Bills Take On Restraint Therapy

The Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 24, 2003

Two competing bills asked state lawmakers to decide how much contact between a therapist and a patient is too much as debate over controversial coercive restraint therapy began Thursday.

Both bills come in response to concerns that children are being abused while undergoing such things as rebirthing and compression holding therapies.

A proposal by Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem, says therapists have gone too far if they coercively restrain a patient for any reason other than to provide safety. Thursday, Thompson’s bill received a unanimous vote of support from the House Health and Human Services Committee, which Thompson co-chairs. Supporters include the Utah chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Rep. James Ferrin, R-Orem, contends Thompson’s bill is too broad and has introduced his own version, which prohibits specific treatments that resulted in the deaths of three children — two in Utah. Critics have contended Thompson’s proposal would prohibit cuddling and non-painful holding in therapy.

“[Thompson's proposal] will ban any and all forms of restraint therapy,” Ferrin said.

Supporters of Ferrin’s proposal include several parents whose adopted children received therapy at the Cascade Center for Family Growth in Orem. Children diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, a range of behavioral problems often associated with youngsters who have been adopted after being abused or spending long periods in institutional settings, are the primary recipients of holding therapies.

The banned practices in Ferrin’s proposal include sitting or lying on a patient, or a therapist pushing elbows, knees, knuckles or fists into a patient. Ferrin’s proposal would also ban therapists from restricting any breathing.

Thompson contended the competing proposal is full of contradictions.

“It’s ridiculous,” Thompson said of the line in Ferrin’s proposal that only bans therapists from covering a patient’s entire face. “How would any reasonable human being think you can do this.”

The two legislators tried to work out a compromise bill but were unable to reach an agreement. Ferrin indicated a compromise is still possible.

Coercive restraint therapy grabbed renewed attention in September as the state’s Department of Occupational and Professional Licensing leveled 14 allegations of ethical and professional violations against Larry VanBloem and Jennie Murdock Gwilliam, both licensed social workers and operators of the Cascade Center. The two allegedly restrained children while staff members used their fists and elbows to apply pressure to the abdomens and other areas of youngsters, according to DOPL.

Both have denied wrongdoing and said the department has skewed their practices.

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