Coercive Restraint Therapies: A Dangerous Alternative Mental Health Intervention

Jean Mercer, PhD

In This Article


It has not been possible to observe CRT directly or to hold serious discussions with practitioners or advocates. However, there is a great deal of related material available commercially or via the Internet.

An important source was a series of audiotapes of conference papers, published by the Association for Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children (ATTACh). A related organization, the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH), also makes conference tapes commercially available.

CRT advocates have produced their own training tapes that can be obtained commercially. CRT practitioners, such as Neil Feinberg and Martha Welch, and the CRTP advocate Nancy Thomas have shown their philosophy and practices on videotape.

CRT advocates have published statements of their opinions, a few of these through standard publishers and professional journals,[8,9] but most through self-published print materials and through Internet sites. Commercial organizations offering CRT and CRTP services, nonprofit advocacy organizations, and parent support groups provide descriptions of the CRT belief system on the Internet. Most of these do not provide details about CRT practice as it is to be found in other sources.

Courtroom and professional licensing board material was a useful source of information. Several prominent CRT advocates have surrendered their licenses following disciplinary action connected with injury to a patient or other misconduct. Some courtroom materials (for example, Advocates for Children in Therapy) have discussed the actions of parents or practitioners who employed CRT. The most detailed discussion of CRT methods occurred in the trial of Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder for the death of Candace Newmaker; the author attended the trial and has examined the transcript of Watkins' testimony. Of particular value in the Watkins-Ponder trial was the fact that the practitioners videotaped their proceedings with Candace, and this 11-hour videotape was shown in its entirety in the courtroom, although the judge did not permit it to be released to the public.

The author, as an expert witness, also had access to the discovery in a related licensing matter involving CRT practices. Confidentiality does not permit specific reference to this material, but it is appropriate to say that statements in the discovery were congruent with all other evidence about CRT.

Although, as a general rule, newspaper articles may be an inadequate source of information about mental health interventions, newspaper accounts of 2 cases were of help. One of these involved the trial of the adoptive parents of Viktor Matthey, who died of hypothermia and malnutrition; he had been fed on uncooked oatmeal for some time.[10] Adoption services had been provided by Bethany Christian Services, an organization whose Internet site links with CRT organizations. The other case involved the long-term starvation of 4 adopted boys by a New Jersey family.[11] The New York Times account of this revealed a number of CRTP practices at work.


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