Controversial Holding Therapies vs. Attachment Parenting

Controversial Holding Therapies vs. Attachment Parenting

A recent issue of the "Journal Child Maltreatment" included a report of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) concerning attachment therapy (Chaffin et al., 2006). The article contained a critique of the controversial holding therapies and coercive parenting approaches advocated by some clinicians for attachment disorders. The article pointed out that these methods have no empirical evidence of effectiveness and in fact may be harmful. The practices described included coercive restraining procedures, aversive tickling, forced eye contact, withholding of food and water, and insistence on total parental control. These therapeutic strategies are not derived from accepted principles of attachment theory based on the work of John Bowbly and Mary Ainsworth which stress sensitive and responsive parenting in order to foster secure attachments. The article also cautioned against the overuse of the diagnosis of attachment disorder pointing out the difficulty of distinquishing between this diagnosis and others such as oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder.

Unfortunately, the authors of the APSAC report on several occasions used the term "attachment parenting" to refer to coercive parenting techniques. Attachment parenting is a term first used at least 20 years ago by William Sears to refer to the responsive style of parenting shown to lead to secure attachments based on the work of Bowlby and Ainsworth. Attachment Parenting International, a group that facilitates the formation of parent education and support groups, promotes practices such as preparation for childbirth, emotional responsiveness, breastfeeding, baby wearing, responsive nighttime parenting, avoiding frequent and prolonged separations, positive discipline, and maintaining balance in family life (www.attachmentparenting.org). Though some characterize attachment parenting as extreme, proponents argue that it represents a return to the close contact pattern of child rearing that characterized our species for 90% of human history (see the work by Mel Konner) and represents the pattern to which babies are adapted. A reply to the Chaffin article by the Attachment Parenting founders and research group was published in the November 2006 issue of Child Maltreatment.

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.