Moving Forward

A recent comment to my Facebook page by a parent asked what needs to be done to “keep things moving.” I thought my response might be more broadly of interest, so I am turning my response into a full post on my Facebook and blog pages.


1)  Assessment

We need to have all mental health professionals assess for the three symptom features listed in the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting.

Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting

All three of these symptom features are standard forms of symptom pathology (attachment pathology, personality disorder traits, encapsulated persecutory delusion), so there is absolutely zero reason for any mental health professional to refuse to even assess for these symptom features.

I recently met jointly with two activist attorneys here in the Southern California area regarding how to begin creating the solution within the legal system. They both completely understand the strategy.

We need to get a proper assessment using the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting, and since all three of these symptoms are standard and established psychological constructs and principles, there is absolutely zero reason that a court-involved mental health professional should refuse to assess for these symptoms.

The mental health professional doesn’t even need to agree with AB-PA (although I don’t see any reason for them not to agree), they still have no reason whatsoever for refusing to even assess for these three standard and established symptoms.

So the attorneys will be developing this request into Court orders for assessment. They will also be trying to obtain Court orders for a treatment-focused assessment.

That is step 1, we need to get ALL mental health professionals to assess for the three symptom indicators on the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting (attachment pathology, personality disorder symptoms, and an encapsulated persecutory delusion). Even if the mental health professional doesn’t find these symptoms, at least it is documented and the targeted parent can enter a dialogue about what factors in the symptom display of the child are missing.

Remember, I’m willing to provide a professional-to-professional consultation with any mental health professional – (my consultation has to be with the mental health professional, not with the targeted parent). All the mental health professional needs to do to request a professional-to-professional consultation with me is send me an email with the heading Professional Consultation.

I even have a 50-page booklet, Professional Consultation, that can be given to the mental health professional

Amazon.com: Professional Consultation

Remember, always be kind. Don’t allow yourself to feed the false narrative of you being “angry and controlling.”  Be kind.  Be relentless, but be kind.  Always be kind.

We also would like all mental health professionals to document their assessment of the parenting practices of the targeted parent using the Parenting Practices Rating Scale. We can’t compel this, but we really want to encourage the documentation of the mental health professional’s assessment of the parenting of the targeted parent.

Parenting Practices Rating Scale

Too often the targeted parent is critiqued for parenting that is supposedly “contributing” to the child’s angry-hostile rejection. We want this clearly documented – documented; a key construct in the solution. This will allow targeted parents to understand specifically what aspects of their parenting are the focus of treatment and need to change (in the mental health professional’s opinion) in order to see changes in the child’s behavior. This becomes integral into an evidence-based approach to treatment.

Treatment plans and documentation, that’s what we want.

2)  Documenting the Parent-Child Relationship

This is not integral for the change, but I recommend this step.

Targeted parents should begin documenting their child’s behavior when the child is in their care using the Parent-Child Relationship Rating Scale (note that there is also an “Excessive Texting” version of this rating scale).

Parent-Child Relationship Rating Scale

Parent-Child Relationship Rating Scale (Excessive Texting Version)

Again, this is about evidence-based decision making. These completed parent rating scales can be provided to mental health professions as documentation of the parent-child relationship issues from the parent’s perspective. These ratings can also be incorporated into parent-child therapy as a discussion aid in therapy by seeking to understand the ratings of the parent and reach consensus among the parent, child, and therapist relative to the child’s behavior and the treatment goals.

Documentation of symptoms.  Evidence-based decision making.  Clear treatment plans.  This is what we’re trying to achieve.

3) The American Psychological Association

We need to continue to advocate with the APA to change their position Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome to recognize and incorporate the existence of a second model of the pathology – AB-PA – that is based entirely within standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology.

Notice how the Statement of the APA has been co-opted by the domestic violence protection advocates. An official Statement about “parental alienation” should be about the pathology in your family, the Statement should belong to you. It’s time we take back the focus of the discussion, it’s about “parental alienation.”

We would like the APA to convene a high-level conference of experts in attachment theory, personality pathology, family systems therapy, and childhood trauma to consider the issues surrounding high-conflict divorce and attachment-related pathology, leading to a white paper on the issue.

We are also seeking two things from the change in the APA Position Statement:

1.) Acknowledgement of the Pathology – a formal recognition that the pathology exists, using whatever label-name for the pathology they like – attachment trauma pathology surrounding divorce; a cross-generational coalition; “parental alienation” – whatever they want to call it – just acknowledge that it exists

2.)  Special Population Status – a designation of the children and families evidencing attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce as representing a “special population” requiring specialized professional knowledge and expertise to competently assess, diagnose, and treat.

From my understanding, the APA is in the process of forming a working group on the issue of… something – I don’t have information on the actual topic area for this working group. But there appears to be some movement on this. The APA needs to hear from you.

I’d recommend a brief one to two-page letter to the APA. Letters are stronger than emails. If you send an email, be very brief in the email section and direct the reader to the attached one to two-page letter. In your letter, be brief and concise in describing your loss and your heartbreak, and describe the lack of response from professional psychology. The details of the case are less important than the tragedy of your heart.

Psychologists respond to pain and suffering. We want to end pain and suffering. That’s why we chose to become psychologists. Show the APA your pain and suffering, and ask for their help in restoring your beautiful and loving authentic children to you.

Don’t use the construct of Gardnerian PAS. The APA does NOT like the Gardnerian construct of a “new form of pathology.” Use constructs like the narcissistic and borderline personality pathology of the ex-spouse, triangulation of the child into the spousal conflict by the ex-spouse, and the cross-generational coalition of the child with your ex-spouse.

You can also reference the work of Brian Barber on psychological control – his book was published by the APA.

Barber, B. K. (Ed.) (2002). Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

From Chapter 2 of Barber’s Book: “Psychological control refers to parental behaviors that are intrusive and manipulative of children’s thoughts, feelings, and attachment to parents. These behaviors appear to be associated with disturbances in the psychoemotional boundaries between the child and parent, and hence with the development of an independent sense of self and identity.” (Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 15)

From Chapter 3 of Barber’s Book “The central elements of psychological control are intrusion into the child’s psychological world and self-definition and parental attempts to manipulate the child’s thoughts and feelings through invoking guilt, shame, and anxiety. Psychological control is distinguished from behavioral control in that the parent attempts to control, through the use of criticism, dominance, and anxiety or guilt induction, the youth’s thoughts and feelings rather than the youth’s behavior.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 57)

You can even reference the Dark Triad personality:

Introducing the Dark Triad

You can note the research linking the Dark Triad personality to high-conflict communication, revenge-seeking against intimate partners, lies and deception, and the absence of empathy.

4)  Updating Child Abuse Reporting Laws

An accurate diagnosis of the pathology of AB-PA leads directly to a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

With regard to amending child abuse reporting laws, we want to add a piece in child abuse reporting laws that specifically states that a DSM-5 diagnosis of child psychological abuse made by a mental health professional is reportable under mandated reporting laws.

This makes the professional responsibility of the mental health professional explicit: assess for psychological child abuse (pathogenic parenting) and if it is present, file a child abuse report.

Legislative Amendment to Address the Family Pathology of “Parental Alienation”

Conclusion

These are the four areas I would urge for “moving things forward.”

In April, Dorcy Pruter and I will be presenting at a Symposium in Texas.

Symposium; Dallas, TX – 4/29/17

In June, Dorcy Pruter and I will be presenting at the annual convention of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), the major legal-psychological professional organization.

AFCC Presentaton: Boston, MA – 6/1/17

Just the other week, I was slated to provide expert testimony in a case. The involved mental health professional contacted me at the request of the attorney for a professional-to-professional consultation on assessment. I sent the mental health professional an email describing a treatment-focused assessment protocol:

Treatment-Focused Assessment Protocol

Following the professional-to-professional consultation email, the attorney contacted me and said my expert testimony was no longer needed because the involved mental health professional had conducted the assessment and made an accurate diagnosis of the pathology. That’s exactly how it should work.

The involved mental health professional sent me a brief follow-up email in which he said:

“Thank you Thank you, The information is very helpful.”

We are making progress.  We are moving forward.  We will not stop until all of your authentic and loving children are back in your arms.

I urge targeted parents to come together into a single voice for change. You are all in this together. We cannot solve this pathology in any one case, in your individual family, until we solve it for all children and all families. You are all in this together.

In one voice you are powerless. In 100 you have reclaimed your voice. In 1000 you have reclaimed your power. In 10,000 you become an unstoppable force for change.  Join us.  Join together.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Differential Diagnosis of Parent-Child Conflict

In a comment to my Facebook page, a parent asked about the process of diagnosis.  I thought my response might be more broadly of interest, so I responded as a full post on my Facebook page, and I’m also responding here on my blog.


Patient Identification

The patient is the child.  It is the child’s symptoms that are of concern relative to treatment.  Our goal is to ensure that the child has a normal-range and developmentally healthy childhood.

The second component of the patient is the parent-child relationship, since a healthy and affectionally bonded parent-child relationship is centrally important to the healthy emotional and psychological development of the child.

Children have a right to love both parents, and they have the right to receive the love of both parents in return.  So in addition to alleviating any child symptoms of pathology in order to restore the child to a healthy developmental trajectory, we also want to (if possible) establish a normal-range and healthy affectional bond between the child and both parents.

Differential Diagnosis

Diagnosis involves a process called “differential diagnosis” in which all possibilities for creating the child’s symptoms are initially on the table, and then we begin to narrow down the possible causal factors through a systematic collection of information that begins to rule-in some diagnostic possibilities and rule-out others, until we reach only one possible diagnosis that would explain the child’s symptoms.

Each type of pathology has a characteristic pattern of symptoms.  The goal of differential diagnosis is to systematically collect information on the pattern of symptoms that will lead to an accurate diagnosis of the cause.

Possible Cause 1:  Inherent Child Difficulties

The cause of the child’s symptoms may be some factor inherent to the child, such as ADHD, autism-spectrum issues, or neuro-developmental problems such as emotional regulation difficulties.  So one set of assessment inquiries will be to systematically collect information to rule-in or rule-out possible inherent child issues related to the child’s symptom presentation.

Typically in the family conflict surrounding divorce, a few questions in this area will be sufficient to rule out ADHD and autism-spectrum pathology (although I have seen cases of high post-divorce family conflict and co-occurring autism or ADHD issues with the child – typically diagnosed by another mental health professional long before my assessment of the post-divorce family conflict).

Inherent child emotional regulation problems may be a factor in post-divorce parent-child conflict, but a set of questions about school behavior (consistency of symptom display across settings) and prior history of explosive-angry outbursts can typically rule-out this inherent-child cause of the post-divorce parent-child conflict.

Possible Cause 2:  Problematic Parenting by the Targeted Parent

The next set of differential diagnostic possibilities is that the parent-child conflict is being caused by problematic parenting of the targeted parent, and perhaps a co-contributing factor is the child’s problematic response to the problematic parenting of the targeted parent (called circular causality – the parent’s behavior produces the child’s behavior, which then produces the parent’s behavior, which then produces the child’s behavior, which then… and who knows exactly where it all began – a chicken-egg sort of original causality – but it’s just going around-and-around; circular causality).

This assessment benefits from a specific type of diagnostic inquiry called the “behavior-chain sequence” (Assessing the Behavior Chain in Parent-Child Conflict) in which both parties are asked to describe, step-by-step, the interaction sequence during prior incidents of parent-child conflict.

Behavior-chain interviews are a standard form of inquiry in a particular type of behavioral therapy called Applied Behavioral Analysis.  We start by asking what was going on just prior to the beginning of the conflict, where was everyone, what was each person thinking and doing?  Then we walk through step-by-step (parent-child-exchange by parent-child-exchange) how the conflict began, how it progressed, how it ended, and what happened after it ended.  The entire “behavior-chain” of interactions before, during, and after an incident of conflict.

Behavior chain interviewing is critical for assessing causality in the parent-child conflict surrounding high-conflict divorce – and it is essential for assessing the attachment-related pathology of AB-PA.  All mental health professionals who are assessing attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce need to employ the behavior-chain assessment technique of Applied Behavioral Analysis.

Possible Cause 3:  Problematic Parenting by the Allied and Supposedly “Favored” Parent

This type of problematic parenting is called “triangulating” the child into the spousal conflict (commonly called “putting the child in middle” of the spousal conflict) through the formation of a “cross-generational coalition” of the child with the allied parent against the other parent.

Triangulation and the formation of a cross-generational coalition are abundantly described and defined in the family systems literature – Bowen; Haley; Minuchin.  A Wikipedia search on these preeminent family systems therapists and the construct of triangulation can provide a description of this pattern of family conflict.

The preeminent family systems therapist, Jay Haley, provides a definition of the cross-generational coalition.

“The people responding to each other in the triangle are not peers, but one of them is of a different generation from the other two… In the process of their interaction together, the person of one generation forms a coalition with the person of the other generation against his peer. By ‘coalition’ is meant a process of joint action which is against the third person… The coalition between the two persons is denied. That is, there is certain behavior which indicates a coalition which, when it is queried, will be denied as a coalition… In essence, the perverse triangle is one in which the separation of generations is breached in a covert way. When this occurs as a repetitive pattern, the system will be pathological.” (Haley, 1977, p. 37)

There is also a characteristic pattern of symptoms associated with a cross-generational coalition, particularly the constructs of an “inverted hierarchy” and the absence of “stimulus control” over the child’s behavior by the targeted parent’s behavior. I describe these constructs in my essay:

Stimulus Control and Identifying Inauthentic Parent-Child Conflict

The family pathology of a child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with one parent against the other parent can range from mild to moderate to severe, and can occur in both intact families and divorced families.

The attachment-related pathology of AB-PA represents a subset of triangulation and cross-generational coalition that includes the addition of parental personality pathology to the cross-generational coalition.

The addition of parental narcissistic and/or borderline personalty pathology to the cross-generational coalition with the child transmutes an already pathological cross-generational coalition into a particularly malignant and virulent form in which the child seeks to entirely terminate the child’s relationship with the normal-range and affectionally available targeted parent.

This is because of the “splitting” pathology associated with the narcissistic and borderline personality (extreme polarization of perception) which requires that the ex-spouse must also become an ex-parent; the ex-husband must become an ex-father, the ex-wife must become an ex-mother.  This is a neurologically imposed imperative of the splitting pathology on the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s perception of family relationships.  This distorted parental perception surrounding family relationships after divorce is then transferred to the child’s perception through the aberrant and distorted (manipulative and exploitative) parenting practices of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent in a cross-generational coalition with the child.

The addition of this form of parental personality pathology to the cross-generational coalition creates a set of three distinctive and definitive diagnostic indicators in the child’s symptom display for this specific type of attachment-related family pathology.

No other pathology in all of mental health will display this characteristic set of child symptoms.  Not authentic child abuse trauma; not problematic parenting by the targeted parent.

No other pathology in all of mental health will display this characteristic set of symptom identifiers. 

Try it.  Try to come up with an explanation for ALL THREE diagnostic indicators.  Not just one or two, but all three at the same time.

Authentic Child Abuse Trauma:  How does child abuse trauma produce a haughty and arrogant attitude and sense of entitlement in the child (diagnostic indicator 2)?

Problematic Targeted Parent:  How does problematic parenting by the targeted parent produce an encapsulated persecutory delusion in the child? (diagnostic indicator 3).

Try it.  Try to come up with an explanation for ALL THREE diagnostic indicators. 

No other pathology in all of mental health will display this characteristic set of ALL THREE child symptoms.  Not authentic child abuse trauma; not problematic parenting by the targeted parent.  The only way to arrive at this set of three diagnostic indicators is through a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent (Foundations).

That’s how the child is acquiring the five narcissistic personality traits.  The child doesn’t have a narcissistic personality.  It’s the allied parent who has the narcissistic personality.  The child is acquiring these distorted beliefs through the influence on the child by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

I call diagnostic indicator 2 the “psychological fingerprints” in the child’s symptom display that reveals the influence on the child’s beliefs by a narcissistic parent.  We cannot psychologically control a child without leaving “psychological fingerprints” of our control in the child’s symptom display.  Diagnostic indicator 2 represents the “psychological fingerprints” of control of the child by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and assessing for the five narcissistic personality traits of diagnostic indicator 2 represents “dusting for fingerprints” of the psychological control of the child by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting

If all three of these diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting associated with AB-PA are NOT all present in the child’s symptom display, then whatever is going on in the family conflict, it is NOT AB-PA.

If all three of these symptoms are NOT present in the child’s symptom display, then we have ruled out AB-PA as a causal explanation.  Differential diagnosis.

If, on the other hand, all three of these characteristic symptoms ARE evidenced in the child’s symptom display, then the ONLY possible explanation is AB-PA.  No other pathology in all of mental health will produce this characteristic pattern of child symptoms.  Not the trauma of authentic child abuse.  Not problematic parenting by the targeted parent.

For example, a child who has experienced authentic child abuse from the targeted-rejected parent will NOT exhibit a haughty and arrogant attitude toward the abusive parent, nor will the child exhibit a sense of entitlement relative to the abusive parent.  So the child will NOT meet diagnostic indicator 2 for AB-PA.

In addition, the behavior-chain line of questions will have established the abusive-problematic parenting of the targeted-rejected parent, so the child’s belief in the child’s “victimization” is true, so the child will not meet diagnostic indicator 3 of AB-PA.

So an authentically abused child will NOT meet two of the three criteria of AB-PA.  Diagnostically, it’s not even close. 

Plus, the attachment system (diagnostic indicator 1) also looks different in authentic child abuse than from a cross-generational coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent, but this is a technical issue that I won’t get into here (I’ll reserve that discussion for a later time).

In addition, diagnostic indicator 1 has a Secondary Criterion of Normal-Range Parenting by the targeted parent, which would not be met if the parenting practices of the targeted parent are authentically abusive – so actually, an authentically abused child will not meet ANY of the three diagnostic criteria of AB-PA.

Parenting Practices Rating Scale

This means that the three diagnostic criteria of AB-PA can quickly and efficiently rule-out false allegations of “parental alienation.”  So anyone who is worried about potential false allegations of “parental alienation,” it’s really simple, just apply the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA.  In false allegations of “parental alienation” the child’s symptoms will not evidence all three indicators of AB-PA, so “parental alienation” is ruled-out.

Assessment Leads to Diagnosis

That’s the process of differential diagnosis.  All diagnoses are initially on the table, and then we systematically collect information to rule-in and rule-out various alternatives.

The focus is always on the child’s symptoms since we want to ensure that the child has a normal-range and developmentally healthy childhood free of pathology.  When there is substantial parent-child conflict, we want to make sure that this conflict is effectively resolved and that the parent-child relationship returns to a normal-range of affectional bonding so that the child can benefit from receiving the love of both parents.  If the child is being physically, sexually, or psychologically abused, then we want to take steps to ensure the child’s protection.

To make the conflict go away, we must first establish the cause of the conflict, 1) possible inherent issues with the child, such as ADHD, 2) potential problematic parenting by the targeted parent and possible circular causality, and 3) potential problematic parenting by the allied parent in a cross-generational coalition with the child against the other parent – or possibly some combination of two or all three of these factors.

Every form of pathology has a characteristic pattern of symptoms.

Diagnosis involves a systematic approach to identifying (and documenting) the pattern of child symptoms so that we can determine the cause, which then leads to our treatment plan for addressing the cause.

The Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting and the Parenting Practices Rating Scale are simply means for documenting the symptom features in the family as a process of differential diagnosis.

Assessment leads to diagnosis, and diagnosis guides treatment.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Parental Alienation Symposium: Dallas, TX 4/29/17

On April 29, 2017,  I will be the keynote speaker at the:

Parental Alienation Symposium 2017:

Solutions for Professionals and Families

I’ll be speaking along with Dorcy Pruter, Rod McCall, Shelbie Michaels, Rebecca Bradley, and Eric Ransleben on the solutions to “parental alienation” across the spectrum of systems.

In my talk, I intend to address practical solutions in three areas:

The Mental Health System:  The mental health assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of the attachment-related family pathology of “parental alienation.”

The Legal System:  Approaches for attorneys in collaborating with mental health professionals in obtaining the necessary professional documentation for presentation to the Court.

The Family System:  What targeted parents can do while waiting for the solution; how to respond to the alienated child’s hostility and rejection.

CPS Social Workers:  I also urge child protection social workers to attend to learn what is coming in the mental health assessment and diagnosis of psychological child abuse.  As AB-PA becomes the standard of care for the assessment and diagnosis of the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation,” more and more mental health professionals will be filing child abuse reports with child protection agencies based on a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse.

It is time for children’s protective services to begin considering how they will respond to these reports from mental health professionals that include a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse.

I have a lot of material to cover at this symposium in a short period of time.  I do not intend to waste your time with tired lamentations of how bad things are, and worn-out complaints about how we wish change would happen.  We are creating the change.  Now.

From 8:45 to 10:00, I’m scheduled to present the opening Keynote address, Real Solutions to Parental Alienation – Now.  In this talk I’m planning to focus on the treatment-focused assessment protocol for mental health professionals (with a description of the behavior-chain assessment format), and on approaches to the interface of attorneys with the mental health professionals to obtain the necessary psychological documentation for presentation to the Court.

Court-involved therapists, child custody evaluators, and attorneys will be interested in the information contained in this talk.

From 1:15 to 2:15, I’m scheduled to present For Therapists: Treating the Attachment-Related Pathology of Parental Alienation.  This is going to be a very interesting therapist-to-therapist presentation on how to resolve the attachment-related pathology of “disordered mourning” created by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent in a cross-generational coalition with the child.

Toward the end of this talk, based on a deeper-level understanding for the attachment-related pathology of “disordered mourning,” I am going to discuss how the targeted parent can respond to the child’s angry-hostile rejection prior to achieving the protective separation period necessary for treatment and recovery.

AB-PA is going to replace Gardnerian PAS as the professional-level definition for the attachment pathology of a child rejecting a normal-range and affectionally available parent following divorce.  A treatment-focused assessment protocol using the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting and the Parenting Practices Rating Scale is going to become the professional standard of practice in assessing and diagnosing attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce.

On April 29, 2017, I will describe the roadmap for this fundamental change in how we address the family pathology of “parental alienation.”

Court-involved therapists, child custody evaluators, and child protection social workers will find the content of what I discuss valuable.  Legal professionals working with the family pathology of “parental alienation” will find the content of what I discuss valuable.  Targeted parents will find the content of what I discuss valuable.

If you cannot be at this Symposium, not to worry (too much).  This is just the start.  The changes we will be discussing on April 29 will be rolling into the mental health and legal systems generally.  AB-PA is an accurate description of the pathology from within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.  There is nothing for establishment mental health to accept or reject, because all of the pathology-constructs have ALREADY been accepted.

I’m working with therapists and attorneys across the country one-on-one to create these changes.  Symposiums and presentations to larger groups speeds the process, but the change is coming.  It is no longer a matter of “if only” – it has now become a matter of “how soon.”

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Parental Alienation in Romania and Other Countries

I recently received a request from Mr. Adrian Bota in Romania on behalf of the Association Against Parental Abuse requesting my assistance in their efforts to have “parental alienation” formally recognized as a form of child abuse.  Apparently they are making some progress in Romania, but not yet enough.

His specific request of me was to:

“Please send us any of your work which can support the urgency of the intervention needed to escape from this form of child abuse and to set the custody accordingly.  Without these measures and without the corrective power of the State, we cannot protect our children.”

I have also periodically been contacted by targeted parents in other countries, both from English-speaking and non-English speaking countries, seeking my help and support for their efforts to end the family pathology of “parental alienation” in their countries.  I fully recognize the international nature of this form of attachment-related family pathology, and my thoughts generally are to focus my efforts on correcting the mental health system in the United States with the goal of changes within the U.S. mental health system acting as the first domino of influence in changing the response of mental health systems in other countries.

But if I can be of any specific assistance in the meantime, I’m more than happy to be as helpful as I can be.   The following is my email reply to Mr. Bota.  My reply to him may also be more broadly applicable to the efforts of targeted parents in other countries seeking to end the family nightmare of “parental alienation” in their countries, so with the permission of Mr. Bota and the Association Against Parental Abuse in Romania I am turning my email to him into a full blog post.


Dear Mr. Bota,

I will assist your efforts in any way I can.

The primary resource is my book, Foundations.  Unfortunately for the use of the book in foreign settings, the book is written in English and is fairly long and dense in its descriptions of the pathology, so it is unlikely to be read by politicians.  What it does do, however, is serve as the professional foundation for the origins of the three diagnostic indicators and the assessment protocol.

What you will likely want to focus on in my work is the treatment-focused assessment protocol, and the two assessment instruments that are used in this protocol:

These assessment instruments are both posted on my website and are in the public domain.  You have my permission to translate them into Romanian if that is helpful to you.  Please simply specify in a footnote that “Dr. Childress has not reviewed the content of this translation for accuracy.”  If you choose to translate these instruments into Romanian, you may want to put the name of the translator under my authorship name (Translated by So-n-So).  If there are technical terms that you would like to ask me to explain a little more fully to aid in the translation, please feel free to contact me.

The formal handout for the treatment-focused assessment protocol is also on my website. 

Since the Treatment-Focused Assessment Protocol handout is also on my website, it too is in the public domain and you have my permission to translate it into Romanian, with the caveat that you specify on this translation that I have not reviewed the translation for accuracy, and again you may wish to specify the person or group responsible for the translation.

I am currently in the process of publishing my second book, Diagnosis.  Until this book is published, the diagnostic indicators and Associated Clinical Signs used in the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting are described in Chapter 4 of my book, Essays on Attachment-Based Parental Alienation, and I have made a pdf of Chapter 4 available on my website. 

Since this chapter is on my website and is from a blog post of mine on 11/3/15 (Diagnosis of Parental Alienation), the content from Chapter 4 of Essays is similarly in the public domain.  If you want to translate this Chapter into Romanian, that would also be fine with me with the caveat that you indicate in a footnote that I have not reviewed the translation for accuracy (and you may want to specify the person or group responsible for the translation).

For documenting and monitoring the child’s symptoms prior to and during treatment (an ABA single-case evidenced-based treatment design), I recommend using the Parent-Child Relationship Rating Scale available from my website.  As with the other forms, you have my permission to translate this form into Romanian as well.

Best wishes,

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

AFCC Presentation: June 1, 2017

It’s confirmed and set:

Thursday, June 1 from 3:30 – 5:00 at the Annual Convention of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC).

Workshop 29 – An Attachment-Based Model of Parental Alienation: Diagnosis and Treatment

Presenters:  Craig Childress & Dorcy Pruter

The solution is here. 

The trans-generational transmission of “disordered mourning,” mediated by the personality pathology of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent in a cross-generational coalition with the child against the targeted-rejected parent.

“The deactivation of attachment behavior is a key feature of certain common variants of pathological mourning” (Bowlby, 1980, p. 70; emphasis added).

Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Vol. 3. Loss: Sadness and depression. NY: Basic Books.

The attachment system is the brain system that governs all aspects of love and bonding throughout the lifespan, including grief and loss. 

The suppression of a child’s attachment bonding motivations toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent is fundamentally an attachment-related pathology.

The solution is here.  June 1, 2017 from 3:30 – 5:00.  Boston.

I am going to focus on diagnosis during my potion of the talk.  So far, I have been relatively quiet about the Associated Clinical Signs.  In Boston, June 1, from 3:45 to 4:30, I am going to unpack the origins of each of these 12 Associated Clinical Signs.  Diagnosis is recognizing the complete pattern of symptoms. 

The High Road Protocol

What’s more, for everyone who wants to know how the High Road protocol achieves a restoration of the child’s normal-range attachment bonding motivations within a matter of days, we will explain the High Road protocol and we will explain how it accomplishes what it does.

Several years ago, when Dorcy first approached me to review her High Road to Family Reunification protocol, I was working on a model for “reunification therapy” (Reunification Therapy: Treating “Parental Alienation”; Childress, 2014).  Dorcy approached me after a conference we both attended and said she disagreed with my position that restoration of the child’s normal-range attachment bonding motivations would require six months to a year of therapy, and she said that she could restore the child’s normal-range attachment bonding motivations within a matter of days.

I’m a clinical psychologist.  I do psychotherapy.  I teach models of psychotherapy at the graduate level.  Needless to say, I was skeptical.  There is not a model of psychotherapeutic change out there that can restore a child’s normal-range attachment bonding motivations within a matter of days.  Yet I knew enough to know what I don’t know (if that makes sense), so I withheld judgement until Dorcy and I met in my office a few weeks later to allow me to review the content of her protocol.  A meeting planned for 2-hours became a 6-hour discussion.

Within the first 30 minutes of reviewing the content of her protocol I immediately recognized how she achieves a restoration of the child’s normal-range attachment bonding motivations within a matter of days – typically about the middle of the second day, sometimes into the third day, then – pop – the attachment system reactivates.  No force.  No focus on the past.  No blame.  A gentle solution-focused approach that simply involves watching videos (videos that activate normal-range empathy, compassion, and critical thinking skills) and family workshop activities teaching structured problem-solving and family communication skills.  But it’s the sequence… I see how this works… first…. and then… and then… and pop – the attachment system reactivates.  Okay, I get it.

I teach models of psychotherapy.  I know models of psychotherapy.  Any form of psychotherapy will require six months to a year of treatment to reorient the child to the child’s distorted grief response surrounding divorce.  No form of psychotherapy could restore the normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment bonding motivations within a matter of days.

But the High Road protocol is not a form of psychotherapy.  

As a clinical psychologist, I am excited to present to professional psychology an alternative model of change – a catalytic rather than integrative model of change.

Professional psychology emerged from Freud’s “talking cure” that sought to resolve the person’s deep inner conflicts.  Then differing models of psychotherapy developed from within differing schools for creating change, cognitive-behavioral models of change are based on principles of behavior change discovered with lab animals, humanistic-existential models of personal growth are based in life’s larger meaning, and family systems models of change recognize children’s behavior as embedded in the surrounding family context of relationships. 

But the High Road protocol uses none of these approaches.  It is an entirely different universe of change.  A gentle step-wise sequence of catalytic change in the brain systems surrounding the attachment system, the brain systems of empathy, compassion, and critical thinking (executive function).  Step-by-gentle-step, the High Road protocol activates normal functioning in these surrounding brain systems… and then – pop – the normal-range functioning of the attachment system reactivates.  Bonding, love, tears.  The grief resolves.  All fixed.

On June 1, 2017, Dorcy has agreed to present her protocol in a way that allows the audience to understand, aided by my descriptive commentary, how it achieves what it achieves.  We will walk, step-by-step, through the protocol structure leading to the “pop” – the restoration of the child’s normal-range attachment-bonding motivations.

One of my excitements as a clinical psychologist is that I recognize that this type of catalytic-change approach – which is unlike anything we do in psychotherapy – is applicable to other life-issues beyond attachment-related issues.  The proper catalytic steps in the proper sequence can restore the normal-range functioning of previously dysfunctional “software patterns” in these brain systems.

June 1, 2017; 3:30 – 5:00.  Boston.  Workshop 29.

An Attachment-Based Model of Parental Alienation: Diagnosis and Treatment

Presenters:  Craig Childress & Dorcy Pruter

The solution to the attachment-related pathology of AB-PA… and the beginnings of a very interesting dialogue within professional psychology regarding catalytic-transformative solution-focused interventions.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Treatment-Focused Assessment Protocol

I have  been working with several different attorneys recently who are trying to obtain an appropriate treatment-focused assessment for their clients’ children who are experiencing the attachment-related pathology of AB-PA (the trans-generational transmission of disordered mourning from the allied parent to the child through the formation of a cross-generational coalition of the allied parent with the child against the targeted-rejected parent).

In response to the needs of these attorneys, I have written a formal description of the recommended treatment-focused assessment protocol, and I have been in consultation with the court-involved psychologists regarding the implementation of this assessment protocol. 

With the possibility that this recommended treatment-focused assessment protocol may be more broadly helpful to other targeted parents and other attorneys seeking to secure a proper treatment-focused assessment, I have posted this description to my website:

Recommended Treatment-Focused Assessment Protocol


Child Custody or Family Therapy

Divorce is not the end of the family.  Divorce is the end of the marriage, but the family continues because of the children. 

Divorce simply involves a shift in the family structure from an intact-family structure that is united by the marriage, to separated-family-diagramsa new separated-family structure that is now united by the children, through continuing co-parenting duties and by the bonds of shared affection between the children and both parents.

In high-conflict divorce, the family is having difficulty making this transition from an intact family structure united by the marriage to the new separated family united by the children through the ongoing bonds of shared affection between the children and both parents.

The “splitting” pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent cannot accommodate to ambiguity.  In the mind of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent the now ex-spouse must also become an ex-parent as well — the ex-wife must become an ex-mother, the ex-husband must become an ex-father.  This is a neurologically imposed imperative of the splitting pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

When the splitting pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is added to the family systems pathology a cross-generational coalition, the already pathological cross-generational coalition is transmuted into a particularly virulent and malignant form that seeks to entirely terminate the other parent’s relationship with the child.

The pathological parenting of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent is forcing the child to choose sides in the inter-spousal conflict surrounding the divorce.  In the mind of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, achieving full-custody possession of the child represents a “prize to be won” by whichever parent is deemed to be the “better parent” in their spousal-divorce.

However, the child is not a “prize to be awarded” to the supposedly “better parent” – this is an entirely wrong conceptual framework for understanding child custody.

Children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents.  Child custody is not a “competition” between the parents over who is the “better parent” to determine which parent should be awarded the “custody prize” of the child. Children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents.

Except in cases of abusive parenting practices, there is no theoretical or research foundation in professional psychology that would allow us to determine who represents the “better parent.”  Parents differ in their approaches.  That’s okay.  Children love both parents and want the love of both parents in return.  That’s normal.  Children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents.  That’s the reality.

In all cases except child abuse, the recommendation from professional psychology should be for a 50-50% custody time-share. There is no basis in the professional scientific or research literature that would allow professional psychology to differentiate between the potential impact of alternative custody time-share options.

If the parents wish to collaboratively work out a different time-share arrangement, that is their right as parents.  But from a professional psychology perspective, there is no theoretical or research foundation that would allow professional psychology to predict the future in any specific situation and determine the relative outcomes from a 60-40% timeshare as compared to a 70-30% timeshare as compared to an 80-20% timeshare as compared a 50-50% timeshare.  There are too many exceedingly complex variables.

Except in cases of child abuse, the only professionally responsible recommendation for custody time-share from all mental health professionals is for a 50-50% custody time-share based on the foundational principle that children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents.

A child’s rejection of one parent following divorce and the child’s non-compliance with court orders for custody time-share visitation is a treatment-related issue, not a child custody issue. 

Professional psychology should offer the court guidance regarding the treatment needs of the family that are required to help the divorcing family successfully transition from its prior intact-family structure united by the marriage to its new separated-family structure united by the children. 

Problems in the family’s transition from an intact-family structure to a separated-family structure following divorce are a treatment-related issue, not a child custody issue.

The allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent is framing the issues as custody-related because of the false belief that the child represents a “prize” in the spousal conflict, to be awarded to whichever spouse is deemed to be the “better parent.”

This false belief in the “child-as-a-prize” to be awarded to the “better parent” is an oft cited argument by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in these custody disputes; that the other parent “was not an involved parent” prior to the divorce and so should not have equal time-share with the child following the divorce; or that the other parent is not a “good parent” so they don’t “deserve” to have the child in the post-divorce world.

However, the child is NOT a “prize” to be awarded. 

Children love both parents and want the love of both parents in return.  Children benefit from complex relationships with both parents. 

In all cases except child abuse, custody time-share should be awarded 50-50% unless the parents cooperatively agree to a different alternative time-share agreement.

The reason the treatment-related issues within the family become a custody-related conflict is because the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is trying to “win” complete possession of the child (it is a neurologically imposed imperative of the splitting pathology that the ex-spouse must also become an ex-parent; the ex-wife must become an ex-mother, the ex-husband an ex-father).  

The child represents a narcissistic prize, a symbol of their victory and superiority, and a weapon to “destroy” the “potential enemy” of the ex-spouse.

“The need to control the idealized objects, to use them in attempts to manipulate and exploit the environment and to “destroy potential enemies,” is linked with inordinate pride in the “possession” of these perfect objects totally dedicated to the patient.” (p. 33)

Kernberg, O.F. (1975). Borderline conditions and pathological narcissism. New York: Aronson.

When professional psychology colludes with this false belief that the role of the assessing mental health professional is to determine the “winner” of the “better parent” competition who will then be awarded the “custody prize” of the child, then professional psychology becomes co-opted into the pathology.

Children love both parents and want to be loved by both parents in return.

Children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents.

Helping the family successfully transition from the prior intact-family structure to the new separated-family structure following divorce is a treatment-related issue, not a child custody issue.

Professional assessments should assist the court in determining the treatment-related needs of the family, not determining the “winner” of the “child custody prize” in the spousal “competition” for the child created by the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

What’s Hard to Understand?

For the life of me, I can’t figure out what’s so hard for mental health professionals to understand about all of this?  Granted, the pathology is complex, but its also relatively simple because it is always exactly the same.  Understanding psychopathology is what mental health professionals do for a living.  It shouldn’t be that hard for them to understand since I have defined the attachment-related pathology in detail across multiple levels of analysis:

Family Systems Level:

At the family systems level, the pathology reflects the inability of the family to transition from an intact-family structure to a separated family structure because of the failure of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality structure to process the grief, loss, and sadness surrounding divorce. The child is being triangulated into the spousal conflict through a cross-generational coalition with the allied-fragile parent against the other parent in order to stabilize the family system in its dysfunctional transition to a new separated family structure.

The attachment-related pathology of a child’s rejection of a normal-range and affectionaly available parent following divorce represents the trans-generational transmission of pathological mourning (Bowlby) from the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the child through the formation of a cross-generational coalition (Haley; Minuchin) with the child against the other parent.

Personality Disorder Level – Splitting:

The addition of parental splitting pathology from a narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the cross-generational coalition with the child transmutes an already pathological cross-generational coalition into a particularly virulent and malignant form that seeks to entirely terminate the child’s relationship with the other parent.  

The splitting pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality cannot accommodate to ambiguity.  Following divorce, the ex-husband must also become an ex-father; the ex-wife must also become an ex-mother.  This is a neurologically imposed imperative of the splitting pathology.

Personality Disorder Level – Projective Displacement of Abandonment-Rejection:

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is triangulating the child into the spousal conflict as a means to stabilize the collapsing personality structure of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in response to the inherent rejection and abandonment surrounding divorce.  The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is using the child’s induced rejection of the other parent to projectively displace onto the other spouse the core rejection and abandonment fears of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

“I’m not the rejected person (spouse) – you are.  I’m not the inadequate person (spouse), you are.  The child is rejecting you because of your inadequacy as a parent (as a person; (spouse) – you’re the inadequate one, not me.  The child is choosing me because I’m the all-wonderful, perfect, and ideal parent (person).  The child will never abandon me.  You’re the abandoned one; you’re the inadequate and rejected person (spouse), not me.”

Attachment System Level

At its deeper substrate in the attachment networks of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the pathology represents the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the current family relationships, mediated by the personality disorder pathology of the parent that is itself a product of this parent’s childhood attachment trauma.

This trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma is in the schema pattern of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent” that is contained in the internal working models of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment networks.  It is a false drama – a kabuki theater of display – played out in a false trauma reenactment narrative born in the childhood attachment trauma of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, a childhood attachment trauma that was responsible for creating the fragile personality structure of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

My goodness gracious, how many differing yet interlocking ways, across multiple levels of analysis, do I need to describe the pathology?

Furthermore, I have identified the extensive research literature surrounding the psychological control of the child:

“Psychological control refers to parental behaviors that are intrusive and manipulative of children’s thoughts, feelings, and attachment to parents.” (Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 15).

The essential impact of psychological control of the child is to violate the self-system of the child.” (Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 24).

“Rather than telling the child directly what to do or think, as does the behaviorally controlling parent, the psychologically controlling parent uses indirect hints and responds with guilt induction or withdrawal of love if the child refuses to comply.  In short, an intrusive parent strives to manipulate the child’s thoughts and feelings in such a way that the child’s psyche will conform to the parent’s wishes.” (Kerig, 2005, p. 12)

“In order to carve out an island of safety and responsivity in an unpredictable, harsh, and depriving parent-child relationship, children of highly maladaptive parents may become precocious caretakers who are adept at reading the cues and meeting the needs of those around them. The ensuing preoccupied attachment with the parent interferes with the child’s development of important ego functions, such as self organization, affect regulation, and emotional object constancy.” (Kerig, 2005, p. 14)

“Parental psychological control is defined as verbal and nonverbal behaviors that intrude on youth’s emotional and psychological autonomy.” (Stone, Buehler, & Barber, 2002, p. 57)

“The central elements of psychological control are intrusion into the child’s psychological world and self-definition and parental attempts to manipulate the child’s thoughts and feelings through invoking guilt, shame, and anxiety. Psychological control is distinguished from behavioral control in that the parent attempts to control, through the use of criticism, dominance, and anxiety or guilt induction, the youth’s thoughts and feelings rather than the youth’s behavior.” (Stone, Buehler, & Barber, 2002, p. 57)

In his book, Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents, published by the American Psychological Association, Brian Barber and his colleague, Elizabeth Harmon, identify over 30 empirically validated studies documenting the psychological control of children.

I have also identified the research that links the Dark Triad personality comprised of 1) Narcissistic personality traits, 2) Psychopathic personality traits, and 3) Machiavellian manipulation to,

High-Conflict Patterns of Communication:

Horan, S.M., Guinn, T.D., and Banghart, S. (2015). Understanding relationships among the Dark Triad personality profile and romantic partners’ conflict communication. Communication Quarterly, 63, 156-170.

Seeking Revenge in Intimate Relationships:

Giammarco, E.A. and Vernon, P.A. (2014). Vengeance and the Dark Triad: The role of empathy and perspective taking in trait forgivingness. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 23–29

Rasmussen, K.R. and Boon, S.D. (2014). Romantic revenge and the Dark Triad: A model of impellance and inhibition. Personality and Individual Differences, 56, 51–56 

Lying, Manipulative Fabrication, and Deception:

Jonason, P.K., Lyons, M. Baughman, H.M., and Vernon, P.A. (2014). What a tangled web we weave: The Dark Triad traits and deception. Personality and Individual Differences, 70, 117–119

Baughman, H.M., Jonason, P.K., Lyons, M., and Vernon, P.A. (2014). Liar liar pants on fire: Cheater strategies linked to the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 71, 35–38

The Absence of Empathy:

Jonason, P. K. and Krause, L. (2013). The emotional deficits associated with the Dark Triad traits: Cognitive empathy, affective empathy, and alexithymia. Personality and Individual Differences, 55, 532–537

Wai, M. and Tiliopoulos, N. (2012). The affective and cognitive empathic nature of the dark triad of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 794–799

And to Attachment-Related Pathology:

Jonason, P.K., Lyons, M., and Bethell, E. (2014). The making of Darth Vader: Parent–child care and the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 30–34

I have developed a simple checklist for the documentation of child symptoms that are created by the pathogenic parenting of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent who is transferring this parent’s own disordered mourning to the child:

The Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting

I have developed a simple rating scale for documenting the normal-range or problematic parenting of the targeted-rejected parent:

Parenting Practices Rating Scale

I have developed a simple relationship rating scale for ongoing treatment-related documentation of the child’s symptoms to facilitate evidence-based documentation and treatment:

Parent-Child Relationship Rating Scale

In Foundations I have elaborated, in great detail, an attachment-based description of the pathology from within each of three distinct levels of analysis, 1) the family systems level, 2) the personality disorder level, and 3) the attachment system level, as well as integrating the description across all three levels, with the attachment system level creating the personality disorder level, and the personality disorder level creating the family systems level.  In Foundations, I also describe in detail the distorted relationship-based communication processes by which the child’s rejection of the targeted parent is created.

I have now described a structured Treatment-Focused Assessment Protocol.

Child Protection

At its core, pathogenic parenting is a child protection issue – not a child custody issue.

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3), in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

Assessment leads to diagnosis, diagnosis guides treatment.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Barber, B. K. (Ed.) (2002). Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Barber, B. K., & Harmon, E. L. (2002). Violating the self: Parenting psychological control of children and adolescents. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting (pp. 15-52). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Kerig, P.K. (2005). Revisiting the construct of boundary dissolution: A multidimensional perspective. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 5, 5-42.

Stone, G., Buehler, C., and Barber, B. K.. (2002) Interparental conflict, parental psychological control, and youth problem behaviors. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC.: American Psychological Association.

Assessing for the Dark Triad Personality

Research on personality pathology has identified a set of three co-occurring toxic personality traits that have received the label of the Dark Triad personality because of the severe toxicity of these personalities:

Narcissistic Personality Traits

Psychopathic Personality Traits

Machiavellian Manipulation

A borderline personality variant of the Dark Triad personality has also been identified in the research literature, the Vulnerable Dark Triad, consisting of:

Vulnerable Narcissism

Psychopathic Personality Traits

Borderline Personality Traits

The Dark Triad Personality:

“First cited by Paulhus and Williams (2002), the Dark Triad refers to a set of three distinct but related antisocial personality traits: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.  Each of the Dark Triad traits is associated with feelings of superiority and privilege.  This, coupled with a lack of remorse and empathy, often leads individuals high in these socially malevolent traits to exploit others for their own personal gain.”  (Giammarco & Vernon, 2014, p.  23)

The Vulnerable Dark Triad Personality:

“In the current study, we posit the existence of a second related triad – one that includes personality styles composed of both dark and emotionally vulnerable traits… The members of this putative vulnerable dark triad (VDT) would include (a) Factor 2 psychopathy, (b) vulnerable narcissism, and (c) borderline PD (BPD).” (Miller, Dir, Gentile, Wilson, Pryor, & Campbell, 2010, p. 1530)

Research on the Dark Triad personality has linked it to a particular set of high-conflict styles of communication, referred to in the communication literature as The Four Horseman of conflict communication.  According to Horan, Guinn, and Banghart (2014):

“How individuals communicate during conflict is important, and the previously reviewed studies reinforce that personality is important in understanding this process.  Four conflict messages that have received academic attention are contempt, criticism, stonewalling, and defensiveness.

Contempt involves “statements that come from a relative position of superiority… “You’re an idiot’”;

Criticism entails “stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality… “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish’”;

Stonewalling describes “the listener’s withdrawal from interaction;”

“and defensiveness describes self-protection in the form of “righteous indignation or innocent victimhood (Gottman, 1993, p. 62).”

“Collectively, these conflict messages are known as The Four Horsemen.” (Horan, Guinn, & Banghart. 2015, 159; emphasis added)

The research literature has established the existence of the Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad personalities:

Research has linked the Dark Triad personality to The Four Horsemen of high-conflict communication:

Horan, S.M., Guinn, T.D., and Banghart, S. (2015). Understanding relationships among the Dark Triad personality profile and romantic partners’ conflict communication. Communication Quarterly, 63, 156-170.

To vengefulness in romantic relationships:

Giammarco, E.A. and Vernon, P.A. (2014). Vengeance and the Dark Triad: The role of empathy and perspective taking in trait forgivingness. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 23–29

Rasmussen, K.R. and Boon, S.D. (2014). Romantic revenge and the Dark Triad: A model of impellance and inhibition. Personality and Individual Differences, 56, 51–56 

To lying and manipulative deception:

Jonason, P.K., Lyons, M. Baughman, H.M., and Vernon, P.A. (2014). What a tangled web we weave: The Dark Triad traits and deception. Personality and Individual Differences, 70, 117–119

Baughman, H.M., Jonason, P.K., Lyons, M., and Vernon, P.A. (2014). Liar liar pants on fire: Cheater strategies linked to the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 71, 35–38

To attachment-related pathology:

Jonason, P.K., Lyons, M., and Bethell, E. (2014). The making of Darth Vader: Parent–child care and the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 30–34

To the absence of empathy:

Jonason, P. K. and Krause, L. (2013). The emotional deficits associated with the Dark Triad traits: Cognitive empathy, affective empathy, and alexithymia. Personality and Individual Differences, 55, 532–537

Wai, M. and Tiliopoulos, N. (2012). The affective and cognitive empathic nature of the dark triad of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 794–799

And to the core of evil:

Book, A., Visser, B.A., and Volk, A.A. (2015). Unpacking ‘‘evil’’: Claiming the core of the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences 73 (2015) 29–38.

Given the research-linked association of the Dark Triad personality to high-conflict forms of communication, all court-involved child custody evaluators and court-involved therapists working with families evidencing high-conflict patterns of communication surrounding divorce should assess for the possible presence of the Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad personality pathology within the family.

Self-report personality assessment measures have been developed to assess for the component personality traits of the Dark Triad personality:

Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI; Raskin & Hall, 1979),

Machiavellianism (MACH-IV; Christie & Geis, 1970)

Subclinical psychopathy (Self-Report Psychopathy Scale-III; Williams, Paulhus, & Hare, 2009). 

Self-report measures have also been developed to specifically assess for the Dark Triad personality constellation:

Short Dark Triad (SD3) scale (Jones & Paulhus, 2014). 

Research on the core personality characteristics uniting the Dark Triad personality constellation has also associated the Dark Triad with low scores on scale H (Honesty-Humility) on a prominent personality assessment, the HEXACO Personality Inventory:

Low H scale on HEXACO Personality Inventory (Book, Visser, & Volk, 2015; Lee, & Ashton, 2012). 

The assessment difficulty with all of these self-report scales of the Dark Triad personality is that the Dark Triad personality parent may not accurately self-report on his or her belief systems when there might be negative consequences for this self-disclosure.

An alternative method for potentially identifying the possible presence of the Dark Triad personality within the high-conflict family is to have each parent rate the other parent on these personality pathology scales (such as the SD3).  While this approach runs the counter-risk of a motivated desire by each spouse to present the other spouse in an over-pathologized way, this alternative approach of “informant rating” nevertheless could identify the potential presence of a Dark Triad personality parent which could then be followed-up with additional relevant data collection through clinical interviewing by asking each parent to provide specific examples of the other parent’s personality trait.

What is important – what is essential – given the evidence-based association of the Dark Triad personality with The Four Horsemen of high-conflict communication is:

1.)  The essential importance of professional expertise in assessing and identifying the Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad personalities in high-conflict families surrounding divorce;

2.)  The essential importance of court-involved child custody evaluators and court-involved therapists to conduct a proper assessment for the potential presence of the Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad personalities in ALL cases of high-conflict divorce.

In cases of attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce, in which a child is rejecting a relationship with a parent, this assessment for the Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad personality should be in addition to the recommended assessment protocol for attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce (Assessment Protocol):

Assessment leads to diagnosis, diagnosis guides treatment.

Professional Competence

All psychologists are required by Standard 9.01a of ethics code of the American Psychological Association to conduct an assessment sufficient to “substantiate their findings”:

9.01 Bases for Assessments
(a) Psychologists base the opinions contained in their recommendations, reports and diagnostic or evaluative statements, including forensic testimony, on information and techniques sufficient to substantiate their findings.

If the mental health professional has NOT assessed for the pathology of pathogenic parenting and has NOT assessed for the possible presence of the Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad personality as potentially causing the high-conflict relationships within the family, then this mental health professional has NOT based their diagnostic or evaluative statements, including forensic testimony, on “information and techniques sufficient to substantiate their findings,” and they are therefore likely in violation of Standard 9.01a of the APA ethics code.

Children and families evidencing attachment-related pathology surrounding high-conflict divorce warrant the professional designation as a “special population” requiring specialized professional knowledge and expertise to competently assess, diagnose, and treat. The domains of relevant pathology needed to competently assess, diagnose, and treat this special population of children and families are:

  • Attachment-Related Pathology:  Including disordered mourning, goal-corrected motivation, insecure attachment characteristics, and the the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma;
  • Personality Disorder Pathology:  Including the Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad personality pathology, and the negative influence of parental personality disorder pathology within family relationships surrounding divorce (including role-reversal relationships, psychological boundary violations, and use of the child as a “regulatory object” to stabilize the parent’s emotional and psychological state);
  • Family Systems Pathology:  Including triangulation, cross-generational coalitions, homeostatic balance, and emotional cutoffs;
  • Trauma Pathology:  Including the effects of child abuse and domestic violence.

Failure to possess the necessary professional knowledge and expertise to competently assess, diagnose, and treat this special population of children and families may represent a violation of Standard 2.01a of the APA ethics code requiring professional competence:

2.01 Boundaries of Competence
(a) Psychologists provide services, teach and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study or professional experience.

If emotional and psychological harm then befalls the child or parent as a result of the mental health professional’s violation of Standards 9.01a and 2.01a of the APA ethics code, then this may represent an additional violation of Standard 3.04 of the APA ethics code prohibiting harm to the client:

3.04 Avoiding Harm
(a) Psychologists take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, organizational clients, and others with whom they work, and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable. 

Assessment leads to diagnosis, diagnosis guides treatment. Mental health professionals are expected to conduct an appropriate assessment that leads to diagnosis in order to guide treatment.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologists, PSY 18857

References


Horan, S.M., Guinn, T.D., and Banghart, S. (2015). Understanding relationships among the Dark Triad personality profile and romantic partners’ conflict communication. Communication Quarterly, 63, 156-170.


Baughman, H.M., Jonason, P.K., Lyons, M., and Vernon, P.A. (2014). Liar liar pants on fire: Cheater strategies linked to the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 71, 35–38.

Book, A., Visser, B.A., and Volk, A.A. (2015). Unpacking ‘‘evil’’: Claiming the core of the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences 73 (2015) 29–38.

Christie, R. C., & Geis, F. L. (1970). Studies in Machiavellianism. New York: Academic Press.

Giammarco, E.A. and Vernon, P.A. (2014). Vengeance and the Dark Triad: The role of empathy and perspective taking in trait forgivingness. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 23–29.

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