compiled by Patrick H. Moore

Beth Thomas was the angry little girl featured on the remarkable, albeit disturbing, HBO documentary, Child of Rage, which was released around 1990. She suffered from severe Reactive Attachment Disorder.

In an excellent blog post by marilyn4ever, posted on October 30, 2010, Marilyn details Beth Thomas’s story with empathy and apparent clarity. I strongly suggest you read Beth’s post and a second post critiquing a controversial treatment program for RAD called Attachment Therapy, as well as Marilyn’s follow-up post on Attachment Therapy called Beth Thomas, Candace Newmaker and Attachment Therapy Controversy.

(Disclaimer: This information is entirely new to me and I have no informed opinion as to Beth Thomas’s mental health (or lack thereof today) or the pros and cons of Attachment Therapy. I do think the Beth Thomas story and this general topic is quite fascinating and strongly recommend that anyone interested click on the provided links to learn more.)

 

Part One:

Here is a quick sketch of Ms. Thomas’s early childhood and alleged recovery:

Beth’s mother died when she was one year old. She and her infant brother Jonathan were left in the care of their sadistic father, who sexually abused her to an appalling degree. Beth and Jonathan were rescued by Child Services when she was 19 months old. By this point, she was horribly scarred. Beth and Jonathan were adopted by Tim and Julie, sincere church people, who had no biological children. Shockingly, Tim and Julie were told nothing about the children’s abusive background.

bethIt wasn’t long until Tim and Julie discovered the horrible truth about Beth and Jonathan’s upbringing. Beth had recurring nightmares about a  “man who was falling on her and hurting her with a part of himself.” Beth masturbated several times a day until she bled and had to be hospitalized. She also poked pins into her brother. After some time had passed,  she smashed her brother’s head into the cement floor which required stitches. As Beth admits in Child of Rage in her soft, rather affect-less voice, her desire is to kill her brother. She also wants to kill her adoptive parents. Although Beth is perfectly intelligent and is well aware that her actions are wrong, she experiences no remorse. Based on the mounting danger that Beth is going to kill Jonathan, in early 1989, her parents took her to a therapist named Connell Watkins, who diagnosed Beth with a severe case of Reactive Attachment Disorder and began a course of intensive behaviour modification.

beth6Based on the treatment plan, at first, all of her freedom was radically restricted. She was locked in her bedroom at night so she couldn’t escape or hurt anyone. Beth began to improve and the restrictions were slowly removed. Within one year, she was so much better that she was permitted to share a bedroom with the therapist’s own daughter. Measured by any yardstick, it was remarkable. She learned empathy and remorse and regretted her own cruelties and would weep openly when describing some of the bad things she had done, especially to her brother Jonathan.

beth13Marilyn reports (and I believe many would agree) that Beth Thomas grew into a mentally healthy woman. She studied nursing, earned a degree, and has authored a book entitled “More Than a Thread of Hope.” She and her second adoptive mother, Nancy Thomas, established a clinic for children with severe behaviour disturbances. Nancy Thomas has written a book entitled Dandelion on my Pillow, Butcher Knife Beneath (Coping with Personal Problems). Their website is www.attachment.org.

 

Part Two:

Connell Watkins and the Death of Candace Newmaker

beth11Although Connell Watkins arguably has done an amazing job of helping Beth Thomas recover from her intense abuse through a regimen consisting largely of strict rules and the gradual earning of privileges, by the time Candace Newmaker’s adoptive parents brought their troubled child to Ms. Watkins for therapy, Watkins had begun using far more controversial techniques including something called “rebirthing”.

Connell Watkins

Connell Watkins

The script for that fateful day called for Candace to be “wrapped in a flannel sheet to simulate a womb”. She was then told to extricate herself from the womb, the expectation being that the process “would help her “attach” to her adoptive mother.” What was peculiar about this was the fact that as Candace sought to “extricate herself”, four adults including Connell Watkins “used their hands, feet, and large pillows to resist her attempts to free herself”. It was all videotaped and the evidence shown at trial shows Candace screaming for help and air. Candace repeatedly stated “she was dying, to which Waktins co-therapist Julie Ponder responded, “You want to die? OK, then die. Go ahead, die right now”. At some point, Candace vomited and fouled herself inside the sheet. Her “therapists” still would not let her go.

Some 40 minutes into the session, Candace’s adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker, asked her: “Baby, do you want to be born?” Candace faintly said “no”. This was the last word she ever uttered.

Julie Ponder responded in frustration, “Quitter, quitter, quitter, quitter! Quit, quit, quit, quit. She’s a quitter!”

Julie Ponder

Julie Ponder

Adoptive mother,Jeane Newmaker, felt rejected by Candace’s inability to be reborn and was asked “to leave the room, in order that Candace would not “pick up on (Jeane’s) sorrow”. Ultimately, only Watkins and Ponder were left in the room with Candace. When they finally unwrapped her from the sheet, “she was motionless, blue on the fingertips and lips, and not breathing.” Paramedics were called and were able to restore the girl’s pulse. She was helicoptered to a Denver hospital and declared brain-dead the next day, as a result of asphixia.

At trial, Watkins and Ponder were convicted of reckless child abuse resulting in death. They were each sentenced to 16 years in prison. Jeanne Newmaker pleaded guilty to neglect and abuse charges and got a four-year suspended sentence. Her charges were later expunged from her record. Watkins was paroled in June 2008 after serving 7 years, and placed under “intense supervision” with restrictions on contact with children or counseling work.

*     *     *     *     *

Although I stated at the beginning of this post, that I would not state an opinion on the pros and cons of attachment therapy, after reading about Candace Newmaker’s tragic demise, it’s hard not to. Please keep in mind that Nancy Thomas is Beth Thomas’s second adoptive mother, having replaced the church people, Tim and Julie, sometime after Beth’s recovery.

Marilyn writes in her blogpost, Beth Thomas, Candace Newmaker and Attachment Therapy Controversy:

beth14It is Nancy Thomas’s association with Watkins and Ponder that I find worrisome in her work with Beth (Thomas). Nancy worked with Watkins and Ponder during the Newmaker murder. (It’s not clear what Nancy Thomas did during the death of Candace Newmaker. I see no evidence she was in the room at that time and she certainly was not charged with anything.)

Marilyn points out that Thomas owns two clinics “Families by Design” and “Stop America’s Violent Youth“. As an advocate and practitioner of Attachment Therapy (AT), she allegedly engages in techniques that include “screaming in the child’s face, shaking the child’s head violently, forcing the child to perform-type military exercise, isolation, food deprivation, taunting, rebirthing, and humiliation.”

This is some scary stuff, particularly considering what happened to Candace Newmaker. The fact that Beth Thomas works with Nancy Thomas is also worrisome and perhaps suggests that Beth has never truly moved beyond her own intense childhood trauma and re-visits it — in  a sense — each time she and Nancy Thomas engage in questionable therapeutic techniques with a client. But keep in mind, I am only speculating and I invite you to do the same.

 

14 Responses to “Children of Rage”: The Strange Case of RAD Victim Beth Thomas and Her Re-Birthing Benefactor Connell Watkins

  1. Merita King says:

    Interesting subject, but why on earth have you included a photograph of Mary Bell, the English girl who murdered 2 other children back in the 1960’s…??? What has she got to do with rebirthing?

  2. Lori says:

    Great post Patrick. This really brought back a lot of memories for those of us that remember this case clearly. Attachment is a continuum and we all fall somewhere along its length. RAD is at one extreme end and is too frequently diagnosed in children who are experiencing trauma from abuse.

    There are many different therapeutic models used in working with kids and families that are struggling with issues regarding attachment. The examples that you cited at the end of your post which are allegedly used by Thomas are just abuse. I can’t imagine that anyone with common sense or compassion would ever subject anyone, child or adult, to any of that.

    Failed (the current euphemism is disrupted) adoptions are an uncomfortable subject that isn’t discussed often enough. It is very, very common in adoptions when children are past the infant or toddler stage. There are some very good family therapists available that specialize in this field and use evidence based therapeutic methods that encompass structure, nurturing and consistency.

    What happened to this little girl was horrific.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      THX Lori. I just tried to provide some basic information about this story which was new to me. It’s certainly fascinating. Do you agree that Beth did “recover”, at least to some degree. What are your thoughts on this?

      • Lori says:

        I don’t know Beth so I couldn’t say if she “recovered” or if she just grew up. If she is happy now and at peace with her past then I’m glad for her. If she is in agreement with the torture methods you mention as being “attachment therapy” then no, no she has not recovered.

        This is all very reminiscent of the “recovered memories” that was prevalent in the 80s when therapists were implanting (either intentionally or unintentionally) false memories of sexual abuse in children. It is one more in a long line of examples I would hope make people very cautious in trying strategies that are touted as the latest and greatest thing in treating psychological problems. If something seems very off and doesn’t feel right find another therapist.

  3. Rick says:

    I agree with Patrick and Lori that the therapy for RAD is in itself abusive. Also, there’s no indication or evidence that such methods are effective in helping children with RAD. These therapies smack of quackery, like the “recovered memory” therapy which Lori mentions which was in vogue in the 1980’s.

  4. brigitte jones says:

    I remember around about 15yrs ago seeing the Beth Thomas story clips. While they showed the same scenes and considerable progress, they did indicate that Beth still had some issues, her reactions still had aspects of her darker damaged aspects able to break through. She was still a work in progress in her teens and it was indicated that her initial adoptive parents had to let her go.
    I don’t know why of late we’re only able to ‘readily’ access (gave up after a few trys) online the sanitised overly sugary parts.

    She definetly gained from her treatment in aquiring more self control, being able to seperate her past threats from the real present, learnt how to display socially appropriate behaviours and responses. All that would result in an enhanced functional capacity in general society with it’s inherited rewards.

    It’s very likely the psychopathic aspects of relishing control, inflicting distress, observing another’s vulnerability and suffering remain within her make up. Fortunately, for her facilitating that kind of therapy provides a controlled seemingly acceptable outlet. Possibly she is even able to contribute to the civilising of other budding psychopaths while enjoying the power of being able to break such down to rebuild them as their theraputic goals direct.

    It’s quite possible the more proficient therapists in this field are and were persons who are underlyingly psychopathic. Though at the same time intelligent and functional enough to recognise the gains of ascribing to socially valued acceptable outward displays and avoiding indulging in temptations of deviant conduct.

    It would not be surprising that Connell Watkins herself may have mechanicaly learnt how she should “ACT” for approval or been partly disciplined at times by similar means if initially off key and ultra wilful in her earliest years.

    If Connell Watkins has that underlying disposition it would explain a lot in the death case. That kind of disorder is prone to take risks, start to presume they can get away with any expanded adventure, power with perspective lost. That sense of inflated sense of success once more publicly recognised, plus the new frills added mitigating boredom, as well as a deluded sense of ever increasing brilliance in new techniques.

    The civilized psychopath can remain safe and effective.
    That is, as long as remaining aware of the extra tasks, efforts they’ll need to do in conscious execution to sustain their role play of normalacy… ongoingly.

    This type of therapy ought to be reserved for dysfunctional psychopathically violent children.This severity of this form of therapy ought not go beyond removing such a child’s control and gradually increasing it incrementally as they improve.

    Using yelling, fear inducing confinement etc., is the worst thing to do to such dangerous little people.
    Sure the initial will-breaking compliance may well gain short term familial safety. Though at the price of producing a profilic serial killer who may be extremely hard to catch, having learnt the need and skills to conceal their now doubled internal rage. Doubled by being further traumatised via therapy done crazy.

    It may be a psychopathic therapists greatest victory to unleash on the world numerous undectable serial killers. Killing many by proxy in the future, never at any personal legal risk, and even killing by proxy when you’ve passed.

    There needs to be some form of scrutiny on child therapies to be sure that no traumatising abusive techniques are involved or permitted.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      Thank you Brigitte for your brilliantly insightful comment. You should be writing for us. PLS let me know if you’re interested.

      • carrie says:

        I was thinking the same thing as I read Ms. Jones’ comments, Patrick: Wow! Such articulate and intelligent words! It’s a joy to read good writing and smart, thoughtful commentary.

  5. MarxNSparks says:

    Did Beth’s brother Jonathan get any therapy, because he surely needed it!

  6. SlimKeith says:

    If you do a search on Beth Thomas you will find a wealth of information on her life. She has done extremely well for herself – eventually becaming an RN working in the Neo-Natal unit of a hospital. I believe she now works with her second adoptive mom helping children with attachment disorders. I believe she also has written a book about her life. She appears to be quite a success story.

  7. Nancy Armstrong says:

    Rebirthing is a crock of shit

  8. Sherylmiller says:

    What happened to Beth’s birth father…did he doe what year if so. And what type of treatment did the brother get haven’t heard anything about him and he went through the exact same abuse….did he get the treatment or better that beth received or did they forget about his problems and just focused on beth. Did the brother grow up and become a molester too his kids or others did he become seirial killer how is the brother doing?

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