Firsthand Accounts

Stories of Surviving Attachment Therapy and Its Parenting

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Links to Stories:


Lisa (
Part 1) (Part 2)



Mia (
Part 1) (Part 2)




By Autumn
My story:

Adopted at birth yet granted a loving open adoption by my birth mother. 

My adoptive mother and father traveled across the US to bring me home to Northern California in 1993. (As a newborn) 
I was a very happy baby and child. My parents were middle class and we owned our own home on half an acre. My adoptive mother stayed home with me full time while my father worked for Child Protective Services and did so my entire childhood. My parents were in their forties when they adopted me. 

Around the age of 6-7 (around when my parents were divorcing). I was put into attachment holding therapy.  I was told to have AD due to being adopted.  No symptoms other than that I was “adopted”. I had been in talking therapy when I was “diagnosed”. 

It was never explained why I was moving to a different therapist nor what the “experience” was.  Yet the moment I walked in I knew that things would be very different. 

Sitting on the couch, I sat with my adopted mom and dad. We faced each other while the therapist watched and added her instruction. 

My parents then started verbally attacking me about my behavior that week and how I was a bad child.  Given my age and childlike attitude (I was 6, mind you) I rebutted back with a remark defending myself. 

Then in the blink of a second I was grabbed and held onto the floor. My parents and the therapist angry and tense. With the therapists help my parents hands pushed against my wrists and legs and their adult body weight was thrown into my chest and stomach. The terror of death, being unloved and fear hit me hard. I immediately couldn’t breath and out of fear I began to beg to get up. Fighting against their weight to just breath and yelp words. 

With my fight their words became harsher and the weight became more painful. Eventually a time came, an hour or so in I would be far too tired to fight. My voice gone, my body limp I’d be released and held in a hug by a parents. Crying in terror for the torture I was put through. They looked proud of themselves and somehow acted completely different. Hugging me, embracing me and telling me I did good. 

Yet I had been broken.  Who were these people?  In fear I hugged back and repeated the words they wanted to hear.  I just knew my life depended on it at that time. 

I thought we were done yet every week the same situation happened again. Each holding session I became stronger and more angry. I was completely detached from my once happy self.  I no longer had compassion nor love for these people. I began to fight back at home just to regain power and defend myself from the appointment.  There were also fights due to the therapist having a large “playroom” that was incredibly set up with brilliant toys.  I always asked when I would be able to play there. Yet was told maybe when you are good.  Sadly I was never able to play with the toys as I was never “good” enough. Hard to make someone calm when you are poking, grabbing, verbally humiliating and demonizing. Especially an unstable 6-7 year old. 

Instead of taking these as signs of trauma my parents said I was “mentally ill” and needed medication. So at the age of 6-7 I was started on medication for random mental illnesses. 

It got to a point where I’d lock myself in the car in the parking lot of our therapist. I couldn’t bare to fight again nor did I want to be hurt. I begged to go home through the locked car door. Crying, screaming and breaking down. I was scared.  Eventually our time slot was over and they had no choice but to take me home. Thank god!   

After a while the lock ins wasted their time and money.  They couldn’t get me into the building nor often out of the car. They took me to a different type of therapist who believed in medication.   I would of been thankful to get out of the attachment therapy yet the damage was done. I was broken and traumatized.  I felt the constant need to fight my way to survive. 

My story sadly didn’t end there. I was randomly dropped off at behavioral summer camps, homeless shelters and group homes from 7-17ish. Never told, just simply dropped off unexpectedly. I didn’t know when I would be coming home or what was happening. 

My parents still wonder dumbfounded why I was so angry and mentally unstable.  For a while I couldn’t figure it out myself either.  Yet at the age of 18 I escaped living in their home and somehow found myself not mentally ill for the first time in 11 years. Nothing WAS wrong with me!   

I stopped all medication the second I left the house at 18. I no longer was unstable emotionally, angry or violent.  I thank my lucky stars that I didn’t successful kill myself during my childhood. Cause now I live a very blessed life as a mother and wife. 

Sadly I do suffer a large amount of ptsd from the trauma.  I hope to find peace from holding therapy one day. Thankfully I have my husband by my side who saw the trauma my parents put me through. 
Added February 2019]


By Anonymous

[EDITOR, March 2018: The below is a contemporary account from someone who suffered Attachment Therapy (in the style of “Compression Therapy”) for several years in the mid-1970s in North Carolina. That this was done to a child with Asperger’s must have made this intensity of abusive, asphyxiation, and physical restraint unbearably cruel.]

ANONYMOUS: Humiliating. Infuriating. Demoralizing. Many times it was done in front of others, not only in the psychiatrist's office (group therapy, in which parents attended with their children, where they would tell the big doctor what the child had done wrong that week, and the child would be held), but also in various public places including my school (done there by my parents). Also, it was very uncomfortable physically as well as claustrophobic to have huge people lying on top of me and such. It upset me a lot on that account. As a matter of fact, on one occasion I stopped breathing, and passed out, but was then let up immediately since I had stopped struggling, which was what they wanted, of course. Most of all, I realized at the time that it was basically rubbing in my relative lack of power and the imperative to submit. I was age 9-11 during the "therapy" itself, I think, and 11-12 years old when my mother decided to stop. I might have been too strong for her by then. And I was 14 years old before I managed to get my feet up under my father and pitch him off of me (fortunately he was not a large man); he decided at that time that had to be it for him, too. Along the way there were also some other therapeutic hijinks, such as hair-pulling, enforced seclusion, deliberate aggravation followed by unexplained punishments, etc. All in all, no fun and devastating to the self-esteem, but not as bad as what many others have suffered in the years since. I didn't know, at the time, that this therapy was only for adopted children. I can't imagine what that psychiatrist must have told my parents to get them to go through with it. But they always thought he was the greatest. He died a few years ago, and I was glad to hear it.


My Life Experience as an Undiagnosed Autistic/Aspergers Child
By Les

My parents have always said that my problems began when I started school. At age 4, I went to playschool with my mam, so I was never left with other children until my first day at primary when I was 5.

I was very upset, and I could not understand why my mam had gone home and left me, so during most of the day I sat crying and saying I wanted to go home. I didn't like being with other children who just got on with it. After break time when the whistle was blown, all the other children lined up ready to go back inside, while I ran the other way onto the field and rolled on the grass. I vaguely remember doing this and maybe because I thought it was funny to get the teacher to run after me.

The head teacher had said to my mam that my behaviours were not acceptable and that I could end up in borstal if something was not done. A later year, I found out that I was the only one in the class that was adopted when someone in the class mentioned it, but I didn't know what it meant, and the other children seemed to treat it like a joke that I didn't have natural parents. My mam explained to me what it meant. At first I felt left out, but then I didn't have a problem with it. But my parents started to think that I did.
Over the years I never mixed or made friends like others did, and I had many problems at home and at school. My parents found my behaviour very alien and badly behaved. I was born in the 70s when in them days some parents punished with shouting and slapping. I was also taken to see numerous child psychologists and councillors, where my parents would do the talking, while for me I could not communicate. My mam had read some information on autism which was very little at the time and mentioned the possibility to a psychologist of me being autistic. But they said no and that I was just a very naughty, attention seeking child. My autism has affected me differently to how it has other people. I see and feel things differently to others. I could not help the way I behaved, and my parents could not cope and were getting to their wits end. For me I had a high sensitivity of being physically touched in childhood. I was fine with my parents holding my hand to go out or being asked for a light hug, but anything more than that was uncomfortable and distressing if pushed over my limit.

If my mam came and touched me or to put her arms around me, I would resist and push her away. To a parent, that may seem perfectly natural and comforting, but to me it was not, but as a child I couldn't think of a way to explain it. The times when I was slapped for something wrong, and what is just a little tap to a parent, was like a big bash over the head for me, so I naturally went berserk, and retaliated and all hell breaks loose. I wondered when are they going to get the message that its painful for me to be touched.

Every so often I had to go to hospital appointments to see a orthopaedic doctor about my legs because they were not growing right along with my weight issue.
This included diet plan to try and get me to lose weight so my mam was advised to remove all sugar and carb foods out of the house. This was a hell of a job for her and disappointing for me, because I am hypo-sensitive to sugar and chocolate so I craved it badly. I could not cope with being denied sugary food and chocolate, so I secretly baked, which I was good at, and hid food while parents were out working.  I had eating binges at grandparents who just let me have what I wanted to keep me happy, and because I knew when I got home I would be very limited and refused whenever I asked, because I felt I had a desperate daily need for sugar and chocolate, despite the fact that I knew I was overweight and wished I was slim and active like other children. While parents were out I would search the house for my sugar needs hence I was denied pocket money because they knew what I would get with it. Feeling very desperate and depressed, I had no choice but to start taking money from my mams purse and dads coat hoping they would not notice every time I did. They didn't realise how bad my need was, and eventually got a police lady to see me, who labelled be a thief and a liar, I hated her for that because she had no idea what I was going through or why I did it. Again I hated these appointments because of the touching, so I was probably being awkward. The doctor included in the medical notes that I was out of control and disturbed in some way.

When the time came that they felt I needed to have surgery, which I didn't want and still wish I had not, because I wasn't unhappy with the way things were. My parents were concerned about my mobility in case I ended up disabled, so I didn't get listened to, and was taken to hospital, which I thought was a good way to get off school because I was bullied with no friends, and I was early years at the big school now. I was pressured into having it done. The nurses were horrible to me, they treated me like I was some sort of a freak and didn't care about my pain until I asked for painkillers. I hated them touching me to remove my stitches and dressings. My leg was stiff, they told me to bend it, or they would get the physiotherapist onto me. The physio came and she was great with the other children on the ward, but she was nasty and brutal with me while the others watched me scream, cry and shout in pain.

I assumed the nurses told my parents everything that happened, but they had not, and they would not have allowed this if they did. It sounded like the psychologist I was under at the time told my parents and the hospital staff not to listen to me. Time off school for another traumatic experience of pain and physical touch, I was no better off.

Sometime later after that, I decided I wanted to spend some time on my own away from home and school. I had bath, got into my favourite clothes and left with my savings book without saying anything. I was found by the police and brought home, and they all wanted to know why I did it.

I did this on 2 occasions, and the 2nd time, 2 nice policemen brought me back and said if I went missing again I would be taken into a home. My parents thought that I did this because I was adopted, so again I was taken to see a doctor who introduced me to a lady that I could see and talk to and go out and do things with, and that she was adopted too. I did not want this because I didn't really have a problem with it.

Then later my mam read something in a magazine about holding therapy, or someone that had told her about a lady that did it. She did not know what it was or what it was all about, but she told me that we were going to see a lady that could help. A lady who learnt from [Martha] Welch, unknown then.  As usual, I would just be sitting listening to my parents tell her about everything including our rows, being pushed away and that I was adopted. Surely with experience with others, she should know that I have a resistance to being touched. So what sounded very nice and loving to my parents was agony to me. The distress I have had with unwanted physical touch was bad enough. My parents were desperate for a solution, so they listened to whatever she said to do a hold no matter what I was to say or do to get away from this prolonged uncomfortable painful touch.  A week later, after it had happened 3 more times at home, including the lady coming to our home where another session took place, and seeing her doing this on a TV documentary with others, I was lucky that my dad put a stop to this because he couldn't see how it would solve anything, and he did not like the atmosphere, and for me this had greatly pushed my limits of touch over the top to torture.  My grandparents at the time were told about this, and they agreed that my dad did the right thing. After this last resort, my parents just had to accept the way I was.

Every time we went to see a specialist, I kept hoping that I was going to be helped for my benefit and get a diagnosis with humane form of treatment I should have had back then, but instead I felt like nobody cared how I was suffering, and I was just being penalized for things I could not help, and my sensory issues were provoked.

Keith Vargo’s Story

Vargo 1 of 2 AT with Cline Watkins
Vargo 2 of 2 AT with Cline Watkins