Holding Therapy and Autism Ranking: Mildly Hazardous Insufficient/Mixed evidence


Man forcibly holding another manHolding therapy is a type of psychological intervention used to help children who find it difficult to form a relationship with their mother.

The therapy consists of forced holding by a therapist or parent until the child stops resisting or until a fixed time period has elapsed. The carer does not usually release her or his hold until the child ‘surrenders' and looks into the carer's eyes. The carer then returns the child's gaze and exchanges affection.

Holding therapy is based on the idea that intense physical and emotional contact between the mother and child will repair the broken bond between them and form the foundation for normal development.

The therapy is used to treat a wide range of children with an attachment disorder, including children with autism, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, depression etc.

Holding therapy is different to simply hugging or cuddling a child, where no force and no coercion are used.

Our Opinion

The theory behind holding therapy is weak and unproven.

There is no high quality research evidence to suggest that holding therapy is effective as a treatment for autistic people.

There have been numerous accounts of the damage caused by holding therapy to autistic people or with other conditions.

We cannot recommend holding therapy as an intervention for autistic people.


Please read our Disclaimer on Autism Interventions

17 Jun 2022
Last Review
01 Oct 2016
Next Review
01 Feb 2023