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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The Origins of Holding Therapy in the UK

When all the information is assessed and one takes a step back, it is astonishing how systematic and audacious the (sole) programme of Holding Therapy in the UK is. It is useful just to highlight the main features of the project. The forty children within the programme at any one time seem to be mainly subject to Care Orders or Interim Care Orders. This means that they will have been through the court process and been subject to multi-professional meetings involving social workers, teachers, health professionals etc. They will have been represented by solicitors, barristers and Guardian ad Litems and had expert reports written about them by psychologists and psychiatrists. Their current placements will have been paid for by tri-partite funding from health, education and social care and, at a conservative estimate, cost the taxpayer several thousand pounds a week per placement. This means that it is entirely possible that millions of pounds of public money has been spent on a highly-intrusive treatment on our most vulnerable children which few people have heard of. Faced with such a situation, it may be helpful to look at the origins of Holding Therapy in the US and in the UK.

Holding Therapy in the US generally has its foundations in Robert Zaslow’s rage-reduction therapy in the 60s and 70s and psychoanalytic theories of rage reduction. The therapy was frequently used in a number of clinics around the Evergreen area of Coloradoafter Foster Cline founded his first clinic there in the 70s and was, in its early stages, used as a treatment for autistic children. The practice was later used as a treatment for Reactive Attachment Disorder and, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, frequently used with Russian and other Eastern European children who often had been raised in orphanages and adopted by parents in the US.

In the UK it seems that a key event in the introduction of Holding Therapy was a visit by the American psychologist Martha Welsh in the 80s. Welsh had written a book called Holding Time which advocates the use of HT on autistic children, she later adapted the treatment for children diagnosed with RAD. It appears that, during this visit she was initially supported by a number of influential academics, notably Nikolaas Tinbergen and his wife Elisabeth, My understanding is that a small number of clinics started using HT as a treatment for autism at this time but these gradually ceased to operate as the theory that autism was caused by attachment failures with the mother was discredited. A small number of HT therapists also started to use the treatment on children diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder but these also soon started to reduce in number particularly, it seems, after the publication of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering Position Statement (4) which effectively called for the treatment to be banned.

By far the largest, most systematic and sophisticated programme of Holding Therapy in the UK began in about 1996 and was started in the North of England by a foster carer and her social worker. The programme began as a non-profit making project but was soon reinvented into a private company. One of the founders who for many years was the head of therapy is now a consultant employed by the company. It has been reported that she remains the only trainer of therapists the company has ever had. In 2002 this company commissioned a local university to undertake an evaluation of its therapeutic practices. The university website records that it was paid £31,000 to undertake the study which consisted of a number of semi-structured interviews with staff and children. This study was generally positive but vague in terms of the therapy itself – it reported only a few negative “outlier responses”.

Following the commissioning of this report in 2002/3, a number of articles appeared in the national press. These appeared to simply reproduce the claims of the company and strikingly failed to question, in any way, the nature of the therapy. There was even a feature on the BBC woman’s Hour which essentially seemed to advertise the service. However, after 2003 there were significantly fewer items in the media and by 2006 the company seems to have been in significant financial trouble – items in local news papers confirm this. It may not be a coincidence that the highly critical (against AT) BAAF Position Statement 4 appeared around this time.

What happened next is extensively recorded in the financial press and can be researched on the Companies House website. This, still relatively small, company was bought by a much bigger parent company, based outside the country. This may be significant for a number of reasons. It was around this time that a number of concerns were raised around private equity firms buying up small groups of children’s homes and foster care companies in, so-called “distressed sale” buyouts. A common theme was that these, sometimes family owned businesses, were being stripped of any elements that did not clearly contribute to profit-making. The effect on this particular company may have been that the owners were much further removed from what was going on and may not have cared about it as long as it didn’t affect the balance sheet. Indeed, it has been said that high-level supervision of practice within the homes may have been conducted by the Chief Financial Officer.

There is a theme that runs through the recent history of HT in the UK like the letters in a stick of Brighton Rock. It is simply that the people responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of these Looked After Children don’t seem to have asked any questions – they appear to have simply turned a blind eye. The inspectors responsible for its governance don’t even mention the words Holding Therapy or Attachment Therapy, the social workers don’t seem to even know, or say they don’t know, that this kind of therapy is taking place. In truth, it could have always been said that, as Fainities (a commentator on a previous post) has highlighted, we never really knew the detail of what was going on – academics such as Prior and Glaser presumed it was a nuturing form of HT that was being practised in theUK. It could always be glossed over in this way. This get-out clause is precisely why first-hand accounts of HT, such as the description published on 5th April on this blog, are so vitally important.

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A Foster Placement with His Therapist

After two years in a residential placement, where Holding Therapy took place on a regular basis, this child was moved to a foster placement with his therapist. This is the same child who described his experiences of the therapy in the previous post. In this post Holding Therapy is not directly described but I feel the account provides considerable insight into the motivations of the people who practice HT.

The situation surrounding me going to B……… and T………….’s

I was highly aggressive within there childrens homes and it was said to be decided my the staff team that the could no longer work with me so an order for me to be placed into a secure until was made in the 11th hour B…………’s husband said he had seen me in one of the homes when he was there carrying out maitinance work

And said B………. and him self would foster but looking back this was all set up by B…………… using T……… as the front man. It was the summer holidays when I went there I was told I was having a break from …………but soon after told I would be going back I had fun for the first few weeks I was bought toys clothes computers days out and was given the freedom of any normal kid I also managed to secure a place at an EBD school in ………….. N…………….. school where I would be a week resident and go to T………….. and B….. at weekends I started school and got in to the routine the support from the school was amazing at weekends a typical weekend was cleaning the house and looking after B………….’s profoundly disabled son T…… and B……….. were compleat control freaks I still talk my ex foster sister now and we resent them so much for loss of out child hood. In the house hold there were 8 other children adopted all but one had some sort of disability B…………. always tried to make her self look like the model mother to the out side world she was perfect a role model respected and she knew it and used to lord it over us constantly she hated if we talked to anyone out of the family she hated us having friends its like to wanted to protect what she had built up in her home I myself made the mistake of talking to my head teacher at school about things that were upsetting me ie children been brought back from ….. to be made to sleep on the stairs on the floor no cover just the clothes they had on there back I told my head teacher about …………… and what they did and that weekend I went back to T……. and B…….. I got the biggest bollocking of my life She went beserk you don’t tell anyone not anyone about what goes on in my house or what happened at …………… do you hear me and then would try and start to manipulate me with her fake tears I soon cotton on to that one B……..’s famous fake tears as time went on I started to miss behave at school so I wouldn’t have to go home at the weekends to look after her disabled son and clean am not saying it was all cleaning and baby sitting I mean we had all the gadjets is was like you can have these nice things but there were always a price pay one Friday I had missed behaved at school on purposes so my punish ment would be that I wanst allowed home I was in turmoil B…………. turned up at school I was scared but she managed to get at me and filled me full of false promises so then I went home after about 2 years B………….. came and said I want you to change your name to ………….. and told me to tell my social worker as really controlled well we also attended church and she said she would buy me an armarni shirt if I was baptized into the catholic faith and at that age well yes easily perueded so I did. Shortly later T………… was diagnosed with ME we got extreamly angry and violent many time with all us kids at one point of another it was like livng on egg shells most of the time. On one occasion one of B………….. sons with learning disabiltues dropped some food on the floor he wanted to put it in the bin but she swept up the rest of the kitchen and made him clean the food he had dropped on the floor and muck B…………. loved humiliating and contol at the age of 15 I refused to go home again and was put into a childrens home in preston for the night but I got so much shit of social workers and the care staff saying how wondefull B………… was I just give up and went back can you imagin how hard it is to prove a women is a abuser when she is this pioneering therapist company director and I am just some skank kid in care something just died in side me at 16 I ran way from home as ……………. was verbally assaulting me every day gay boy and other names and once some occasion pushed me around so I ran away again to my ex foster dad who I was with b4 I went into ……………. but again told to go back but this time I didn’t I went out on my own got my own house years later some one got in contact with me and said B……….. wants to talk to you so I thought I would call to see what she had to say I took my partner to meet them and they ripped me to shreds your useless stupid my partner to this day says every time we used to see them I used to turn into a quiver dumb wreck the biggest thing that hurts me is B………. (all letters capitalised) forced me to chuck all my baby photos and passed life down a gap in the house when they were doing a loft conversion so in that house is my passed life just sat in the dust she stole my identity she stole my child hood she was allowed to abuse me as a therapist as a mother because every one thought she was great and there is fuck all I can do about because I still feel like that stupid powerless kid who carnt make the world she what she and her therapy has done to me she has in my eyes made her self invinsable there are so many things to say but writing them all would take soooo long I hope this gives you a bit of an insight if there is anything else you need to know just mail me I hope this s ok for you and to be honest it hurt so much writing this and brought back so many flash backs and memories but also long as I keep telling myself its for a good cause it will keep me strong

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Why is it Important to Raise Awareness of Holding Therapy in the UK?

How widespread is Holding Therapy in England? At present there is only one programme that we are aware of in England. This consists of 10 or 11 small children’s homes owned by a private company. The children are aged from 8-18 and are taken to a single therapy centre on a weekly basis. This therapy is similar to the therapy described in the BAAF 2006 Position statement and continues for no less than two years for each child. Almost all the children are in care and are funded by local authorities.

For me, the starting point is how such a substantial programme of Holding Therapy can exist when a major organisation such as the BAAF has effectively called for it to be banned?. There have been no clinical trails proving its efficacy and there is no meaningful governance that oversees its practice. The question that I feel needs to be asked is why are local authorities placing their most vulnerable children in these places if there is no scientific evidence to prove that the treatment works?

One explanation could be that these local authorities may not be aware of the BAAF statement, that HT is not proven or they may not even be actively aware that the therapy they have commissioned is not simply talking therapy. If this is true, and they are not aware of the nature of the therapy, then (as they exercise PR) they have not legally given consent to a highly intrusive practice and it could therefore be argued that the children are being assaulted.

So why make such an issue of HT? The reason, I feel, lies in the nature of the therapy itself. There are certain aspects of it which ring alarm bells. There are features such as the “strong encouragement” of eye contact and the potential need to “deliberately distress” the child before they eventually break down and capitulate that has echoes of the way high-demand groups (cults) operate. A response that is sometimes heard in relation to HT is that “it works”. The question for me is, for who? The danger surely is that such a prolonged and intensive programme such as this may work well to create short-term compliance but may lead to serious long-term problems which have not been fully considered.

At worst, it could be argued that the practice of HT could sometimes be taking away an aspect of a child’s humanity, the ability to respond independently and critically to their environment . In other words, it is a version of the Clockwork Orange debate – the merits of state-sponsored brainwashing of children and young people. The wider question is why has society allowed this practice to continue in the UK for so long (14 years in relation to this programme)? There has been no significant public debate but some professionals and members of the public have heard something of the practice. Why have they not investigated further? Why weren’t further questions asked? It is what this tells us about the society that we live in that raises the really important issues.

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