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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

RAD: Children, False Information and Dangerous Therapies

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 12th 2011

RAD: Children, False Information and Dangerous TherapiesReactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is extremely rare and, yet, has been used as a diagnosis to treat children with a harmful treatment called "Attachment Therapy."

Psychologist and specialist in child development, Dr. Jean Mercer, runs a blog called, "Child Myths." In it she writes about RAD and other misinformation about children and their disorders. She is particularly concerned about the mistreatment and abuse of children treated with unconventional and harmful methods. The blog can be found at:

Michael Shermer, PhD, adjunct professor who writes and lectures about the history of science as well as psychology, wrote a telling article in Scientific American called, "Death by Theory." In it, he discusses the dangers of "pseudo-science" because it's been used to treat  justify theories and unconventional psychotherapies that are harmful and dangerous.  His article can be found at:

In both cases, Dr. Mercer and Dr. Shermer, discuss Reactive Attachment Disorder and it's misuse. Certain unconventional therapy was used to treat this rare disorder. The treatment is called "Attachment Therapy." Attachment Therapy along with it's "re birthing" methods, resulted in the injury and death of several children. The fact that these were foster children left them more vulnerable to this type of thing.

Basically, case workers used incorrect information about RAD to label children, when they complained about being in pain nothing more than faking because they had RAD. Later medical evaluation showed very real fractures. 

The therapists who conducted these fake therapies that resulted injury and death were convicted an imprisoned.

My purpose in writing this article is to convey several warnings:

1. Be very cautious about who you see for psychotherapy, whether it's for children or adults. Psychotherapists are licensed in each state. There are licensed clinical psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, medical doctors and family therapists. You have a right to ask for proof of licensing. Never see someone who refuses to show you their license. Credentials can be checked on line at the state government sites that deal with licensing each professional. Any bad marks against them will be listed.

2. As a first step for yourself or your child, talk to your family physician and pediatrician first and ask him for a referral.

3. In my opinion, it's safer to stay within the boundaries of conventional psychotherapies and medications than to venture out into anything else. Of course, alternative therapies such as hypnotism, yoga, meditation are all right. If you are not getting results then consult your physician and psychotherapist.

4. Always remember that in any type of therapy, whether medical or mental, the established facts are used to conduct treatment and not the other way around. In other words, factual information should never be used to support theories. As an example, a child who complains about a painful stomach should be brought to the pediatrician. Adults should never dismiss pain as nothing more than a child faking it, wanting to stay home from school or demonstrating the psychological symptoms of some mental illness.

Always be suspicious of the diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Again, consult your medical doctor. RAD is extremely rare. You can find out more about this at:

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Small Correction - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Sep 16th 2011


Thanks, I will correct.


slight correction - Jean Mercer - Sep 15th 2011

Thanks for calling attention to my piece about RAD misunderstandings--  but I ought to point out that in fact I'm not a clinical psychologist--  I'm in developmental psych.


Jean Mercer

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