Every week, I get calls from moms desperate for help with their kids with reactive attachment disorder. They’ve paid lots of money and spent countless hours by the time they find us. Yet, their kids remain the same.
So here’s the question—why don’t more therapists know how to treat RAD?
1. Most therapists don’t understand reactive attachment disorder
Basically, therapists can’t treat what they don’t fully understand. Many professionals recognize symptoms of reactive attachment disorder but not the root of the problem. And here’s the root of the problem—kids who experience trauma in their early years have brain trauma. However, many therapists design treatment for kids with normal attachment without brain trauma. That works for other kids with other issues. But it doesn’t work for our kids with reactive attachment disorder.
2. Lack of information about RAD starts at the top
Many professors don’t provide graduate students with adequate information. Students often learn about normal child development. Yet, they don’t learn what happens when normal development gets disrupted. They don’t learn to recognize how and when brains have changed.
I sought information about how early trauma affects brain development on my own. I certainly didn’t learn it in grad school. After 36 years as a child and family therapist, my mental health colleagues are still trying to learn how to treat reactive attachment disorder.
3. The public doesn’t accept research about reactive attachment disorder and brain trauma
In order to move trauma work forward, we need to recognize the current work of respected professionals in the field. And that’s not happening either. I’ve followed the impressive work of Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk for several years now. Dr. Siegel has a solid understanding of how early trauma affects brain development. Yet, the New York Times recently attacked their research with complete bias. You can learn about that controversy at http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/van-der-kolk-nytimes2/
A few reasons (I think) people don’t accept RAD research
People don’t want to accept that early abuse affects children’s brains. I think that many people don’t want to accept child abuse and neglect in the first place—it’s too painful. To believe that children’s brains actually change due to their experiences, they must accept how horrific those experiences were. Obviously, these truths aren’t pleasant or easy to grasp.
Or maybe it’s a political/financial issue. We recognize that war veterans experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—a brain disorder. Yet, we don’t accept that children have PTSD. I’ve read countless traumatic histories and worked with abused children for years and recognize their PTSD symptoms immediately. Perhaps people don’t want to spend money to treat PTSD in children.
4. Love won’t fix reactive attachment disorder
Yes, all kids need love from caring parents. Most therapists, myself included, understand this basic concept. But kids with reactive attachment disorder need even more than love. That’s what most therapists miss. Unfortunately, love doesn’t fix the wounds of traumatized children. Their wounds go too deep. Their brains are physically different from those of other children.
Once my colleagues grasp this fact, we can move forward and effectively treat kids and heal families.
Tip: Advocate for your child with reactive attachment disorder and his or her treatment today. Share this article and the work of Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk with your therapist.
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