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Jewish World Review April 18, 2001 / 25 Nissan, 5761

Peggy Lowe

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Consumer Reports

Therapist defends 'rebirthing' technique -- GOLDEN, Colo. -- Therapist Connell Watkins says she knows her practices are controversial and unscientific but they "release the rage" of troubled children.

A nervous Watkins defended her work to the Jefferson County District Court jury Monday and Tuesday, saying she had to yell, call the children names and physically restrain them because traditional therapies can't reach traumatized kids.

"I do it because it works a lot of the time," Watkins said.

Watkins, 54, and Julie Ponder, 40, both of Evergreen, Colo., are accused of child abuse resulting in death in connection with the fatal "rebirthing" session of Candace Newmaker, a 10-year-old adopted girl from North Carolina.

Candace was wrapped in a flannel sheet and covered with pillows, which adults pressed on to simulate birth.

Watkins said she called Candace "a mean little twerp," covered her mouth, shook her head and even cut the girl's hair in hopes that Candace would realize that the therapy was her last chance.

Candace's behavior was so bad that her mother, Jeane Newmaker of Durham, N.C., was going to have to institutionalize her, Watkins said.

"I knew Candace had no intention of changing while in Evergreen," Watkins said.

Newmaker had Candace in several therapies and brought her to Colorado, saying the child suffered from attachment disorder.

Children who have the disorder have been traumatized either physically or emotionally in their first few years and are afraid to trust, Watkins said. They won't love their caretaker because they don't want to be out of control; feeling vulnerable is akin to feeling like they are going to die, she said.

Watkins said she had to do "whatever I need to do," including enraging the children so their anger will come out.

"You want them to be able to release that energy with eye contact and without anyone getting hurt," she said. "You want them to bring out that deep energy that is keeping them from being a part of the human race."

Threatening Candace with abandonment by Newmaker was done because it was honest, Watkins said, and it helped the child know the therapist was in control.

"Jeanie Newmaker was the best chance she had," Watkins said of Candace.

Sometimes appearing confused, Watkins was curt in answering Truman's questions. When asked if the kids she treated were "easy to deal with," Watkins shot back, "No! Of course not, or they wouldn't be coming to us."

Watkins denied that she likened her therapies to "animal training" when first interviewed by sheriff's detectives. She said she told the investigator that her practices are like "German shepherd training."

"I guess people are going to think that's derogatory," she said. "But I love my German shepherds, and they love me."

Peggy Lowe writes for the Rocky Mountain News. Comment by clicking here.


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