Posted in Alienation

Parent Counseling: Parent-Child Conflict:

Why Is Parent Counseling Beneficial To Both Parents and Children?

Parent counseling is beneficial because it provides you with an outside view of what is going on within the walls of your home. It provides your family with a non-biased, third-party professional, who is trained to improve the relationship you experience with your child. They can look into your parenting styles and compare it with the level of your child’s developmental behavior. They can provide insight to improve the relationship based on what they find.

What To Expect From Parent Counseling

Parent counseling can be a strong tool when you find yourself facing significant conflict in the relationship you have with your child. It can help your counseling experience if you know what to expect when you go in. We will discuss what you can expect from parent counseling below.

Parenting Styles

Most parents recognize that their child has a will of his or her own around the time the child begins to learn verbal and non-verbal communication skills. What the parents may not realize is that the source of conflict does not necessarily arise when a child first communicates opposition to a parental command or a rule. On the contrary, it may arise out of how the parent addresses the child’s opposition. We will look into these various parenting styles and how they affect the conflict below.

One style of parenting is called Authoritarian. These parents typically feel they have the final say, and that “no means no.” Authoritarian style parents often have difficulty adjusting their composure when their child is having a bad day experiencing a developmental milestone that brings defiance.

Another parenting style is Authoritative. These parents are more democratic in their disciplinary approach. They recognize the value of balancing their relationship with the child, viewing their child with unconditional positive regard. They demonstrate empathy, acceptance, and understanding. They often view discipline as a teaching opportunity.

Aside from these two parenting styles, parents vary in style across the world, as well. Children from different countries grow up under different parental expectations. If these children are brought into American culture, more conflict can arise as they realize they are treated differently at home when compared to their peers.

Family dynamics can also affect parenting style. Single parents may find themselves feeling incredibly isolated when they are at odds with a child. Although this is normal, it can also be very painful for the parent. Continue reading “Parent Counseling: Parent-Child Conflict:”

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Parent-child relationship problems: The do’s and don’ts

• Do not recommend a change in custody if one parent is behaving badly. Custody reversal may be necessary in some cases, but it is not the role of the counselor to make that determination.

• Do not align with one parent over the other.

• Do cooperate with parenting coordinators and the courts.

• Do recognize that parents in litigation are likely to be working toward an adult-oriented outcome — namely to prevail in court.

• Do consider a variety of explanations when working with a child or teenager who irrationally rejects a parent.

• Do not discard information that is inconsistent with the counselor’s viewpoint. Continue reading “Parent-child relationship problems: The do’s and don’ts”

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Parent-child relationship problems

Treatment goals and tips

When working with the child:

  • Promote a healthy relationship with both parents.
  • Help the child to correct cognitive distortions.
  • Work with the child to maintain a balanced view of both parents.
  • Improve the child’s critical thinking skills.
  • Recognize when a child’s behavior is incongruent from one setting to the next.
  • Augment the child’s coping skills.

When working with the rejected parent:

  • Recognize that the parent may feel misunderstood.
  • Work with the parent not to counter-reject the child.
  • Be aware of avoidance and passivity; the parent may want to escape the poor treatment of the ex-spouse and the child by avoiding the problem altogether.

When working with the favored parent:

  • Recognize there may be a role reversal. The child may be meeting the emotional needs of the parent. Help the parent recognize his or her role as a parent and encourage the parent to engage in adult relationships to find emotional support.
  • Keep an eye open for enmeshment. What might initially appear as a healthy parent-child relationship could be extremely unhealthy. For instance, there may be a lack of community or family support.
  • Recognize that children generally benefit from the involvement of parents, absence abuse or neglect. Realize that some rejected parents may have personality disorders and continue to instigate court hearings or defy court orders.

Continue reading “Parent-child relationship problems”

Posted in Alienation

Parent-child relationship problems: Treatment tools for rectification counseling

I’ll provide a case example. “Sarah” contacted me and said she had been divorced for 15 years. She told me she had been happily remarried for five years, held a doctorate degree in mathematics and was employed as a full-time professor. But she indicated she had a damaged relationship with her 15-year-old daughter, “Julie.”

In chronicling her story in my office, Sarah vacillated between sobbing and seething with anger. She said that when Julie spent time with her biological father, “Michael,” that he undermined Sarah’s parenting boundaries, spoiled Julie and used every opportunity to denigrate Sarah. Sarah went on to say that she was worried because Julie was disregarding curfews and skipping classes, had been in trouble with the juvenile court system and had recently been caught smoking marijuana.

When I contacted Michael, he presented with a jovial disposition. He stated he was engaged to be married and was employed as a plumber. He initially appeared supportive of his daughter. Although he said he didn’t see any reason that Julie might need therapy, he indicated that he wasn’t opposed.

When Julie’s therapy sessions began, she insisted that she loathed her mother because Sarah was unreasonable. Julie stated that her mother grounded her for “trivial” reasons such as skipping school and smoking marijuana. When discussing her father’s approach to parenting, Julie described Michael as a superb parent because he did not stoop to “ruining” her life. In addition, Julie mentioned that her father was planning on buying her a car. She stated that her father would talk with her and not carry out “ridiculous, over-the-top consequences for trivial, normal teenage mishaps.”


Treatment tips

Step one: The first step is to ask yourself if you possess the skills and advanced training to work with families engaged in transition and ongoing conflict. If not, that is OK. This is a good time to seek referrals from colleagues who are comfortable with court-connected work.

Step two: When working with parents who are separated, divorced or are in the middle of a child-custody evaluation, counselors should request a copy of the court orders prior to starting treatment with their children. Counselors should be aware that some parents “therapist shop” and are actively looking for a counselor who will tell them what they want to hear, not necessarily what is helpful. Some potential clients are searching for a counselor to align with them and join in with them about how awful their ex-spouse is. Counselors should keep in mind that failure to contact the child’s other parent may introduce a host of issues (for example, board complaints), especially if the parent seeking treatment for the child does not have the right to do so per court order. Also make certain to obtain all necessary releases before conversing with any previous counselors who have worked with the family members.

Step three: Counselors working with parents who are irrationally rejected by their children need to be well-versed in the literature. Failing to recognize and treat alienated children and their parents prolongs emotional damage for the child and can harm the entire family system.

Step four: As a counselor, you must know who the client is. Are you working with the child, the child and the parent(s), or one/both of the parents? It is vital to understand how the client ended up in your office. Additionally, your role must be clear. Are you working as a court-appointed counselor or a court-involved counselor? Recognize that in cases of child alienation, other parties — such as other counselors, attorneys or parenting coordinators — are often involved.

Step five: Know your definitions, but do not diminish your clients by labeling them. When conversing with other professionals, it is acceptable to refer to the parent to whom the child aligns as the “favored” parent. The “rejected” parent (or “target” parent) is the parent whom the child rejects or refuses to spend time with. When working with the courts, and depending on their jurisdiction, counselors may want to use behavioral descriptions, not diagnostic labels.

Counselors should remember to focus on behaviors that can be described. Although it is acceptable to discuss the concept of triangulation, gatekeeping, pathological alignment or irrational alienation with your colleagues, it is not helpful to use these terms with clients.

Step six: Do not diagnose if you have not actually met the client or witnessed the parent-child interactions. For instance, if one parent seeks your services and reports that the other parent is alienating the child and is a narcissist and/or borderline, you cannot diagnose that other parent as borderline because you have not met with or witnessed that parent.


Therapeutic fallacies

Richard Warshak is a world-renowned expert on parental alienation. He has written countless peer-reviewed publications on custody disputes, divorce, alienated children and stepfamilies, and has developed educational materials. Warshak recently provided strategies that can guide counselors in working with this difficult parent-child dynamic. According to a study he published earlier this year (see, several fallacies can compromise the therapeutic process.

  • Children never unreasonably reject the parent with whom they spend the most time. The first fallacy counselors should recognize is that more time does not necessarily equal quality time. Using rapid clinical judgment, it is easy to conclude that a child identifies with the parent whom he or she sees the most. If counselors do not recognize this fallacy, they may determine that the parent must have done something that warranted poor treatment by the child. This line of thinking contributes to additional emotional distress. In turn, under this assumption, counselors can go on the lookout for flaws within the rejected parent to substantiate their beliefs. Counselors should be aware that when a child spends time with the nonresidential parent, that parent could be using that limited time to teach the child to disrespect and disobey the custodial parent. To offset this fallacy, counselors must stop thinking in unidimensional terms.
  • Children never unreasonably reject mothers. According to Warshak’s study, “Those who believe mothers cannot be the victims of their children’s irrational rejection are predisposed to believe that children who reject their mothers have good reason for doing so.” He advises that counselors should keep an open mind about both parents and consider that mothers may be rejected without good reason.
  • Each parent contributes equally to a child’s alienation. Counselors should not generalize that both parents are always equally at fault for a child’s alienation. Counselors would not place equal blame for intimate partner violence on the victim. Likewise, it is not helpful to equally blame both parents for a child’s unwarranted rejection when one parent may be instigating the child’s actions and attitudes.

One bias that comes into play is repetition bias. Those working in the field are permeated with the term “high conflict” and may deem that parental alienation is synonymous with that term. As described by Warshak, the term high conflict “implies joint responsibility for generating conflict.”

In my practice, I developed a nuanced view. There are times when both parents contribute to and could benefit from parenting education or family therapy. However, in the case of Sarah and Michael, Michael openly defied the court’s orders, ultimately refusing to let Sarah spend time with their daughter. He also denigrated Sarah in front of the child. I would not be practicing the concept of “non-maleficence” when working with Sarah if I were to suggest that she was at fault. Demanding more of Sarah and blaming her only adds insult to injury.

As Warshak points out, “When the rejected parent’s behavior is inaccurately assumed to be a major factor in the children’s alienation, therapy proceeds in unproductive directions.” At this point, counselors may wonder, “What am I to do?” A counselor should remain neutral and avoid making unwarranted assumptions. Continue reading “Parent-child relationship problems: Treatment tools for rectification counseling”

Posted in Alienation

If Someone’s Absence Brings You Peace, You Did Not Lose Anything


If Someone’s Absence Brings You PeaceYou Did Not Lose AnythingIf someone’s absence brings you peace of mind, you did not lose anything. In fact, you have gained so much peace, clarity, and strength. When you desire peace in any area of your life, do not be afraid to go after it.

Posted in Alienation

Breaking the trauma bond

There is no easy answer, but to break the trauma bond a victim needs to have alternative healthy relationships available and be isolated from the abusers for a significant period of time. This allows the child time to heal and come to terms with the trauma they experienced, re-shaping the nature of future relationships. Observing this situation, particularly as a parent, can be heart-breaking, but the consistent presence of the parent and carer means that the child is not solely dependent on the abuser (which is what the abuser wants) and has a place of safety to flee to.

If you are worried a child is in a possible abusive relationship or is at risk of child sexual exploitation, see Pace’s services for parents. Also sign up to our newsletter to be kept up to date on new developments and research in trauma. Continue reading “Breaking the trauma bond”

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What is trauma bonding?

The term ‘trauma bond’ is also known as Stockholm Syndrome. It describes a deep bond which forms between a victim and their abuser.

Victims of abuse often develop a strong sense of loyalty towards their abuser, despite the fact that the bond is damaging to them.

trauma bonding article highlight

Conditions necessary for trauma bonding to occur include:

  • To be threatened with, and to believe, that there is real danger
  • Harsh treatment interspersed with very small kindnesses
  • Isolation from other people’s perspectives
  • A belief that there is no escape

The symptoms of trauma bonding can manifest:

  • Negative feelings for potential rescuers
  • Support of abusers reasons and behaviours
  • Inability to engage in behaviours that will assist release/detachment from abusers

Continue reading “What is trauma bonding?”

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Stockholm Syndrome, Child Abuse And PTSD

It’s crazy, my Mother and her friends abused me for fourteen years yet I still yearn for her love and defend her to my Therapist and family. I won’t hear a bad word said against her despite everything she did. It defies logic. I know it does but I cannot help it. Why?

Some of the most surprised and shocked individuals are those who have been involved in controlling and abusive relationships and then when the relationship ends, they offer comments such as “I know what he’s done to me, but I still love him”, “I don’t know why, but I want him back”, or “I know it sounds crazy, but I miss her”. I’ve once heard “This doesn’t make sense. He’s got a new girlfriend and he’s abusing her too…but I’m jealous!” Friends and relatives are even more amazed and shocked when they hear these comments or witness their loved one returning to an abusive relationship. While the situation doesn’t make sense from a social standpoint, does it make sense from a psychological viewpoint? The answer is — Yes! Continue reading “Stockholm Syndrome, Child Abuse And PTSD”

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Don’t believe in therapy? This could be why

Unhealthy underlying factors might be skewing the client’s perception of therapy.
We struggle with mental health issues because we have unhealthy underlying factors – those thoughts, beliefs, actions, situations, and circumstances that motivate unhealthy behavior. These same factors can skew our perception of the interactions we have with others and also our overall view of life.

As such, our unhealthy underlying factors can skew our perception of therapy. For example, over criticalness, impatience, black and white thinking, aggression and anger, unrealistic expectations, unhealthy boundaries, perfectionism, and so on, are examples of unhealthy behavior that can skew our perception of the effectiveness of therapy. If you believe therapy wasn’t helpful, it could be that there are unhealthy underlying factors skewing your perception of therapy.

Here are a few of examples:

A person who is overly sensitive to criticism might perceive the therapist’s recommendations as criticism rather than highlighting areas for growth. Being overly sensitive to criticism might cause the person to quit therapy because of his dislike of criticism.
A person who is a rigid thinker might be resistant to making the appropriate behavioral changes because she doesn’t agree with them.
A person who has issues with unrealistic expectations and impatience might believe therapy isn’t helpful because he thinks he should make much faster progress than he is. So he quits therapy and believes it doesn’t work.

Therapy can therefore be perceived as unhelpful simply due to the underlying factors that the person is struggling with.

  • Having fears that pose resistance to therapy.
  • Therapy needs to be specific to each person’s struggle.
  • Goals haven’t been set that can be measured along the way to success.
  • There is a mismatch between the client’s struggle and the therapeutic approach used.
  • There is a clash between therapist and client personalities.
  • The therapist wasn’t an effective therapist.
  • The client is looking for a faster solution.
  • The client is looking for an inexpensive solution.
  • The client’s recovery expectations are unrealistic.
  • Inaccurate preconceived notions about therapy.
  • The client believes she should be able to help herself.
  • The client believes his therapist is wrong.
  • The client believes she knows better than the therapist.
  • Resistance is also a common reason why some people believe therapy doesn’t work.

For example, sometimes people hold on to dysfunction because they are used to it and would rather go with what they know than learning something unfamiliar. Another example is that some people find it too risky to let their guard down so they would rather remain safe than vulnerable. Other examples include:

  • A depressed state can suggest change is pointless.
  • They want to stay unwell to avoid dealing with a deeper issue, such as a relationship problem.
  • They have subscribed to the label of “being unwell” or having a “disorder”.
  • They believe the cost of being unwell is less than the cost of recovery.
  • They believe nothing will be required of them if they remain unwell.
  • They fear the obligation of being responsible for the wellbeing of their lives.
  • They do not believe it should take a great deal of work to get better, or they are unwilling to do that work.
  • And so on. Resistance to becoming healthy can make therapy seem unhelpful.

There are other reasons why therapy can seem unhelpful. The above, however, should give you an idea why many people don’t believe in therapy and what they can do to rectify that.

The above isn’t intended to assign blame but to help clients in coming to terms with common barriers to getting meaningful help.

It is our wish that everyone overcome anxiety disorder and go on to live the best lives they can filled with joy, great relationships, satisfaction, and peace. That’s why we do what we do!

Continue reading “Don’t believe in therapy? This could be why”

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Telehealth might be part of best-social-distancing practices for now.

Many therapists and psychiatrists in my community (including myself, as of 3/14/20) are rapidly shifting to providing sessions only via teleconferencing for the indefinite future due to coronavirus concerns. Others are offering teletherapy as options for particular individuals (those who are immunocompromised, in some other vulnerable population such as older adults, or who have great anxiety about using public transit, etc.). I was personally swayed to make the move because of the great uncertainty at this moment about who is infected and the lack of testing. When both of these variables are better defined (hopefully in 2-3 weeks), I will likely move to an approach more tailored to individual circumstances.

Of course, telehealth (including audio calls) is a privilege that not everyone can access, particularly those in community public mental health treatment. Also, telehealth is often not as good as in-person visits, especially for initial sessions. (See my article “Teletherapy: Breakthrough or Breakdown?”, September 26, 2011.) Continue reading “Telehealth might be part of best-social-distancing practices for now.”