Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Treatment of reactive attachment disorder often involves a mix of psychological counseling, medications and education about the disorder. It may involve a team of medical and mental health providers with expertise in attachment disorders. Treatment usually includes both the baby or child and the parents or caregivers.

Goals of treatment are to help ensure that the baby or child has a safe and stable living situation and that he or she develops positive interactions with parents and caregivers. Treatment can also boost self-esteem and improve peer relationships.

There's no standard treatment for reactive attachment disorder. However, it often includes:

  • Individual psychological counseling
  • Education of parents and caregivers about the condition
  • Parenting skills classes
  • Family therapy
  • Medication for other conditions that may be present, such as depression, anxiety or hyperactivity in a child or a parent
  • Special education services
  • Residential or inpatient treatment for children with more-serious problems or who put themselves or others at risk of harm

Other treatments for reactive attachment disorder that may be helpful include:

  • Development of attachment between the child and the child's therapist
  • Close, comforting physical contact

Managing reactive attachment disorder is a long-term challenge and can be quite demanding for parents and caregivers. You may want to consider seeking psychological counseling yourself or taking other steps to learn how to cope with the stress of having a child with reactive attachment disorder.

Controversial and coercive techniques

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children have all criticized dangerous and unproven treatment techniques for reactive attachment disorder. Controversial practices can be psychologically and physically damaging and have led to accidental deaths.

Some unproven treatments for reactive attachment disorder include:

  • Re-parenting, rebirthing
  • Tightly wrapping, binding or holding children
  • Withholding food or water
  • Forcing a child to eat or drink
  • Yelling, tickling or pulling limbs, triggering anger that finally leads to submission

Beware of mental health providers who promote these methods. Some offer research as evidence to support their techniques, but none has been published in reputable medical or mental health journals.

If you're considering any kind of unconventional treatment, talk to your child's psychiatrist first to make sure it's legitimate and not harmful.

Jul. 06, 2011