Attack Therapy

Attack Therapy


Attack Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that brings about a lot of controversy. This form came from ventilation treatment which revolves around the negative and positive self images clients have of themselves. Adolescent centers often hold this treatment type for those who have dealt with behavior modifying and substance abuse. While it is required that the patient's self image is created before treatment, the sessions consist of attacking the patient's ego in a group or individual setting. This is for the purpose of allowing them to build their self esteem back up with their own morals and new ideals. It allows the client to be verbally demoralized by the counselor or other patients in a group session.  Attack therapy is highly controversial, and using it requires a keen awareness of its potential to create even greater harm to the client.

Goals of Attack Therapy

Attack Therapy aims to radically change the individual by rebuilding them from the ground up, or bringing a dramatic new awareness that was not there before.  Part of this purpose of rebuilding the client's self esteem based on new beliefs and morals by listening to the perception of others. It can be beneficial toward those who have already created a self esteem before the attack. By building a moral belief within themselves Attack Therapy actually boosts the client's self esteem by making them feel comfortable within their own skin. In avoiding the opinions of others they're able to stand on their own two feet and disregard irrelevant attacks although they will also become aware of their behavior at the same time. The goal is to tear down their defenses through attack measures and then build them back up so that they are no longer intimidated during confrontation.

Tearing someone down seems on the surface to be destructive.  One common example of this type of therapy happens in military training. While there are certainly many cases of people who have been psychologically harmed as a result of military boot camp, the majority of outcomes for people who gone through basic training are healthy. In fact, the military has saved many lost teenagers into a productive and hopeful life who might have otherwise wound up homeless or worse. It would be wrong to summarily say that attack therapy is universally unhealthy, but it would also be naive to say that it is without great risk and potentially destructive.

When is Attack Therapy Used?

Attack Therapy is used when someone's life is on a collision course with a terrible outcome and requires a dramatic, and complete turn around.  One very popular use of this form of therapy are boot camps.  In fact, it can be said that all of the US military basic training is a form of attack therapy.  Individuals are torn down- they are harassed and ridiculed, and then eventually built back up.  What begins as an isolated individual eventually results in a team member who is part of a cohesive unit.   The TV show "Scared Straight", about bringing troubled teens to prison to be confronted by convicts as a strong warning to turn their life around was a form of attack therapy    Attack Therapy is used toward those who possess a self esteem based on rigid beliefs, addiction patients and those who have a difficult time confronting others. Through isolation and imposition of rules the client will find a freedom within themselves. Being that the ridicule can be performed in a group setting the interaction is often humiliating because they are questioned about their own behaviors in an honest manner. Attack Therapy is used when there is an ego that needs to be eliminated. Once it has been broken down the person can be re-educated in terms of thought patterns. The group and the group leader will both shape an idea and form a new identity.

How Attack Therapy Works

Attack Therapy works by putting the client in an individual or group setting. By first acknowledging the problem which often varies, the patient is going to be questioned in a way that attacks their current behavior and state of mind. If the session is held in a group setting the attack is brought on by other individuals who are questioning the behavior of the client and why they act the way that they do. As a reality check the client often breaks down from this confrontation. At times they are not allowed to leave the room until the issue has been resolved.

It is often recommend with other members of a group because the patient will come to a realization within themselves. Although it may not work immediately, they'll soon understand that the behavior they are portraying is detrimental in more ways than one. The attempt is to eliminate the current ego and build a new way of thinking that compliments their wants, needs and relationships. When the session is individual with a therapist it may be a bit more difficult because it seems as if the counselor has a dislike toward the client. The purpose of the therapy isn't to attack the patient out of distain but do so to increase awareness and understand how their behavior is affecting everything else.

It is often used throughout addiction cases because those who suffer from drug addictions often have a difficult time coming out of their own delusion. The drug user may not see their addiction as a problem although it's hurting everyone around them. It is prominent to note that Attack Therapy is not used on clients who have suffered from conditions such as trauma or trust issues. The confrontation is to tear down a delusional ego and create a person who can see the situation from more than one point of view. When they understand that the behavior is unsatisfactory they will then understand where the attack is stemming from. They may be disrespectful toward other people and in turn the group members will attack the client in the same manner.

Criticism of Attack Therapy

Criticism toward Attack Therapy has to do with the allowance of humiliation and verbal abuse in a therapeutic setting.  The opposite of Attack Therapy is Rogerian Therapy, where an individual is unconditionally affirmed.   Some therapists would say any form of humiliation is universally harmful and the only acceptable approach to therapy is unconditional positive regard. Take a teenager who is on a direct path into a life of crime and violence and who requires a dramatic turn around immediately (within weeks) or someone will wind up seriously injured or dead.  The Rogerian therapist would say that attack therapy is the last kind of treatment this child needs.  Only unconditional positive regard, where love and acceptance are abundant, will there exist hope for the teary eyed dramatic turn around that is needed.  Those who drop out and fail bootcamps are often worse off than when they started.  Unconditional positive regard, a critic would claim, would have been the superior approach.

The counter response is that there isn't enough time for a Rogerian approach, it hasn't worked in the past, and that bringing this child to a real prison (for example) so he or she can see where they are inexorably headed is necessary.  A confrontation with real convicts may be just the sort of wake up call that can have a real effect.  Some teenagers, for example, may be stone cold and utterly resistive to a Rogerian environment that attempts to create a dramatic revelation through a flood of unconditional love.  Some would even mock such an environment and consider it silly.  The defense of attack therapy would state that there are some cases where a person needs a confrontation, and this is the best way to spark a turn around. The one clear truth is that this form of therapy will probably continue to exist long into the future, and it will also continue to be one of the most controversial.


Attack therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Treating addiction through attack therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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