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Dr. Ronald Federici and the APSAC Task Force Report on Attachment Therapy

March 26, 2011

Dr. Ronald Federici has portrayed his critics, myself included (even though we have published extensively in peer reviewed journals) as “fringe” advocacy group members and misfits.  Aside from the fact that “fringe advocacy group” is a rather meaningless buzzword, what he has not mentioned in this “response” to his critics is what the task force of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) had to say about his work, in a Task Force report on Attachment Therapy which was endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA), Division 37.  Are APSAC and APA  “fringe”? Well, fringe is a rather subjective term but I doubt most people would think so.

Note that Dr. Federici has greatly objected to being called an “attachment therapist” although I have not done so because I don’t feel the label is important or central to my criticism of him. However, here is what the APSAC Task Force Report had to say when they cited Dr. Federici’s self-published book, Help for the Hopeless Child (see p. 4, column 1 of the PDF, which is p. 79 of the journal):

Because children with attachment problems are conjectured to resist attachment or even fight against it, and to control others to avoid attaching, the child’s character flaws must be broken before attachment can occur. As part of attachment parenting, parents may be counseled to keep their child at home, bar social contact with others besides the parent, favor home schooling, assign children hard labor or meaningless repetitive chores throughout the day, require children to sit motionless for prolonged periods of time, and insist that all food and water intake and bathroom privileges be totally controlled by the parent (for an example of some of these types of recommendations, see Federici, 2003).

and also this (same page):

Rebirthing has been repudiated by many practitioners, including those who recommend other controversial techniques (Federici, n.d.).

The work of Arthur Becker-Weidman was also cited in the report (p. 4, column 2):

Coercive techniques, such as scheduled or enforced holding, also may serve the intended purpose of demonstrating dominance over the child, and provoking catharsis or ventilation of rage. Establishing total adult control, demonstrating to the child that he or she has no control, and demonstrating that all of the child’s needs are met through the adult, is a central tenet of many controversial attachment therapies. Similarly, many controversial treatments hold that children described as attachment disordered must be pushed to revisit and relive early trauma. Children may be encouraged to regress to an earlier age where trauma was experienced (Becker-Weidman, n.d.-b)

I encourage people to read the entire report.

Here is the recommendation the APSAC task force made with regard to these types of interventions the recommend “should not be used”:

a. 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.

b. Prognostications that certain children are destined to become psychopaths or predators should never be made based on early childhood behavior. These beliefs create an atmosphere conducive to overreaction and harsh or abusive treatment. Professionals should speak out against these and similar unfounded conceptualizations of children who are maltreated.

c. 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. 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  (Chaffin et al., 2006, p. 86).

This last two (b) and (c) are especially important since misinformed parents who have been convinced by unsupported claims about these children perpetuate this myth that children from orphanages “usually do not have a conscience” when this is a myth that is not borne out by evidence and unfairly stigmatizes these children. Jean Mercer recently gave an excellent summary of what the current research published by Michael Rutter and his team, that have followed these children through time so far up to the age of 15, actually shows, which debunks the myths about these children that certain adoptive parents have been misled to believe.

In contrast, Mercer, Sarner and Rosa’s book Attachment Therapy on Trial and Advocates for Children in Therapy received the following reference in this same report (implying that they are considered credible sources of information) (see p. 84, p9 of the PDF):

It is argued that holding therapy or other physically coercive therapies may present a physical risk to the child and others because of the use of physical force. Children have been injured while being restrained, and parents or therapists may be hit, kicked, or bitten. Although the exact number of child deaths related to the controversial treatment or parenting techniques is uncertain, six or more have been alleged by some attachment therapy critics (Advocates for Children in Therapy, n.d; Mercer, Sarner, & Rosa, 2003) and are noted in the policy statement by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2003).

[NB: contrary to unfounded speculation on that other WordPress blog, I am not “changing sides”. Even though I have chosen to no longer be affiliated with ACT for personal reasons that are no one else’s business, I still support their mission and have nothing negative to say about it.]

Full reference:

Chaffin, M., Hanson, R., Saunders, B. E., Nichols, T., Barnett, D., & Zeanah, C. et al. (2006). Report of the APSAC task force on attachment therapy, reactive attachment disorder, and attachment problems. Child maltreatment, 11, 76-89.

The report reflects American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’s (APSAC) position and also was endorsed by the American PsychologicalAssociation’s Division 37 and the Division 37 Section onChild Maltreatment.

Now come again, who is fringe? You be the judge.

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5 Comments
  1. Michieux permalink

    Reading the modalities of this “therapy” one cannot but draw parallels with the kind of brutalities inflicted on detainees of repressive, totalitarian regimes (I’m studiously trying to avoid the use of the “N” word here — where “N” refers not to a race of people, but to a certain ideology).

    I’m just dumbfounded that anyone would think that this is a legitimate way to treat people who are ill, let alone children who are ill.

    Thanks for your continued commitment to exposing and opposing this travesty.

  2. Dr. Cathleen Mann permalink

    I don’t understand how Dr. Federeci can say he’s not an “attachment therapist,” when it is obvious he is. He does attachment work, he’s a therapist, so why the denial? He associates and praises the techniques of Nancy Thomas, an association to which he should reconsider. I just don’t understand why he protests so much.

  3. Your guess is as good as mine, Cathleen. Also odd that he doesn’t seem to be complaining when people who have a favorable opinion of him and of attachment therapy do it, such as the radkid.org listings:

    http://at.radkid.org/index.php?title=Therapists:Attachment_therapists

    http://at.radkid.org/index.php?title=Federici_-_Ronald_S._Federici

    Go figure. But like I said, I don’t think the label is so important. It is a rather vague designation that has no clear cut criteria, so really it’s just all a matter of opinion. I am fine with calling him whatever he wishes to be called…Dr. Federici, Ronald Federici, PsyD or as he displayed on his website, Dr. Ronald Federici, PsyD. Whatever. What’s important and concerning to me is the practices he promotes in his book and media appearances and the practices described in the APSAC Task Force report.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Question and Challenge to Dr. Ronald Federici and his Supporters « Potentially Harmful and Other Questionable Therapies
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