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Treatments to Avoid

When seeking therapeutic options, it is important to keep in mind that not all therapies are effective.

Clinicians are not required by any accrediting body to use only therapies that have been empirically demonstrated to be effective. This is why it is important for those seeking treatment to request specific, empirically tested therapies.

It is also important to know that some forms of treatment actually make symptoms worse. Several therapies specifically aimed at helping children and adolescents with serious conduct problems are in this category: they are iatrogenic, or empirically demonstrated to make symptoms worse, not better.

Do not use the following forms of therapy:

“Scared Straight” programs

Scared Straight programs attempt to frighten at-risk adolescents away from a life of future crime by exposing them to the harsh realities of prison life. But research has demonstrated that completing these programs actually makes youths more likely to offend later on.

Read more about “Scared Straight” programs.

Holding therapy or “rebirthing” therapy

Holding therapy and so-called rebirthing therapy are two forms of attachment-focused therapy aimed at addressing anger problems. Some therapists claim that intense anger in children results from the separation from biological parents. But techniques used during these therapies are sometimes intrusive and aggressive and can include verbal abuse and physical restraint. Rarely, they have even resulted in death. And no empirical evidence has demonstrated them to be effective.

D.A.R.E substance use prevention programs

Drug Abuse and Resistance Education (DARE) programs are specifically targeted at preventing drug use. In DARE programs, uniformed police officers teach school-aged children about the risks of drug use and about skills to help them resist social pressure to try drugs. Most research conducted on DARE programs finds them to be ineffective (that is, they have no impact on later drug use) with a few studies suggesting these programs actually increase later use of alcohol and other drugs. These programs should not be relied on to prevent substance use in high-risk children and adolescents.

“Boot Camp” programs

Military-style “boot camp” programs are sometimes touted for their cost-effective, “get tough” approach to managing children’s behavior. These programs emphasize discipline, obedience to authority, and acquisition of appropriate social skills. However, research on the effects of these programs finds no improvement in behavior after children and adolescents leave the program. Even more concerning, some boot camp and similar wilderness-survival programs have been linked to deaths of attendees that resulted from physical violence, excessive physical restraint, and dehydration. A lack or regulation or empirically-guided treatment plans make these programs a poor choice for residential treatment.