Understanding the Pathology

Role-Reversal Relationship

A role-reversal relationship is one in which the child is used to meet the parent’s emotional and psychological needs.

In normal and healthy parent-child relationships, the child uses the parent to meet the child’s emotional and psychological needs.

In a normal and healthy parent-child relationship, the parent is said to act as a “regulatory object” for the child.

In a normal and healthy parent-child relationship, when the child becomes upset and distressed (dysregulated), the parent acts in soothing and structuring ways to bring the child back into an emotionally and behaviorally organized and regulated state.  The parent acts as a “regulatory object” – also called a “regulatory other” – for the child.

This is normal and healthy.  The child is using the parent to meet the child’s needs.  The parent is an external “regulatory other” for the child.

In a role-reversal relationship, however, this normal and healthy parent-child relationship is turned upside down.  In a role-reversal relationship, the parent uses the child to meet the parent’s emotional and psychological needs.

In a role-reversal relationship, the parent uses the child as a “regulatory object” to stabilize the parent’s emotional and psychological state.  When the parent is upset and distressed, the child responds in ways that soothe the parent, keeping the parent in an organized and regulated state.  The child becomes an external “regulatory object” for the parent.

A role-reversal relationship is extremely pathological and damaging to the healthy emotional and psychological development of the child.  It robs the child of self-authenticity and damages self-structure development.

Instead, in a role-reversal relationship, the child continually monitors the parent’s emotional and psychological state and must become who the unstable parent needs the child to be in order to keep the parent in an emotionally and psychologically organized and regulated state.

In clinical and developmental psychology, a role-reversal relationship is considered a psychological “boundary violation” that violates the child’s psychological integrity.  At its more extreme, a role-reversal relationship is essentially a form of psychological incest in which the parent psychologically violates and intrudes into the psychological integrity of the child so that the parent can meet the parent’s own emotional and psychological needs by using the child as a “regulatory object” for the parent’s fragile and damaged emotional and psychological state.

A role-reversal relationship is extremely pathological.

Inverted Family Hierarchy

In a healthy and normal-range family, parents occupy positions of executive leadership within the family hierarchy. 

Parents have more knowledge than children.  Parents have more experience than children.  Parents have better judgement than children.  Parents therefore healthy-hierarchyoccupy positions of executive leadership within the family.  That is a healthy family hierarchy.

In a healthy and normal-range family, children cooperate with the executive leadership provided by parents.  Children express wants and desires, but children also cooperatively defer to the executive leadership of parents.  This represents a healthy family hierarchy.

In a healthy family hierarchy, parents judge children’s behavior as appropriate or inappropriate, and parents deliver consequences (rewards and punishments) based on parental judgements of children’s behavior.  This reflects a normal and healthy family hierarchy.

An inverted family hierarchy, however, flips the normal and healthy family hierarchy upside down, so that children become empowered into positions of executive judgement OVER parents.

In an inverted hierarchy, children are empowered to judge parents’ behavior as appropriate or inappropriate, and children are empowered to then deliver inverted-hierarchy“punishments” to parents based on child-judgments of the parent.  The normal and healthy family hierarchy is flipped upside down.

An inverted hierarchy is caused by either of two possibilities:

1.)  Parental Abdication of Power:  The judged parent is not exercising appropriate parental authority and executive leadership and the parent has instead abdicated parental authority and position in the hierarchy to the child.

2.)  Cross-Generational Coalition:  The child is drawing power to judge a parent from a hidden cross-generational coalition in the family that the child has formed with an allied parent against the other parent.  Through the covert and hidden alliance with the supposedly “favored” parent, the allied parent is empowering the child in the family hierarchy to an elevated position above the other parent, in which the child feels “entitled” to judge the adequacy of the parent.

A cross-generational coalition represents a child being “triangulated” into the inter-spousal conflict by the allied (and supposedly “favored” parent), thereby turning a two-person (spouse-spouse) marital conflict into a three-person (spouse-child-spouse) triangulated conflict in which the child is caught in the middle of the spousal conflict, a pawn in the inter-spousal conflict.

In the general popular culture, the construct of “triangulation” is called “putting the child in the middle” of the spousal conflict – which generally involves one parent (the allied and supposedly “favored” parent) manipulating the child into “choosing sides” in the inter-spousal conflict.

The function of the cross-generational coalition is to allow the allied and supposedly “favored” parent to divert spousal anger at the other spouse throughcutoff the child.  The child is being used by the allied parent to meet the allied parent’s own emotional and psychological needs in the inter-spousal conflict with the other spouse.

The renowned family systems therapist, Jay Haley, refers to a cross-generational coalition as a “perverse triangle” because the formation of a cross-generational coalition represents a “boundary violation” involving a “role-reversal relationship” in which the parent is using the child to meet the parent’s emotional and psychological needs.

Empowering the Child

In the psychologically incestuous relationship of a parent’s “boundary violation” of the child’s psychological integrity, the parent first manipulates the child into a “perverse” cross-generational coalition, and then empowers the child in the family hierarchy, creating the inverted family hierarchy in which the child is empowered to judge the adequacy of the other parent.

The tell-tale signs of the “perverse triangle” of the cross-generational coalition by an emotionally needy parent using the child to meet the parent’s needs, are:

1.)  A role-reversal relationship in which the child is being “triangulated” into the inter-spousal conflict in order to allow one parent to divert this parent’s spousal anger toward the other spouse through the child.

2.)  An inverted family hierarchy in which the child is empowered into an elevated position in the family of judging the adequacy of a parent.

3.)  The empowerment of the child by the allied and supposedly “favored parent” who is using the child in the “perverse” cross-generational coalition to meet the parent’s emotional and psychological needs.

The psychologically incestuous relationship created by the “boundary violation” of the cross-generational coalition is typically offered in the refrain:

“We need to listen to the child.”

In a normal and healthy family, parents occupy positions of executive leadership.  Parents are responsible for their children’s behavior.  If the child is disrespectful to a teacher at school, the teacher sends a note home to the parent who punishes the child because the parent takes responsibility for not teaching the child appropriate social behavior.

In a normal and healthy family, parents take responsibility.  Parents are in the role of executive leadership, parents accept the role of executive leadership, and parents exercise the role of executive leadership within the family.

In the perverse relationship of the cross-generational coalition, the allied parent is psychologically manipulating and controlling the child to meet the parent’s own emotional and psychological needs.

In the perverse relationship of a cross-generational coalition, the allied parent abdicates the role of parental executive leadership, elevating the child into this parental role, while the allied parent denies normal-range parental responsiblity and alleges parental incompetence in altering the child’s behavior, typically in the refrain of:

“What can I do?  I can’t force the child to…”

Normal-range and healthy parents exercise parental executive leadership and do not abdicate parental leadership to the child. 

Normal and healthy parents are expected to show parental guidance and leadership to teach their children not to disrespect teachers at school, not to bully other children, and to develop appropriate responsibility for homework and chores around the house.  This is is not called “forcing the child” to be respectful, to not bully other children, to do homework and chores – this is called “parenting.”  Normal-range and expected parenting.

The abdication of “parental responsibility” by pleading selective parental incompetence is disingenuous – and ALL healthy and normal parents see this clearly – because we are normal and healthy parents.

The ONLY people who do not see this are people who do not understand parenting – who have their own agenda in working through their own childhood family relationship issues.  Every single normal and healthy parent understands the expected role of normal and healthy parental executive leadership in the family.

It is our job as parents to teach our children to be respectful, kind, and cooperative with authority.  This is not called “forcing our children” – this is called “parenting” our children.

Every normal and healthy parent understands this.

Boundary Violations

A role-reversal relationship, in which the child is being used to meet the parent’s emotional and psychological needs, represents a psychological boundary violation of the child’s psychological integrity – and a boundary violation of the child’s psychological integrity is a form of psychologically incestuous parent-child relationship.  That’s why Jay Haley refers to the cross-generational coalition as a “perverse triangle.”

The pathology of incest festers and is allowed to grow in the dark recesses of hidden secrecy within the family.  No one sees into the darkness of the family secret to identify the extremely pathological and repulsive parental pathology that is dominating and damaging the child’s psychological core-self integrity.

The treatment of incest begins with exposing it from its secrecy; exposing it from its hiding.  This is true for the reprehensible pathology of physical incest, and this is true for the reprehensible pathology of psychological incest, the “perverse” role-reversal relationship of the cross-generational coalition in which the parent violates the child’s core psychological integrity in order to use the child to meet the parent’s own emotional and psychological needs.

Trans-Generational Transmission of Trauma

The attachment-related pathology of AB-PA represents the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of the allied 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.

The current symptoms of a child rejecting a parent are the echo – a reflection from earlier times – of an attachment-related trauma that entered the inter-generational attachment system of the family a generation or two prior to its current manifestation in the “perverse” cross-generational coalition evidenced in “parental alienation.”

The pathology of “parental alienation” is a ripple of trauma from generations gone by, yet carrying the same trauma-themes of the original trauma experience a generation or two earlier – the role-reversal use of the child to meet the parent’s needs – the boundary violation – the betrayal and abuse of the child’s love for a parent.

Themes of childhood trauma echoing across the generations, twisted into the current themes of “listening to the child” and “forcing the child” to do things against the child’s will – that were once accurate, but are now simply twisted echos of the childhood trauma from generations ago.  An echo of inter-generational childhood trauma.

The trauma pathogen of damaged information structures that are locked into the inter-generational attachment networks seeks to remain hidden from view, so it can enact its vile malevolence – punish the parent – the parent deserves to be punished.

Echoes from the past, traveling across generations, damaging love and bonding.  Creating the pathology of the narcissistic and borderline personality, creating the pathology of “parental alienation” – lost bonds of love and affection.

The pathology of the cross-generational coalition seeks to remain a hidden family pathology – weaving a false story of the other parent’s supposed “badness” that justifies the child’s rejection.  A hidden psychological abuse of the child in a “perverse triangle.”

I see the pathogen.  I know what it is.  I’ve seen it before – when I worked in the foster care system.  Then, I looked into the abyss of the childhood trauma.  Now, I see its echo, a dark and malevolent echo of childhood trauma from generations past.

This type of trauma pathogen seeks to remain hidden.  It derives all of its malevolent power to inflict its terrible psychological damage onto the child by remaining a hidden family pathology – a family secret. 

No.  This stops.  It must remain hidden no more.  We are exposing it – so we can protect the current children from the “perverse” role-reversal relationship and psychological boundary violation of their manipulative use by parents to meet their parent’s own damaged emotional and psychological needs.

To the allies of the pathogen, to the flying monkeys who seek to prevent us from exposing this pathogen to the light – consider carefully what you are doing, because you’re furthering the echo transmission of a very malevolent and destructive child attachment pathogen.  Wake up.  You are NOT protecting children, you are collaborating in the continuing abuse of children in a ripple of childhood trauma across generations.  You are hearing the echo of trauma, and your own attachment trauma networks are responding in psychological resonance to the echo, thinking that the echo is real.  It’s not.  It is a ripple of trauma from generations past.

The source trauma that is creating the devastating family pathology of “parental alienation” – in which families are torn apart and loving parent-child relationships are destroyed – is from a generation or two earlier.  The current manifestation is not real, it is an echo of the earlier trauma.  It is time to heal the children.  It is time to heal the trauma that is traveling across time, embedded in the family’s inter-generational attachment networks, a trauma being passed across generations of love and bonding.

It is time to bring this nightmare family tragedy – this inter-generational nightmare – to an end.  The current manifestation of this inter-generational attachment trauma is a false story – a false drama.  An echo.

It is time to heal this inter-generational echo of trauma.  It is time return to the beautiful and wonderful children a normal and healthy childhood of loving and healthy attachment bonds to both parents.  It is time to heal.

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

Citations:

Haley, J. (1977). Toward a theory of pathological systems. In P. Watzlawick & J. Weakland (Eds.), The interactional view (pp. 31-48). New York: Norton.

“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.” (p. 37)

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

“The breakdown of appropriate generational boundaries between parents and children significantly increases the risk for emotional abuse.” (p. 6)

“In the throes of their own insecurity, troubled parents may rely on the child to meet the parent’s emotional needs, turning to the child to provide the parent with support, nurturance, or comforting (Zeanah & Klitzke, 1991). Ultimately, preoccupation with the parents’ needs threatens to interfere with the child’s ability to develop autonomy, initiative, self-reliance, and a secure internal working model of the self and others (Carlson & Sroufe, 1995; Leon & Rudy, this volume). (p. 6)

“When parent-child boundaries are violated, the implications for developmental psychopathology are significant (Cicchetti & Howes, 1991). Poor boundaries interfere with the child’s capacity to progress through development which, as Anna Freud (1965) suggested, is the defining feature of childhood psychopathology. (p. 7)

“A theme that appears to be central to the conceptualization of boundary dissolution is the failure to acknowledge the psychological distinctiveness of the child.” (p. 8)

“Examination of the theoretical and empirical literatures suggests that there are four distinguishable dimensions to the phenomenon of boundary dissolution: role reversal, intrusiveness, enmeshment, and spousification.” (p. 8)

“By binding the child in an overly close and dependent relationship, the enmeshed parent creates a psychological unhealthy childrearing environment that interferes with the child’s development of an autonomous self.” (p. 10)

“Barber (2002) defines psychological control as comprising ‘parental behaviors that are intrusive and manipulative of children’s thoughts, feelings, and attachments to parents, and are associated with disturbances in the boundaries between the child and the parent’ (p. 15) (see also Bradford & Barber, this issue).” (p. 12)

“As Ogden (1979) phrased it, ‘It is as if the parent says to the child, if you are not what I need you to be, you do not exist for me’ (p. 16).” (p. 12)

“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. (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. (p. 14)

“There is evidence for the intergenerational transmission of boundary dissolution within the family.  Adults who experienced boundary dissolution in their relationships with their own parents are more likely to violate boundaries with their children (Hazen, Jacobvitz, & McFarland, this volume; Shaffer & Sroufe, this volume).” (p. 22)

Shaffer, A., & Sroufe, L. A. (2005). The Developmental and adaptational implications of generational boundary dissolution: Findings from a prospective, longitudinal study. Journal of Emotional Abuse. 5(2/3), 67-84.

“Role reversals observed among children with disorganized attachment histories, which may include both controlling/punitive and caregiving behavior patterns, may be attempts at fear mastery and self-protection.” (p. 72)

“In this study the dissolution of generational boundaries was child-specific within the identified families.” (p. 75)

“A maternal history of sexual exploitation has emerged as a significant predictor of boundary dissolution at 42 months.” (p. 75)

“Mothers who tend to disregard generational boundaries in interacting with their children are not simply more “warm” than other mothers, but in fact show more conflict or hostility.” (p. 78)

“Parent-initiated boundary dissolution in early childhood instantiates a pattern of relationship disturbance in the child. Role reversal is apparent by early adolescence and the available data suggest links to psychopathology in later adolescence, particularly as a result of sexualized behavior observed at age 13.” (p. 80)

Beck, A.T., Freeman, A., Davis, D.D., & Associates (2004). Cognitive therapy of personality disorders. (2nd edition). New York: Guilford.

“Various studies have found that patients with BPD are characterized by disorganized attachment representations (Fonagy et al., 1996; Patrick et al, 1994).  Such attachment representations appear to be typical for persons with unresolved childhood traumas, especially when parental figures were involved, with direct, frightening behavior by the parent.  Disorganized attachment is considered to result from an unresolvable situation for the child when ‘the parent is at the same time the source of fright as well as the potential haven of safety’ (van IJzendoorn, Schuengel, & Bakermans-Kranburg, 1999, p. 226).” (p. 191)

Bring Me a Goat

I love science.  My wife takes a bestseller novel to the beach to read, I take a book on quantum physics.  I love science.

And in my professional practice I’ve always been an old-school conservative psychologist.  Show me the data.  Scientifically grounded practice. 

And my background in early childhood mental health has grounded me in the neuro-development of the brain – Bowlby; Stern; Tronic; Shore; Fonagy (Fonagy’s work on parental “mentalizing” of the child’s psychological state is wonderful).

I love science, and I love scientifically grounded professional practice.  There is a beauty and elegance to scientifically grounded practice.

When I was supervising interns and post-doctoral fellows as a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and again when I was supervising interns and post-docs as the Clinical Director for an early childhood assessment and treatment center, I would always hold my trainee’s feet to the fire on diagnosis and treatment planning.  Justify your diagnosis.  Show me how this child meets the criteria for your diagnosis.   Tell me what your 3-month, 6-month, 9-month treatment plan is going to be for this child and family.  Justify how your treatment plan is going to solve your diagnosis.

I’m an old-school conservative clinical psychologist.

That’s one of the reasons I absolutely shudder at the Gardnerian model of PAS.  It’s bad.  Really, really bad.  If an intern had brought that “new syndrome” proposal to me, I’d have been pretty harsh. 

You can look through all of my writings about the pathology of “parental alienation” (and I’m certain the pathogen’s allies have already done that — which, as an aside, is actually kind of nice when you think about it; that they are so interested in my work – for odd reasons, but nevertheless…) and you will not find a single time when I ever advocated for adopting a Gardnerian PAS derivative model of the pathology.  From the very earliest days of my investigation into this attachment-related pathology, I have always grounded my approach in the established scientific literature (DSM-IV TR Diagnosis; Attachment Foundations: Regulatory Systems; The Regulatory Other).  Not once have I ever advocated for the adoption of a Gardnerian PAS derivative model for the pathology.

I am a conservative old-school psychologist who believes we should ground our professional practice in the latest scientific evidence.  If an intern or post-doc fellow had brought me a Gardnerian PAS proposal for a diagnosis, I would have provided a stern rebuke:

Dr. Childress:  Okay, see here where you say, “absence of ambivalence”?  That’s called “splitting” pathology.  Splitting suggests narcissistic and borderline personality traits.  So I want you to go back to this family and collect additional information about the potential presence of narcissistic and borderline personality features in a parent.  Look specifically for the allied and supposedly “favored” parent demonizing the targeted parent as all-bad.  If you find the splitting pathology, look for the surrounding personality traits of either a narcissistic personality organization or a borderline personality organization.  In particular, look for the parent using the child as a “regulatory object” for the parent’s emotional and psychological state. We can talk more about the child as a “regulatory object” for the parent next time if you identify personality pathology with the parent.

Dr. Childress:  And here, where you note the absence of guilt and remorse, that’s an absence of empathy, a primary feature of a narcissistic personality.  Go back and assess whether the allied parent – the supposedly “favored” parent – also evidences this same absence of empathy.  If the allied parent in this case happens to be a more borderline personality style mother (or father), assess for projective identification and the diffusion of psychological boundaries between the parent’s experience and the child’s.  If the allied parent in this case is a more narcissistic-style father (or mother), assess for a grandiose style haughty and arrogant judgement regarding the fundamental inadequacy of the other parent (the other spouse) – and probe for the diffusion of these inadequacy judgements regarding the other parent as actually having their origin in beliefs about the “spousal worth” of the targeted parent.

Dr. Childress:  And see this, where you’re proposing that the primary symptom of this supposedly “new syndrome” is an unwarranted child rejection of a parent?  Well, a child’s rejection of a parent involves the child’s attachment system – the neurological brain system that governs all aspects of love and bonding throughout the lifespan, including grief and loss.  The loss of an attachment bond will always – 100% of the time – produce a grief response.  So go back and do an analysis of this family from an attachment perspective.  For one thing, identify where the child’s grief response is at the loss of the attachment bond to targeted-rejected parent.  How is the child manifesting this grief response?  Work that out, and then we’ll talk some more.  Also, assess whether the allied parent is expressing unwarranted and excessive anxiety about the parenting ability of the other parent; is the allied parent obsessively fixated on “protecting” the child when there is actually no risk to the child?  Parental signals of anxiety surrounding the parenting practices of the other parent will act to define the other parent as representing the “predator threat” relative to the child’s attachment system.  So excessive signals of parental anxiety and “protection” could account for the termination of the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward the targeted parent, who is being defined to the child’s attachment networks by the anxiety of the allied parent as representing the “predator threat.”  Parental signals of anxiety will also motivate the child through the attachment networks to remain in continual close “protective proximity” to the supposedly “protective parent,” and not to separate from this “protective parent” who is giving off anxiety signals.

Dr. Childress:  And what’s this crazy “independent thinker” symptom.  Everyone always believes that their feelings are authentic to them.  That’s true 100% of the time in every diagnosis; depression, oppositional defiant disorder, child abuse trauma.  You can’t just go around discounting and invalidating people’s opinions and experiences.  What I think you’re trying to get at is that the child may be misattributing the cause of the child’s authentic self-experience to an incorrect causal source.  The child may authentically feel sad and hurt surrounding the targeted parent, but under the distorting influence of the allied parent the child is misattributing this experience of sadness to something bad that the targeted parent is “doing” – after all, when people do bad things to us, it hurts.  Whereas in actual truth, the origins of the child’s sadness may be a misunderstood and misinterpreted authentic grief response that the child is having to loss – first to the loss of the intact family that occurred with the divorce, and then amplified exponentially when the child began rejecting  a relationship with the beloved-but-now-rejected targeted parent; the child’s authentic sadness and hurt triggered by the presence of the targeted parent is actually grief surrounding the loss of the beloved-but-now-rejected targeted parent.  But this “independent thinker” symptom, that’s just not allowed.  You cannot simply invalidate the authenticity of someone’s self-experience like that.

Dr. Childress: So don’t bring me a “new syndrome” diagnosis.  Go back and do the work.

Child Custody Time-Share

I am an old-school conservative psychologist.  I love science.  I love scientifically based decision-making.  Professional practice needs to be based in science, not strange constructs that are simply made up out of thin air.  When psychologists start to move away from the solid bedrock of science and the surrounding theoretical literature, we open the door for introducing our own personal biases and our own personal histories into our decision-making. 

We may have had a bad relationship with our own mother growing up, so we unconsciously side with the father and child against the mother in our assessment and interpretation of the data.  Or maybe we had a childhood history of our father being cruel to and mistreating our mother, so we feel a natural affinity to protect the mother and child when we are presented with this narrative in the assessment.  In professional psychology, introducing our unconscious bias from our own history into our work is called “counter-transference” – and recognizing the potential for our own counter-transference in psychological work is as old as Sigmund Freud.

Since we are all formed in the context of families, the dangers of professional bias due to counter-transference is so intensely present in psychological work with families that we need to remain scrupulously grounded in the scientifically established literature for our assessment and interpretation of data.  The more subjective we become in our interpretations of family-related data, the more the danger increases that our own counter-transference issues will unconsciously creep into our work – and we will not realize it – because our own counter-transference issues are always unconscious to us in their hidden influence on our perceptions and interpretations.

As professional psychologists, we need to remain entirely grounded in the scientific research and surrounding theoretical literature.

As a clinical child and family psychologist who’s worked with oppositional defiant disorder across the various developmental periods of childhood – from infancy to teenagers – and with ADHD and other regulatory disorders, with autism-spectrum disorders, and with abuse and attachment-trauma disorders in childhood, of all types; sexual abuse trauma, physical abuse trauma, neglect trauma, including foster care placement and issues surrounding prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, I am exceedingly familiar with the research and theoretical literature surrounding parenting; normal-range and healthy parenting, parenting and the development of child pathology, and parenting’s involvement in the neuro-development of the child’s various brain systems, including self-structure systems and emotional-behavioral regulatory systems.  I know the scientific research and surrounding theoretical literature on parenting.

So let me be entirely clear on this:

With the exception of child abuse…

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – zero – in the scientific research and the surrounding theoretical literature that would allow us to determine the relative outcomes of various parenting time-share schedules following divorce.

In the absence of child abuse, there is absolutely nothing – nothing – in the scientific research and surrounding theoretical literature that would allow us to determine the relative benefits in any given situation regarding the future benefits to the child from a 60-40% custody time-share, or a 70-30% custody time-share, or an 80-20% custody time-share, or a 90-10% custody time, or a 50-50% custody time-share following divorce.

In the absence of child abuse, whenever professional psychology is asked to render an opinion regarding the relative benefits of various custody time-share schedules in any particular family following divorce, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – in the scientific research and surrounding theoretical literature that would allow us to render an opinion on this question.  Nothing.

Am I clear enough.

So any opinion rendered by any mental health professional regarding the relative benefits of differing custody time-share schedules in any specific circumstance is EXTREMELY vulnerable to the personal biases of this specific mental health professional – because there is NOTHING in the scientific research or surrounding theoretical literature that would justify a professional opinion.

Child Custody Evaluations

In my consultation on legal cases I have read countless child custody evaluations. I love science.  I love scientifically based decision-making.  So let me be equally clear on this point…

The practice of child custody evaluations is essentially voodoo assessment.  There is no – absolutely no – scientifically established foundation for the conclusions and recommendations offered by child custody evaluations.  They are little more than performing “magical” rituals under the cover of “professional procedures” (the data collection procedures), the recitation of “magical incantations” of professional-sounding words in writing a report, and “reading the entrails of a goat” in prognosticating the supposed future “best interests” of the child based on completely arbitrary criteria with no foundation in the scientific research or surrounding theoretical literature..

Furthermore,…

There is absolutely zero established reliability (inter-rater reliability) or scientifically established validity to the conclusions and recommendations offered by child custody evaluations.  Zero.   Each child custody evaluator makes up their own interpretations and conclusions – and two different custody evaluators can reach two entirely different interpretations and two entirely different sets of conclusions and recommendations from exactly the same data (a professional construct of assessment called “inter-rater reliability”).

The conclusions of child custody evaluations simply represent the personal bias of a single evaluator, who is simply a person with a full bevy of personal counter-transference biases, who happens to also have a degree in psychology that allows him or her to perform the “magical ritual” of a child custody evaluation – reciting the incantations – and reading the entrails of a goat.

Given the complete absence of scientifically established validity for the practice of child custody evaluations, I am astonished that they are allowed as evidence in court.  Okay… that’s one person’s opinion.  What’s Joe the barber’s opinion.  Since there is no scientific research or surrounding professional theoretical literature on which the custody evaluator is basing his or her opinion, Joe the barber’s opinion is just as valid.

Since the custody evaluator’s opinion is just this one person’s opinion – shouldn’t we get a second opinion?  Not on whether the “proper procedures” were followed (did the custody evaluator “rattle the proper beads” and “recite the proper incantations”), but on the evaluator’s INTERPRETATION of the data, which is where the inherent unconscious bias of counter-transference enters.  Shouldn’t we have a second, balancing opinion on the INTERPRETATION of the data?

The first evaluator has mommy-issues from his or her past that unconsiously bias this evalutor’s interpretation of the data, the second opinion might have daddy-issues that unconsciously bias this intepretation.  But at least we get both perspectives before the court. Otherwise, the court only gets one, biased interpretation that is simply the luck-of-the-draw regarding the initial assignment of the custody evaluator.

Does any mental health professional disagree?  There is a Comment section to this post.  Cite for me a single research study that demonstrates the inter-rater reliability for the conclusions and recommendations offered by child custody evaluations… a single study… I’m waiting…  <crickets>

Not one.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zero.  There is no scientifically established inter-rater reliability to the conclusions and recommendations offered by child custody evaluations.  Might as well have a monkey throwing darts at a dartboard.  Luck of the draw regarding the personal biases of the custody evaluator.

Standardization of data collection is NOT the issue.  The inherent counter-transference bias enters in the INTERPRETATION of the data – not in the collection of the data.  Standardizing the collection of the data does NOT affect the bias in the INTERPRETATION of the data.

A foundational principle of assessment – absolutely foundational – is that an assessment procedure CANNOT be valid (provide true and accurate information) if it is NOT reliable.

This is an absolutely bedrock foundational principle of professional assessment.

Again, I challenge any mental health professional to cite for me a single research study demonstrating the inter-rater reliability of the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations.

This doesn’t mean that custody evaluators are bad people.  They’re good people who authentically want to be helpful.  It just means that they are inherently biased by their own family of origin histories.  And their inherent bias is entirely unconscious.  They can’t help themselves.  None of us can.  That’s why basing our professional practices in scientifically established research and the surrounding theoretical literature is so crucially important.

And there is nothing – absolutely nothing – zero – nothing – in the scientific research and the surrounding theoretical literature that would allow us to determine the relative outcomes of various parenting time-share schedules following divorce.

Scientifically Based Practice

Honestly, I feel like I’m living in the middle ages regarding our approach to child custody decisions.  When it comes to child custody, it’s like professional psychology is putting on bizarre bird-like masks and calling for the leeches, “Bring me the leeches, we need to bleed the child to balance the child’s humours.”

Please, if there is any psychologist who disagrees, please… there is a Comment section to this blog post.  Provide a single citation to research that demonstrates the inter-rater reliability of the conclusions and recommendations offered by child custody evaluations.  <crickets>  Nothing.

Or if you disagree, provide me with a single citation – just one – to the scientific research or surrounding theoretical literature that would allow us to make a determination regarding the relevant future benefits for the child from differing custody time-share schedules in any given situation – by what scientifically established criteria would a 70-30% custody time-share be better for the child than a 60-40% custody time-share in any specific situation.  <crickets>

Or bring me a goat.

50-50 Custody Timeshare

I love science.  I’m a scientifically grounded guy.  I believe we should make scientifically supported and scientifically grounded decisions.

So, once again, let me be abundantly clear regarding the scientific foundation for custody-related decisions…

In the absence of a scientifically supported justification (provide the citation) for a professional opinion regarding the relative benefits of a 60-40% custody time-share, or a 70-30% custody time-share, or an 80-20% custody time-share, or a 90-10% custody time, or a 50-50% custody time-share following divorce. …

The ONLY professionally responsible opinion is that children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents…

And – with the exception of child abuse – the ONLY scientifically and theoretically supported professionally responsible opinion regarding custody time-share following divorce should be for a 50-50% custody time-share schedule.

That is the ONLY opinion supported by the scientific evidence and surrounding theoretical literature.

The child’s parents can agree to a different time-share arrangement. That’s fine.  That is within their parental rights and prerogatives.  If the parents agree to a different schedule, fine by me.  But the only professionally responsible opinion would be based on the foundational premise that children benefit from a complex relationship with both parents – leading to a professional recommendation of a 50-50% custody time-share in all cases except child abuse.

“But Dr. Childress, sometimes it is clearly obvious that one parent is a better parent.”

Fine.  Cite for me the scientific research and theoretical literature that serves as your foundational criteria for “better parent” – develop your assessment protocol for this criteria – conduct the psychometric research to establish inter-rater reliability and validity for your assessment procedure – and we’ll be good to go.  Scientific foundation.

Yay.

Otherwise, you’re simply reading the entrails of a goat.

In the absence of this scientifically or theoretically grounded decision-making – the ONLY professionally responsible opinion regarding custody time-share following divorce should be for a 50-50% custody time-share schedule (with the exception of child abuse).

“What about when there is a history of domestic violence?”

Now we’re talking about the issue of child abuse (hostile-aggressive dangerous parenting).

“What about the manipulative pathology of a narcissistic or borderline personality parent following divorce.”

Now we’re talking about the issue of child abuse (psychological abuse).

“What about chronic parental alcoholism or substance abuse?”

Now we’re talking about the issue of child abuse (neglect).

If you document for me the current risk of child abuse, I’m with you 100%.

But in the absence of child abuse, there is no scientifically or theoretically supported criteria by which we can render a professionally responsible opinion regarding the relative future benefits to the child afforded by a 60-40% custody time-share schedule as compared to a 70-30% custody time-share schedule, as compared to an 80-20% custody time-share schedule, as compared to a 90-10% custody time-share schedule, as compared to a 50-50% time-share schedule.

Or bring me a goat.

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

The Pathogen is Afraid of Us

The pathogen sees Dorcy and me.  And it is afraid.

Expect to see the attacks on Dorcy and me increase in intensity, and notice something about these attacks – they won’t be attacks on the substance of AB-PA. The attacks will be personal attacks seeking to damage our credibility.

There’s a reason for this.  The substance of AB-PA is true.

AB-PA is an accurate description of the pathology.  The pathogen cannot attack the substance of AB-PA.  Its only hope is to attack Dorcy and me personally.

Attack 1: Linking AB-PA to PAS

The first thing the pathogen will try to do is try to link AB-PA to Gardnerian PAS, and then it will use the same tried-and-true attacks that were used against Gardnerian PAS.

But this line of attack will fail.

AB-PA is not Gardnerian PAS.  Gardner proposed a “new form of pathology” unique in all of mental health, identifiable by a unique new set of symptoms that Gardner simply made up uniquely for this supposedly “new form of pathology.”

AB-PA, on the other hand, does not propose a “new form of pathology.”  AB-PA is defined entirely through established psychological constructs and principles.  AB-PA is not a “new theory” – AB-PA is diagnosis.

Diagnosis is the application of standard and established psychological constructs and principles to a set of symptoms.

AB-PA and Gardnerian PAS are entirely different models of pathology. Anyone who claims they are the same is simply nuts.  I mean that.  They are delusional (out of touch with reality). 

I would also note in this regard that diagnostic indicator 3 of AB-PA is an encapsulated persecutory delusion.  This pathology is delusional.  We can expect to see delusional allegations emerging from the flying monkey allies of the pathogen – delusion: a fixed and false belief that is maintained despite contrary evidence.

AB-PA is NOT a “new theory” – AB-PA is diagnosis. The application of standard and established constructs and principles to a set of symptoms.  Diagnosis.

Attack 2: Returning Children to Abusive Parents

The second line of attack that the pathogen will level against Dorcy and me is that we are returning children to abusive parents – again, this is the same line of attack the pathogen used with Gardnerian PAS.

This line of attack will also fail.

First off, with regard to Dorcy, she does not diagnose.  Nor does she issue the court order for a protective separation.  So this line of attack is completely irrelevant to Dorcy.  But this pathology is delusional.  Truth and reality are not relevant to this pathology.

Every single targeted parent understands the pathogen’s use of wildly untrue false allegations.

The blatant falsehood of this line of attack relative to Dorcy is irelevant to pathogen – because the pathogen’s delusional.  Actual truth and actual reality are of no concern to the pathogen (and there is a reason for this).

In truth:  A mental health professional makes a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse regarding the parenting practices of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

In truth:  The judge who hears the evidence in the case is the one who makes the order for a protective separation because of the confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis made by a mental health professional of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse.

Dorcy has nothing to do with this.  Dorcy does not make the diagnosis. Dorcy does not issue the court order.  Yet truth and reality are not relevant to the pathogen.  The only thing that is relevant to the pathogen is to stop Dorcy from restoring the normal-range functioning of these children’s attachment systems.

Yet listen for it – the line of attack by the pathogen will be that Dorcy returns children to an abusive parent, entirely disregarding the role of the mental health professional and the confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse made by the mental health professional AND the role of the judge in listening to the evidence in the case and issuing a court order – by the judge – based on the evidence presented in court.

This attack by the pathogen will also fail.

But the pathogen will not stop at Dorcy in this line of attack.  It will attack me personally as well, claiming that I am in favor of returning children to abusive parents.  And listen for this line of argument offered by the pathogen:  The reason I’m supposedly in favor of returning children to an abusive parent is because I endorse the High Road workshop of Dorcy Pruter for resolving the child’s attachment-related pathology of disordered mourning surrounding high-conflict divorce.

But wait, didn’t we just establish that it’s not Dorcy who makes any sort of diagnosis – it’s the involved mental health professional who makes the diagnosis?  And just to be clear, in the vast majority of these cases I’m not the involved mental health professional making the diagnosis.

And didn’t we just establish that it’s not Dorcy who issues the court orders for the protective separation from the psychologically abusive parent; it’s the judge. 

So what kind of convoluted and twisty line of reasoning is that?  Dorcy’s not responsible for the making the diagnosis and she is not responsible for issuing the court orders, but she’s somehow responsible for supposedly returning children to abusive parents… and I’m supposedly responsible for returning children to abusive parents because I say – correctly – that Dorcy’s workshop protocol will restore the normal-range functioning of children’s attachment systems.

With the pathogen, logic and reasoning swirl in confusion and inflammatory false allegations.  Truth and reality are irrelevant.

Notice that the pathogen won’t attack the mental health diagnosis.  Instead, it makes a false inflammatory allegation that Dr. Childress seeks to return children to an abusive parent – which, by the way, is exactly the same line of attack the pathogen used against Gardner and Gardnerian PAS.

Why These Attacks

The pathogen is simply trotting out it’s Gardnerian attacks and applying them to AB-PA, whether they are relevant or not.  Why?

Because the pathogen is stupid. 

The pathogen is incredibly dangerous.  The pathogen is incredibly manipulative.  But it is also stupid as sin.

The pathogen is comprised of a specific set of damaged information structures in the attachment system, and it has particular structures that shut down functioning in certain areas of the frontal lobe executive function system having to do with reasoning.  The brain infected by the pathogen (by this specific constellation of damaged information structures in the attachment system) can’t reason.

The pathogen shuts down brain systems associated with rational thought and reasoning – hence the delusional component of the pathology.  Truth and reality become malleable constructs in a brain infected with the pathogen (a specific trauma-created constellation of damaged information structures in the attachment system).

Instead, the pathogen attacks.  It hurls out a barrage of wild attacks, irrespective of reason or truth.  Then, whichever attack seems to stick, the pathogen will increase its focus on that line of attack.   That’s the “strategy” of the pathogen.  Wild attacks, place the other person on the defensive, and follow up with whatever line of attack seems to be productive.

I know this pathogen better than anyone on this planet.  I know exactly what it is.  I know its structure.  I see it.  And AB-PA is going expose it from behind its veil of concealment.

And then Dorcy is going to extract the pathogen of “disordered mourning” from the attachment system of the child, restoring the child’s attachment system to healthy normal-range functioning.  Once the High Road protocol extracts the pathogen from the child’s attachment networks (reorients a specific constellation of damaged information structures in the attachment system), then a capable and competent mental health professional will help stabilize the normal-range functioning of the child’s recovered attachment system.

Ta-da.  Solution.

The Pathogen is Afraid of Us

The pathogen sees Dorcy and me now.  It sees the threat we pose to it.  Watch, the attacks against Dorcy and me will begin to escalate – but they will be personal attacks not attacks on substance, because the pathogen can’t reason.

Nowhere in any of these attacks will the critique be directed toward the substance of AB-PA.  Notice that.  That will be very telling for identifying the allies of the pathogen who are seeking to maintain the pathogen’s hold on the child to meet their own needs.

I am totally okay, and indeed welcome, a substantive discussion of the foundations of the AB-PA model.

But that’s not the attack that will come from the pathogen.  The pathogen will ignore the substance of AB-PA (because the pathogen has shut down the reasoning systems of the brain), and instead the pathogen will:

1.)  Try to link AB-PA to Gardnerian PAS, and then trot out the same tired arguments it used to disable the threat posed by Gardnerian PAS (“new theory” – “peer-reviewed research” – “returning children to an abusive parent”)

That’s why I addressed each of these irrelevant lines of attack in the Flying Monkey Newsletters up on my website.  When these attacks come – these irrelevant Gardnerian-based attacks on AB-PA – I can simply refer to the edition of the Flying Monkey Newsletter that addresses that particular irrelevant attack.

2.)  Personal attacks.  With Dorcy, the attack will be that she doesn’t have a college degree and that she seeks to return children to abusive parents .  With me it will be that I am unethical and seek to return children to an abusive parent because I support Dorcy.

In these non-substantive personal attacks against Dorcy and me, listen for the splitting pathology of demonization in these attacks.  According to the pathogen, Dorcy and I are evil incarnate.  Listen for the demonization inherent to splitting pathology.

The pathogen is incredibly dangerous.  It will seek to destroy Dorcy and me, both professionally and personally.

The pathogen is incredibly manipulative.  It will trot out an array of flying monkey allies who will levy attacks of profound maliciousness.  But let me issue a cautionary word of warning to these flying monkey allies – there are libel laws.

Libel: A published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation.

What you won’t hear from the allies of the pathogen are attacks based in the substance of AB-PA, because the pathogen is stupid as sin.  The pathogen’s structure shuts off cognitive reasoning systems of the brain. 

It is defenseless against AB-PA.

The three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA can identify the presence of the pathogen in the child’s attachment networks 100% of the time.

The three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA can differentiate this form of attachment-related pathology (disordered mourning) from all other forms of child pathology 100% of the time, including childhood trauma exposure and including authentic parent-child conflict caused by problematic parenting of the targeted parent.

The presence of the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA leads directly to a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

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 is a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

What will be happening more and more is that mental health professionals will begin using the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting and the Parenting Practices Rating Scale in their assessment of attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce.  And when the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA are present, these mental health professionals will make a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

We will have identified the pathogen.  Gotcha.

Then we begin the process of extracting the pathogen (the set of damaged information structures in the child’s attachment networks) that is creating the attachment-related pathology of pathological mourning:

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

“Disturbances of personality, which include a bias to respond to loss with disordered mourning, are seen as the outcome of one or more deviations in development that can originate or grow worse during any of the years of infancy, childhood and adolescence.” (Bowlby, 1980, p. 217)

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

The pathogen now sees Dorcy and me.  Dorcy and I represent a threat.  The pathogen is deathly afraid of us – and it should be. 

We’re coming for it.  We see it, we know what it is, and we are going to stop it from distorting children’s love for their authentically beloved parent into abhorrent symptoms of malicious hatred and rejection.  No more.  The nightmare tragedy of “parental alienation” stops.

Pathogenic parenting is not a child custody issue.  It is a child protection issue.

Children have the right to love both parents, and to receive the love of both parents in return.

The battle for you children is now.

Dorcy and I will stand squarely in the center of the battlefield, with firm resolve and unwavering commitment to your children, we will refute the false allegations and the slander hurled at us by the pathogen’s allies that is designed to destroy us personally in order to prevent our efforts to restore your children to you.  We are fighting for your authentic children and we will not give an inch of ground to the allies of the pathogen that seek to keep your beloved children from you.

You, the targeted parents, must continue moving forward as Dorcy and I hold the center of the battlefield.  Contact the APA (Arise).  Contact your state legislators (Arise).  Hold mental health professionals accountable for standards of professional competence (AB-PA Has Teeth).

The battle to recover your children is now, come together for each other.  You are all in this together.  We cannot solve this horrific pathology in any one case until we solve it for all families and all children.  Come together, work for each other, and become an unstoppable force for change.

AB-PA is your weapon.  AB-PA exposes the pathogen from its hiding.  Through the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA we can return your children to you.

The pathology of “parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue.

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

Arise

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the amazing work of two parents, Howie Dennison and Susan Remus, for their work in fighting for children.

APA Advocacy

Howie is one among a group of capable advocate-parents who are leading the fight to have the pathology of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) acknowledged and addressed by the American Psychological Association.  This includes advocating with the APA for a change in their position statement on “parental alienation” (Position Statement on PAS), and for the APA to convene a high-level conference of experts in attachment theory, personality disorder pathology, family systems therapy, and childhood trauma, leading to a white paper on the issue of attachment-related pathology surrounding high-conflict divorce (“parental alienation”).

Howie has written a professionally well-referenced e-book that accurately chastises the American Psychological Association for not formally recognizing the pathology of “parental alienation.

The APA and the Mental Health Child Abuse Scandal:
Mental Health is Commonly Complicit in Child Abuse
The American Psychological Association (APA) Should Revise Its Policy

Remaining silent regarding child abuse is complicity in the abuse.

I found Howie’s work to be a well-reasoned and scathing critique of the APA’s complicity in the psychological abuse of children.  If “parental alienation” is recognized as a form of psychological child abuse – and Howie’s e-book highlights the many ways the APA and professional mental health has already acknowledged this to be true – then remaining silent on protecting children is complicity in the abuse of children.

I asked Howie to provide me with a statement regarding his advocacy efforts.

From Howie Dennison:

“Asking for changes from psychological organizations is critical.

The only reason why we suffered under the horrible APA parental alienation policy for the last 20 years is because we erased parents never hunted down the people at the APA in charge of the policy and asked for a change.

According to unofficial communication from the APA, they say they are now in the process of organizing a working group to examine it.  Please continue to reach out to the APA and the psychological organizations in your country/state/province and ask for greater awareness.  Friend me on Facebook if you want more information on where to write and what to write, and then PM me after I accept your request.”

Howie is not alone in this advocacy effort with the APA.  There is a collaborative team of amazing, focused, and intelligent parent-advocates who are making a difference.  Join them.  They need your voice with the APA.  It is time to bring the nightmare of “parental alienation” to an end.

Children have the right to love both parents, and children have the right to receive the love of both parents in return. 

The pathology of “parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue.

It is long past overdue for the APA to formally acknowledge that:

1.)  The family pathology of “parental alienation” exists, using whatever terminology the APA wants; cross-generational coalition, trauma reenactment pathology, “parental alienation” – whatever – just acknowledge it exists; and

2.)  To designate the children and families experiencing this attachment-related family pathology as representing a “special population” requiring specialized professional knowledge and expertise in the attachment system, personality disorder pathology, and family systems therapy to competently assess, diagnose, and treat.

Howie offers recommendations for targeted parents regarding media contact and he has compiled a list of APA contact information on a Facebook post:

            APA Contact Information

I would urge targeted parents to join with Howie and the team of collaborative parents working to change the APA response to the pathology of “parental alienation.” 

The APA cares – they really do.  They just don’t like the Gardnerian PAS model.  AB-PA offers them an alternative.  AB-PA meets the APA’s criteria for defining a pathology entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.

The time is now.  The battle is now.  Join us on the battlefield.  You are not alone in this fight.

Florida Child Abuse Reporting Laws

Susan Remus has been doing some amazing political advocacy work in Florida to amend Florida’s child abuse reporting laws to:

1.)  Include specific instruction that child psychological abuse as diagnosed by a mental health professional (a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse) is reportable to child protective services under mandated reporting laws; and

2.)  That includes statutory reference to “pathogenic parenting” (producing severe psychopathology in the child through aberrant and distorted parenting practices) as representing a form of child psychological abuse.

Susan has succeeded in her efforts to have legislation written and sponsored for upcoming introduction into the Florida state legislature.  Yay, Susie!  An amazing achievement and a profound advancement in our fight to protect children – everyone’s children – from the deeply damaging psychological child abuse of “parental alienation.”

Susan consulted with me on the wording of the legislative amendment:

Legislative Proposal for Amending Child Abuse Reporting Laws

And at Susan’s request, I am currently in the process of sending the involved state representatives and state senators copies of my books, Foundations and The Narcissistic Parent along with a cover letter:

            Cover Letter to State Legislators

Life experience has taught me never to count chickens before they hatch, so I am abundantly cautious… but the legislative bill has been written and I am being assured by Susan that it is going to be submitted.

If  – WHEN – this legislation is submitted, Susan has invited me to come to Florida to attend the formal introduction of this important child protection legislation, and I would be delighted to be there (looking at the egg and hoping all goes well in its hatching).

The efforts of Susan in this regard are truly remarkable – but not extraordinary.  You can do exactly the same thing with your state representative – in Illinois, in Texas, in New York, in South Carolina, in…  Your legislators work for you.

I asked Susan if she’d like to provide a brief statement on legislative advocacy.

From Susan Remus:

“One day I was getting off the bus and happened upon my state senator’s office.  Before I knew it, I was in front of her sharing my story and talking about the devastation of parental alienation.

I have found informing legislators is effortless, and I use my sorrow in a useful way by telling them what they need to do.  Although my heart breaks, it also cares for the people who, if I did nothing, would go through the same thing all of us are.  I believe there is a future for our families, and by educating our legislators I know I am laying the foundation for helping my children and grandchildren.

Basically what I do is lobby or “schmooze.”  When a person says yes, I keep moving forward.  When another says no, the “no” gets the Amway treatment; “NEXT!”  

Last Friday my representative filed our bill to go into its first draft.”

Send a short and focused letter to your representative – if you get a positive response, you’ll be passed on to an aide.  Work with the aide.  Come together into a working group with other parents in your state, each pinging your own and each others’ representatives.

Having legislation introduced that amends child abuse reporting laws to specifically reference child psychological abuse would send a clear and distinct message to all mental health professionals – who are mandated child abuse reporters – that they should begin to assess for and diagnose the DSM-5 disorder of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse.

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 is a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

Failure to properly assess for the attachment-related pathology of pathogenic parenting in ALL cases evidencing suppression of the child’s normal-range attachment bonding motivations toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent surrounding divorce (“pathological mourning”) likely represents a violation of Standard 9.01a of the APA ethics code that requires psychologists to base their diagnostic statements and forensic testimony on “information and techniques sufficient to substantiate their findings,” and likely represents a violation of the mental health professional’s “duty to protect.”

Legislation to amend child abuse reporting laws to specifically reference child psychological abuse as being reportable under State statutes represents a clear message to all mental health professionals regarding their professional obligations to protect all children from psychological child abuse.

Well Done

And so to Howie Dennison (and his collaborators), and to Susan Remus I say, well done.

Join them.  You have more power than you know.

Through Foundations, the AB-PA model provides you with the solid bedrock of established psychological principles and constructs on which to stand in advocating for your children.  Foundations is your weapon in your fight for your children, and you are the warriors fighting for your authentic children – all of your children.  Join together and become an unstoppable force for change.

Let the APA hear from you about your heartbreak and suffering.  Let the APA hear your voice, asking them for their help to end this family nightmare. 

Let your legislators hear your pleas to protect your beloved children from the cruel and distorting pathogenic parenting of your ex-spouse.

We will be relentless in fighting for your children – ALL of your children.  We will not stop until all of your beloved and authentic children – of all ages – even your now adult kids – are back in your arms.

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

(And grandparents, I hear you too.  First things first.)

AB-PA Has Teeth

In a comment to my recent Facebook post regarding Moving Forward, a targeted parent lamented that mental health professionals refuse to assess for the attachment-related pathology of AB-PA.  In this lamentation, the parent alleged that AB-PA has “no teeth” to compel professional competence.

I thought my response to this parent may be more broadly of interest, so I am making it as a blog post.


AB-PA most definitely has teeth.

Accountability

The reason I spent nearly seven years researching and developing a description of the pathology from entirely within standard and established psychological constructs and principles is so that ALL mental health professionals can now be held accountable.  The rampant professional incompetence that has been allowed to flourish unchecked for 30 years by the Gardnerian model of PAS  – MUST END.

The APA ethics code requires professional competence (Standard 2.01a.).  Mental health professions are not allowed to be incompetent.

Professional Competence

But in order to activate Standard 2.01a of the APA ethics code, the pathology must be defined entirely through standard and established constructs and principles to which all mental health professionals can be held accountable.

So that’s what I set about doing, precisely to hold mental health professionals accountable.  With the publication of Foundations in which I define the pathology – in detail – entirely from within standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology, the seeds of accountability were planted.  All it requires to actualize the solution is for these seeds of accountability to grow into the tree of change.

The tree is growing.

Professional-to-Professional Consultation

I recently provided consultation to an attorney, and then at the request of the attorney I provided professional-to-professional consultation to the psychologist who was treating the family.

The treating psychologist entirely understood the nature of the pathology.  After our professional-to-professional consultation, this psychologist indicated that he was going to formally diagnose the family pathology as V995.51, Child Psychological Abuse, and he would then file a suspected child abuse report with child protective services to discharge his “duty to protect.”

A few weeks later, I was contacted by the attorney.  Child protective services was investigating a complaint of child psychological abuse.  The attorney was wondering how to handle this investigation by child protective services in a way that would be most productive to enacting a solution to the family pathology.

This following excerpt is from my email response to the attorney:


<Attorney>

The solution is building.  The issue you’re running into is that the solution is only part of the way here.

Step 1:  The mental health professional makes an accurate DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse based on their assessment using the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting.

Step 2:  The mental health professional then discharges his or her “duty to protect” by filing a report with child protective services.

Step 3:  Child protective services then employs the same assessment criteria (i.e., the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting) and confirms the diagnosis made by the mental health professional.

Step 4:  Child protective services then removes the child from the psychologically abusive parent and places the child in “kinship care” with the normal-range and affectionally available targeted parent.

The problem is that we are currently at Steps 1 and 2 of the solution.  I am educating mental health professionals regarding the attachment-based pathology, and I am consulting with them on its assessment and diagnosis.

I have not yet reached the third and fourth steps in the solution of educating the child protective services system.  So I don’t expect them to know what to do with these cases.

But as these cases begin to increasingly flow into the child protective services system, child protective services will increasingly be confused and bewildered. They will begin researching why these cases are coming to them from mental health professionals with confirmed DSM-5 diagnoses of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse.

When they talk to the referring mental health professional, this referring professional will mention me.  At some point, after receiving multiple referrals from mental health professionals that include a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse, the child protective services will contact me and request training in AB-PA.  We then move into Steps 3 and 4.

Once the CPS system is trained, we will have all four steps in the solution in place.

Targeted parents will no longer need to go to trial to prove “parental alienation” in court.  Instead, an attorney can seek a court-order for a “treatment-focused assessment” in cases of attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce (a child rejecting a parent).

This treatment-focused assessment will produce a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, and a report to the Court and a report to CPS.

CPS will investigate and will provide an independently made confirming second diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse.

If CPS places the child in kinship care with the normal-range targeted parent, then the attorney returns to court to obtain appropriate follow-up court orders for the treatment-related change in custody and covering the ultimate reunification of the child with the abusive parent (with proper safeguards to ensure that the abuse does not resume once contact is restored).

If CPS confirms the diagnosis but defers changing custody to the pending court case for resolution, then the attorney returns to court with two independently made confirmed diagnoses of Child Psychological Abuse and seeks appropriate court orders for remedy.

But we’re not there yet.  Next year, 2018, hopefully.  Maybe 2019.  Unfortunately we’re still in the process of educating everyone (at this point the mental health professionals at Steps 1 and 2) in achieving this solution.  By 2020, everything will be solved.


Returning to the blog…

The solution is coming.  It’s no longer a matter of IF a solution occurs.  With the introduction of AB-PA (Foundations) the issue has now become HOW SOON the solution arrives.

Notice in the email to the attorney I projected the solution will be achieved in 2018, perhaps 2019.  That’s because I am a single clinical psychologist working alone to change the entire mental health system.  Big system… little me, working alone.

The Gardnerian PAS experts are withholding their help.  It’s a turf-battle thing for them.  They would rather try to remain “experts” in Gardnerian “parental alienation” – a model that has offered no solution in over 30 years, than lend their aid to creating a solution that does not involve Gardnerian PAS.  They have not brought their banners to the battlefield.

We are left on our own to fight this battle to enact the solution.

But you, the targeted parents – authentic parents who love your children dearly – I could use your help to bring about the solution as quickly as we can achieve it.  I don’t want to wait until 2018 or 2020.  We can’t afford to wait.  Each day that passes without the solution is one day too long.

This needed to be solved yesterday.  Because of that, I am working as hard as I can to speed the solution’s arrival as fast as I possibly can.  That’s why I’m not writing journal articles yet.  They take too long to write and get published, and they have only a minimal real-world impact.  My time right now is better spent in other areas.  That’s why I’m taking such an assertive stance with the Gardnerian PAS experts, because their withholding of support for the paradigm shift slows the achievement of the solution.

I don’t mind being an annoying pain-in-the-behind if that’s what it takes to bring this nightmare of “parental alienation” to an end.  I will poke, prod, push, rail, irritate, annoy, and shout, if that’s what it takes to achieve the solution.  It’s not about me.  It’s about you and your children.  This nightmare that you’re going through must end.  And it must end as fast as is humanly possible to achieve.

For your part… you be kind.  Be relentless, but be kind. You must fight against the false narrative that you are too “angry and controlling.”  Be kind, but be relentless in your expectation of professional competence.

I am available for a professional-to-professional consultation with any mental health professional who seeks it (not the targeted parent, it must be with the involved mental health professional) .  All the mental health professional has to do is send me an email with the heading Professional Consultation.

Understanding Your Power

The American Psychological Association actually cares about your suffering.  Really, they do.  They just don’t know what to do about it because your prior advocates with them, the Gardnerian PAS experts, were trying to force them to accept an untenable “new form of pathology” model for defining the pathology.

In AB-PA, I have listened to the constructive feedback from the APA and I have provided them with a compromise solution that can both end your suffering while still maintaining professional standards for defining the pathology.  That’s what AB-PA is designed to do.  It’s designed to end the internecine debate within professional psychology and reunite professional psychology into a single unified voice to protect your children.

I have empowered you with AB-PA.  I urge you to live into your new power.  The helpless disempowerment of your trauma, as you have watched your beloved children become distorted by the pathology of “parental alienation,” and the emotional and psychological abuse you’ve endured from a non-responsive mental health system that does not recognize the severity of the pathology and a legal system mired in delays and ineffective solutions have lulled you into a trauma-induced slumber of your powerless victimization.

You are not a victim anymore. AB-PA empowers you, the child’s authentic and protective parent.

Gardnerian PAS gave up your power.  In proposing a “new form of pathology” it froze the mental health system response in endless internal arguments and division.  Gardnerian PAS separated you from what should be your natural allies in the domestic violence and child abuse protection advocates, who actually began to argue against you and against the construct of “parental alienation.”  In taking us off the path of professional diagnosis, Garnerian PAS has allowed rampant professional ignorance and incompetence to flourish unchecked.

AB-PA has returned your power to you. All that’s needed is for the paradigm to shift.

It is time to awaken from the imposed slumber of your helplessness and enter into your power.  Come together and become an unstoppable force for change.

The pathogen seeks to keep you alone and isolated.  I have seen the “source code” for this in the pathogen’s meme-structure – the themes by which it distorts and controls.  It seeks to isolate you from allies because in your isolation you are powerless against its lies. You scream the truth, but no one listens.  By keeping you isolated and alone, it can inflict it’s trauma.

I urge you to rise up and live into your power. Come together, join together.  Bring voice – and more.  Bring power.  AB-PA has teeth.

In one voice you were powerless.  In 100 you regain your voice.  In 1,000 you enter your power.  In 10,000 you become an unstoppable force for change.  Become an unstoppable force for change.

Moving Forward

Teeth

The Gardnerian definition of the pathology as a “new form of pathology” represents a failed paradigm.  Just look around you at the current state of professional incompetence in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.  The current situation is what the Gardnerian PAS model gives us; rampant professional incompetence and 30 years of continual division and debate within professional psychology.

The Gardnerian PAS model is a failed paradigm.  Scoreboard.

AB-PA defines the pathology entirely through standard and established constructs and principles that define domains for required professional competence in assessment and diagnosis:

Attachment theory

Personality disorder pathology

Family systems therapy

The three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA are all established and accepted forms of pathology in professional mental health:

Attachment system symptoms

Personality disorder traits

An encapsulated persecutory delusion

Because AB-PA defines the pathology entirely from within standard and established psychological constructs and principles and uses diagnostic indicators that are fully established, defined, and standard symptoms in mental health, all mental health professionals can now be held accountable for conducting an appropriate assessment and for making an accurate diagnosis of the attachment-related family pathology of a child’s cross-generational coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent surrounding divorce.

Notice that I did not use the term “parental alienation” – to recover your lost power within professional psychology, we must use the proper terms to activate Standard 2.01a of the APA ethics code.

Mental health professionals CANNOT be held accountable to “parental alienation.”  The construct of “parental alienation” is NOT a defined construct in clinical psychology.

The Diagnosis of Unicorns

This is important to fully understand.  Gardnerian PAS and the construct of “parental alienation” offers no solution.  We must switch to AB-PA to achieve the solution.

AB-PA is specifically designed to expose the pathogen from it’s veil of concealment and to hold mental health professionals accountable for making an accurate diagnosis of the family pathology.  When we use AB-PA, we are able to stand on the rock-solid Foundations of established psychological constructs and principles, which then leads to three definitive diagnostic indicators of the pathology, codified into a simple and easy-to-use checklist for the assessing mental health professional.

Foundations is the spear that defines the pathology using standard and established constructs and principles.  The diagnostic indicators are the head of the spear, cutting through the hidden manipulation of the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality parent.  The Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting is the tip of the spear, penetrating professional incompetence in assessment and diagnosis.

All mental health professionals CAN be held accountable to AB-PA because all of the constructs and principles used in defining the pathology of AB-PA are standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology, and all three of the diagnostic indicators of AB-PA are standard and established symptoms that are fully accepted in professional psychology and are fully within the scope of practice for mental health assessment by all mental health professionals.

Assessment

For a mental health professional to refuse to even assess for the three diagnostic indicators of the pathogenic parenting surrounding attachment-related pathology in the family would likely represent a violation of Standard 9.01a of the APA ethics code which states:

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 even assessed for the attachment-related family pathology of a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent (notice I didn’t say “parental alienation – you must use the correct professional terms), then they have not based their opinions and recommendations – including diagnostic statements and forensic testimony – on “information and techniques sufficient to substantiate their findings,” in violation of Standard 9.01a of the APA ethics code.

Again, this is important to understand… If you try to hold the mental health professional accountable for assessing “parental alienation,” you will fail.

You MUST use the proper professional terminology provided by AB-PA.  Attachment-related pathology.  Triangulation.  Cross-generational coalition.  Pathogenic parenting.  These are standard and established – fully accepted – psychological constructs and principles in professional psychology.  With these constructs you have power.  With these constructs you become dangerous to professional ignorance and incompetence

AB-PA has teeth.  Under explicit ethical code standards of practice, mental health professionals are not allowed to be incompetent in their assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

Professional Competence

If a mental health professional refuses to assess for the pathology, I would suggest that the targeted parent begin to lay the “paper trail” relative to this refusal in preparation for filing a licensing board complaint against the mental health professional.

Be kind – always be kind.  But expect professional competence in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of your family.

In laying the paper trail, read “Letter to the Stranger.”  In a polite and short letter to the mental health professional:

Document – briefly yet meaningfully – your deep and abiding love for your child, and your deep heartbreak and suffering.

Document your request that the mental health professional assess for the attachment-related pathology of a cross-generational coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent (notice I did not say “parental alienation” – you must use the correct terms).

Document your request that the mental health professional consult with Dr. Childress, a recognized expert in the attachment-based pathology of a child’s rejection of a parent following divorce (notice I did not say “parental alienation”)

Document that you provided the mental health professional with my booklet Professional Consultation, or my letter Professional-to-Professional Consultation, or my handout on the Attachment-Related Pathology of Parental Alienation.

Perhaps within the community of targeted parents you can come together to write some template letters to therapists that can be shared with each other.

For that mater, what if targeted parents agreed to write letters of support for each other to involved mental health professionals, so that a request from a targeted parent for group support could result in hundreds of letters flowing in to the mental health professional asking for this professional to please document the child’s symptoms using the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting and to please consult with Dr. Childress regarding the pathology.

The pathogen seeks to keep you alone and isolated.  I’ve read the meme-structure in its “source code” that does this.  I urge you to come together.  Work for each other.  Fight for each other.

Alone 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

Moving Foward

Be kind.  Be relentless, but always be kind.

In documenting your requests, you are writing the letter to the mental health professional in order establish the paper-trail documentation for your upcoming licensing board complaint against the mental health professional for violation of Standard 9.01a (and possibly for a violation of Standard 2.01a regarding boundaries of professional competence, and possibly for a violation of Standard 3.04 regarding harm to the client, and possibly for their failure in their “duty to protect”).

Possible Causes of Action

You are writing the Letter to the Stranger; documenting; establishing the paper trail.  Be brief.  Be reasonable.  Be kind.

Refusal to Assess

If the mental health professional refuses to assess for the pathology of pathogenic parenting involving a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/(borderline) personality parent (notice I did not say “parental alienation” – you must use the proper professional terms to regain your power), despite all of your respectful and pleasantly kind requests for cooperation, then you may need to file a licensing board complaint.

Sample Complaint Letter Template

Will this help in obtaining better professional care in your specific case?  Probably not.  If you are working with an ignorant and incompetent mental health professional who refuses to even assess for pathology, then you’re in trouble from the start.

But in filing a licensing board complaint you are taking the proper actions relative to professional ignorance and intransigent incompetence.  You are also helping other targeted parents who may follow after you with this mental health professional.

Targeted parents need to come together to put ALL mental health professionals on notice that you will no longer accept negligent professional ignorance and incompetence in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of your families.

ALL mental health professionals need to understand that they will – with 100% certainty – face a licensing board complaint if they fail to assess for the attachment-related pathology of a child’s cross-generational coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) personality parent (notice I did not say “parental alienation”).

Now imagine for a second, that you have made respectful and pleasantly cooperative requests asking for a formal assessment and documentation of the child’s symptoms using the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting, and the mental health professional has steadfastly refused to even assess for the symptoms,…

… and imagine that you then request a meeting with this mental health professional and provide this mental health professional with the letter you intend to send to the licensing board (that you create specific to your situation using the Sample Complaint Letter Template),…

… and imagine that you calmly, politely, and oh-so-kindly inform the mental health professional that you are asking one last time for assessment and documentation of the child’s symptoms, and if the mental health professional refuses then you will be left no alternative than to send this letter and your supporting documentation to the licensing board…

… what do you imagine the mental health professional’s response will be?

Be kind.  Always be kind. But also know this, AB-PA has teeth.  It most definitely has teeth.

Will the mental health professional suddenly be cooperative and competent?  Probably not.  If they are that arrogant and incompetent, you are already in lots of trouble.  But you are also empowered to confront professional incompetence.  You no longer have to simply accept professional incompetence.

Be kind.  Be relentless, but always be kind.

Oh, and by the way, I am always happy to talk to this mental health professional.  You don’t need to debate professional competence with them.  I’m more than happy to do that for you.  Simply direct them to me: drcraigchildress@gmail.com

Parent: “Well, that may be true Mr./Ms. Therapist, but I’m asking that you consult with Dr. Childress and you can raise that issue with him.”

Totally fine by me.

If you file a licensing board complaint, will the licensing board do anything? Maybe not.  We cannot control what the licensing board does.  What we can control is to ensure that all ignorant and incompetent mental health professionals who refuse to even assess for the pathology are aware that they will – with 100% certainty – face a licensing board complaint from the targeted parent.

We are putting ignorant and incompetent mental health professionals in a position of playing Russian roulette with their career.  Did the licensing board to anything this time?  No?  Lucky you.  How about this time?  No?  Lucky you again.  How about this time?…

Or they can simply assess for the pathology using the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting.  If they don’t find the pathology, that’s fine.   Just do the assessment and document the results of the assessment in the patient record.

Together – United for Change

You are all in this together.  We cannot solve this for any one family, until we solve it for all children and all families.

We want to make the path of professional ignorance and incompetence very dangerous for them; while at the same time we have made the path of knowledge and competence very easy – all they have to do is simply complete the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting and document the results in the patient record, and then they will be entirely safe from the targeted parent filing a licensing board complaint.

In addition, in filing licensing board complaints against individual mental health professionals who refuse to even conduct an assessment of the child’s symptoms, we are putting pressure on the APA to do something (i.e., to convene a high-level conference of experts in attachment theory, personality pathology, family systems therapy, and childhood trauma, to produce a white paper on the issue) to provide leadership and guidance regarding the assessment of this attachment-related family pathology.

If the APA does nothing, if the APA remains silent in protecting children from the pathogenic parenting of narcissistic and borderline personality parents, then the child’s loving and authentic parent, the targeted parent, will have no other choice in fulfilling their obligation to protect their children from Child Psychological Abuse by the narcissistic/(borderline) ex-spouse than to seek professional competence in assessment – case-by-individual-case – through seeking enforcement of Standard 9.01a – case-by-individual-case.

AB-PA has teeth.  It most definitely has teeth.

By returning us to the path of professional diagnosis, AB-PA empowers targeted parents.  It is time to wake up from your trauma-imposed slumber of helplessness.  You are helpless no more.  You are armed and dangerous to professional incompetence.

I am just a single lone psychologist in Southern California.  You are thousands of parents fighting for your children.  I have armed you with AB-PA.  I have laid out the roadmap to the solution.

If you leave it to me to solve, it will take me another couple of years because I am just a single lone psychologist in Southern California.  If you bring your thousands of voices – and your power – to the battlefield, who knows how quickly we can accomplish the solution.

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

Internationally

What about internationally?  I hear you.

My current focus is on shifting the approach in the U.S. that will then provide the leadership guidance to mental health systems in other countries.

But why wait for me?  You can start this process. The key is to return to the path of standard and established psychological principles and constructs to define the pathology (Foundations).  Then hold mental health professionals in your country accountable to the Standards of professional competence laid out in the professional ethics codes in your countries (Professional Competence).

Be kind.  You want to avoid being characterized as being “too angry and aggressive.”  Be kind.  Be relentless, but always be kind.

Find some allies in professional mental health in your countries who are willing to work with the AB-PA model, and who can carry the voice of the paradigm shift in your countries.

I also have two online seminars available through the Master’s Lecture Series of California Southern University.

Parental Alienation: An Attachment-Based Model (7/18/14)

Treatment of Attachment-Based Parental Alienation (11/21/14)

Since AB-PA is based entirely in standard and established psychological principles of the attachment system and personality disorder pathology, there is absolutely zero reason for any professional psychology system that is even remotely near 21st century standards not to properly assess and accurately diagnose the pathology.  Zero reason.

The pathology is essentially “disordered mourning” surrounding the divorce, with the “primary case” being the narcissistic/(borderline) parent who is then transferring this parent’s pathological mourning to the child through manipulative and exploitative parenting practices.

From John Bowlby:  “The deactivation of attachment behavior is a key feature of certain common variants of pathological mourning” (p. 70)

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

From Otto Kernberg:  “They [narcissists] are especially deficient in genuine feelings of sadness and mournful longing; their incapacity for experiencing depressive reactions is a basic feature of their personalities.  When abandoned or disappointed by other people they may show what on the surface looks like depression, but which on further examination emerges as anger and resentment, loaded with revengeful wishes, rather than real sadness for the loss of a person whom they appreciated.” (p. 229)

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

From John Bowlby:  “Disturbances of personality, which include a bias to respond to loss with disordered mourning, are seen as the outcome of one or more deviations in development that can originate or grow worse during any of the years of infancy, childhood and adolescence.” (Bowlby, 1980, p. 217)

John Bowlby and Otto Kernberg are preeminent figures in professional psychology.  And look at the dates of those statements, 1975 and 1980.  Forty years ago.   This is not new stuff.

Internationally, if your mental health system is even remotely modern, there is absolutely zero reason for it not to recognize the pathology and properly diagnose the pathology.

The only reason they’re not recognizing and properly diagnosing the pathology is because they’re trying to recognize and diagnose something called “parental alienation” proposed by Richard Gardner.  The moment we return to standard and established constructs and principles, the proper diagnosis (pathological mourning transmitted to the child through the manipulative and exploitative parenting practices of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent, who is the “primary case” of disordered mourning) becomes immediately available

I’ve even cited the Standards in some of your countries related to boundaries of competence:

Professional Competence

You need to find a mental health professional in your country who is willing to voice the need for professional competence… or you can wait for me to solve it in the U.S. and then invite me over to your country.  But why wait for me?  Start the ball rolling.  Professional competence.

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