The Natural Child comprises a series of articles written by Jan Hunt for publication and for her website, The Natural Child Project. A theme which runs throughout the book as well as the web site is "All human beings behave as well as they are treated." Ms. Hunt seems to imply that it is how they are treated in the present time is what determines behavior.
It is true that all human beings are the products of their environment. But, it is during their very earliest environment, when their earliest needs were not met, from whence comes the greatest influences upon our reactions to present day stresses. It is those who were unwanted or who suffered a traumatic birth and had intrauterine trauma - these children and adults will not behave as well as they are treated in the here-and-now. Unfortunately, the energy of their repressed feelings will continually intrude on their present-day behavior. This means that even a six-months infant's behavior can be the result of earlier trauma. And these earlier traumas are the most severe and difficult to resolve. Treating those children with love and meeting their present day needs will not solve their behavioral problems.
On pages 60-61 the author has this to say about children's tantrums: "We must realize that a child's behavior is a response to the circumstances present at the time. Those circumstances may be external -- such as overstimulation, stressful events, or sibling conflict -- or they may be internal -- such as teething, food allergy, insufficient sleep or a developing illness."
Hunt does not appear to adequately consider the overwhelming significance of repressed trauma in influencing behavior. She writes, "When a child has a tantrum, we may feel sorry for ourselves and puzzled about the causes, especially if we have diligently met the child's needs in the past. What we should do, she says, is to focus instead on the present. After all, the present moment is where each child lives."
Most parents do not recognize that they did not meet their children's needs. Most parents do the best they can; most raise their children the way they were raised. It turns out that all children have needs, (not wants) which were not met by their parents - parents who wanted to and tried to meet their needs. This significant reality seems to be ignored by the author.
On page 108 she writes, "If we punish the outward behavior, the still unmet need will continually resurface in other ways until it is finally met. You may need to dig to discover what that need is. For example, your child may be feeling sad because a friend moved away, and this sadness could lead to 'misbehavior.'"
But this sadness because of a friend moving again may, in reality, be superficial while the real feelings which triggered the present day feeling of sadness may be a repressed earlier feeling. The sadness could even have its origins from being left alone, immediately after birth, in a neonatal hospital ward. What is actually surfacing is the acting out of the "energy" of an even earlier unmet need. And what could the parent do if she knew the actual source? You cannot meet a repressed unmet need from infancy in the here-and-now. Trying to meet the need driving an acting-out behavior or an acting-in feeling is a futile endeavor. The only solution is unearthing and re-living the early trauma.
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In a chapter entitled, The Dangers of Holding Therapy, the author explains why she is against this form of psychotherapy. I disagree with Hunt's condemnation of holding therapy. Cases of incipient sociopathy are seen in some adopted children. These children are extraordinarily damaged and treating them requires an extraordinary therapy .
She ". . . consider(s) holding therapy to be completely at odds with compassionate parenting," thereby dismissing a therapy which can rescue infants and children from the effects of early abuse and neglect. She believes that such therapy is traumatic to the child. Holding therapy is not traumatic to infants and children - but even if it were, its long range benefits would outweigh its temporary discomforts and therefore should still be recommended. An analogy might be coronary by-pass surgery which has possible dangers, but also great possible benefits.
I remember my first day in school. It was traumatic for me, but the eventual benefits were more important than the effects of the mild trauma. Child psychiatrist and primal therapist, Graham Farrant has said: "Kids . . . who had a traumatic birth will find it difficult to go to school." How correct he was! In any event, problems with the acting-out behaviors and confrontation of phobias though caused by an earlier trauma are not necessarily harmful in themselves. In considering a treatment, one should always weigh possible benefits against possible negative consequences. Even failed holding therapy has few, if any, negative consequences.|
(In regard to the re-traumatization issue in holding therapy as it relates to children, see Trauma, Trauma Bonds, and Retraumatization by Liz Randolph, Ph.D., For retraumatization issues as they relate to adults, see my article, Can Re-Living a Trauma be a Retraumatization? )
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Psychiatrist Martha Welch in her book, Holding Time, describes the stages a child goes through in a holding session. The first stage reached during holding is one of confrontation as the child protests being held. Sometimes this initial phase results in a happy exchange
between the child and parent or therapist. Stage two is rejection as the child struggles to get away. As this happens, the mother expresses her feelings and concerns to the child. At this point the mother uses her strength and tenacity to prevent the child from breaking away from her embrace.
As the struggle intensifies, there is eventually and invariably a
dissolving of the struggle as the relationship becomes tender and intimate, with
intense eye contact, touch and conversation relating to feelings. This is the final stage
of resolution and is marked by feelings of closeness and contentment.
Dr. Welch recommends that a mother should begin holding therapy when the child is
a baby. She claims that you will not be making your baby angry. Instead you will be
allowing your baby to express anger. She recommends that if your baby struggles for
you to release him, hold him even tighter. The infant will become frustrated and
wail, but it is very important for the mother to not stop holding until the stage of
resolution is reached.
Welch particularly recommends holding during temper tantrums of the "`terrible
twos.'' She suggests that the mother tell the toddler to "get those feelings out.''
Eye contact with the child should be maintained during each session.
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However, Jan Hunt writes in The Natural Child, that forced holding breaks the will of the child. What often breaks the will of an unbonded child is the rejection and gross abuse by the adopted child's birth mother and father. Forced holding taps into the sources of the original repressed rage or other emotions. The child's repressed memory was laid down as a result of the rejection and physical/ sexual abuse of its birth parents. Forced holding does not cause a "lost of trust." The early abuse is what caused the "loss of trust." What it does offer is a direct way of expiating the early repressed feelings which are the cause of the child's anti-social and mal-adaptive behavior.
Holding therapy is not effective is every case. No therapy is. As Jan Hunt wrote, the child may feign happiness in order to manipulate the therapist or parent to quit the session. This is a completely expected behavior for such a child. A good therapist would recognize a connected holding therapy session and eliciting false feelings is not the goal of the holding. A failed holding session can hardly be the basis for future anti-social behavior considering the gross abuse the child has previously endured.
Psychopathic illness cannot be made worse so easily. If the child, during the session, feels as the author writes, "angry, embarrassed, and frustrated inside," well, then the child may be well on its way to a connected early repressed feeling. Perhaps, the next session, or the one after that, will be successful into connecting those feelings to the actual trauma, with its original cast of characters. If the holding session brings up a connected previously repressed feeling then it cannot be termed "creating the opposite of psychological health." Rather, feeling the repressed feelings, in proper context, is what allows psychological health.
What would be an example of "in proper context?" For example, a child or infant in re-living the loneliness of being deserted after being born, could once again have the experience of being in an incubator, hooked up to medical devices with glaring overhead lights. All elements which accompanied hurtful feeling back then, such as background noises, painful light, physical sufferings as well as the mental pain of being deserted could re-occur once again.
Not all sessions include such complete memory. These are quite dramatic when complete sensory remembering occurs, but such complete of reliving is not required for resolution of the trauma. It does, however, characterize a type of session with significant healing potential.
Jan Hunt writes that there are alternatives to holding therapy but does not mention any such therapies. Unfortunately, because of the depth of their pain, for many there are no alternatives. "Gentle and empathic approaches" which Hunt admires just don't work with unattached children or for that matter with sociopathic adults. Hunt's arguments are like condemning the aforementioned coronary by-pass surgery because it is too invasive.
Who are the typical patients of holding therapists? A high percentage are unattached or unbonded children. Most of these are adopted infants and children who suffered unbelievable abuse.
In The Result of Abused or Abandoned Infants, Betty Anderson writes:
I can understand how a person, who does not understand what a connected regressive feeling is, may believe that the person undergoing the experience is in extreme distress. This is not so. What is usually being experienced, in successful sessions, is the early trauma. After connection is made, it actually feels quite satisfying and liberating to experience the earlier trauma and be flooded with exciting insights into the cause of present-day behaviors. The children learn why they act the way they do. Their unsociable, untrusting behavior is totally reasonable when one considers the types of traumas they have endured.
Crucial traumas can take place many months before birth. Leah Lagoy, in An Imprint For Life, writes:
The infant who is abused and/or abandoned by its mother knows no trust or stable attachment. The infant internalizes rage at the misery and confusion of unmet needs. The elements are indelibly in place to prevent the child from forming healthy, caring relationships. This lack of attachment or bonding, compounded by the anger and frustration felt by the abused or abandoned child, creates an ever-deteriorating spiral of emotional and behavioral disturbance. (All) . . . because the child has not experienced the trust and feeling of well-being associated with healthy love and attentive care in the earliest stages of life.
Someone witnessing the therapeutic holding event and is not knowledgeable of how the therapy works and what a regression is, would not understand that the child or infant is re-living an earlier traumatic episode and is actually quite exhilarated while experiencing the event which has been pressing for release from unconscious memory since its conception, in its crib, at birth and sometimes before birth.
In considering conception, implantation, early twin loss and umbilical experiences in terms of attachment, one can begin to understand that a baby being put up for adoption has already experienced a tremendous amount of attachment trauma before he or she is ever born. Adopteees have most often been gestated in a womb of isolation, fear, general unconnectedness and often hostility.
Babies witness and feel all of what the mother goes through and have their own set
of feelings which include fear, terror, despair, loneliness and rage.
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All of the love and kindness in the world will not undo the damage these unattached, adopted children have had inflicted upon them. The repressed memories are encased and protected by hardened defenses. It takes a lot of effort on the part of the holding therapist, usually the parent, as well as the child, to lower the child's defenses. Their symptoms represent severe psychopathology. Some of the symptoms of unbonded children are extreme defiance and anger, being manipulative but superficially charming, especially to strangers, preoccupied with fire or gore, lacking a conscience, they lie, steal and cheat, they maim or kill the household pets, detest affection and resent and fight against being held.
It is this last symptom which can become an entry point into the cathartic re-living of their early traumas. This is one reason why holding therapy can be so effective with these children who have never become attached to a caregiver.
Holding therapy was discovered by Dr. Robert Zaslow (1966). The therapy was initially called rage reduction therapy and was the first and only breakthrough in the treatment of such children.
No sociopathic child goes voluntarily into holding therapy. They are grateful after the benefits are derived, although they could not have imagined what they would be.
". . . The holdings . . . help me get the MAD out," wrote one girl who after being marinated in drugs in her mother's uterus and after a traumatic birth went home to be physically, emotionally and sexually abused. I was rage filled, she explained. Ten placements with foster parents had failed. During her 11th placement she was given holding therapy. Being "forcefully" held is what brought her face to face with her very early anger.
"Unconditional love is rejected by "unattached" children because they don't regard themselves as worthy of it and, in fact, it will usually cause them to attempt to prove they're not lovable because it doesn't fit their picture of the world." -- Parenting A Child With Attachment Difficulties, by Sherry G. Odenthal, M.S.W.
Another (a 17 year old adoptee) wrote: ". . . (H)olding therapy is no piece of cake, but the work is worth it. The therapy won't work if you don't work. . . . You need only need to talk about your feelings, but you also have to allow yourself to feel your feelings and work through them."
Back to my analogy. The therapy is like being given a quadruple heart by pass surgery. You are being given a second chance at life. There is initial discomfort but it is worth it. Unfortunately, one cannot convince a psychopathic child that holding therapy may be beneficial. Neither can a parent convince a child with severe phobias that vaccinations are necessary; or that doctors, dentists, hospitals and surgeries are sometimes essential for their wellbeing. There are many other such new experiences in the normal life of a toddler which can bring up a lot of anguish - first haircuts can be very scary.
It's difficult to convince these phobic children that they need these essential services and besides reassuring them, what should parents do while these kids confront their phobias? I believe that a parent should proceed in spite of the child's protestations. Should my mother not have insisted that I attend school? I was not convinced that I needed to learn to read and write; I am happy my mother forced me into the first grade, although on that first day of school, I was so terrified and upset that she had to remain in the classroom with me!
I still do holding sessions from time to time because I find them very helpful. After I finish a holding session, I walk out of the office feeling very light and relieved. I understand another part of my history and myself with each session. For me, it is a way to release unwanted feelings. I have also discovered that I can regress, and go back to a time when I was younger. While I'm in that space, with the aid of my therapist, I can work through the feelings of a past trauma so that I come out feeling more powerful."
- Remember That You Are Not Alone by Kelly Waldmann
(For outcome studies of attachment therapy, with holding therapy, see Does Attachment Therapy Work? Results of Two Preliminary Studies . Also see the journal, Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 29(4) pgs. 303-313 (1999). The authors of this study are R. Myeroff, G. Mertlich and J. Gross who compared the effectiveness of holding therapy with aggressive children).
"Holdings are the vehicle whereby the child is "forced" to express the real gut feelings about his pathological issues. He must face and express the rage he has buried to survive. Often these children feel that to express their deep anger will kill them. They literally feel that they will die. So they will go to any length to avoid it. Most of the behaviors they exhibit stem from deep seated rage and from feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that they repressed.
These kids cannot trust the world to be safe and nurturing. In their minds, to trust someone else with their feelings is tantamount to suicide. The first time they do express real rage in holding, they are terrified. They find great relief when their fears and anger are met with understanding and love. This, of course, is the beginning of trust, and attachment. The changes which come over the child in facial expression, body language, behavior, etc., are amazing."
-- Cathy Helding in Working With Attachment-Disordered Children
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If there were an alternative to resolving sociopathy, besides holding therapy, it would also be used. Dr. Ken Magid and Carole A. McKelvey in High Risk: Children Without a Conscience, write that sometimes a profound religious experience can reach these persons. But that is an experience usually reserved for adults. It is difficult to induce a conversion experience in young children!
The authors of High Risk. . . , have much confidence in holding therapy. It works because it forces young children to become vulnerable and this vulnerability allows the unbonded child to access painful hidden emotions. A case history of such a child is recounted in their excellent book.
When feelings of anger and discomfort are rising, a child in holding therapy may approach his mother and ask for a session. He has had the therapy so he knows what it takes to trigger or intensity the holding experience and he might ask his mother to "hold me and don't let me get away!" The child now knows how to intensity his holding therapy session and understands exactly what he needs to feel the feeling and to get rid of his upsets and act outs.
The child with successful holding therapy experience may even engage in pseudo-struggling to break free from the holding. The child may scream, "Let Me Go!, Let Me Go!, I Hate You, You're Killing Me!, I Want to Kill You! Expressing the early feelings he has previously tapped into with the mock "efforts to disengage" can help trigger and deepen his rage and is always accompanied with deep anguished crying and screaming.
This happens because the repressed memory of the child is being self-reactivated as he relives what he had needed and had not received. He may even relive his traumatic birth. The touch and holding in the present can also reactivate the repressed need for earlier touch and holding when the child was a newborn, but instead was placed in an incubator.
He can also re-live the beatings he received as he pseudo-fights to break free from the holding. The trauma could have been from his neglectful birth parents, or incredibly, even from an earlier hurt from his caring adoptive mother who is doing the holding! No parent is perfect. And the parent may even recognize the situation her child is feeling which involves her!
This forcing of the infant or child to feel the touch, or whatever it had not gotten when needed, can trigger the memory of the original rage directed specifically at the non-present parent. It is always painful to undo the trauma by feeling those early repressed hurts, but the subsequent relief and eventual possibility of cure makes the anguish worthwhile. As many adults in the regressive psychotherapies exclaim after a session, "It hurts so good."
Children being closer to the traumatic experience in time, often have an easier time with feeling their early hurts. Simply put, that is what act outs and temper tantrums are all about! I read on Dr. Arthur Janov's website recently that his Primal Training Center now accepts children as patients. Sessions are conducted with a parent being a participant in the therapy. Also see Dr. William Emerson's website .
If it were not a scary or difficult therapy to do, the child would just do it himself, without outside help. One's body and mind have a normal tendency towards homeostasis and act outs can be viewed as attempts to connect to (re-live and resolve) repressed feeling. Defenses originally mounted to protect our fragile ego, but later in life may no longer be needed as they can interfere with our ability to normalize body and mind functioning.
Part of us does not know that, and it's scary, so we prefer not to return and feel the repressed abusive incident or incidents once again. I write "once again" but a particular memory can be so completely repressed that, in the holding session, the child may be feeling it for the first time. Fear might be the cause of his reluctance to feel in a session, so assurance and support is needed and provided via the undivided attention and holding. This acts as a stimulant or trigger to re-engage those early hidden memories. Once success is attained, the child may want to accelerate the feeling and clearing process as much as possible, in spite of the discomfort involved.
Usually, our defenses are stubbornly resistant; they protected us from the results of the trauma when we could not face its reality and now only lets us feel a bit of the trauma(s) during a session. Our defenses will not dissolve simply because we want them to. If they would, we would not need a therapist to help us feel those feelings. It's always painful and sometimes scary to re-live our old sequestered hurts, but it is from that place where relief from symptoms and oftentimes cure can be found.
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There is a child developmental psychologist who recognizes the importance of feeling those very early traumas and has developed skills which parents may apply to that end. Dr. Aletha J. Solter's books have been translated into a number of languages. They represent an important contribution to understanding and resolving early infant and childhood trauma.
In The Aware Baby, Helping Young Children Flourish and Tears and Tantrums (book reviews), Dr. Solter expounds a philosophy of child rearing and of treatment which is revolutionary. Writing of The Aware Baby, Dr. William R. Emerson, whom I believe is the world's foremost expert in the psychotherapeutic treatment of children and infants writes, "I have recommended this book to thousands of parents and professionals, with outstanding
Lecturing in three languages, Solter has conducted workshops in six different European countries. I do not know her position on "forced" holding therapy. She does, however, write favorably of "firm" holding therapy.
Her writings are not specifically about unbonded and neglected children, but are more generally about meeting the emotional needs and resolution of earlier thwarted needs in more normal babies and young children.
This is what Aletha J. Solter, Ph.D., believes about crying in babies, toddlers and young children:
When you find out that your infant is not hungry or thirsty, his diapers don't need changing and he is not in physical pain --- then let your baby cry and rage while you lovingly hold him or be attentive to him.
That can be hard to do. It is difficult to not nurse, to not allow use of a pacifier, to not give in to excessive demands for attention, but to hold your child for as long as it takes for your child to relive and release early repressed feelings and current hurts through crying jags. Common sense and perhaps your need for peace of mind tells you to try to stop the crying! Common sense also tells you when driving a careening car on an ice slick highway, not to steer in the direction the car is traveling.
In both cases, following common sense is neither correct nor helpful and may be detrimental. Dr. Solter believes that the child must go with and through the pain instead of avoiding it. That is revolutionary! Most probably that is the reason it took, and is taking so long, for psychiatry to discover these truths.
The parent should remove the pacifier, discontinue giving in to the child's demands for continual entertainment and attention and let the child feel its sadness
and misery as completely as possible. But, she exhorts readers to never ignore their baby by leaving him to cry alone. Support the infant's or child's raging grief occasionally with holding but always with loving attention.
Here is a letter from a mother who followed Dr. Solter's advice on what to do about her crying baby: Letter From Anni.
Holding a crying baby, rather than being a form of child abuse, can become a cure for early trauma. Aletha J. Solter has this to say about crying babies and child abuse:
Since birth traumatized infants tend to cry more than those not traumatized, and since excessive crying by infants is a potent trigger for child abuse, it can be concluded that birth trauma is an important factor contributing to child abuse. In addition to suffering from the birth trauma itself, these babies often suffer further trauma at the
hands of their parents who do not understand their attempts to heal themselves
through crying. This fact may help to account for the emotional and behavioral
problems, as well as later violent behavior of children who experienced perinatal
Because of the strong reactions commonly felt by parents of crying babies, I
personally consider all babies who cry extensively to be at risk for child abuse. I
have been working with parents for the past 17 years, and I have found that parents
of crying babies need four different kinds of help and support.
First of all, they need information and continual reminders that the crying is beneficial and healing for their baby, and that their babies' crying does not imply that they are inadequate or that their baby is rejecting them.
Second, they need encouragement to hold and listen to their crying baby.
Third, they themselves need to be listened to and allowed to express their own strong emotions that are triggered by their babies' crying, as well as their feelings of anger, anxiety, and powerless resulting from a traumatic pregnancy or delivery.
Finally, they need an occasional respite from parenting responsibilities.
When all parents are receiving this kind of support and information about crying,
then I strongly suspect that we will see a dramatic reduction in the number of
instances of child abuse. Furthermore, the life-long impact of traumatic birth will be
minimized because babies will be healing themselves in a supportive environment.
Conclusion from Tears For Trauma, Aletha J. Solter, Ph.D. This material is excerpted with permission from Aletha J. Solter's article published in
Primal Renaissance: The Journal of Primal Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring
Dr. Solter's website is: Aware Parenting Institute