largely revisionist perspective on Cascade and AT.

Headlined “Therapy or Abuse?”, the 4,000-word story presented glowing testimonials, a story of official harassment, color photographs, and one incredible graphic of “Holding Therapy.”
It certainly must be no coincidence that the story appears just a month before two of Cascade’s principals are scheduled to face a state licensure hearing on charges of abuse and substandard care. The
Deseret story is replete with Cascade’s owner’s defenses for the charges against them. The state, of course, cannot comment.

The article nonetheless revealed more about Attachment Therapy — especially how it is practiced in Utah — than may have been in the interest of its supporters:

  • An illustration entitled “Holding therapy — How It Works” claims the technique supposedly “help[s] children release pent-up rage” and forces eye contact, both of which harken back to AT’s “rage-reduction” roots. The illustration shows a floor hold, with an adult sitting alongside a child, pinning the child’s arms to her sides.

  • The same graphic highlights an intervention called “abdominal prodding,” a dangerous technique that operates from the premise that emotions are stored in internal organs and that healing occurs when emotions, such as rage, are released by applying pressure to the organs.

  • The story repeats the false statement that Utah County Attorney’s Office cleared Cascade of any responsibility in the 2002 death of Cassandra Killpack in Springville, Utah. In truth, prosecutors have not charged Cascade or anyone at Cascade with criminal conduct in connection with that case. Cascade’s culpability in the death, if any, will be an issue to be decided by a jury at next year’s trial of Cassandra’s parents.

  • The story suggests that prosecutors believe Holding Therapy was used as a red herring in the 1995 (not 1997) death of another Utah adoptee, Krystal Tibbet. The record of that case suggests that Holding Therapy was very much central to that fatality. (See Tibbets victim page.)

  • The story repeats as fact Cascade’s allegation in a pending lawsuit that a website,, has defamed Cascade by linking it to the deaths of children. That website has done nothing of the sort; it has only links to news stories and official documents, with hardly any commentary, and none at all mentioning Cascade or its operators by name, much less defamatorily. Cascade’s lawsuit is being challenged under Utah’s anti-SLAPP statute as an attempted abridgement of free speech. (See AT News, 3 Jul 2004.)

  • The Deseret story makes it clear that confrontational Holding Therapy continues to be actively used by Cascade therapists, much as they have done all along. However, in documents defending against the state’s licensing charges, Cascade’s operators claim that their techniques and interventions are different than in years past.

  • In the story, one of Cascade’s staunchest supporters claims that she has “books and books, boxes and boxes stacked in my basement of research on holding therapy.” In fact, there is no valid research, as the Deseret reporter discovered and acknowledged earlier in the article.

Only about one-eighth of the article is devoted to criticism of holding therapy. Warns Matthew Speltz of the Child Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic at the University of Washington: “It’s appealing to listen to a therapist who says the problem resides in the child, that there is something evil in them, and without serious intervention they will become the next Ted Bundy. The parents are as much a victim as the kids. They are desperate for help, and they are willing to consider anything; they are so vulnerable. … These parents are easy marks for those who are selling an idea with no scientific validation.”

Dr Jean Mercer agrees. She is a Professor of Psychology at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and advisor to
AT News. “Therapists use a checklist that has no scientific basis, and every kid with a history of abuse gets diagnosed with [Reactive Attachment Disorder].” She adds, “This idea that sitting on someone is the answer, it’s just bizarre.”

Anyone concerned with the spread of Attachment Therapy will find the
Deseret’s revelations about the practice of AT in Utah an eye opener. It is remarkable that AT supporters apparently think that disclosing what they do actually helps their case.

Caution: links may have aged since this AT News was first emailed.