I received news last week that the British Association Of Counselling and Psychotherapy Sanction which was raised against me in July of last year is now lifted and the case closed. This comes after I complied with the requirements of BACP although I chose not to rejoin the voluntary governing body after the length of […]
Rosys speech at the conference today….5 My parents separated in 2000 when I was 2 years old and once the courts had got involved, I was only allowed to see my Dad for four days a month. I had to wait another 6 years before I was allowed to talk to my Dad on the […]
‘Co-Parenting in a Box’ is one of hundreds of resources about the ideal solution for all families who separate. That solution is constructive collaboration not high conflict legal dispute. But of course we know that in some families the ideal just ain’t real. CoParenting in a Box is the creation of UK co-parent of three Suzy Miller – a champion of non-adversarial routes through family […]
PA was first described decades ago, and has been given a variety of names. As the problem has become better recognized, our understanding has become increasingly refined. Evidence-based practice dictates that the key elements—the various “moving parts”—of PA must be examined and tested through using the scientific method. The following expert consensus opinions are the result of this process and form the foundation of our current understanding of alienation and related issues.
- Alienated children present very differently than estranged children. The similarities are superficial. Although both alienated children and estranged children will often align with one parent over the other, to expert eyes—by which we mean a professional who specializes in alienation and estrangement—it is usually straightforward, if not easy, to distinguish between the two. On the other hand, the differences are often missed by non-specialists.
Many aspects of identification and treatment of PA are counterintuitive. For example, alienated children often appear to have a healthy bond with the alienating parent although it is actually an unhealthy, enmeshed relationship. Many alienating parents present well to evaluators and courts although they are actually engaging in destructive behaviors. Many targeted parents appear anxious and agitated despite being healthy and competent. For this reason, only a qualified PA specialist should conduct this work.
Children rarely reject a parent—even an abusive parent. Therefore, in the absence of bona fide abuse or neglect, when a child strongly aligns with one parent and emphatically rejects the other, that pattern strongly suggests alienation—not estrangement.
Clinicians and other professionals should carefully consider severity. PA is typically a progressive process in which—sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly—the child begins to resist contact with and/or reject the previously-loved targeted parent. Severity should be identified as mild, moderate, or severe. This is important because, among other things, it allows the examiner to identify early warning signs of PA which, in turn, permits a qualified clinician to provide interventions in ways that are customized and appropriate for the level of severity.
The work of Dr. Richard Gardner (e.g., 1998), a child psychiatrist, provided a theoretical framework and conceptual model for understanding the phenomenon. His original insights have since been validated by both researchers and clinicians. His work was based on sound scientific principles and generally-accepted standards of psychiatric practice.
The eight manifestations of parental alienation first identified by Dr. Gardner are generally-accepted and valid. Although others have been identified, the original eight are well-established as valid and useful indicators of alienation, and are rarely, if ever, seen with estrangement. They have been tested empirically and found to be accurate, valid, and reliable.
The seventeen alienation behaviors described by Dr. Amy J.L. Baker are research-supported and evidence-based. They provide a valid and reliable set of useful indicators with which to assess the behavior of favored parents with respect to PA.
Although some cases are hybrids, the assertion that most cases are hybrids (meaning a mix of alienation and estrangement) is not supported by the clinical literature.
Children do not have the cognitive maturity or the capacity to make an informed decision about whether to have a relationship with a parent. They cannot imagine the implications of having a parent absent from their lives, and do not necessarily know what is in their best interest. Nor do they genuinely want the power to cut a parent out of their lives.
Children (and adults) can be unduly influenced by emotional manipulation to act against their own best interests. They can be misled to believe things that are not true, even about a parent. It is possible to induce false memories in children and/or to program children to relate events—often sincerely and convincingly (at least to naïve or unwary observers)—that, in fact, did not take place or did not take place in the way described.
Many, but not necessarily all, alienating parents have one or more personality disorders (typically of the borderline, narcissistic and/or sociopathic type). The more extreme or severe the alienating behavior, the more likely it is that the alienating parent has an underlying personality disorder.
Parental alienation is a form of child abuse, specifically psychological and emotional abuse. It meets the diagnostic criteria for child psychological abuse as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association (2013).
Although Dr. Gardner popularized the concept and clarified many of the definitions and subsets inherent in the determination of what PA means, its development, and its deleterious effects upon the family, the concept appeared long before Dr. Gardner first wrote about the problem in 1985.
The model provided by Dr. Gardner has provided an excellent framework for both diagnosis and treatment. Although it has been refined and enhanced over the past 30 years, the basic concepts remain valid. Virtually all of the successful treatment programs for PA are based on his original model. Despite unsupported claims to the contrary, no alternative model has been shown to be clinically, theoretically, or scientifically superior. For the most part, proposed alternatives provide little or no outcome data and/or appear to be neither clinically, nor theoretically, nor scientifically sound.
Only reunification therapy provided by a PA specialist who thoroughly understands the clinical and scientific points in this paper, and whose treatment plan is highly-customized for PA based on sound scientific evidence and clinical outcome data, is recommended. Team-based “intensive reunification therapy” is appropriate in treating moderate to severe alienation while traditional in-office, out-patient reunification therapy may have its place when considering treatment for mild alienation. The treatment should be appropriately matched to the family.
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Whether the alienator is the mother or the father, most determined alienators threaten the judicial system under whose aegis they seek revenge against the absent parent. They are totally dedicated towards shutting out or eclipsing the non custodial parent from contact with the children. The reason for this is due to the pathological and viciousness they feel towards a parent who at one time had a close and loving relationship with the child/children.
Such action by the alienator is most cruel and unjust. Everett (2006) describes this well: “..as a destructive family pathology because it attributes a quality of evil without cause or foundation to a parent who once nurtured and protected the same child that has now turned against her or him.”
It is vital that courts be aware of what the “game plan” is of the alienator, and why they carry out the actions they do. Such alienators are also extremely crafty and are aware of what courts are likely to do. Only in extremely rare cases do courts act both justly and decisively when, after a prolonged undermining alienation and failure to respect the court ordered contact, the court will change the custody of the children. This change of custody will only occur after a prolonged and sustained period of going against court ordered contact arrangements.
Sometimes, even when this occurs, judges are reluctant to change the custody of children because of the “short term” concerns of this decision and the impact this may have on the children. The Judiciary is rarely concerned about the long term results on children who have been emotionally abused by a vindictive custodial parent. Two illustrations will follow, one involving a father, the other a mother. The author is aware that there is concern in many women’s organizations that the diagnosis of parental alienation tends to favour the father and often vilifies the mother. This is because there is a ratio of approximately 3:1 with mothers more often being the alienator than fathers. Both alienators whether fathers of mothers consciously employ similar tactics. They are:
- To vilify the absent parent subtly or openly thus influencing the child/children to feel and think similarly to themselves.
- Claiming to be doing everything to get the child to have contact with the absent parent while doing all they can to undermine that objective.
Claiming the child does not want contact with the absent parent and claiming to be “helpless” to change the child’s attitudes and behaviour in regard to the child’s adamant rejection of the absent parent.
Fathers can be just as vicious and controlling as mothers in brainwashing children against their mother. The reverse also being the case. Following the two illustrations of alienation, there will be provided a two-step court action approach which the author feels is essential in order to overcome the devious “game plan” of the alienator, be it the father or the mother. The current consultant psychologist has been involved in more than 85 cases of what can only be termed parental alienation, arising from the implacable hostility of custodial parents. Now follows an example of a father and mother being an alienator.
Illustration 1 – the father as an alienator
Mr Y had been given custody of a son aged 16 and a daughter aged 14 mainly due to the fact that the mother had suffered from depression. Mr Y was a highly controlling individual who did all he could to influence the children against a caring and loving mother. The divorce had been highly acrimonious. The mother Mrs N accepted that she suffered from depression but this was some time ago and was now under control due to the medication she was receiving.
After leaving hospital, she tried unsuccessfully to communicate with her children and to have contact with Mr Y, but he had totally brainwashed the children against the mother stating she was a “crazy, unpredictable and violent woman”. Father also made it clear to the children that should they wish to have contact with their mother they would no longer have a home with him, they must choose one or the other. The children therefore never responded to telephone calls, emails and letters from the mother who pleaded to have the chance to be with them. The father had inculcated a fear of insecurity, if the children wished to have contact with their mother.
Most of the people who have researched parental alienation have done so from a clinical perspective, by studying children in therapy who are traumatized by what’s happening. Harman and Biringen wanted to reframe the problem through the lens of social psychology theory.
Alienation, Harman emphasizes, is different from estrangement. Estrangement is what happens when the parent is actually doing something bad or abusive, and the relationship with the child is justifiably strained or broken. Parental alienation, on the other hand, is when the child’s emotional separation from the alienated parent is fueled by untruth or exaggeration from the other parent.
The book, written for a general audience, contains stories from interviews conducted with more than 80 parents who had responded to a survey. “We had a response rate that neither one of us has seen in any of our research projects,” Biringen said.
They also conducted a representative poll in collaboration with Sadie Leder-Elder of High Point University to gather data on how familiar people are with the concept of parental alienation.
Jennifer J. Harman, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Colorado State University. I discovered Dr. Harman when I watched her TEDx Talk about Parental Alienation. While watching, I was intrigued because, unlike many professionals, Dr. Harman didn’t focus solely on the diagnosis of parents and children. She talked broadly about the societal stereotypes and how our attitudes about mothers and fathers allow alienation to take hold. I was fascinated and wanted to know more.
A few weeks ago, I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Harman. She told me that Parental Alienation isn’t just a Family Issue, it’s a Gender Equality issue. We also talked about her research, her book and what all of this might mean for the future. You can take a look at our discussion here:
Parental alienation is a devastating problem affecting millions of families around the world. Unfortunately, much like how we addressed domestic violence several decades ago, we treat parental alienation as a domestic issue rather than as a problem that affects communities, school systems, police and court systems, mental health and financial institutions, and legislative bodies. I will discuss how our social and cultural systems sanction and even promote parental alienation at the expense of our children, and what can be done about it.
Dr. Harman is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Colorado State University and is the Program Coordinator for the Applied Social & Health Psychology Program. She is an accomplished and awarded teacher, and has published many peer-reviewed articles and textbooks on intimate relationships, such as The Science of Relationships: Answers to your Questions about Dating, Marriage and Family. She is also a contributor to ScienceofRelationships.com, a relationship science resource for the on-line community, and is interviewed as a relationship expert for many national and international media outlets (Chicago Tribune, the Denver Post, NY Magazine, datingadvice.com, and the Irish Independent). She has more recently applied her research expertise in social psychology to better understand and find solutions for parental alienation because she has been a target of it herself.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx
In honor of International Parental Alienation Awareness Day last April 25, here are some of the benefits of shared parenting to both divorced couples and their children.