One of the most controversial methods of psychotherapy being used in modern addiction treatment is attack therapy. Evolved from ventilation therapy, attack therapy consists of highly confrontational interactions between a patient and other patients (in group therapy) or between a patient and a therapist (in individual therapy).
What is Attack Therapy?
During these sessions a patient can be verbally abused, demoralized and humiliated by other members of the group and/or the therapist. A study conducted by the Institute of Medicine suggested that an assessment of patients self image should be made before one undergoes attack therapy treatment. According to the study, an individual with a positive self image could benefit from the therapy, while someone with a negative self image would most likely not benefit and possibly be harmed from the treatment.
Attack therapy is most commonly used in adolescent treatment centers for substance abuse and behavior modification. The concept behind attack therapy is that it tears an individual’s ego down, allowing them to be built back up with the morals and ideals of the group and the group’s leader, much like military boot camp.
Negative Impact of Attack Therapy
The most common issue is found when the therapy sessions or groups are captive, meaning patients are not allowed to walk out of the group. Individuals are forced to undergo amounts of verbal abuse far beyond what the individual can emotionally handle.
Studies have shown that the most dangerous forms of attack therapy are ones with a harsh, dictatorship style leader and that the more confrontational the leader is, the more often patients had a physical or emotional relapse. Another study showed that 50% of patients undergoing attack therapy benefited. But the other 50% either made no progress or ended up with severe psychological damage.
The largest issue arises when a patient is not assessed before entering an attack therapy environment. Some patients have exited these programs with intense psychological trauma and distorted views of themselves and reality.
Is Attack Therapy Right for You?
Attack therapy can be very beneficial to an individual in need but it is vital that self image and self esteem be assessed before beginning treatment. If the individual has a positive self image and moderate to good self esteem, research shows that attack therapy can be beneficial. But should the individual be of low self image and self esteem, attack therapy can be very harmful, and it is suggested that they undergo conventional psychotherapy to assist in their recovery.