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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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British Journal of Social Work Publish Article on Holding Therapy

The British Journal of Social Work have published an article which attempted to rehabilitate Holding Therapy in the UK. The original study, which concerned the same organisation described elsewhere in this blog, was undertaken a number of years ago. The recently published findings have been critiqued in an article by Professor Jean Mercer which can be found at –

My sense is that the publication of this article will be a key event in the campaign to raise awareness of Holding Therapy in the UK.

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2 Responses to The British Journal of Social Work Publish Article on Holding Therapy

  1. Fainites

    Most interesting article. Extraordinary that Sudbery et al. don’t reference the APSAC report.

  2. Local-Impact

    “Having presented some reasons why I believe that the Sudbery et al. paper has failed in its rehabilitative efforts, I want to present some counter-claims about HT: ”
    – I totally agree with these reasons..Good work letting people know about this.

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Never Let Me Go: Raising Awareness of Holding Therapy in the UK

Are you aware of Holding Therapy? If not, I wouldn’t be surprised, many social workers psychiatrists and psychologists are not either. This is despite the fact that substantial amounts of public money have been spent on it over the last decade in the UK. Holding Therapy is a highly intrusive therapy which is used with some of the most vulnerable children in the country. Originally developed in the USA, particularly around the area of Evergreen in Colorado, it involves the holding of a child in a lying position by two therapists. A description of this practice can be found in Wikipedia (Holding Therapy is also known as Attachment Therapy).

In  2006 the British Association of Adoption and Fostering issued an extensive position statement that highlighted the fact that Attachment Therapy is “neither justifiable or effective”. It states that the nature of the therapy “effectively makes it impossible to withdraw consent”. The statement also contains a final paragraph headed “The dangers of institutional abuse of children”. The British Journal of Social Work has recently published an article attempting to rehabilitate the practice and an article will shortly be published in the journal in response to this.  This blog will later provide more information on the history, politics and economics of Holding Therapy but, in the meantime, it may be helpful to look at the information available through the links (Wikipedia is a good place to start).

This is a call for people in the UK to find out more about Holding Therapy. As UK taxpayers we are funding this highly controversial practice and, as responsible citizens, I feel we are responsible for understanding what is being done to our most vulnerable children.

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2 Responses to Never Let Me Go: Raising Awareness of HoldingTherapy in the UK

  1. Hello!

    I came here from Monica Pignotti’s blog, where you put your link.

    I do feel it is very important for social workers and for everybody to understand holding therapy and related coercive treatments.

    And I look forward to following this blog as you uncover more.

    3.4 in the BAAF statement is an important statement. And so of course is point 6.2 – the first bullet point.

    I would like to see some examples of 6.7. [institutional abuse].

    Let this aspect of England be invisible no more!

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First-Hand Account of Holding Therapy in the UK

As far as I am aware this is the first time a first-hand account of Holding Therapy in the UK has been published on the internet. I have seen and heard evidence from a number of sources that reassures me that this description is genuine. This child would have experienced this treatment on a regular basis between the ages of 11 and 13 and the sessions sometimes could last for several hours, usually only ending when the child submitted to the authority of the therapists. Holding Therapy will probably have taken place today with a number of different children, sometimes as young as 8.

The Therapy sessions them selves were quite traumatic

One other adult usally one of the unit residential staff   had to lie down feet on the one adult who would then hold the feet down  on the top half  one hand behind the therapist back been held by the person sat next to her one hand place on my chest held down my the therapist  and constant forced eye to eye contant if i looked way my head would have been pinned in the direction of the therapist and if i tried to say no another hand would firmly clasped over my mouth which would send me into a fit of rage  all this was also backed up with alot of shouting and swearing the therapist would say things like is this what your fucking birth mum did to you did she  and the hand would come of my mouth for a responce this seemed to go on for ages
in the end i was so drained and broken and scared i just said yes in therapy i was constanly prevented from rubbing my eye if i had an itch prevented from stretching prevented from doing all nataural that i human being does to relive a discomfort and sureley that is taking away  a basic human right
but at the end of each session broken  tired it was kind of drilled in that all this was ok and they always managed to manipulate you to feeling ok when you left the session. another time i was wrapped in a blankett  pind down and held so tight  all i could feel was fright so i responded again with agression looking back this is what they wanted break you down to comply. i also attented so called   intensive therapy where there would be 2 therapist again pinned down basicly given torrents of abuse poked proded until i reached agression again.  I was i liveley lad growing up always trying to push boundries but during my time at  ……………   turned into this agressive monster attacked so many staff bit them punched them hit  i had many bruises from this place and sometimes looked quite ill and run down i kept getting told they would help me but infact it was there methods that were turning me into somthing else in one instance i had splints put on my arms to imobilise me then they woud start laughing at amd humiliating me and again i went into a rage put power less as i was splinted  in the end my violence got so out of contol i as kicking off every day staff were hospitalised in the end it was decided ……. couldnt meet my needs due to the increase in violent behaviour  which now  but that is what they turned me into  after meeting and meeting  its was decided i should go into a secure unit but then at the last second  …………… said i want to foster this boy   my therapist and director of ………fostering well that is a different story for years in the placement with them was ruled by fear and attachment therapy was never mentioned in her home she would bring kids back from work and make them sleep  on the stairs on the floor and make them look after her disabled son who would often beat them up just to make them apprciate there own home this therapy is not about helping children its about making a child love or attach through fear! i tried to tell my head teacher in the late 90′s about what was going on she seemed concerned but again ……. and …….. got away with it and i got the biggest bollocking of my life. as for the staff in the units them selves were taken young carers with no experience  been manipulated to work the ………. way  alot have staff have left as they felt this was wrong and one member of staff in my defence reported the dog bone incident and also reported doctoring of ……. logs to put ……….. in a better light which i have in …………………whilst in the care of ………and ………… to my knolledge never had an inderpendent evaluation until i was 14 when i went to the ……….. with ………..  to be assed which was not inderpendent as the doctor was a freind of ………… once these people have these children in there care its kept very close to…….. the ouside world was totally oblivious  to what was going on in my mind as social workers didnt understand the practices now i am left with anixety and never 100% trust anyone  i am rid with guilt i feel stupid  as i said am trying another therapy through the NHS to fix all the crap ……………….and …………….. did to me

i hope this is ok for starters if there is any direct question you wish to ask please do so as i do seem to rambble on some what


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11 Responses to First-hand Accountof Holding Therapy in the UK

  1. Thanks so much for telling this part of your story. Many survivors of holding therapy are too intimidated and anxious to let the public know their experiences, but it’s only through individual bravery like what’s shown here that we can be sure to put a stop to cruel and inappropriate treatment masquerading as psychological intervention.

  2. You’ve done a great job of explaining how it was so that all can understand the abuse of holding therapy.Thank you.

  3. I found your blog through Jean Mercer, thank you for getting this kind of therapy and it’s destructive techniques out in the open. I just recently have gotten to the point where I can talk about my similar experiences from my youth. Hopefully the more people who speak out the more likely that this dark chapter of child therapy will come to a close.

  4. Fainites

    Well done for exposing this. I admire your courage.

  5. Thank you for having the courage to come forward and blow the whistle on this abuse in the name of “therapy”. The more people who do this, the more the mental health establishment is going to have no choice but to take these complaints seriously. Shame on the profession and on licensing boards for looking the other way in many different countries.

  6. Daisy

    Thank you for sharing your experiences of HT. I heard about it when I lived in Manchester in the 80/90′s but I was confused about it.
    I worked in the residential care system in the 90s and although I didn’t witness anything like what you went through but I agree that children and young people were sometimes negelected and abused by those who were suppose to be protecting and caring for them. I left in the end after challenging many things but because I could not bear to a part of it anymore and even unit managers were not listened to by those with the power to make a difference. A Senior manager, with overall responsibility for all of the residential units inthe area, would visit from time to time and she really was completely out of touch and uninterested – she would chat on about her own children, their many talents and how they loved snowboarding. Insensitive and self important!
    During my time there, one girl was raped (not within the home but by an older person that she knew). A senior member of staff told me she did not believe the girl – she said she had spoken with one of the police officers investigatin who had said she could tell when a victim was lying. I challenged this and was listened to but only because i had previous experience working with rape victims. In fact the girl’s own account was wholly credible and there was no reason at all to doubt her – she was in a state of trauma and that was clear to everyone.
    I have heard countless stories of abusive foster care and I witnessed so much indifference within the residential system (specifically within the social services higher management, the police and some health professionals). I was lucky in that I had two managers who were very committed to young people but it was almost impossible to challenge the system. The young people had no voice and not power over there own lives. It was even worse in the private sector. Often people do not disclose such things until later in adulthood, so many of those stories have yet to come out.
    Your story is very important and you tell it with an emotional intelligence that is very powerful. Good for you for speaking out and for telling the truth of what happened to you. I can ony imagine how horrific your experiences were – they need to be heard because most people have no idea that these things went on – do they still go on?
    Above all I that hope that you get the support and the healing that you so much deserve.
    warmest wishes to you

  7. anonymous

    It was a good thing you survived. be strong and don’t be afraid to get back on those who have hurt you. show them that you were not intimidated with what they did to you. show them that you are stronger than them and they can never let you down. stay strong and carry on with life!

  8. A

    Your story is incredible..I can´t say how much I admire you….I´m from Czech republic and I do some translating for an organization which is trying to stop this “Holding epidemy” in my country…and I have one question..what are the dots in your story for…I´m affraid, that my knowledge of english is not that great yet, and because I would like to translate your story properly, co it can be understood poperly, I need to know that. Would you please explain it to me?
    And once again…you are very brave, and thank you very much for exposing this dark part of your life to us, hope it will help to stop this crazy conduct.

  9. A.
    Thank you for your comments. The dots are in place of the names of the therapist and the organisation that conduct this therapy.
    It would be great if this account could be publicised in your country

  10. Rose

    Incredible guts – every good wish for a happy future for you

  11. faith

    You are so Brave! who ever these people need to be brought to some sort of justice


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