Attachment Therapy, Child Abuse, Daubert, Daubert Standard, Dr. Phil, hot saucing, International Adoption, Jessica Beagley, Legal Cases, Monica Pignotti, Nancy Thomas, Pavel Astakhov, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Russian Adoption, Scott Lilienfeld, therapy myths
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): Dispelling the Myths
Yesterday, adoptive parent Jessica Beagley was found guilty in an Alaskan court of child abuse for punishing her Russian adopted child by giving him hot sauce and forcing him to take cold showers. Although unfortunately this form of abuse is thought to be common, what made this case unusual was the fact that she made a video of this that aired on the Dr. Phil show and that brought her abuse to the attention of authorities who then pressed charges. Beagley did not lose custody of her children.
The punishment of hot saucing and cold showers was not part of any kind of Attachment Therapy treatment, as the mom and children were not in any kind of therapy at the time. However, attachment therapy, along with all its myths, did enter the picture when so-called “experts” testified at the trial that the child was suffering from RAD and that this explained his alleged behavior problems, thus mitigating what the mom did. The problem is, that the behavior problems they attributed to RAD are nowhere in the DSM diagnosis of RAD, nor is there sound evidence that they have anything to do with attachment problems. No doubt, the publicity of this case is now going to be accompanied by more spreading of these myths that children with attachment problems lie, cheat, steal, are violent and will grow up to be sociopaths and the only thing that can stop this from happening is the harsh disciplinary measures associated with so-called “attachment therapy” which is what I consider to be abuse in the name of therapy.
This case is a prime example of why more states need to adopt Daubert, which would require experts to produce actual scientific evidence for that statements. That did not appear to be the case here. Even though Beagley was deservedly convicted, these therapists were allowed in as “experts” to testify to symptoms that have no basis in scientific evidence.
I thought that this would be an appropriate time to cite a table in a recent publication of mine, a systematic review of the literature on RAD and international adoption. The table clarifies the difference between what is in the DSM-IV-TR and the symptoms made up by “attachment therapists” that have no basis. For emphasis, I have placed the latter in red font for this posting (of course, in the actual publication, it is not in red). For even more such symptoms, see Nancy Thomas’ website. Jean Mercer has just coined the term MAD (Misunderstood Attachment Disorder) to describe these symptoms that are repeated far and wide as legitimate when they are not.
Pignotti, M. (2011). Reactive attachment disorder and international adoption: A systematic research synthesis. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 8, 30-49. (p.33)
Table 1. DSM Definition of RAD vs. Symptoms not in DSM Attributed to Attachment Problems
DSM-IV-TR Criteria 313.89 (American Psychiatric Association, 2000)
Reactive Attachment Disorder of Infancy or Early Childhood
A. Markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate social relatedness in most contexts, beginning before age 5 years, as evidenced by either (1) or (2):
C. Pathogenic care as evidenced by at least one of the following:
(1) persistent disregard of the child’s basic emotional needs for comfort, stimulation, and affection
D. There is a presumption that the care in Criterion C is responsible for the disturbed behavior in Criterion A (e.g., the disturbances in Criterion A began following the pathogenic care in Criterion C).
(American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 128).
Symptoms Outside the DSM-IV Definition Attributed to Attachment Disorders [red emphasis added]
|Coleman, 2003||Physical aggression, shallow, emotionally deficient social behavior, tantrums, recklessness, risk taking, bullying, stealing, abuse of pets, hoarding food, deception, emotional insatiability, need to control others, defianceFamily of RAD child symptoms: loss of executive parental power, decreases in spousal interaction in parents of RAD children, parentification of siblings.|
|Howe, 2003||Aggression towards mother, crazy lying [lying about the obvious], poor eye contact, obsession with violence and bloody imagery, inability to anticipate consequences of behavior, compulsion to be in control and fear of being controlled, aggressive behaviors.|
|Hughes, 2003||Aggression, dissociation, affect and behavioral disregulation, impulsivity, alterations in consciousness, loss of meaning, somatization, inability to differentiate facial expressions, lack of eye contact with caregivers, discomfort with touch, shame.|
American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed. text rev.)Washington,DC: American Psychiatric Press.
Coleman, P. K. (2003). Reactive attachment disorder in the context of the family: A review and call for further research. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 8, 205-216.
Howe, D. (2003). Attachment disorders. Disinhibited attachment behaviours and secure base distortions with special reference to adopted children. Attachment and Human Development 5, 265-270.
Hughes, D. A. (2003). Psychological interventions for the spectrum of attachment disorders and interfamilial trauma. Attachment and Human Development, 5, 271-277.