skeptical - rebirthing article & young skeptics email list
some of the worst irrationality has always been in treatment for people with emotional
problems. The following is an upsetting story:
Below is an article by British journalist Christopher Reed on the
"rebirthing" trial. It has some info on the origins of Attachment Therapy.
Sorry about the length; it is not on the internet. -- Linda
"The cuddles that kill"
By Christopher Reed
Glasgow Herald, Scotland
June 21, 2001, (Features, page 17)
Children are abused, and held so tightly they can't breathe -- with the
consent of authorities. Christopher Reed reports on the controversial
America therapy that killed Candace Newmaker.
In a court hearing this week in Colorado, two women, Connell Watkins and
Julie Ponder were given the minimum prison sentence of 16 years each for
suffocating to death a 10-year-old girl, Candace Newmaker, in a grotesque
"re-birthing therapy" technique. Most Americans think this will end a
horrific but isolated incident. In fact, the treatment used is widespread,
systematic, backed by authorities, and linked to the deaths of at least
four other children in America.
In fact, the case has helped highlight the fact that this is far from the
end of the story.
As a result of the Newmaker case, many victims of frighteningly similar
treatment from all over America are coming forward to describe what they
suffered. One is Jessica Bice (sic), who asked the judge to impose maximum
sentence and whose letter was read in court. She said the Newmaker case
was "not the first time that this therapy has killed". She said "Watkins
did rage reduction therapy on me when I was aged five to 11" in which she
suffered "bruises under the arms and verbal abuse". She said Watkins
"never cared if I was hurting or tired, but I was lucky, I was strong."
The treatment involves deliberate violence and abuse of young children who
are prevented from moving, gripped in holds that can restrict breathing,
and "take downs" in which they are knocked to the floor in a rugby tackle.
Parents are also encouraged to withhold food. Clinics charge thousands of
dollars for such treatment, which may be performed by unqualified staff.
It is called Attachment Therapy (AT), and is used on children, usually
adoptees, suffering Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), the "disease"
diagnosed in Candace Newmaker, the girl who died in a Colorado clinic.
Some psychologists recommend AT, but the American Psychological Association
declines to recognize it as proper treatment. Yet there is almost no
criticism, and only one qualified academic has specifically denounced AT as
violent and dangerous. In a country where dubious psychological treatments
are commonplace, the techniques follow the history of quackish remedies,
with attendant gurus of outlandish theories. AT can be seen as a fad that
replaces the disastrous "repressed memories" cases of the 1980s and 1990s
in which dozens on innocent people went to prison on baseless charges of
sexually molesting children.
RAD is defined as a child's inability to bond with parents, and attachment
practitioners claim 90% of adoptees suffer from it because of the traumatic
loss of their natural mother. Its symptoms include sullen and distant
behavior, violent temper, aggression, and uncontrollable acting-up.
Attachment, of "holding" therapy, uses physical restraint, abuse, and
violence, deliberately inducing rage, terror, and panic. This rage is then
supposed to dissipate and the child develops warm affection and eye contact
with the present parent, creating "attachment" and loving, obedient
In the re-birthing that Candace underwent, a process linked to AT, she was
tightly swaddled under the supervision of two women -- Watkins, 54, a
well-known AT advocate but not qualified in psychology, and Ponder, 40 --
both of whom practised in Evergreen, near Denver. They pushed against
Candace from the outside to simulate contractions and the girl was meant to
struggle out of the swaddling, as if emerging from the womb, to form a new
and close attachment to her adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker, 47, a nurse.
Candace suffocated while the therapists leaned on her supine, wrapped body
talking for half an hour about housing prices. The entire episode was
filmed and shown at the trial in April.
Before the re-birthing, Candace endured two AT "holding" sessions for a
total of 69 minutes, during which a therapist grabbed or covered her face
48 times, shook or bounced her head 83 times, and shouted 68 times in her
face from close-up. It was approved attachment therapy, the court heard,
and is conducted at most AT clinics in America, and also by parents at
home. The four other deaths were: Russian adoptee Viktor Matthey, seven,
in New Jersey in 1999; another two, in Colorado in 1997; adoptee Lucas
Ciambrone, seven, in Florida also in 1997; and Krystal Ann Tibbets, three,
in Utah in 1995. In each case, lawyers defending the adoptive parents
argued that the children had been diagnosed with RAD and the violent
treatment was approved. Las August a Colorado mother, Denise Kaye Thomas,
43, was convicted of trying to sell her adopted daughter on the internet.
She said the girl had RAD and "dressed like a Spice Girl, like a hooker. I
could see the way men looked at her". The girl was eight. Other children
who underwent AT are said to have been deeply damaged by it, and there may
have been suicides.
AT can be traced to Wilhelm Reich, the Freudian-Marxist psychiatrist from
Vienna. He was imprisoned in the US in 1956 for fraudulently promoting his
"orgone box", which was supposed to boost sexuality and mental health. He
died in prison in 1957. A more recent theorist is Dr. Arthur Janov, who
has a clinic in California, but repudiates the methods used on Candace
Newmaker. It was Janov who popularized "primal screaming" in the 1970s, a
method by which people could deal with their primitive feelings by
screaming out loud.
Several psychologists continued to develop AT theory, but a more definitive
-- and controversial principle was Robert Zaslow's Z-Process, which
detailed in 1975 the restraining and rebirthing techniques. Zaslow, who
lived in California until losing his medical licence, is believed to have
returned to Europe several years ago.
The Z-Process involved several holders, one of whom restrained the head,
while others rubbed their knuckles up and down the child's ribcage "in
order to provoke rage and overcome resistance". Children could be
restrained for two hours, said Zaslow, although sessions could last eight
hours. Active resistance and bruising were to be expected before the child
admitted that the therapist was "boss". Zaslow saw rage as a great
primordial force to be turned to productive use, and the anger and hysteria
AT aroused were "the last resistance of negativism and also the beginning
of the transition to positive behavior".
A technique linked to AT is "re-parenting", introduced in American by
Jacqui Schiff, a social worker now retired. She treated adults as
children, making them wear nappies and suck on teats, to re-structure their
early development. Schiff's methods have been denounced as "sadistic
pseudo-science". In one personal account she described touching the
genitals of a naked, restrained patient, her adopted son, with a large
hunting knife to confront his castration anxiety. He was later convicted
of involuntary manslaughter in the scalding death of a schizophrenic youth,
aged 16, in 1972. Dr. Jean Mercer, professor of psychology at Richard
Stockton College in New Jersey, is the academic who has raised concerns
about attachment therapy. In a paper on AT entitled "Violent Therapies"
that she is preparing for publication, she writes: "It is surprising and
distressing to discover that a violent transformational therapy for
children and adolescents is being practised in the US, not only as an
underground "alternative" or "complementary" treatment...[but] taught in
courses awarded education credits, supported in publications by the Child
Welfare League of America, and made available by a leading scholarly
publishing house. States have appropriated funds for training as well as
treatment with AT techniques (New Hampshire, for example)."
In another paper on "potentially dangerous" AT methods, published in the
current Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, Dr. Mercer
itemises eight "red flag" warnings about suspect treatments. These include
"cult-like defensiveness", and "absence of empirical support", and poor
comparisons with "accepted psychotherapy practices". Attachment therapists
often invoke two books. One is The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, which
claims the foetus has conscious awareness of the mother's attitudes towards
the pregnancy, and that negative reactions are a source of later rage and
grief. The second, The Primal Wound, asserts that all adopted children
mourn the loss of their birth mother. Dr. Mercer concludes: "Needless to
say, these ideas are completely at variance with available information
about infants' cognitive abilities and emotional reactions."
The AT techniques are a historical descendant of the bad old days of mental
health treatment in which patients were whipped, chained, and even thrown
into snake pits, to create terror that would shock the patient back to
sanity. But there is also an unmistakable whiff of exorcism about today's
therapy. Consider this article in the Rocky Mountain News of April 30 by
Dr. John Dicke, clinical director of the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy
Institute in Colorado. Of Candace he wrote: "In many ways she was 'the
devil' that we are afraid of in all of us...She was destined for a life of
misery and perhaps drug abuse, living on the streets or in prison. In five
to six years, she might have been prosecuted by the same district attorney
who convicted Watkins and Ponder. Instead of homicide, perhaps they should
have been charged with defiling a corpse, for, tragically, Candace
Newmaker's soul died the day her unable mother cast her aside."
During the trial the Colorado legislature hastily passed a law forbidding
the rebirthing technique that killed Candace, but it is widely criticised
as riddled with loopholes.
Meanwhile, the governing body of AT, the Association for Treatment and
Training in the Attachment of Children, or ATTACH, does not answer queries
from journalists and its website is being "rebuilt". Connell Watkins and
Associates has closed, and she and Julie Ponder now begin their 16 years
each in prison.
The body of Candace was cremated.
on a completely different topic
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