Attack Therapy (A comprehensive overview)

This blog post will talk about “Attack Therapy” and discuss the process of this therapy when this therapy is used, the benefits and the controversy around this therapy.

What is Attack Therapy?

Attack Therapy is a category of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a way to treat people with mental health problems by talking to a psychiatrist, psychologist or mental health professional. 

In the 1960s, a drug rehabilitation centre situated in California, known as Synanon, made this therapy famous. The members of this centre often referred to this therapy as “The Game”.

This therapy is a sort of confrontational therapy as it involves an intense confrontation between a client and a therapist, or between a client and fellow clients during group therapy, in which the client is demoralized and humiliated verbally, by the counsellor or other clients in a group session. 

Along with attack therapy, confrontational therapy also includes Gestalt therapy and boot camps.

It is important that the client’s self-image is created before their treatment, whereas the sessions in attack therapy consist of attacking the client’s ego in an individual or group setting. It is done so that the client can rebuild their self-respect and confidence and create new moral values in their life. 

In the world of therapy, Attack therapy is considered very problematic, and therapists using this therapy should have a strong knowledge of it, so that it doesn’t harm the client and make things worse.

Attack therapy is designed to tear down the masks that contain the repressed emotions of the individual and allows them to get real and authentic with themselves and others.

The clients self-image should always be assessed before they are allotted to undergo attack therapy. It has been stated that people with positive self-image may profit from this therapy, whereas people with negative self-image would not profit at all and might be harmed.

The process of Attack Therapy

In Attack Therapy, the client is questioned by their therapist in a way, by acknowledging their problem first, that attacks their present behavior and state of mind. 

In a group session, the attack is done by the other clients who are questioning the behavior of this client and asking them why they act in a particular way. 

By this confrontation, the client may have a nervous breakdown and they’re also not permitted to exit the session in between until the problems have been sorted out.

This therapy is often recommended to do in a group setting. However, it may not accomplish the goal straight away but the client may promptly realize and accept that their behavior is not of any benefit to them. 

This therapy attempts to remove the current ego and build a new foundation of thoughts that compliments their needs, relationships, wants and most importantly, life. 

The purpose of this therapy isn’t to attack the client and make them feel unworthy but it is done to increase the client’s awareness and make them understand how their behavior is affecting everything else.

Attack therapy can be beneficial in drug addiction cases as those who suffer from it have a tough time coming out of their own misconception. 

This is because the drug user may not see their addiction as a problem but it can be hurting people around them. It is important to note that Attack 

Therapy should not be used on clients who have suffered from certain conditions like trauma and trust issues. 

The confrontation is done to remove the delusional ego and build a person who sees the situation clearly and has a flexible point of view. 

If the person understands that their behavior is not tolerable then they will understand where the attack is actually coming from. The person may be disrespectful towards the other people in the group session and in return the group members will also attack the client similarly.

When is Attack Therapy used?

When a person’s life is on the verge of collapse and requires an immediate intervention to turn their life around completely, attack therapy can be used. Attack 

Therapy is also used for people who have a tough time confronting people. It is used as a means of exposing the client to more resentment so that they can realize how they need to change and improve their life. 

When the realization occurs, the client’s thought patterns can be changed or altered.

The client finds new independence within themselves through enforcement of new habits and loneliness. In group therapy, the communication is frequently demeaning and degrading because the clients are interrogated about their actions and habits in a sincere way. The therapist and the client both will work to form and shape the client’s new identity with new morals, ideals and values.

In fact, the primary training of the armed forces in the US, is a style of attack therapy. People in training are strained, stressed, mocked and then ultimately assembled back again. The individual is isolated initially but eventually results in a team member who is an equal part of the team.

Benefits of Attack Therapy

  • Attack Therapy improves the client’s self-respect and allows them to be confident with themselves.
  • It thoroughly changes the client by reconstructing them and brings a noticeable new acknowledgement in them which was absent earlier.
  • It enables the client to listen more attentively to others point of view and then establish self esteem based on fresh optimism and meanings.
  • The clients are capable of dismissing inapplicable criticism by avoiding the opinions of others and also being conscious of their actions at the same time. 
  • The aim of this therapy is also to remove the client’s shielding through criticism, as shredding someone on the outside seems to be damaging and then reassembling them so that during any confrontation, they don’t feel threatened or discouraged.
  • For this type of therapy, a mainstream example can be of armed forces preparation. The major part of the end result for individuals who went through primary training are hale and hearty. 
  • As a matter of fact, the armed forces have rescued many disoriented teenagers into a fruitful and optimistic life or else, they would’ve ended up on the streets.

The Controversy around Attack Therapy

In a therapeutic setting, humiliation and verbal abuse is not allowed. Therapists would say any form of humiliation is universally harmful and the only acceptable approach to therapy is unconditional positive regard. Whereas, attack therapy permits the therapist or other clients in a group therapy, to be verbally humiliating to a client.

A study conducted by Yalom and Lieberman in over 200 normal college students found out that 9.1% of the students who finished above 50% of confront groups utilizing attack therapy, had six months of mental, emotional and intellectual damage. According to wikipedia, the foremost dangerous teams were the Synanon-style teams with a harsh, authoritarian leader. William Miller and colleagues also found that the clients with alcohol problems drank more when their counselor was very confrontational. 

Attack therapy is especially controversial when the clients during a group therapy are restricted and not permitted to depart in between the sessions. In a confrontational environment during Attack Therapy, clients are psychologically intimidated. 

A Psychologist says that Attack therapy strives to remove the client’s shielding by taking the utmost course of action, either verbally or physically. In a Group Counselling, during attack therapy, the client is ridiculed in front of other clients, questioned and cross-examined about their personal behavior and thought patterns.

There have been some debates going around whether or not attack therapy is actually useful. Few studies indicate that when attack therapy is too powerful, instances of depression may be more intense because it is utilized to try and toughen up the client. But a depressed client’s situation may become even more unpleasant  and they might end up feeling more uneasiness. This is indeed a very crucial threat to a client’s well-being and it questions attack therapy techniques, whether it can deal with various psychological issues or not. 

In defense of attack therapy, there are also certain cases where an individual needs a confrontation, and this is the best way to make things turn around. This form of therapy will probably continue to exist long into the future, and will also continue to be one of the most controversial therapies.


This blog post discussed “Attack Therapy” and how and when it is used. We also talked about it’s benefits and the controversy surrounding this therapy in detail. Therapists have mixed views regarding this therapy. People with positive self-image may benefit from this therapy, whereas people with negative self-image would not benefit at all and can have a more damaging effect on their self-image. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Attack Therapy

What is confrontation therapy?

Confrontation means calling out a different person over a difference of opinions. Whereas, confrontation in counselling is a gentle attempt by the counsellor to bring forward awareness in the client about something that they may have ignored or overlooked in their life. Mostly, confrontation is used when a counsellor notices a jumbled piece of information in the client’s phrases, actions, emotions, ego or beliefs. After a rapport has been developed in a counselling session, the counselor can use confrontation with their client.

Who created attack therapy?

Attack therapy was created by the Synanon group. In the 1960s, a drug rehabilitation centre situated in California, known as Synanon, was developed by Chuck Dederich. The members of this centre often referred to this therapy as “The Game”.

What are the 3 types of therapy?

Here are some common types of therapy:

  • Behavioral Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Humanistic Therapy

Do psychologists get attacked?

According to a report, around 35 percent to 40 percent of psychologists are at risk of being attacked by a patient at some point during their clinical practice. According to a report from the University of Maryland in 1976, implies that an approximate 40% of psychiatrists “are assaulted at some point of time in their career, especially when they are young,” Other studies also states that about 80% of psychiatric nurses, 20% of social workers and 10% of clinical psychologists are attacked by a patient during some point in their career. In hospitals, the attacks mostly consist of being stabbed or shoved by the patient.

What is the difference between a challenge and confrontation?

Confrontation is a skill where a counselor listens to the client with respect, patience and respect and, then, aims at helping the client examine themselves or their situation carefully. Confrontation is not about going against the client, rather going with the client, to find  clarification and the possibility of creating a new narrative so that the difficulties can be resolved and dealt with easily. Challenges should be offered thoughtfully. In counselling, it is the ability of emphasizing inconsistency and disputes in the client’s healing procedure. 


Attack Therapy. Retrieved from

“Attack Therapy”: Does Scared Straight Work? Retrieved from

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