Attachment therapy is the term most generally used by practitioners and critics for a contentious category of alternative child mental health interventions intended to treat what practitioners describe as attachment disorders. The term generally includes associated parenting techniques which proponents consider as important as the therapy itself. Attachment therapy is a treatment used mainly with fostered or adopted children who are supposed to have certain behavioral difficulties, including disobedience and lack of gratitude or affection for their caregivers. The children’s problems are credited to an inability to attach to their new parents because of suppressed rage due to past maltreatment and abandonment.
Maybe the most common form of attachment therapy is holding therapy, in which a child is firmly held by therapists and/or parents, who then, by self-control and confrontation, seek to produce in the child a range of responses such as rage and despair for the supposed purpose of ‘catharsis’. The theory is that when the child’s resistance is overcome, and the rage is released, they are reduced to an infantile state in which they can be’re-parented’ by methods such as cradling, rocking, bottle feeding and enforced eye contact. The aim is to promote attachment with the new careers. Control over the children is usually considered essential and the therapy is often accompanied by attachment therapy parenting techniques which highlight obedience. These supplementary parenting techniques are based on the belief that a correctly attached child should comply with parental demands ‘fast, snappy and right the first time’ and should be ‘fun to be around’.
This form of therapy is methodically invalidated and is not considered to be part of mainstream psychology either as to understanding of attachment theory, diagnosis or treatment, or as to the accompanying attachment parenting techniques. It is distinct from conventional forms of therapy based on attachment theory as it is primarily based on misapplied psychoanalytic theories about suppressed rage, catharsis, regression and the breaking down of resistance and defense mechanisms. It has been described as potentially abusive and a pseudoscientific intervention, not based on attachment theory or research, that has resulted in tragic outcomes for children including at least six documented child fatalities. From the 1990s onwards there was a series of prosecutions for deaths or serious maltreatment of children, allegedly at the hands of “attachment therapists” or parents following their instructions. Two of the most well-known cases are those of Candace Newmaker in 2001 and the Gravelles in 2003-5.