AT News
Archived Issue
Originally emailed 12 January 2006

Mental Health Profession Condemns Attachment Therapy

Authorities Advised to Suspect Abuse in AT Cases; AT Industry Warned to Cease Immediately

Two major organizations in the mental health profession who watchdog child abuse have newly condemned Attachment Therapy as practiced widely in this country.

The American Psychological Association, through its Section on Child Maltreatment and its Division on Child, Youth and Family Services, has endorsed a new 14-page
report from the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, which takes “a stand” against the “contraindicated assessment, treatment, and professional practices related to children described as having attachment disorders.”

In two pages of strongly worded recommendations, the report urges substantial changes in the attachment-based diagnosis, assessment, treatment and parenting approaches which “purport to help children described as attachment disordered.” Recommendations reflect criticism of the overuse of the “Reactive Attachment Disorder” (RAD) diagnosis by providers and the failure to rule out other more commonly encountered conditions. They also caution that children not be diagnosed and assessed with attachment problems solely because of past maltreatment or neglect. “Assessment should respect the fact that resiliency is common, even in the face of great adversity,” the report concludes.

The report’s warns professionals against using a litany of practices common to Attachment Therapy and its associated parenting techniques:

Treatment techniques or attachment parenting techniques involving physical coercion, psychologically or physically enforced holding, physical restraint, physical domination, provoked catharsis, ventilation of rage, age regression, humiliation, withholding or forcing food or water intake, prolonged social isolation, or assuming exaggerated levels of control and domination over a child are contraindicated because of risk of harm and absence of proven benefit and should not be used.

The APSAC report also attacked the mistaken theories of child development and behavior that are used to justify the use of AT. For example, it devastatingly critiqued a key belief used to sell AT to parents: “Intervention models that portray young children in negative ways, including describing certain groups of young children as pervasively manipulative, cunning, or deceitful, are not conducive to good treatment and may promote abusive practices.” Then it goes on to warn professionals, “In general, child maltreatment professionals should be skeptical of treatments that describe children in pejorative terms or that advocate aggressive techniques for breaking down children’s defenses.”

The Report also calls upon child-welfare professionals not to tolerate parenting behaviors that pretend to be therapeutic but are actually abusive:

[W]ithholding food, water, or toilet access as punishment; exerting exaggerated levels of control over a child; restraining children as a treatment; or intentionally provoking out-of-control emotional distress should be evaluated as suspected abuse and handled accordingly.

In the body of the report, the analysis of AT is comprehensive and particular. The works of several leading lights of AT are cited as examples of the practices and/or beliefs that are eventually condemned. Thus, there is no doubt that the Task Force members were aware not only of AT practices, but also of the current rationalizations used by AT therapists and centers such as Foster Cline, Arthur Becker-Weidman, Nancy Thomas, Daniel Hughes, Gregory Keck, Keith Reber, Deborah Hage, Ronald Federici, the Cascade Center, and Colorado's Institute for Attachment and Child Development (IACD; previously the Attachment Center at Evergreen, or ACE).

The Task Force members who wrote the report — which appears in the current (February 2006) issue of the
Child Maltreatment journal — included a representative of Attachment Therapists: Todd Nichols, MPA, the president of the Association for Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children (ATTACh), the national trade organization for AT. As a result of his participation and lack of dissent from the report itself, ATTACh can no longer deny knowledge of the unprofessional and abusive nature of the practices of its founders and members. It will be significant whether the organization will embrace the report and police its members in accord with the report’s recommendations. Any lesser response will unmask Attachment Therapists as more interested in perpetuating their mistaken beliefs and financial gain than in welfare of children.

We at Advocates for Children in Therapy do have to set the record straight on one point. The report hold us out as leading critics of AT, but then adds, “Proponents [of AT] correctly point out that most critics have never actually observed any of the treatments they criticize or visited any of the centers where the controversial therapies are practiced.” In our case, this is not correct. We have been to ATTACh and IACD (when it was ACE) conferences and training sessions with individual Attachment Therapists. We have observed numerous videotapes of actual AT therapy sessions produced as training tapes. Several of our members saw the ten hours of videotapes of the AT administered to the late
Candace Newmaker by Connell Watkins (founding member of ATTACh).

There is a reason we will likely never see an AT treatment in person. The minute it began, we would be ethically bound to stop it from continuing. The APSAC/APA report itself now makes that duty clear.

To obtain a copy, go to
Task Force Report.

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