What is the difference between Attachment Therapy and Traditional Therapies?
A child with cancer should be taken to a doctor who specializes in cancer. A child with an abscessed tooth should not be taken to a proctologist for healing. A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder needs treatment for the condition they have. Children with this disorder exhibit extreme levels of behavior and manipulation. A therapist who is not trained to deal with these extremes can do more harm than good.
Attachment therapy uses the mother as the change agent to heal the broken bond between mother and child. Traditional therapy leaves the mother in the waiting room–not a part of the healing of the child. Attachment therapy focuses on building trust in the child toward the mother, traditional therapies deal with building trust in the child toward the therapist.
Traditional therapies have consistently failed with children with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Because, therapies such as: talk therapy, play therapy, and sand tray therapy, are based on establishing a relationship with the client – and then using that relationship as a trust base to help the child deal with their issues.
I heard of one therapist, calling himself an Attachment Therapist, that wasted fifteen months of a child’s life in weekly therapy sessions. He told the parents that he was working on establishing trust with this child with RAD so that he could begin to work on the child’s issues. He had decided that the child was not ready to deal with tough issues, while he continued to charge the parents the $100 a week for this quackery. If you had a toothache and three months later the dentist had not been able to resolve it or at least improve it, would you change dentists? Would you wait fifteen months? Unless I see visible improvement within six weeks I will look elsewhere for a new therapist.
Therapists trained in attachment work confront issues with the child in a timely manner. They realize that the painful issues of the child’s abuse/abandonment/neglect/pain are carried inside the child every minute and every day of their life. Surgeons don’t wait until a tumor is big enough to take it out. Attachment therapists don’t wait until the child’s childhood is over, family is destroyed – months and years of learning opportunities are wasted – before dealing with vital issues.
Children with Attachment Disorder lie, manipulate and con. If they are taken behind closed doors with an adult who doesn’t live with the child, the child will use that opportunity to fine-tune their skills in manipulating, conning, and lying to the therapist. This causes tremendous regression in the child’s behavior. Attachment therapists base the progress of the therapy on the child’s behavior at home, not the façade the child shows in the office. An attachment therapist is skilled at breaking through that façade and getting to the ‘real’ child, so that they can express their feelings and embrace honesty. As children are able to become emotionally honest about their feelings in therapy, they are more likely to volunteer the truth about other things. A therapist working with a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder must be trained to ‘listen’ to the child’s behavior, not their words – to actively listen to the child’s feelings, not their words. Loving acceptance by the mother of the child’s genuine feelings is a vital part of the bonding work. The rage that comes out continually with the child’s behavior must be released in a therapeutic environment in order for everyone to be safe. This rage release often takes three to five hours. Feelings cannot be rushed or compressed into the typical 50-minute hour.
Eye contact, touch, movement, smiles, and the sharing of sugar between the mother and child are keys to bonding that the Attachment Therapist works toward in each session. Dr. Foster Cline says, “It takes about one month for every year of age that the child is, to complete the majority of the healing.” So, a five-year-old would require about five months of therapy, a ten-year-old, about ten months. If the child has been placed out of the home in the previous two years the time doubles. If there is an organic problem such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the time needed to heal is unpredictable.
Attachment therapy is used to dissipate the rage in order that the heart-to-heart connection can begin. More traditional therapies such as talk therapy, play therapy, and sand tray therapies, can then be beneficial. A child with a broken heart needs a therapist who knows how to mend that heart. A trained Attachment Therapist has the tools to do the job.