‘Holding Therapy’: Potentially Helpful or Institutionalized Child Abuse?

Holding Therapy: Blowing The Whistle on Institutionalised Child Abuse in the UK

February 18, 2013, 10:07 AM

Evidence has emerged that a bizarre and potentially inhumane treatment which originated in the US is now being used on children in the UK. The therapy involves a caregiver holding a child down and maintaining direct eye contact for extended periods with the express intention of provoking a fit of rage.  Only after this crucial element is attained does the caregiver comfort the child. According to the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) “a variety of coercive techniques are used, including scheduled holding, binding, rib cage stimulation (e.g., tickling, pinching, knuckling), and/or licking… Similar but less physically coercive approaches may involve holding the child and psychologically encouraging the child to vent anger toward her or his biological parent.”

One intended purpose of the therapy is to make the child “regress”, with the belief that this will result in attachment between child and caregiver. …

Most importantly, the practice may be harmful to a child’s health and even life, according to a draft copy of a forthcoming paper that has been accepted for publication in Adoption and Fostering by Professor of Psychology Jean Mercer. According to Prof. Mercer, “Holding Therapy has never been shown to be safe and effective by independently-conducted systematic research designed to show results objectively. Rather than an evidence-based treatment, it is one supported primarily by anecdotes and testimonials that come from parents and therapists rather than the children who experienced the treatment.”

A British company that has used holding therapy in the past is currently in the midst of a civil case with a holding therapy “survivor”…a social worker involved in the case, writing under the pseudonym of Anya Chaika has self-published a shocking exposé titled Invisible England: The Testimony of David Hanson ..

The American Psychiatric Association, The US National Association of Social Workers, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The American Professional Society on Abuse of Children and the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (and the list goes on) have all explicitly rejected holding therapy. There may however be evidence that at least one British company continues to use Holding Therapy or a close analogue.

… The best we can safely do is inform the public and hope social workers, caregivers and members of local authorities block the use of the this dangerous treatment.


 Anya Chaika is currently producing a documentary on holding therapy which is due for release in 2013. Clips from the film will be previewed on 20th April in London at The International Working Group on Abuses in Child Psychotherapy where there will be representatives from the Czech Republic, the USA and the UK discussing holding therapy and other similar issues.

Related publications

Photo: Candace Newmaker, nee Elmore

Candace Newmaker, nee Candace Tiara Elmore was killed during ‘rebirthing therapy’ – a close cousin to ‘holding therapy’ in 2000.

I attended the trial for the psychotherapists who murdered young Candace during treatment in Evergreen, Colorado. The techniques employed by Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder were barbaric and tortuous. Even though the child cried and begged to be released, she was not. Her adoptive mother, Jean Newmaker, a pediatric nurse at Duke University, sat with Candace as her state weakened (due to lack of oxygen). Nurse Newmaker choose to allow the therapy to continue rather than rescuing her step-daughter from undue distress that led to her death.

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