House approves ban on 'holding therapy'

Published: Tuesday, March 5 2002 9:26 a.m. MST

Licensed therapists would be prevented from using hugging therapy or other forms of restraint on emotionally troubled children under a bill approved by the House on Monday and is now in the Senate.

HB356 would outlaw so-called holding therapy, which forcibly restricts a child's movement until the child gives up resisting.

Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem, said any form of restraint therapy can cause emotional harm that will only further traumatize a child.

"This is pain and suffering," Thompson said. "This is not love. This is therapy that gets a child so scared that they supposedly bond to the person who they believe saves them from it. This therapy is dangerous. Children are dying and being hurt and bruised by it."

He said therapists in Utah say they do not use the severest form of the therapy — rebirthing — which was linked to the death of a 10-year-old in Colorado.

Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, said the bill was being motivated by the incident in Colorado, but it wouldn't have saved the girl and won't do so in Utah because the people involved in the death were not licensed anyway.

Ferrin said he knows families who have been saved by the therapy after traditional efforts were ineffective. He said the bill outlaws rebirthing but it also outlaws forms of holding that "have saved families and kept children off medication and from being institutionalized." The therapy is used for children who are diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder or a lack of normal bonding to parents and peers.

Most traditional therapists are against holding therapy, saying it is inherently at odds with what it is trying to promote—trust with a parent. They say it can be immensely difficult for a child to regain full, genuine trust after being forcibly held regardless of the parents good intentions.

Thompson said he is aware of a few Utah clinics who offer the therapy, although they are not completely up front with parents about exactly what is involved. He said he is also aware that some Utah therapists have been contacted by parents in Colorado trying to continue therapy now banned there.