Documentary on Holding Therapy in the UK by Mosaic Films

This short documentary was made in 2013, following the publication of Professor Mercer’s article “Holding therapy in Britain: historical background, recent events and ethical concerns” in the BAAF journal Adoption and Fostering.

The full article, which references this website and the associated book, can be read below

Adoption_&_Fostering10.1177_0308575913490498 (1)

Further developments have included the formation of The International Working Group on Abuses in Child Psychotherapy, which met in London in 2013 and included representatives from the England, the USA the Czech Republic and Russia.

Equally important has been the interest of Craig Whittaker MP (member of the Education Select Committee)  in the Holding Therapy issue, culminating  in a meeting involving MPs and leading academics at Portcullis House in October 2013.

As a Lancashire  MP, Mr Whittaker may wish to reflect on the recent publication of the US Senate report on the use of torture by the CIA. It remains a lesser known fact that, across the Atlantic, hundreds of Looked After Children experienced their own , tax-payer funded, version of “enhanced interrogation techniques” between 1995 and 2011 in the small Lancashire mill town of Rossendale.

The lawsuits by at least two survivors of the Rossendale programme continues to progress into its third year, with the law firm Foot Anstey and numerous experts having been funded by legal aid for all of this period.


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Invisible England Book Published

After experiencing holding therapy (between the ages of 11 and 13) within a highly systematic state-funded programme, a young man resolves to campaign against this unscientific and dangerous treatment. The book describes the legal and criminal investigations, the internet campaign and his extensive correspondence with leading academic figures.

The aim of the book is not to focus on individuals but to provide a social history which ensures that the thousands of children who have experienced this treatment across the world no longer remain invisible.

“A remarkable and disturbing account.”

Professor Jean Mercer 

“The dogged belief in bizarre treatments is an unscientific and dangerous ideology that continues to fail children and their carers, and I think these warped ideas come directly from Holding Therapy and the demonization of maltreated children that it implicitly promotes. Keep up the good work, making sure people hear your voice and your moving story.”

Dr Matt Woolgar, Clinical Psychologist and Project Lead, Evidence Based Measures of Parenting,  National Academy for Parenting Research, King’s College London.

If you wish to buy the book, please click on the cover.


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Interview with Professor Jean Mercer by Invisible England

Interview with Professor Mercer

Click on the above link to hear Professor Mercer discuss the use of Holding Therapy in the USA and in the UK. This recent interview describes the potentially harmful effects of the treatment and proposes ways in which the practice could be brought to an end.

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Trailer for Invisible England Documentary

Original music by Mathew Wood

This is a trailer for a documentary that will be available on the blog shortly. It will include an interview with the survivor who wrote the first-hand account of the therapy that can be seen  elsewhere in this blog. This young man experienced many years of severe anxiety and trauma after undergoing a two-year programme of Holding Therapy in the UK – he continues to undergo (non-intrusive) therapy even now. A remarkable resilience has enabled him to tell his story.

The full documentary will include an interview with Professor Jean Mercer and a US survivor of Holding Therapy (who is referred to in Professor Mercer’s British Journal of Social Work article). There will also be an update on the legal and criminal investigations that are now being conducted into this programme of H.T.


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A Chronology of Significant Events

1996 – A programme of Holding Therapy, later to become one of the largest and most systematic in the world, is founded in the North of England by a foster carer and her social worker

2002 – A local university is paid £31,000 to conduct a study of the Holding Therapy within the programme

2006 – The British Association of Adoption and Fostering condemns Attachment/Holding therapy and effectively call for it to be banned in Position Statement 4  (see links)

2006 – An American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) report condemns Holding Therapy

2006 – The company that manages the programme is bought by a much larger (foreign) parent company. The Holding Therapy itself remains restricted to the 11 attachment homes within the original programme

8.6.09 – Findings from the university study of Holding Therapy within the programme are finally published in the British Journal of Social Work

7.9.10 – Lancashire Police begin an inquiry into allegations by a professional from an independent agency that the therapy in the programme constitutes abuse, that no meaningful consent is obtained and that the children’s human rights are being breached

5.4.11 – A young man writes his first-hand account of the Holding Therapy he experienced within this programme on a weekly basis between the ages of 11 – 13. The placement was funded by his Local Authority at a cost of £19,857.50 per quarter.

19.4.11 – The young man  is granted  full legal aid in order to pursue a personal injury claim against the programme.  Foot Anstey, a firm of solicitors with expertise in class action lawsuits, begins investigating the claim. A specialist barrister, Robin Tolson QC, is consulted.

1.5.11 – Professor Jean Mercer publishes her rejoinder to the British Journal of Social Work article, heavily criticising its methods and raising significant concerns about the practice of Holding Therapy.

27.8.11 (5.47pm)– Ben Goldacre of the Guardian becomes the first mainstream journalist to raise concern and awareness of Holding Therapy in the UK through his Twitter account. He provides a link to Invisible England.

12.9.11 – Professor Edzard Ernst is interviewed by Invisible England  – he describes the Holding Therapy used in the programme as unproven, expensive (public money is used), dangerous and frightening. He states that he feels the only way forward is to inform the public.

14.11.11 – Lancashire Police interview the survivor of Holding Therapy and begin a criminal investigation into the  programme. It is understood that 40 children (almost all Looked After by Local Authorities) continue to be subjected to this treatment on a weekly basis for no less than 2 years.

7.6.12 – The young man’s Local Authority respond to a precisely worded, time-specific Freedom of Information request regarding their funding of children and young people within the programme. Despite paying £19,857.50 per quarter for their Looked After Child’s treatment when he was between the ages of 11-13 they state that –

“Our systems do not record in the level of detail needed to answer the request but from liaising with managers within the Children & Young People Directorate, to the best of their knowledge we have not funded the therapy you refer to”.

19.7.12   Lancashire Police meet with the Crown Prosecution Service. They conclude that there is insufficient evidence to proceed with a criminal prosecution. They state that a key factor in this decision was that the young man’s Local Authority “knew and understood the nature of the therapy” and therefore, it is implied, gave meaningful consent to the treatment being used. The response to the FOI request described above indicates the Local Authority may disagree with this conclusion.

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Interview with Professor Edzard Ernst by Invisible England

Invisible England has recently interviewed Professor Edzard Ernst about his views on Holding Therapy. We are extremely grateful to Professor Ernst for agreeing to discuss this issue with us.

We are also very grateful to Dr Ben Goldacre of the Guardian who has twice raised concerns about Holding Therapy on Twitter recently. As far as we are aware, he is the first mainstream British journalist to point to these concerns. His Tweets have led to thousands of visits to this Blog and many of these visitors have accessed source material such as the BAAF Position Statement and the British Journal of Social Work article by Professor Jean Mercer.

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First Audio Account of Holding Therapy


The above link will take you to an audio account of a person who experienced Holding Therapy between the ages of 11 and 13. He experienced Holding Therapy within a residential setting every week for two years. We believe that almost all 40 children within this programme continue to experience Holding Therapy in this way.

Original music by Mathew Wood

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