Why Attachment Therapy?

A reader, JM, left the following comment:

I’m curious, if you don’t mind answering, why you chose to do Attachment Therapy with Hope as opposed to other therapies? Also, what do you think about the controversy and criticism of Attachment Therapy?

As we have recently made yet another four hour trip to see the attachment therapist, I thought this would be a good time to start to answer this question. I can only start to answer because Hope’s treatment is a work in progress.

When we Hope first joined our family, it was obvious that she had been severely neglected. Abuse, both sexual and physical, was red flagged by Hope’s behavior the first couple of weeks home. From the moment we took Hope, it was apparent that her rage was focused on the mother. That would be me. Hope has been seeing two trauma therapists since she came home. Last spring, the physical violence against me reached dangerous levels. A friend of mine, who had adopted a child from a Russian orphanage, had used the attachment therapist we are using with good results.

The therapist was Dan Hughes based, and also treated trauma. We did an eight day intensive in July and it was difficult. Difficult for us, difficult for Hope. The therapist told us how seriously disturbed Hope was. She said Hope maybe unable to live in a family, but there was still a spark there to work with.

Hope is not my first child with attachment issues. My first child was adopted at 10 weeks. He cried for the first three months he was home. My oldest daughter, who has FASD, was adopted at 6 months. When my daughter came home, she smiled at everyone. She never cried. She would take right away to anyone she came in contact with. Everybody, including me, thought it was a blessing that she adjusted so well. This was 27 years ago and nobody in the adoption world was talking about attachment issues. She wasn’t diagnosed with RAD until she was 17. She still struggles.

I was looking for a healthier outcome for Hope. I realize attachment therapy comes with a lot of controversy. The “holding” therapy is the source of much of that controversy. Children have died from it. Some of those deaths occurred because parents didn’t feel “in charge” and therefore did not educate themselves on the therapy their child was receiving. By not taking charge themselves, they became subservient to the therapist and allowed physical abuse. The Dad and I are always in the room with Hope and we always know exactly what is going to happen. The only time there is any “holding” involved is during trauma work. During trauma work Hope is rolled up in a blanket on a mattress before it begins.

I feel that since Hope is so young the best outcome for her is for us to become her psychological parents. I still think it is possible for The Dad. I am not sure it is possible for me. I do not know if Hope will ever let anyone be her mother again. This leads me right to where I am. Does Hope have to accept me as her mother in order to grow up healthy in our family?

I have no answer to that question. I can’t find anything in the literature. Most of the literature is written with the assumption attachment is necessary and then goes on to how to get the child attached. I am sure that secure attachment would be the best outcome. Nobody looks at  how to help a child who is not capable of attachment. There were some case studies of unattached child who grew up to be sociopaths, but no examination of unattached children who grew up without becoming sociopaths. I was looking for a study of the differences between the two groups.

I am sure this doesn’t fully answer the question, but I don’t really have an answer. We are a work in progress. Hope is a work in progress. Day by day, we look for new paths, partial answers.

EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique: Tapping

EFT is the acronym for Emotional Freedom Technique, commonly refereed to as Tapping. It is based on the Chinese acupressure points. It is possible to lead the child in tapping, with you tapping each point on your self and saying the script out loud and the child following your lead and repeating the script. If your child can’t or won’t do that, you can tap on them directly, speaking the script as you go. There are many scripts you can find online, with videos to follow. If you stick with it, your child will memorize scripts and be able to use them at the appropriate times.

The illustration above shows the acupressure points used. I always start with the forehead, work my way downwards, then end with the crown of the head. 

This link to Lisa’s Life in the Grateful House where I started. She has such a good post as to why you should tap, that I will let you read it there. I am using tapping on myself, particularly after Hope has used up my last ounce of energy. I use it with GB to reinforce the self-talk she already has been taught as a technique to use when she is overwhelmed. For Hope, I am using a script Lisa and her daughter made up just for Hope. There are also  RAD scripts on Lisa’s blog to get you started.

It has only been a couple of weeks that we have been tapping, but both girls request it. GB has actually requested that I tap with her when she has recognized she is getting dysregulated. 

Tapping isn’t a cure for our kids, but it is another tool to use on our journey of parenting special needs children.

The Significance of the Pickle: By The Dad

I follow many (OK some) of the same blogs that my honey follows. I very seldom comment, but I still get a sense of belonging from listening to others challenges, feelings, actions, ramblings, etc. We all need to feel we are not alone! And I thoroughly understand, and appreciate the support, encouragement, and advice she receives from this on-line community family. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit jealous of this.

Although my honey is on the front line dealing with our children’s issues more than I am, I do consider myself a very involved dad. I have a somewhat flexible work schedule and work from home more than from the office, so I am home frequently when the girls are home. And I have adjusted my priorities considerably in recent years to place a much higher priority on family #2.

After my honey returned from this year’s Trauma Mama retreat in Orlando I began to really think about the jealousy I was feeling. What about the dads? Am I the only one that feels this way? I was reading Christine’s blog when I discovered House Calls Counselings Parenting in SPACE conference.  And just like Arlo Guthrie said “It come like a flash, Like a vision burnt across the clouds” why don’t you go to this conference and get connected? And maybe they’ll be some other dads there, too. Thinking this could be a common experience that helps my honey and I get closer to being on the same page, I asked her to attend with me. “What the …. would we do with the girls?” Fast forwarding a bit….. she still didn’t want to go as we left for the conference last Friday….

WOW, what an experience! I had read a number of books and articles at my honey’s suggestion, on attachment theory and therapeutic parenting. I was NOT a non believer but I can’t say I was fully convinced. After hearing first hand the stories of many other parents experiences, and just one session on the Fundamentals of Attachment, all the books and articles came to life for me, and it all suddenly made sense. Not only made sense but looked almost obvious. Of course these kids respond differently. And of course you need to parent them differently than I was parented.  They are physically wired differently!

The sessions I attended were very informative and I learned, or validated a lot of critically important stuff. Now I have attended a variety of conferences, e.g. technical conferences for my job, and a number of conferences for a variety of volunteer organizations I have been involved in. Across the board I have found that as valuable as the content at these conferences is, the real value comes from having the opportunity to talk with, and laugh/cry with other people in similar circumstances. This conference was no different. I got to share my story, and hear the stories of many others that validated so much of what I was feeling. I made a number of new friends, AND there were dozens of other dads there!

I heard other dads express some of the same feelings I was having, and I gained valuable insight from listening to Michael Moers. I am not alone! And there is a significant role for the secondary caregiver. Thank you again Michael. I no longer feel jealous or left out. I have found a family that I am a part of. This family gets it, and I am so looking forward to staying connected through the blogs and FB. I guess I really need that iPhone now. :-).

My 500th Post Here… On Being a Therapeutic Parent

Being a Therapeutic Parent is not just hard. I am sitting here, nursing my swollen hand, scratched face, and bitten arm and looking at Hope. Hope is in control and doesn’t have a mark on her because of the last ninety minutes of sweat-pouring-down-my-back effort. It is only 2 o’clock in the afternoon. 5 1/2 hours to bedtime. My question is “How do I continue to be a Therapeutic Parent?”

After thirty years of parenting kids from the hard places. I have mastered (mostly) the art of waking up and looking at each day as a fresh start. I have always struggled with the day that has already gone south. I struggle with feeling that my best wasn’t good enough. Obviously, since my child has just managed to rage for X hours. Or my sweetheart just called the worker a F*cken’ B*tch. My child walking out of Manifestation Hearings also tend to make feel like it is pointless to go on. If I stay in that place long, the tears start.

When I reach the why*bother*stage, I find I have to intentionally fight my way out. And, so far, I have not found a sure fire way out. Sometimes, really cold ice tea and a rocking chair, helps me reset. Another time it might working in the garden. Occasionally, another Trauma Mama can talk me down. Before all my health problems, a long walk helped. Chocolate has a good shot, too. None of these methods give the grace of a new day.  I am tense. I keep Hope on a short leash because I know if she has another major meltdown, I will be unable to keep my therapeutic panties on.

I can appear patient. I can sound reasonable. I can even go through motions correctly. So what is the problem? The problem is children with Reactive Attachment Disorder have a built in emotional radar that spots a sore points and aims for it. They can’t  help themselves. Time and healing are the only things that help. 

We are on our way home, facing 17 hours of driving. I am asking God for the grace to keep myself regulated because I know Hope won’t be. It would be unreasonable for me to expect it to be any other  way.

Four Day Weekend

The girls have a four day weekend. Count’em… Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. When it was GB and I, we would have planned activities scattered through out the time off. Hope’s morning today was as bad as it has gotten. We  are hoping to move her into her new bedroom tonight and that could help. Of course, there is always a chance that it could make it worse. I am going to try to stay in the moment and also to plan something for GB each day, even if it not with me. I have my big girl, Therapeutic Panties on and I will do my best. 86 hours of therapeutic parenting, straight, with no relief in sight. Sigh.

Week Eight Begins

We started week eight of Hope’s total meltdowns. Yesterday she went for a drink in school- a journey of approximately 20 feet. One of the aides saw Hope turn and start back. When she looked again, Hope was gone. Ten minutes of frantic searching later, she was found hiding in a first grade closet, on a different corridor. She lost half of her Valentine Day Activities and refused to do anything else. She came home agitated and oppositional.  We topped her day off with Therapy Tuesday, which pushed her over the cliff. She stopped trying and just fought. This morning, I insisted on strong sitting before breakfast. It took her twenty minutes to decide to cooperate, which left her less than 10 minutes to eat. She refused to carry her book bag to the bus. I handed it to the bus driver. She refused to take her book bag off the bus. GB delivered it to her classroom.

It is 10 am and I already have my first three emails about Hope today. She is defiant and oppositional and has already spit on somebody. This afternoon, Hope and I will practice following basic commands, such as stop, wait, sit, and quiet. I think we may be approaching rock bottom. It would be nice to see a little progress. 

Not This Week

Therapy Tuesday was better than last week. Hope’s screaming stopped before  9 pm. Of course the last half of my preemptive plans never had a chance. On the way home from therapy we received a call from a very upset MK. She had picked up Mali from his father and there was something wrong with his arm. Since the Dad was driving, I talked MK to the emergency room. We went to the hospital and the Dad stayed with her and the baby. Mali had a dislocated elbow.

Hope was not happy. She started with the phony whine/cry and repeating over and over “I am not going to bed without Daddy”. When we got home, I told her to get pjs on and that is when she went off for real. She tried to kick me until I got her up the stairs and into bed. The screaming in bed lasted over an hour.

I am thinking that we need to simplify and go back to the beginning. We need to practice basic commands and strong sitting. The TV is off until we master those skills (again). I am not sure when we lost them, but I need them back. Soon.

I Borrowed Ralphie

Hope has been doing her best to get us to cancel Christmas. In an uncannily timed post, Christine at Welcome to My Brain, wrote about her family rule that nothing a child can do can cancel Christmas. Hope hasn’t healed enough yet that she could hear this. However, The Dad and I can benefit from the reminder. The passing thought that Hope might be the first child to drive us to canceling Christmas is a waste of emotion, time, and energy. Christmas will come no matter what big behaviors Hope can come up with, so the Dad and I need to focus on the moments that will keep us going. Sometimes the obvious needs to be said.