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.