What is Attachment Therapy?

Mandi Rogier

Attachment therapy is a treatment used for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). These children are typically being raised by foster parents or adoptive parents. Children with RAD develop an inability to properly attach to their caregivers due to severe neglect or abuse that was experienced early in life, usually as an infant or toddler.

Attachment therapy can help foster parents who take in children dealing with neglect.
Attachment therapy can help foster parents who take in children dealing with neglect.

Children with RAD can be difficult to control. They often rebel against their caregivers, acting out in disruptive ways. Babies with RAD may fail to make eye contact with others or reach out to be held. Toddlers and older children with the disorder are usually withdrawn and uncomfortable around others. This can result in anger and aggression toward those around them.

Attachment therapy, also referred to as compression therapy, holding therapy, Coercive Restraint Therapy, or the Evergreen model, is a highly controversial method of treating children with RAD. The method was first introduced in the 1970s by Robert Zaslow. Zaslow's practice involved forcibly holding the patient still to force an exhibition of rage. Once released, it was believed that this rage could be confronted and conquered.

The concept of inducing rage in a patient as a means of providing any manner of psychological release has no scientific basis. The method of physically holding the patient down during attachment therapy subsequently resulted in a string of injuries and at least six documented deaths. Despite the obvious dangers of this therapy, some proponents of the method still persist, and the therapy is frequently renamed in an attempt to shed the negative light it has been cast under.

Some forms of attachment therapy today are very different from the origins of the practice. Safer forms of attachment therapy focus on counseling for both the child and the parents. Siblings may be involved in the therapy as well, especially if they were a source of abuse early in the patient's life.

The issues of neglect and abuse which brought on the patient's RAD are confronted in a comforting environment. If abuse or neglect was caused by one of the current parents, this parent will learn new, healthier ways of handling her children. The child is also helped to confront the pain and disappointment stemming from the poor treatment he received early in life. Once these issues have been dealt with, the child is often able to connect with his parents in a loving manner designed to make him feel safe and secure.

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