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What Is Attachment Therapy?


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Sarah K. Lee


Attachment Therapy is a term informally used to describe treatment for Reactive Attachment Disorder. Because there is no officially recognized and quantified entity called "attachment therapy," definitions differ based on the group doing the defining.

The Association for Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children (ATTACh), an organization that is seeking to better define Attachment Therapy and defend it from charges that it is abusive to children, defines Attachment Therapy as "the focus of the therapeutic process rather than a specific intervention technique," and lists two areas of focus: building "a secure emotional attachment between the child and caregiver," and "healing the psychological, emotional, and behavioral issues that develop as a result of the parent-child disruption and/or early trauma."

Opponents of Attachment Therapy offer a harsher definition. According to Advocates for Children in Therapy, "AT has two major components to it. First, there is a hands-on treatment involving physical restraint and discomfort ... usually accompanied by the second component, a phalanx of parenting techniques which brings AT brutality into the home, on a 24/7 basis. Both components are without basis in psychological theory or research evidence."

A report on Attachment Therapy by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, while condemning techniques that involve physical coercion and forceably changing the child, states, "There are many non-controversial interventions designed to improve attachment quality which are based on accepted theory and use generally supported techniques. ... Therapy for maltreated children described as having attachment problems emphasizes providing a stable environment and taking a calm, sensitive, non-intrusive, non-threatening, patient, predictable, and nurturing approach toward children."


Examples: Attachment Therapy may be used to describe controversial practices like rebirthing, compression, and holding, or techniques promoted by therapists such as Nancy Thomas, Foster Cline, Greg Keck, Martha Welsh, and Dan Hughes.

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