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“I wanted him to die.”
March 25, 2012 10:45 AM   Subscribe

HBO Documentary: Child of Rage: (1989) "Story of Beth, a six-year-old child who had faced the loss of a mother, physical abuse, and sexual abuse all before the age of 19 months. Both Beth and her younger brother Jonathan were put up for adoption. They were adopted by a minister and his wife. This unsuspecting couple quickly learned that something was extremely wrong with Beth. This terrifying and disturbing documentary traces Beth as she goes through therapy in Colorado. The video explains that Beth suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder. [Via]."
posted by Fizz (44 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm pretty sure that RAD is going to play a big part of Nikki Green's character in Kill Bill Vol. 3.
posted by hippybear at 10:50 AM on March 25, 2012


Also the TV movie of a couple of years later, starring Dwight "Howlin' Mad Murdoch" Schultz. I still remember that story with an "ugh," and that was a nice, sanitary, network-TV movie.
posted by Gator at 10:50 AM on March 25, 2012


Also the TV movie of a couple of years later, starring Dwight "Howlin' Mad Murdoch" Schultz.

Also available on youtube but I thought the documentary was more salient.
posted by Fizz at 10:54 AM on March 25, 2012


I don't doubt that this is real but ... holy crap does that therapist ask leading questions. More than anything I was reminded of the McMartin case and the film made from that.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 11:05 AM on March 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


I've been thinking about a youtube comment I read that remarked on how odd they felt that a male therapist/psychologist was asking the questions. I have no real knowledge of stuff like this (blessed I guess) but is that something that is usually taken into account with victims of child abuse?

And the types of questions he is asking is a separate thing all together.
posted by Fizz at 11:08 AM on March 25, 2012


Dandelion on My Pillow, Butcher Knife Beneath (2010) by Nancy L. Thomas, Terena Thomas, Beth Thomas
About the author

Nancy Thomas is respected internationally as a speaker and author. Living in Colorado with her family, she has touched the lives of thousands of children through her powerful techniques. Terena Thomas, a gifted writer, uses her talent to share the stories of woe and wonder of her valiant family. She founded Hooves for the Heart therapeutic horseback riding program and is a top trouble shooter for Family Connections. Beth Thomas, once labeled the “Child of Rage” by HBO, is now a university student studying to be a pediatric nurse. She is not longer a child of rage but a phenomenal woman. Her story is all here.
More Than A Thread of Hope DVD by Beth Thomas, RN, BSN
Beth Thomas, once labeled "The Child of Rage" by HBO, tells the story of healing from Reactive Attachment Disorder in a powerful story you will never forget! Beth's story of hope and healing will touch your life forever.
posted by XMLicious at 11:28 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is interesting, because the spiel mentions the "naive" couple. Nowadays, a lot more is known about attachment theory, both because it is 30 years older, and because it is more pertinent. Adoption as a concept has changed a lot over the past 30 years as social mores have changed.

Basically, most kids being put up for adoption these days are taken from their parents. Because they have suffered abuse or neglect. Whereas back in the day, when single parenthood had more of a stigma, many more children were relinquished by their mother, and a far lower percentage had suffered emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

As a result, adoptive parents are given a lot more training on attachment disorders. In fact, this is the cornerstone of their training because they have to learn how to reparent the children they adopt.

By the bye, it's one of the reasons why people who wonder why prospective parents don't just adopt a kid rather than go through IVF or whatever are entirely missing the point.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:28 AM on March 25, 2012 [16 favorites]


I am reminded of this, from much earlier. Not about Beth, but it looks into what happens when human and monkey babies are removed from their mothers.
posted by strangeguitars at 11:34 AM on March 25, 2012


You're right Fizz considering the nature of the crime a female would be more appropriate...
posted by Meatafoecure at 11:39 AM on March 25, 2012


I don't doubt that this is real but ... holy crap does that therapist ask leading questions.

I'm kinda curious about how something like this gets onto the TV? Did nobody have a duty of care to this child, or a moral obligation to ensure that the contents of her childhood therapy sessions weren't paraded on TV for the entertainment of the viewing public?

I hope Beth was consulting with my lawyers as soon as she reached the age of majority.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:51 AM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


for some reason watching this was a rite of passage in college.
posted by The Whelk at 11:54 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


starring Dwight "Howlin' Mad Murdoch" Schultz. I still remember that story with an "ugh," and that was a nice, sanitary, network-TV movie.

Gah, that movie. As far as those kinds of things go, it was pretty hard-hitting; I vividly remember the scenes where they speak to the girl's older sister, whose resistance to her father's abuse turned his attentions to his younger daughter, and when Catherine fondles her horrified grandfather.

Also, I did not realize Barclay and Murdoch were played by the same guy. Huhn.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:54 AM on March 25, 2012


Interesting negative review for the DVD made by the adult Beth linked above by XMLicious.
Alas, Beth sounds remarkably like her adoptive mother Nancy Thomas on this DVD.

Nancy Thomas has long been the leading proponent of "Attachment Therapy & Parenting" (also called Holding Therapy, Rage Reduction, Nancy Thomas parenting, etc.). She worked with the now de-licensed Neil Feinberg at the infamous Attachment Center at Evergreen (Colorado) and later was an associate of "Connell Watkins & Associates" when Watkins killed a 10yo girl in a therapy session.

Attachment Therapy & Parenting is a fringe practice has been denounced by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children and the American Psychology Association as abusive and "inappropriate for all children" (see the journal *Child Maltreatment* Feb 2006).

In this chilling DVD, Beth Thomas voices an even greater dehumanizing disdain for adopted children, referring to them at one point as "rat children." If anything, Beth appears more emphatic about the need for inflicting extremely controlling parenting methods. Raised in an environment of abuse, she seems to have become Nancy's Baby Doc.

This is very disturbing material. In my opinion, Beth, a registered nurse, may be acting unethically in promoting an unvalidated treatment/parenting program that has been condemned by the mental health profession as child abusive.
posted by prefpara at 11:57 AM on March 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


But then there's this review on the DVD link:

Nancy Thomas has long been the leading proponent of "Attachment Therapy & Parenting" (also called Holding Therapy, Rage Reduction, Nancy Thomas parenting, etc.). She worked with the now de-licensed Neil Feinberg at the infamous Attachment Center at Evergreen (Colorado) and later was an associate of "Connell Watkins & Associates" when Watkins killed a 10yo girl in a therapy session.

Attachment Therapy & Parenting is a fringe practice has been denounced by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children and the American Psychology Association as abusive and "inappropriate for all children" (see the journal *Child Maltreatment* Feb 2006).

...

This is very disturbing material. In my opinion, Beth, a registered nurse, may be acting unethically in promoting an unvalidated treatment/parenting program that has been condemned by the mental health profession as child abusive.

posted by RedEmma at 12:03 PM on March 25, 2012


Prefpara, it gets even stranger. Beth Thomas' counselor for her recovery was Connell Watkins, who would become infamous later for suffocating a child to death during a "rebirthing" therapy session. Beth Thomas was 18 at the time and testified for the defense. Watkins ended up with 16 years in prison and the therapeutic techniques used were banned in many states.
posted by roquetuen at 12:03 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


jinx!

Though it does appear the "rat children" quote is incorrect. It is RAD children.
posted by RedEmma at 12:05 PM on March 25, 2012


Beth Thomas' counselor for her recovery was Connell Watkins, who would become infamous later for suffocating a child to death during a "rebirthing" therapy session. Beth Thomas was 18 at the time and testified for the defense. Watkins ended up with 16 years in prison and the therapeutic techniques used were banned in many states.

There's a CSI episode I watched years ago that plays out this horrible scenario.
posted by Fizz at 12:07 PM on March 25, 2012


And for the unitiated, the debate about attachment theory isn't about whether it is evil. Like all theories, it has proponents and detractors, chiefly around the exact influence the parenting can have on the child (classic nature v nurture). There is also a feminist criticism of attachment theory, chiefly that it was used as a lever to force working women back into the home after the second World War.

But attachment therapy? Dangerous stuff. Whatever else abused children need, it's not experimental shock and awe type treatments.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:14 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I noticed the Amazon comment... but, am I missing something or is that Baby Doc Duvalier the commenter is analogizing her to? That's part of what made me hesitate in mentioning it.

If I'm reading right, Nancy Thomas is the woman at the 2nd home in the Child of Rage documentary who said that Beth had progressed to the point where she was comfortable with her sleeping in the same room as her daughter, as opposed to the minister's wife.
posted by XMLicious at 12:16 PM on March 25, 2012


AP News article from 2001 mentioning Beth Thomas testifying in support of Connell Watkins at the latter's trial. For clarity, the man who is interviewing her in the Child of Rage documentary is named Ken Magid and Watkins is a woman she was working with later on.
posted by XMLicious at 12:22 PM on March 25, 2012


Adoption practices vary widely between countries: it's hard to adopt in the UK, and a long process with a lot of supervision, but private adoptions in america arranged between adopter and mother are essentially totally unsupervised, while other american adoptions are strict like british ones. I know that correcting 'attachment' problems is now mainstream, but two issues are conflated here. First, the brain is supposed to have critical periods of development for learning different skills, a theory originating with Chomsky for language. It is orthodox nowadays that children who do not meet with appropriate emotional response aged 2-3 years do not develop appropriate emotional response within, that is, do not feel sad if someone else is sad for instance; other people are just like objects to them; this being learned by you crying, your mother responding with pity, you learning to do this back etc. Most violent criminals seem to result from this, as they lack the instinctive aversion to the response people make when you inflict cruelty and pain on them. The other issue is more Maslow's 'pyramid of needs' and Piaget's attachment theory, whereby you go through stages of attaching to others and gaining the ability to secure these needs for yourself. I know in the UK they try to figure out what stage the attachment process was stopped at and to go back to this stage and progress from there with some children. But service provision is very geographic, that was in London; i doubt if in rural Wales they do anything much. One famous UK practioner Camilla Batmangella running the charity 'Kid's Company' with children who drop out of school or are violent (it's a voluntary drop-in centre, so it must vary?) in London pioneers the theory that it is possible to intervene to the same effect on the teenage brain as it is very elastic.
posted by maiamaia at 12:25 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fizz: "There's a CSI episode I watched years ago that plays out this horrible scenario"

I think it was a Law & Order. I distinctly remember a Lennie Briscoe quip.
posted by subbes at 12:59 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


CSI definitely did an episode about a kid suffocating during rebirthing. Dunno if L&O did.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:20 PM on March 25, 2012


There's a CSI episode I watched years ago that plays out this horrible scenario
posted by Fizz at 1:21 PM on March 25, 2012


Huh, I remember seeing this when it was first broadcast. I remembered the emphasis being much more on the sexual abuse, and don't even remember them talking about "reattachment disorder" as if it was a thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:22 PM on March 25, 2012


Haha. crush-onastick, was just googling. You beat me to it. :)
posted by Fizz at 1:22 PM on March 25, 2012


Yeah, I noticed the Amazon comment... but, am I missing something or is that Baby Doc Duvalier the commenter is analogizing her to? That's part of what made me hesitate in mentioning it.

I think the idea is Nancy Thomas was to Beth as Papa Doc was to Baby Doc. It's perhaps not the most apt analogy but it captures the parental relationship & responsibility for any misdeeds arising from it.
posted by scalefree at 1:35 PM on March 25, 2012


I remember seeing this on HBO in my young teen years. It stuck with me until I actually searched and found the documentary online about 6 months ago.
posted by Che boludo! at 1:49 PM on March 25, 2012


I would like to emphasize the distinction between attachment therapy and attachment theory. Attachment theory, as investigated by John Bowlby, is a legitimate area of exploration. Bowlby's work should not be confused with recovered memory, rage reduction, rebirthing and other such rackets.

(paid for by the committee to eliminate the letter "r" from psychiaty)
posted by scratch at 1:51 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have to admit it's a little disconcerting to hear this little girl who's just spent the better part of 20 minutes telling us about her deep desire to murder her whole family singing an Amy Grant ballad about the names of God. It's kind of got the feel of an Omen sequel to it, but much worse because you know she's a real girl.
posted by scalefree at 1:58 PM on March 25, 2012


Was Beth adopted by different parents? Her last name is now Thomas but her first adoptive parents had a different name.

I find it disturbing that grown up Beth has a job where she takes care of helpless people. It's possible she's fully recovered, but who can say for sure. I wouldn't trust her around a patient.
posted by timsneezed at 2:27 PM on March 25, 2012


I didn't think the therapist asking Beth questions did a bad job, honestly. A couple times, he did seem to lead her, I agree. But most of the time he would say something like "How many animals do you have?" and go on from there. He also keeps his tone very neutral.

The bird story got to me, especially, because that's when I knew for sure this wasn't JUST a case of an impressionable young kid being led by an adult. Beth describes how she "played rough" with the birds, and then took the last bird to her adopted Mom. When she says she asked her Mom, "Is this baby bird dead?", her voice changes completely just as she asks the question, into this high, sweet tone, disingenuous and very fake. I've seen that in some young children who are trying to hide something. They feign complete innocence, but overplay it so that it's obvious they're lying.

So Beth pours on the, "Oh my goodness, how in the world did this bird die?" act. And as she remembers presenting the bird to those parents and seeing their reaction, she grins. It's startling, completely inappropriate to the moment. And then she quickly covers the grin up. It's chilling.

I think the therapist recognizes this as well, because he tells her what the Mom said happened, to see how Beth reacts. And then he does definitely lead her, because he tells her she is doing really well until she says she squeezed the birds and they died.

I wonder why the abuse takes this form. Children who were abused the way Beth was certainly must have severe psychological scars. It just has to affect them, no question. But she says she wants to kill her brother and her Mom and Dad because she hates people and doesn't want to be around them. Why does that not turn inward, in severe depression, to her wanting to kill herself so she won't be around people, but outward, to wanting them gone and thoughts of killing them?
posted by misha at 2:49 PM on March 25, 2012


I wonder why the abuse takes this form. Children who were abused the way Beth was certainly must have severe psychological scars. It just has to affect them, no question. But she says she wants to kill her brother and her Mom and Dad because she hates people and doesn't want to be around them. Why does that not turn inward, in severe depression, to her wanting to kill herself so she won't be around people, but outward, to wanting them gone and thoughts of killing them?

Self loathing is definitely tied into it. She does hurt herself. But I think the outward anger has an obvious cause -- she has a lot of rage stored up toward other people because of how she was treated.
posted by timsneezed at 3:05 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


This article revisits the 1989 documentary and how it is still relevant 30 years later.

Did I wake up in 2019 this morning?
posted by Talez at 3:39 PM on March 25, 2012


Did I wake up in 2019 this morning?

Yes. Where have you been? People have been asking for you, and I bet your voicemail is full.
posted by hippybear at 4:09 PM on March 25, 2012 [13 favorites]


People have been asking for me? Now I know you're yanking my chain. Nobody would ask for me.
posted by Talez at 4:15 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks so much for posting this. I saw when it aired when I was 12typing and it has kind of haunted me ever since. I have told mrs holdkris about it and now she gets to watch it and be haunted. If only someone would post good quality links for HBO's documentary Living Dolls.....
posted by holdkris99 at 5:26 PM on March 25, 2012


This isn't "therapy", this is horror. On a par with anything humans have ever done to each other, under any circumstances. Anything.
posted by carping demon at 8:30 PM on March 25, 2012


This isn't "therapy", this is horror. On a par with anything humans have ever done to each other, under any circumstances. Anything.

You know, when you have a child that is so hurt she behaves in such destructive ways, I can imagine grasping at straws, looking for something, anything that can work. People driven by desperation and hopelessness to heal their daughter aren't bad people. (Especially when it seems to work.)

And I'll save the worst things humans can do to each other stuff for actual sexual abuse that begins nearly at birth.
posted by Snyder at 9:02 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


This isn't "therapy", this is horror. On a par with anything humans have ever done to each other, under any circumstances. Anything.

How so?
posted by timsneezed at 9:25 PM on March 25, 2012


Just look into it. If you haven't heard of it before, you can start here.
posted by carping demon at 10:06 PM on March 25, 2012


I'm at a loss for words. I dont' know how anyone could do this to other humans let alone a 19 mo. old child. WTF.

I was looking into adopting a toddler (1-3 years old) and every single story I read about available children they said "not good with other children, needs full attention, etc."

So sad. I have a 3 year old. I work full time. This wouldn't be the right situation for anyone yet adoption agencies highly encourage the adoption of older children. It's a no win situation for those kids.
posted by stormpooper at 6:34 AM on March 26, 2012


This isn't "therapy", this is horror. On a par with anything humans have ever done to each other, under any circumstances. Anything.

This does seem quite bad but the Amazon comment above is analogizing it to a Haitian regime that employed widespread execution of rival government officials, roving death squads, and a variety of other kinds of state terrorism. There might be some hyperbole going on.
posted by XMLicious at 7:40 AM on March 26, 2012


Attachment therapy and rage reduction therapy—anything that uses coercion and force on abused children— is more likely to harm than help because it recapitulates the traumatic situation in a situation where the child is not in control.

That, basically, is the definition of a traumatic situation so it is not healing. Unless the child has total control over the therapy and it is nurturing and safe, it simply adds new trauma to old. There is no data to support the use of coercion, confrontation and humiliating therapies— everything they've been tried on, they've failed and this is no exception.

However, the idea that traumatized children may be developmentally younger than their chronological age—and therefore, might benefit from being held *when they choose to be held* and from things that look infantile— is not incorrect. It is when this stuff is forced on kids that it becomes a problem.

If I could teach one lesson to everyone in psychiatry, psychology, social work or any profession that is supposed to help people, particularly children, it would be that the patient needs to feel safe and in control in order to be helped. The psychological and physiological impact of stress is directly related to the patient's sense of control, such that if you do the same activity while feeling safe and in control, your body responds completely differently than when feeling stressed.
posted by Maias at 1:51 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


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