What Makes a Proponent of Attachment Therapy?


It is the opinion of Advocates for Children in Therapy that Attachment Therapy/Parenting (AT/P) is the worst quackery in our nation today. In our view, AT/P means nothing less than a childhood of relentless torture for some of the most vulnerable people in society — adoptive, foster, and disabled children.

There are those, of course, who would disagree with us. Some would disagree with our characterization of AT/P. Others disagree that what they believe in (or practice) is AT/P as we have characterized it. Some even disagree with each other over the safety and effectiveness of what they do. Since AT/P is not an established practice, there is no standardization of language, terms, claims, or even names for the treatment. It can all be very confusing for a distressed parent (or anyone else) to sort out.

Nonetheless, we think Attachment Therapists (or proponents of Attachment Therapy) are recognizable by what they do or by what they say they believe in. We use some factors that we have found to be reliable for our purposes of recognition. So, we refer someone as an Attachment Therapist (or alternatively a
proponent of Attachment Therapy) when we are given reason to think that person does all or some of the following:

  1. Practices, teaches or recommends restraint (or other violations of interpersonal boundaries) for an allegedly therapeutic purpose. These interventions are often deliberately confrontational and intrusive, though often referred to as “a safe and nurturing environment” for a child.

  2. Principally treats, or is concerned with, a condition of “Attachment Disorder” (distinct from the DSM-recognized diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder), and assesses for that condition using unvalidated diagnostic tools, or uses no tools at all for objective assessment.

  3. Practices or recommends treatment based on a belief in the efficacy of any of the following:

    • Re-traumatization;
    • Catharsis, especially through expression of rage, fear, sadness, or other “negative” emotion;
    • Recapitulation (re-enactment, re-living, or “re-doing”) of stages of development; or,
    • Repatterning of the brain.

  4. Adheres to unvalidated notions about child development or attachment, especially the so-called “Attachment Cycle” (aka Bonding Cycle, Need Cycle, Rage Cycle). Though reference may be made to the Attachment Theory, pioneered by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, Attachment Therapy shares very little with that empirical work (and indeed runs counter to it in almost all important respects).

  5. Claims that AT practices are safe and efficacious when there is a near complete lack of scientific support.

  6. Practices or teaches harsh parenting and respite methods, based principally upon combinations of deprivation, isolation or humiliation for the child.

  7. Uncritically recommends materials (such as websites, books, videos, lectures, and conference presentations) which do any of the above.

Other notable characteristics observed with some Attachment Therapists or proponents of Attachment Therapy:

  • Advocates or practices other unvalidated practices, e.g., EMDR, Neurofeedback, Craniosacral Therapy, Neurolinguistic Programming, and Therapeutic Touch.

  • With respect to advanced academic degrees and professional credentials:

    • Falsely claims to possess degrees or credentials;
    • Lacks degrees from accredited institutions and credentials from generally recognized professional associations; and/or
    • Possesses degrees from unaccredited institutions (e.g., so-called “diploma mills”), or professional credentials from little known or little recognized professional associations (e.g., so-called “vanity boards”).

  • May have been disciplined by a state regulatory body for a mental-health profession, or has been the subject of a “cease-and-desist” order for practicing a mental-health profession without a license.

  • May lack a state license to practice a mental-health profession, or travels from state to state practicing without a license from each state.

Below is a list of some of the people we have identified either as Attachment Therapists or as public proponents of Attachment Therapy/Parenting. For convenience, we have collected what we think is a representative sample of their public utterances: