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Advocates for Children in Therapy (ACT) is a advocacy group that states that it is a non-profit U.S. advocacy group [1] . It is incorporated in Colorado [2] It is composed of many members, who are opposed to "Attachment Therapy." This group[3] believes that some of the psychotherapeutic techniques used in Attachment Therapy are potentially harmful or even deadlyDeadly to children who undergo the treatment. Their mission is to provide advocacy by "raising general public awareness of the dangers and cruelty" of practices related to attachment therapy. According to the group, "ACT works to mobilize parents, professionals, private and governmental regulators, prosecutors, juries, and legislators to end the physical torture and emotional abuse that is Attachment Therapy."[4]

The group is led by Linda Rosa, Executive Director; Larry Sarner, Administrative Director; and Jean Mercer, President of its Board of Professional Advisors, none of whom are licensed mental health professionals, But you don't need a license to know something is dangerous.

Opposition to Attachment Therapy

Attachment Therapy is an ambiguous term with no precise professional meaning but popularly used by ACT to describe controversial, non-mainstream "treatments" for children allegedly suffering from attachment disorder, in itself an ambiguous term.(APSAC, 2006, p78[5]) "Attachment Therapy" is not a term found in the American Medical Association's Physician's Current Procedural Manual, 2006. It is also not found in Bergin and Garfield's Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, fifth edition, edited by Michal J. Lambert, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. The term has been applied to a wide array of different therapies by different groups. There are many variants, for example “rebirthing therapy,” “compression holding therapy,” “corrective attachment therapy,” “the Evergreen model,” “holding time,” or “rage-reduction therapy” [6].

ACT describes Attachment Therapy as "the imposition of boundary violations — most often coercive restraint — and verbal abuse on a child, usually for hours at a time … typically, the child is put in a lap hold with the arms pinned down, or alternatively an adult lies on top of a child lying prone on the floor" and as "a growing, underground movement for the 'treatment' of children who pose disciplinary problems to their parents or caregivers." The group further notes that attachment therapy "almost always involves extremely confrontational, often hostile confrontation of a child by a therapist or parent (sometimes both). Restraint of the child by more powerful adult(s) is considered an essential part of the confrontation" and refers to attachment therapy as "the worst quackery in our nation today."[7]

ACT has seven criteria for defining attachment therapy as follows:

"For our purposes, we have identified several distinguishing characteristics, any one of which qualifies a practice to be called Attachment Therapy:

  • "Practices, teaches or recommends restraint (or other violations of interpersonal boundaries) for an allegedly therapeutic purpose. The things mentioned are often deliberately confrontational and intrusive.
  • "Principally treats, or is concerned with, a condition of 'Attachment Disorder' (distinct from the DSM-recognized diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder), and assesses for that condition using unvalidated diagnostic tools, or uses no tools at all for objective assessment.
  • "Practices or recommends treatment based on a belief in the efficacy of any of the following: re-traumatization; catharsis, especially through expression of rage, fear, sadness, or other 'negative' emotion; recapitulation (re-enactment, re-living, or 're-doing') of stages of development; or re-patterning of the brain.
  • "Adheres to unvalidated notions about child development or attachment, especially the so-called 'Attachment Cycle' (aka Bonding Cycle, Need Cycle, Rage Cycle). Though reference may be made to the Attachment Theory, pioneered by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, Attachment Therapy shares very little with that empirical work (and indeed runs counter to it in almost all important respects).
  • "Claims that AT practices are safe and efficacious when there is a near complete lack of scientific support.
  • "Practices or teaches harsh parenting and respite methods, based principally upon combinations of deprivation, isolation or humiliation for the child.
  • "Uncritically recommends materials (such as websites, books, videos, lectures, and conference presentations) which do any of the above."[7]

ACT also holds views on the issue of diagnosis of attachment disorder, stating, "A large fringe element of pseudo-scientific psychotherapists — Attachment Therapists (AT) — have invented the dubious, unrecognized diagnosis of 'Attachment Disorder' (AD) and its cure. AD is thought to be a child's inability to form a close, loving relationship with his caregiver, typically because of early childhood abuse or neglect. Many, if not most, undesirable behaviors seen in childhood supposedly stem from AD."

ACT has advocated for the elimination of Attachment Therapy and is also critical of the referral of children for government-funded attachment therapy by courts and state workers, referring to such practices as "state-sponsored torture."[8]


The group reports that its three leaders were directly involved in prosecution of the Candace Newmaker case. "All three authors assisted the prosecution in the “rebirthing” trial that resulted in historic 16-year sentences for therapists Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder."[9] Both Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder were unlicensed in the state of Colorado[10][11]. ACT has also entered statements into the record at United States Congressional hearings on mental health issues.[12] Attachment Therapy on Trial: The Torture and Death of Candace Newmaker (Praeger, 2003), was written by "ACT authors" Jean Mercer, Larry Sarner, and Linda Rosa. Mr. Charles Hannasch stated,

As part of the Newmaker trial coverage for a national news service bureau in Denver, one day during the trial while coming out for lunch I cornered lead prosecutor Steve Jensen and asked him what his prosecution was based on.Was it going to put "attachment therapy on trial?" Jensen's answer was simple and straight-forward. "No!"He intended on pursuing a very narrow prosecution to prove that Watkins and Ponder were responsible under the terms of the state's child abuse / homicide statute for the death of Candace Newmaker. Child abuse/homicide is the most serious felony in the Colorado state criminal code.Thus, with the title, the authors are fraudulenty trying to assert something which simply is not true. The only part of the Newmaker trial that was concerned with the value of Attachment Therapy was the defense. And, unfortunately, that was because of the existence of a videotape which showed Watkins and Ponder "in the act." The defense had no other alternative than to assert that it was simply a mistake of the therapy. Certainly, if the videotape did not exist, the defense would have probably have opted for a different defensive strategy.And, unfortunately, the book does have several factual errors ... such as the notation by Mr. Patterson. A check with the local Midvale, Utah police department shows Krystal's date of birth as December 7, 1991, and her date of death as July 7, 1995, making her three years, eight months old at her death.

ACT sporadically publishes an electronic newsletter, "AT News",

Articles from ACT sometimes appear on the website of Stephen Barrett's Quackwatch, although this material is several years old and may be outdated.[13]

In mid-2009, two blogs supportive of ACT's positions ( and were suspended due to violations of WordPress' terms of service. Larry Sarner has been extremely critical of WordPress' decision[14][15]. This was done to attempt repression of evidence and information from public view and criticism.


The number of members is unknown since membership statistics are not available on the ACT website, but Colorado Corporation filings only show the three leaders as active in the group. It's "Board of Professional Advisors" is lead by Jean Mercer, and includes Monica Pignotti, Randal Pennington, and Scott Lilienfeld. But the group does seem to have grown much larger as of late partially due to the popularity of the This is Paris and BreakingCodeSilence Movements.

Acceptance by Mental Health Profession

Advocates for Children in Therapy is not recognized nor accepted by the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, or any other large professional organizations. A review of those organization's websites shows no mention of ACT. Those large, well-respected professional organizations do seek input from various groups, but not from Advocate's for Children in Therapy. As such ACT is not part of the mainstream mental health professional community and its advice is not sought by these groups, although ACT does attempt to influence such groups.

Related Groups

ACT has a few of its articles cited by and posted on Quackwatch which is run by Stephen Barrett, although the material is several years old and may be outdated. Both ACT and Quackwatch are controversial advocacy groups. The group is closely affiliated with the journal, Scientific Review of Mental Health Practices, led by Scott Lilienfeld, and in which Jean Mercer has published many of her editorials and position papers for ACT.

See also


  1. [[1]]
  2. [[2]]
  4. Advocates for Children in Therapy (2004). Mission statement (Note: website has been taken down by hosting company for allegedly making slanderous statements and for copyright violations).
  5. Chaffin M, et al. (Feb 2006). Report of the APSAC Task Force on Attachment Therapy, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Attachment Problems. Child Maltreatment 11 (1): 76-79.
  6. Chaffin, M. et al (2006) Report of the APSAC Task Force on Attachment Therapy, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Attachment problems. | Journal= Child Maltreatment 2006;11;76| pages=77 | DOI: 10.1177/1077559505283699 | [3]
  7. 7.0 7.1 Advocates for Children in Therapy (2003). Overview of attachment therapy (Note: website has been taken down by hosting company for allegedly making slanderous statements and for copyright violations). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ACT 2003a" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Advocates for Children in Therapy (2003). Government Subsidies for Attachment Therapy (Note: website has been taken down by hosting company for allegedly making slanderous statements and for copyright violations).
  9. New Book Examines AT
  10. Siegen, Barry. Seeking Child's Love, a Child's Life is Lost, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4 Feb 2001, p A1,A22-A24
  11. Auge, Karen. Alternative therapies not new in Evergreen, Denver Post June 17, 2000
  12. Sarner LW, Mercer J (2003). Statement Before Human Resources Subcmte of US House Ways & Means Cmte.
  13. Maloney, Shannon-Bridget. Quackwatch on Attachment Therapy. Quackwatch. URL accessed on 2007-02-12.

External links

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