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Questions Regarding Ronald Federici and Heather Forbes Aggression Training

May 21, 2011

Update: In an apparent response to this, the anonymous WordPress bloggers are mischaracterizing this post as a “demand” and putting forth the straw man argument that I have no right to “demand” they answer the questions. I have never “demanded” any such thing. Additionally, fabricated false statements about me have been anonymously posted that I was arrested for demonstrating and “demanding the incarceration” of the therapists in question. Again, this is an all too obvious attempt to distract from the issues at hand by misportraying and mischaracterizing my position and outright lies, as I have never in my life been arrested, much less convicted of anything, as any criminal background check will show, nor have there been any threats. All I have ever done is asked Dr. Ronald Federici and Ms. Heather Forbes questions, posted to my blog, something the US Constitution guarantees me the right to do. There have been no demonstrations and certainly no arrests. Now, to the topic at hand, which is the questions I have regarding the training being advertised by Dr. Federici and Ms. Forbes. If they refuse to answer my questions, that refusal speaks for itself and no further action on my part is needed nor planned.

I do, however, as any other human being living in a free society does, have every right to pose these questions and to do so publicly. I did not write to Dr. Federici directly because in an e-mail to me of July, 2009, he specifically told me not to contact him directly and since I have had no indication this has changed, I am respecting his wishes and since Ms. Forbes is his associate, I will not attempt her directly either. Whether or not they choose to respond is up to them, but again, their lack of response would be, in and of itself, information. They are, however, welcome to contact me as is one of his other associates, Deborah Greenwald, who I also have questions for, since I see she is certified in behavioral analysis and I am very curious to know whether she incorporates this into his work and if so, how.

Ronald Federici, PsyD and Heather Forbes, LCSW  just did a Q&A session on their upcoming Two-Day, 15 hour Aggression Training  for parents and others who have children or adolescents in their care with serious behavior problems. An audio of this session is available. They described the training, which they plan to offer all over the US and internationally if the demand is there. They also took questions. Now I have some additional questions that were not covered that I would want to know if anyone in my family were to consider taking such a training, so here they are. Note that they also denigrated people who had criticized them and urged people not to listen to “kooks” on the internet, maintaining that people who haven’t actually had such children are not qualified to criticize. However, these questions are very basic ones that it doesn’t take that experience to ask and they would be all the more of concern for children who have these very serious problems.

That being said, contrary to the misinformation that has been posted about me and the ongoing smear campaign  on the internet, I do have clinical experience working with children with serious behavior problems. That population was the focus of a practice of a Neuropsychologist I worked for for five years who was and is regarded as a top expert in his area and got referrals by the court system and other systems to children and adolescents with very serious problems (e.g. gang membership, drug abuse, setting fires, violence towards other children and adults). So yes, I know and have experienced kids with these problems, first hand, literally hundreds of them since this was a large practice. And guess what? Many of these children were successfully helped through the use of empirically supported behavioral techniques, without the need for prone restraint or interventions that isolate them from anyone but parents. So yes, I know this population.

For people who feel my experience is insufficient, when I do refer to currently practicing clinicians who have decades of experience and expertise in this area and agree with my position and/or don’t use or agree with Federici’s proposed methods,  guess what happens. That individual gets targeted with an anonymous smear campaign and I get accused of being a “paid shill” for that person. In addition to the anonymous postings, Ronald Federici in the now-dismissed lawsuit Federici v Pignotti et al, tried to make a case and imply that one of those expert professionals, Marolyn Morford, was in a conspiracy with defendants,  because I had mentioned her more than once on my blog — this was after being deluged with demands for months from people asking me who and what I did consider to be a good therapist/effective therapy. Additionally, Federici stated in an affidavit that he considered Marolyn Morford to be a direct competitor of his.

What we have here, in my opinion, is an attempt to create a Catch 22 for anyone who dares to criticize or question Ronald Federici and his colleagues. It seems that anyone who disagrees with what he is proposing gets slammed, brought into the anonymous smear campaign (the identity of the anonymous posters and who is behind this has yet to be determined). What we have here is an argument from authority that essentially says, as I understand it: I know this treatment looks horribly abusive, but I’m an expert and I, the expert, say it’s not abusive and I say this is effective and I have testimonials from adoptive parents who used it, so trust me. To me, this is analogous to the Milgrim experiments: trust the man in the proverbial white coat and obey him, regardless how bad what he is telling you to do sounds. That’s how I see it, my opinion. As for testimonials, at best, we are hearing from people who say they feel they have been helped, but how about the people who don’t feel this was helpful? Given what has happened to critics and whistleblowers, how likely do people think it is that such people would dare to come forward? Testimonials are unreliable evidence.  Where are the randomized controlled studies that follow these children through time to see how they turned out, compared to a control group? As far as I’ve been able to determine, they do not exist and I have yet to see any citations.

Now, on to the questions I have:

1. Dr. Federici assured parents that whatever they shared with regard to things they had done with their children would stay within the training and they would not reported to child protective services. What I am wondering is, how could they make such a promise? I know for a fact that licensed social workers are mandated to report certain forms of child abuse and Heather Forbes is an LCSW. I don’t know what exactly Dr. Federici’s mandated reporting requirements are, but licensed mental health professionals do have such requirements. For example, if a client indicates an intention and a plan to do harm to someone, the licensed mental health professional has the duty to report that to authorities. For instance, if a client were to share that he or she planned to drive the family car over a cliff and kill the entire family, that would be something that a professional would be legally mandated to report to authorities immediately. Per the Tarasoff decision, they have a duty to warn and this is also the case when there is a serious indication the client intends to harm self and/or others. Clients need to be informed about these limits on confidentiality by their therapists. For those who feel my clinical experience is insufficient, note that it does not take clinical experience to know this, only a working knowledge of the relevant codes of ethics and I have such knowledge.

2. In the Q&A session, it was not mentioned what specific hold Dr. Federici is teaching. Is he teaching the Sequence One Hold that he illustrated in his book, Help for the Hopeless Child? If so, I have already written extensively about my concerns about that procedure. If not, what exactly is he teaching? Once again, note that it does not take clinical experience to question this. What this is asking for, is more detailed information.

3. Dr. Federici stated that he will be teaching safety containment techniques and that he had been trained by the FBI and other agencies on their use. However, he did not give specifics and so I would want to ask the following. What was the date of his most recent training? Where and with whom? I would want to see some kind of certificate with names and dates that could be checked out and I would follow through and check it out by calling the organization and verifying. Better yet, it would be helpful if Dr. Federici could post to his website, such a certification that clearly shows date, location and organization that trained, but at the very least, if this were someone in my family considering such a training I would want to see a copy. I would want to see 1) that he took such a training and was certified and 2) That he took a certification training to train others. Note these are two different things. Note that once again, one does not need clinical experience to ask for or assess this, only the ability to read a certificate and knowledge of what the current policies and standards are on the use of restraints. I have such knowledge.

If the training was more than five years ago, that would raise concerns for me, since during the past several years, more and more is being learned about the dangers of certain restraints, particularly prone restraint, if that is what he is still teaching. In some states, such as Colorado and Ohio, prone restraints have been banned entirely in residential facilities such as mental hospitals. Recently a proposal to ban prone restraints altogether was passed by the Colorado Senate but not passed by the Colorado House. However, the reason given was that prone restraint is already banned in Colorado mental hospitals. So again, I would have to ask that if this technique is banned even under the most highly supervised conditions of state mental hospitals by well trained, experienced staff, why should it be okay for parents at home alone to use it with their children?

In other states, such as Florida where prone restraints are still allowed, they have very strict restrictions on how they can be used. These are very different from the training and what was allowed in such facilities during the 1980s and 90s and for that reason, it is important that the training be current.

If the training was in the last five years and checks out, I would ask what the credentials were of the people who trained and what standards did they abide by?

4. What specific degrees, licensure and other credentials does Dr. Federici hold in pharmacology? [I ask because Dr. Federici identified himself in his introduction as both a Developmental Neuropsychologist and a Pharmacologist] The credential he lists on his website is FICPP, which stands for Fellow of the International College of Prescribing Psychologists. For the past 17 years or so, there has been a movement of certain psychologists who have been seeking prescription privileges. However, thus far such privileges for psychologists to prescribe medication have only been successfully gained in two states: New Mexico and Louisiana, which is why I would ask whether he has any other credentials in Pharmacology. Again, whether the person asking this has clinical experience is irrelevant.

During the Q&A, most alarmingly, one of the questions was about whether people taking this training could then go out and train others. Thankfully, Dr. Federici advised against this and I am very glad he pointed out that a two-day 15 hour training would not qualify a person to train others. However, the mere fact that someone has this in mind and may be planning to train others in these techniques after only having done this workshop, is very concerning. Is there anything legally in place that would stop people from doing this? I don’t know, but in this case, I hope they do listen to Dr. Federici and don’t do it.

Federici, once again portrayed critics as internet kooks and cultists. I don’t know whether there actually are any cultists who are criticizing him, but I am not one of them, since I am an outspoken critic of Scientology and other cults and pseudoscientific practices and contrary to the false statements that have been anonymously posted about me, I hold none of their belief systems.

Federici makes an argument from authority and experience.The audio also featured a testimonial from parents who had used Federici’s methods with their internationally adopted children who stated, among other things that they acted on faith and trust of Forbes and Federici as experts. In my opinion, not meaning to single Federici out here — with regards to any mental health professional, now matter how experienced or how great their expertise, faith of that kind is dangerous, even with the most highly qualified experts. In my opinion, experts who deserve trust would never ask people to just trust them.

However, note that I am not asking people to put blind faith in me or trust me as an “expert” in anything. What I am recommending is that people be good consumers and ask very careful questions, as they should with any workshop that they would attend by mental health professionals.

Early Bird registration is $795 for individuals and $995 for couples (that’s a huge per person discount for being part of a couple, a difference of $795 vs less than $500 per person, but that’s typical in our society, although something that a number of single people are protesting and suggesting alternatives that are more fair to single people, but that’s another issue for another time — not my focus here, but something I did want to point out as I would anytime I see something like that and I suggest Ms. Forbes read Bella DePaulo’s excellent book on the topic, Singled Out, especially since so many seeking her services are single moms. I’m not sure if they’re allowing two single friends to register as a couple, but even if that were the case, although that would be better, as Dr. DePaulo points out, that is still an inequity to someone who signs up as a single and pays the higher fee, essentially subsidizing the couple).

As always, the views expressed in this posting represent my opinions and questions that I have.

Additionally, Jean Mercer has just commented on her blog about this Q&A session and particularly Federici’s comments about Stanley Greenspan and Floor Time. My favorite quote from the article:

Not everything that happens on the floor is Floor Time!

PS: Contrary to the way this posting is being misportrayed, this is not a “demand” for answers. These are simply questions that I have and as the late Margaret Singer has pointed out, the way in which a mental health professional deals with questions is a good way for mental health consumers to evaluate that therapist. Licensed therapists are, after all, accountable to the public and anyone and everyone has the right to ask such questions, not just those in authority.

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