Coercive Therapy Bill Gets OK in House

The Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 31, 2003

With approval from the House Thursday, a proposal from Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem, to outlaw the controversial coercive restraint therapy is now at the same stage where it died last year — waiting for Senate approval.

After an hour of debate over the merits and abuses of the various therapy forms that would be prohibited, House members voted 68 to 2 in support of Thompson’s bill, which would prohibit therapists from restraining a patient for any reason other than to provide safety.

Thompson’s proposals have come in response to concerns that children are being abused — sometimes fatally — while undergoing rebirthing and compression holding therapies.

“You may be tired of hearing about this, but this bill is not a game,” Thompson said. Thompson’s bill now will be sent to the Senate Rules Committee.

Opposition to Thompson’s proposal came from fellow Republican Rep. Jim Ferrin of Orem. He unsuccessfully sought passage of his own version, which called for prohibitions to specific techniques that have resulted in the deaths of three children in recent years — including two in Utah at the hands of parents who alleged they were acting under the direction of therapists.

Sen. Parley Hellewell, R-Orem, has introduced an identical version of Ferrin’s proposal in the Senate.

Hellewell and Ferrin have said Thompson’s proposal is too restrictive. Joining them are the parents who make up the group Safe Adoptive Families for Children at Risk Emotionally (SAFCARE). 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 restraint therapies.

“The interpretation [of Thompson's bill] lends itself to outlaw everything instead of allowing for good therapy,” said Charly Risenmay, president of SAFCARE. Thompson says the competing proposal doesn’t go far enough.

Thompson’s bill is backed by Primary Children’s Hospital, the Parent-Teachers Association, Utah Counselors Association and the Utah Chapter of the American Psychological Association.

Tribune reporter Kirsten Stewart contributed to this story.

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