Refutation of the disinformation about Monica Pignotti

Posts tagged ‘Holding Therapy’

Therapy or Legally Sanctioned Abuse? You Decide

When Ronald Federici sued me in the now-dismissed Federici v Pignotti et al., one of the claims he attempted to make was that the defendants were in a conspiracy and that we were responsible for a blog entitled A Search For Survivors, a blog authored by someone who goes by the name of Wayward Radish (WR). I am not Wayward Radish and I swore in an affidavit that I was not responsible for any of the anonymous postings Federici had complained about, nor, to the best of my knowledge, were any of the other defendants. Fortunately, I  have never been a patient of any of the therapists mentioned on that blog.

A Search for Survivors is the blog of a person who has stated that she is a survivor of attachment and holding therapy, which, as a child, she was subjected to (with another therapist, not Federici)This blog was formerly on WordPress, but reportedly, it is my understanding that Ronald Federici and others filed a DMCA complaint (even though from what I can tell, copyrights were not violated. They did the same for the Advocates for Children in Therapy (ACT) website, which, contrary to misinformation,  is not associated with Wayward Radish or A Search for Survivors.  Due to the fact that their hosts at the time were not willing to stand up to those who tried to have the websites removed, both WR and ACT found a host that did have the courage to do so, Project DoD and as a result the websites remain up to this day. Details of what transpired with regard to the DMCA complaints can be found in a paper presented at a conference by Christopher Mooney and Tiffany Rad of Project DoD entitled:

The DMCA & ACTA vs. Academic & Professional Research: How Misuse of this
Intellectual Property Legislation Chills Research, Disclosure and Innovation

Here is a link to WR’s account of what happened with WordPress. However, I am not responsible for the content of A Search for Survivors nor the ACT website.

My position on A Search for Survivors has been that these are accounts of survivors, who were subjected to “attachment therapy” as children (not with Federici, with other therapists). The “therapy” was so traumatic for them that some have been under treatment for PTSD that arose from the trauma of having to undergo such “therapy” and I use that word with caution. Recent research reported by SAMHSA has shown that a high percentage of people who experienced being restrained, experienced the event as traumatic. People can view videos of holding therapy and decide for themselves whether this is therapy or legally sanctioned abuse in the name of therapy.

Based on what he attempted to claim in his lawsuit, Federici and his supporters appear to be associating the word “abuse” with illegality. Federici seems to think that because he does not have a criminal record, this makes the use of the word, “abuse” defamatory. However, calling something abusive does not necessarily mean it is illegal. Just to give an unrelated example to clarify this point, many people are opposed to all forms of spanking children and consider it abuse. Yet spanking that does not injure a child is completely legal. Does that mean that anti-spanking proponents are libeling parents who spank children? Of course not and it would be absurd to allege as much. Or consider the recent controversy over hot saucing children (I’m not saying any of the therapists are doing this, just giving this as an example to illustrate my point). Abusive? Many of us definitely think so, but illegal? Probably not, unfortunately.

The so-called “therapies” discussed in WR’s blog are not illegal, yet many are of the opinion that they are abusive. Although they are not currently illegal, some are of the opinion that they should not be legal. Note that the opinion that those therapies should be illegal is not a statement that can be proven true of false. It is a “should” statement which indicates a value judgment, and thus is not subject to legal action.

Some of the videos of holding therapists are available online, so people can watch them and decide whether this is therapy or legally-sanctioned abuse.

Videos of the holds Ronald Federici recommends in his book, Help for the Hopeless Child are not available online. At one time, a segment demonstrating the hold from a Dateline episode was on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet, but they were removed. People who would like to view the prone hold he recommends in his book and on Dateline can, however, purchase a copy of his book from Amazon. Yes, that’s right, I am actually recommending that interested people purchase his book (as I have) because it is important that people obtain accurate information about what his therapy consists of. The holding diagram can also be viewed on Amazon:

Search in the book for “SEQUENCE ONE HOLDING” and go to where this phrase appears on page 111.

Anyone can also purchase a DVD copy of the Dateline episode from NBC at 866-622-8273. Additionally, a transcript of a BBC program entitled Taming the Problem Child that featured his work is available online and presents Federici’s views as well as the views of critics such as Peter Fonagy.

I would urge anyone who cares about this issue to order the above materials and form their own opinion of whether they want to consider this therapy or something else and yes, people do have the Constitutional right to hold opinions on these matters and that include the right to criticize and advocate for changes in the existing law. In several states, prone holds or restraints are illegal in residential facilities and/or schools. However, to date, there is no existing law that forbids their use in private therapy practice or use in a client’s home. Does this makes sense, that procedures that are forbidden under highly supervised conditions such as state mental hospitals and schools in some states, ought to be legal for use in settings that are not as highly supervised, if at all? Again, this is something for each person to decide.

As for the accounts on WR’s website, although I cannot necessarily vouch for every statement made on that website, nor do I necessarily agree with every statement that was made, the reported experiences are highly consistent with what has been shown on a number of videos that are available of such interventions, where the therapists in question have demonstrated what they do for all to see. Thus, it is not surprising to me that at least some of the survivors of these treatments, now adults, would come forward and blow the whistle on their therapists and I find many of the accounts to be credible but again, I am not making any claims other than to suggest that readers watch the videotapes themselves and read the testimonials and decide for themselves, whether they find them credible.

Hate Speech: A Subjective Term

Since Ronald Federici’s supporters are now accusing me of “hate speech” or a “hate campaign” on that other anonymous WordPress blog, I need to point out that “hate speech” is a highly subjective term. So-called “hate speech” or “campaign” is not against the law unless it contains libel/defamation or specific threats of/or incites violence or if it discriminates against someone because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, but  my “speech” or writings have contained none of this, since Dr. Federici’s interventions are presumably not a religion and therapy interventions are not considered a “protected group” as race, religion, ethnicity are. In other words it is not against the law to “hate” or criticize TFT, EMDR, CISD, or any other alphabet therapy or Federici’s intervention although I do not equate criticism with hatred as the true believers in these approaches might.

The very idea of “hate speech” is highly controversial. One person’s “hate speech” could be another person’s sincerely held opinions and thus, the US Constitution protects hate speech that does not fall into the categories I described, even the type of hate speech most people would find repugnant (although again, no reasonable person would consider what I have written to fall into that category).

For example, Scientologists consider any criticism of Scientology to be “hate speech” especially former member/whistleblowers. Can they sue for that? Of course not. They have sued for many other things, but not hate speech. Scientologists have every right to believe that it is hate speech, but no right to enforce that belief on critics by silencing them.

During the civil rights movement, early activists were portrayed as angry haters, simply because they were fighting for their civil rights. The best definition for “hate speech” or a “hate campaign” seems to be anything someone says that one strongly does not like. But guess what? You don’t have to like it, but it is protected by our Constitution. People who want to silence the speech of others they do not like would be better off moving somewhere there is a totalitarian dictatorship and making sure they are the ones in power so they can oppress and silence anyone with whom they disagree, but here in the US, we have a Constitution.

Calling something “hate speech” appears to be yet another propaganda tactic to attempt to smear critics. No reasonable person would consider my sincere expression of concerns about interventions that lack evidence for safety and efficacy that may do harm to children to be “hate speech” or a “hate campaign”. Again, this looks to me to be yet another attempt to manipulate others with propaganda.

Ludicrous comparisons of ACT have been made to Fred Phelps and the blatantly false statement was made that ACT was “Scientology-backed” (the website in question, a reputation management company, which denies Federici had anything to do with it but yet vigorously defends him and states that he has retained their services, has now removed the false statement about Scientology but persists with their ludicrous analogy to Phelps — fine by me, as it exposes what in my opinion is quite obviously faulty thinking and blatant propaganda tactics — kind of like calling someone a Nazi).

In any case, to set the record straight, ACT is not Scientology backed in any way, shape or form. And no, the fact that I left Scientology 34 years ago and have been a strong critic of Scientology ever since, is in no way an indication that ACT is “Scientology-backed” and if this does get to court, this blatantly false statement will be exposed (this lie has been repeated more than once and not just by that rep management company who edited their website to remove the statement). I am adamantly opposed to Scientology and any Google search on my name will reveal very high profile, public criticism that I have been engaged in on the internet since I first got online in 1996. I have no desire whatsoever to ever be a member of Scientology and never have in the 34 years since I left, but there is no way Scientology would even allow a person who has criticized them to the extent that I have, to be a member, much less work for them. Public criticism of Scientology is considered by Scientology’s own policies to be a suppressive act of the highest order and that makes me a Suppressive Person, in the eyes of Scientology.

As for Phelps, their “opinions” and rationalization of it is in my opinion, some of the most convoluted and ludicrous propaganda I have ever witnessed. They argue that we are taking a ridiculous position and that no reasonable person wants to see a child subjected to terror. That has never been my argument or that of anyone connected to ACT. No one is saying what these therapists “want”. We are not mindreaders and would not presume to know what they want. What we have done is pointed to specific examples of therapy that employ prone restraint positions that much literature has shown to be dangerous, even when used in institutions by professionals under highly supervised conditions.

We have criticized certain holding therapy methods, that do exist and in my opinion and in the opinion of many who have observed them are cruel and abusive, regardless of whether the people who employ them are in favor of terrorizing children. It is what they actually do, not what they want or intend, that is important. For example, view the video of Neil Feinberg, who finally, after more than a decade of subjecting children to these tactics as a licensed mental health professional, just this year finally had his license permanently revoked by the State of Colorado. This is not some made up problem. This was a licensed mental health professional that hundreds of parents trusted and turned over their children to for “therapy” for decades and he is not the only one.

Do I hate the way Feinberg is dealing with the child on that video? You bet I do. I hate, what in my opinion are verbally and physically abusive acts and the fact that they were done in the name of “therapy” makes them even worse. I have been accused of having “no respect” for such “professionals.” Darn right I don’t. Imagine how quickly a child would be removed from a parent’s custody if a parent were ever seen treating a child in that manner, yet therapists get away with it for years on end — this is a disgrace to the profession and to any licensing boards that allow these kinds of practices to continue. How many children suffered before that happened? Yet I do not know Neil Feinberg and have no idea what he really wanted and what his intentions were and I don’t give a flip what his intentions were or what he wanted. For all I know, he may have been merely misguided and sincerely believed he was helping children and had nothing but the best intentions. The bottom line is, however, that these so-called “therapies”, in our opinion, do terrorize children and in some cases have done much worse.

Their attempts to relate our protest of prone restraint procedures, coercive holding therapies and interventions that lack scientific research to support their efficacy is a completely reasonable position and has absolutely nothing to do with Phelps. Obviously a number of professional peer reviewers have disagreed with this reputation management company and consider our position and criticisms reasonable ones, because we have had a number of our articles published in peer reviewed journals. Trust me, I have absolutely no desire to know what is going on inside the minds of those who carry out these therapies and I don’t care if they have the best intentions in the world. I am not claiming to know what they want and what their intentions are. All I care about is the fact that they are using treatments that have no scientific evidence for their safety and efficacy and in my opinion, based on my observation of videotapes of these treatments, are cruel and abusive, regardless of what the therapists intended. Connell Watkins did not intend to kill Candace Newmaker. She thought she was doing “therapy” and helping her but that makes no difference because the bottom line is that a 10 year old child died.

The people using these propaganda tactics need to realize, however, that they may have grossly underestimated the intelligence of the average American who I believe is unlikely to fall for such an obvious smear tactic, attempting to make loose and convoluted associations to people and organizations that have nothing to do with ACT.

If people are interested in a more appropriate analogy, here’s one for you. Extensive interviews with the followers of Jim Jones who were fortunate enough to survive the Jonestown mass suicide/murder revealed that most of these followers were extremely well intentioned individuals who were attracted to following Jim Jones and his People’s Temple because they sincerely believed he was doing good in the world, fighting poverty and racism. Who would be opposed to that? We cannot fault them on their intentions, but nevertheless, instead, what ended up happening was that they were led by Jones to brutally murder their own children, but forcing them to drink a cyanide-laced punch. The act was brutal, but the vast of these people, if asked, would never have said they were in favor of murdering children and they would have been completely sincere. Yet that’s what they did. Prior to this mass atrocity, people who expressed their concerns about what was going on were seen as anticult cranks and fanatics by some. This is an example of what what people want and what they actually do can be quite different. Too often, people confuse motives with actions. And to anticipate a way this might be twisted, I am not saying that these cult members or Jim Jones was like attachment therapists. My point is that people who commit atrocities whether it be abusive “therapies” or cult members who abuse/kill their children, very often do not see themselves as bad people who want bad things to happen and this even often holds true for the leaders. Good actors who play villains in a convincing manner, know this.

Instead of flinging around terms that in no way would be anything anyone could be charged with, my offer to Dr. Federici remains open to have a professional, sensible discussion that names specific statements I have made that he considers to be legally actionable — meaning factually false. There is nothing I have written that I consider, based on my own careful review of the literature,  to be factually false but again, I am not infallible so my offer remains open.

Michael Shermer Recommends Advocates for Children in Therapy Website

The meaningless phrase “fringe advocacy group” has been repeated endlessly by proponents of certain therapies Advocates for Children in Therapy has criticized and I have been repeatedly accused of being a “fringe group writer” although my CV shows publications in a number of reputable peer reviewed journals that are far from “fringe” and there is nothing the least bit “fringe” about my present activities. It would seem that “fringe” can be applied to anything one does not like. To slap a label of “fringe” on me for activities I was involved in when I was in my teens and early 20s as “fringe” is ridiculous. What person that age has not been involved in something considered “fringe”?

What I would consider “fringe” is a self-published book by a middle aged adult that proposes an intervention for children that has no studies published in peer reviewed journals to support its safety and efficacy and which has been declared to be “controversial” by a number of media outlets. It is laughable that supporters of this intervention are calling me “fringe”. It’s rather like a drunk staggering over to his computer and calling someone who has been clean and sober for decades someone who has an alcohol problem. Best to get clean and sober from pseudoscience yourself, before trying to slap labels on a person who is a well known debunker of pseudoscience.

Repetition of lies and meaningless phrases is a classic propaganda tactic. For example, the lie has been endless repeated that I have been “dismissed” or “fired” from FSU when in fact I graduated with my PhD and left in good standing in every way and have solid impeccable references from FSU who will vouch for me and I have never in my life been fired from any professional position I have ever held.

It might interest the people who have chanted this phrase to know that renowned skeptic, Michael Shermer recommended the Advocates for Children in Therapy website in his Scientific American column. Click here to read it. Excerpt where he recommends the website and the book Attachment Therapy on Trial:

The ultimate cause was pseudoscientific quackery masquerading as psychological science. “However bizarre or idiosyncratic these treatments appear — and however ineffective or harmful they may be to children — they emerge from a complex internal logic based, unfortunately, on faulty premises,” write Jean Mercer, a psychologist at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and Larry Sarner and Linda Rosa of the National Council against Health Fraud in their 2003 analysis, Attachment Therapy on Trial: The Torture and Death of Candace Newmaker.

Other children have died after AT as well. The American Psychiatric Association states: “While some therapists have advocated the use of so-called coercive holding therapies and/or ‘re-birthing techniques,’ there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of such interventions.” Nevertheless, AT continues to flourish. ATTACh claims to have about 600 members. The numbers may be even higher, Mercer, Sarner and Rosa say, because the practice goes by different labels, including holding-nurturing process, rage reduction, cuddle time and compression therapy (see

What next? Will they dare to call Shermer a fringe advocate?

The fact is that there are many renowned skeptics, as pointed out in a recent discussion, such as Susan Blackmore who were once believers. Susan Blackmore was once a parapsychologist with a PhD in Parapsychology and is now a highly respected debunker of the paranormal. People can and do change.

For more details on the ongoing smear campaign against Monica Pignotti and Advocates for Children in Therapy which has been unrelenting for over a year now, see:

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