Synthesis

I recieved a Comment to my blog that I would like to respond to as a full post.

“Dr Childress, thank you for your generic letters to therapists and the child’s attorney. Have you written a generic correspondence to the judges in these cases?” – Jeff

There’s a problem in writing a generic letter to the Court that I think will be helpful to explain.

My professional background is not as an expert in “parental alienation.” My professional expertise is actually in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, with a secondary specialty in early childhood mental health (ages 0-5) which necessarily includes an expertise in the neuro-development of the brain during childhood.

Before entering private practice I served as the Clinical Director for a children’s assessment and treatment center that primarily served children in the foster care system.  My expertise in the attachment system comes from both my background in early childhood mental health, which is the period of active formative processes in the attachment system (although we use the patterns of the attachment system throughout our lives), and from also applying this attachment-related information directly with children in the foster care system who were the victims of parental abuse and neglect that created a variety of severe distortions with their attachment system.

My foundational expertise in ADHD and angry-defiant children focuses on older age children (school-age) and adolescents, although it also has applicability to preschool age children as well. This overlap was particularly prominent in my work at Children’s Hospital of Orange County where I served as the lead clinical psychologist on a collaborative project with the University of California, Irvine’s Child Development Center on the identification and treatment of ADHD in preschool-age children.

I know the impact of child abuse up close and personal. I’ve seen the results of child physical and sexual abuse and severe neglect. I’m not a “parental alienation” expert. I’m a clinical child and family psychologist.

I only ran across “parental alienation” when I entered private practice to begin writing my book solving ADHD and all aspects of parenting generally

And I’m being honest on that, I’ve got the non-medication solution to ADHD (most forms) and to nearly all.. no, I’d say all… parenting issues. These solutions represent the synthesis of my years of work with ADHD and the neuro-development of brain systems during childhood – look what I’ve done with “parental alienation” in a couple of years of focused effort, imagine what I’ve done with ADHD and parenting from a lifetime of effort. Solved it.

But I just can’t get to writing about it because I’m busy solving “parental alienation” first. But the reason I’ve been able to solve “parental alienation” is because I’ve first solved parenting generally, and oppositional-defiant children, and ADHD children, and healthy child development, and all the stuff related to parenting and childhood. I simply applied this knowledge to “parental alienation.”

I’m currently waiting for “parental alienation” to catch up to an attachment-based model and then I’m going to drop down one level deeper for mental health professionals into an understanding of “parental alienation” at some basic neurological levels, and in particular with a brain system called “intersubjectivity.”

For any mental health professionals who are interested in where this is going, read these two articles by Fonagy,

Fonagy, P., Luyten, P., and Strathearn, L. (2011). Borderline personality disorder, mentalization, and the neurobiology of attachment. Infant Mental Health Journal, 32, 47-69.

Fonagy P. & Target M. (2005). Bridging the transmission gap: An end to an important mystery in attachment research? Attachment and Human Development, 7, 333-343.

Fonagy is one of the leading figures in the field of attachment and intersubjectivity.  His work is brilliant.

The problem in writing a generic letter to the judge is, what happens if it is actually the targeted parent who is the narcissistic parent, who may be inflicting emotional, physical, or psychological abuse on the child, or on the other parent through a history of severe domestic violence?

What if the favored parent is authentically trying to protect the child from an emotionally or physically or sexually abusing narcissistic parent, and the narcissistic targeted parent is manipulatively using the allegation of “parental alienation” against the favored parent to nullify the favored parent’s authentic efforts to protect the child from abuse?

What if the narcissistic targeted parent feels “entitled” to possession of the “narcissistic object” of the child and cannot understand why the child wouldn’t want to be with the magnificence of the ideal and perfect narcissistic parent, so that the narcissistic targeted parent is externalizing blame onto the favored normal-range and healthy parent for the child’s reluctance to be with the chronic empathic failures and nullification of the child’s self-authenticity experienced from the narcissistic targeted parent?

I know child abuse up close and personal. I will NOT participate in or collude with the ability of a narcissistic parent to emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abuse the child and then avoid responsibility and nullify the protective efforts of the normal-range and healthy parent by alleging that the child’s allegations are simply a case of “parental alienation.”

The valid concern is that the narcissistic targeted parent will externalize responsibility by alleging “parental alienation,” thereby continuing the child’s exposure to emotional and psychological abuse from profound parental empathic failure and nullification of the child’s self-authenticity, physical and psychological control and intimidation of the child, or active sexual exploitation of the child, and if the child reports the abuse the narcissistic predator simply alleges that it’s a “false allegation” because of “parental alienation.”

In about 20% of the cases that come to me because of my expertise in “parental alienation” it turns out that the targeted parent who is alleging “parental alienation” actually turns out to be the narcissistic parent who is externalizing blame and responsibility for the child’s reluctance to be with the narcissistic parent onto the other parent by alleging “parental alienation” because the narcissistic targeted parent feels “entitled” to possess the child.

The Critics

This is the argument of the critics of “parental alienation.” They are deeply and rightly concerned that the construct of “parental alienation” defined by Gardner is so poorly formed that it will allow narcissistic predatory parents to continue their abuse, including the incestuous sexual abuse of the child and the psychological domination of the child (and spouse) through threats of violence directed toward the child and spouse.

I know child abuse up close and personal. The concerns expressed by the critics of “parental alienation” are entirely valid. The critics aren’t our enemy. And we should not be theirs.

They are absolutely correct in their heartfelt and authentic concerns for the well-being of children and families. As are we.

We should be joined together in a collaborative effort to accurately identify narcissistic parenting (i.e., psychological and other forms of child abuse) in 100% of the cases. We’re not adversaries, the critics and supporters of “parental alienation,” we are fundamental allies.

So why are we divided? Why do we see them as the enemy to be “overcome” and they see us as radicals that presents a “threat” to children and families?

Staff-splitting.

There is a well-established construct in working with borderline personalities referred to as “staff-splitting.”

It’s called a “parallel process” in which arguments and divisions appear in the treatment team as a parallel process of manifesting the splitting dynamic (see Key Concept: Splitting post) inherent to borderline (and narcissistic) personality dynamics.

Remember, narcissistic and borderline personality organizations are simply external variants of an underlying borderline core. They are not two different types of personalities, they are two different expressions of the same type of underlying process.

Staff-splitting is described by one of the foremost experts on borderline personality processes, Marsha Linehan,

“Staff splitting,” as mentioned earlier, is a much-discussed phenomenon in which professionals treating borderline patients begin arguing and fighting about a patient, the treatment plan, or the behavior of the other professionals with the patient… arguments among staff members and differences in points of view, traditionally associated with staff splitting, are seen as failures in synthesis and interpersonal process among the staff rather than as a patient’s problem… Therapist disagreements over a patient are treated as potentially equally valid poles of a dialectic. Thus, the starting point for dialogue is the recognition that a polarity has arisen, together with an implicit (if not explicit) assumption that resolution will require working toward synthesis.” (p. 432)

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York, NY: Guilford

Notice the date… 1993. This is not a new concept. It is familiar to everyone who works with borderline personality dynamics.

It is not a coincidence that both sides in the “parental alienation” debate adopt an idealized self-attitude that “we” are the wonderful protectors of children, and that “the other side” is comprised of callous and insensitive people who are unconcerned about child abuse.

Splitting, pure and simple. Polarized extremes of perception in which “we” are idealized and “they” are demonized.

There are no sides. We all want exactly the same thing.

The critics of “parental alienation” aren’t our enemies, and we are not theirs.

All the critics want is to ensure that we protect children from child abuse. That’s entirely reasonable. The concerns expressed by the critics are that the Gardnerian PAS model is too poorly defined so that it allows narcissistic targeted parents to continue their abuse of children by evading protection efforts through alleging “parental alienation.”

That’s an entirely reasonable concern.

So let’s look at the diagnostic criteria for Gardnerian PAS, are they specific enough to ensure that narcissistic targeted parents cannot use the construct of “parental alienation” as a manipulative means to evade our child protection efforts?

Uhhhh, no, actually they’re not. The Gardnerian PAS diagnostic criteria, while possibly accurate for identifying cases of “parental alienation” in which the narcissistic parent is the allied and supposedly favored parent, do not sufficiently differentiate cases when the targeted parent is the narcissistic parent.

Diagnostic criteria must meet standards for “sensitivity” (correctly identifying the presence of something) and “specificity” (not misidentifying other things as being the thing we’re looking for).

The Gardnerian criteria may have sufficient “sensitivity” (and I’m conceding some on the “may” here), but they lack sufficient “specificity.” There is too great a risk that the Gardnerian criteria will be used by narcissistic targeted parents to evade our child protection efforts.

I am not a “parental alienation” expert. I am a clinical psychologist. I know child abuse up close and personal. I will not participate in or collude with the pathology of a narcissistic parent, whether that parent is the allied and supposedly favored parent or whether that parent is the targeted parent.

Over the past several years, I have actually withdrawn from cases of “reunification” because I was unwilling to participate in the restoration of the child’s relationship with a narcissistic targeted parent. So far, I’ve withdrawn from three cases for exactly this reason.  In other cases where this has occurred, I’ve continued my work with an understanding that the reason for the child’s “protest behavior” was not “parental alienation” but instead represented valid child concerns.

If you’re a normal-range parent being falsely accused of “parental alienation” your best chance is probably to come see me. I know what “parental alienation” is, so I also know what it’s not.

And not everything is “parental alienation.” Sometimes the narcissistic parent is the targeted parent.

So I will not write a generic letter to a judge, because the risk is too high that a narcissistic targeted parent might use the letter to evade child protection efforts. I will ask therapists to consider the issues. I will ask minor’s counsels to consider the issues.  Judges decide.

If it is helpful, I will offer my professional expertise to the Court when desired.  I respect the Court.  If I can help the Court produce a decision that will be in the child’s best interests in achieving healthy emotional and psychological development, I would be privileged to do so. But only if my expertise can help the Court make a proper decision in the specific case before it.

Diagnosis

Achieving synthesis in this unnecessary professional debate surrounding “parental alienation” requires listening to the constructive criticism of the other position.  

The critics cited that the Gardnerian PAS model was insufficiently grounded in established psychological principles and constructs. So when I set about developing an actualizable solution to “parental alienation” I went back to the very foundations of the construct.

I first had to work out what the psychological structure of the pathology was.  From this foundational understanding for the psychological structure of “parental alienation,” I then identified key diagnostic features of this structure that would,

1.) Identify “parental alienation” in ALL cases (sensitivity)

2,) Not identify anything else that wasn’t “parental alienation” as being “parental alienation” (specificity)

The three diagnostic indicators for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” meet this standard.

That’s why ALL THREE of the diagnostic indicators must be present to make the diagnosis of attachment-based “parental alienation.” Any of the three individual diagnostic indicators may be present from other causes, but not ALL THREE. When all three diagnostic indicators are present, the only possible cause is an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation.”

In my post, Diagnostic Indicators and Associated Clinical Signs, notice how many features didn’t make the cut, i.e., all of the associated clinical signs.  All of these features are characteristic of “parental alienation” but they lack sufficient sensitivity or specificity to make the cut into being a formal diagnostic indicator.

That’s the process, the professional rigor, that Gardner should have adopted,

A) Identify the structure of the pathogenic process

B) Determine diagnostic indicators of sufficient sensitivity and specificity based on a foundational understanding for the pathogenic process

Instead, Gardner adopted what I consider to be an intellectually lazy approach of proposing a “new syndrome” without sufficient analysis, and then a proposed set of anecdotal diagnostic features that are inadequate to the task.

Synthesis

We are mental health professionals. You guys, you mental health professionals on both sides who have been engaged in this unnecessary “parental alienation” debate for 30 years, should be really embarrassed that you fell prey to the parallel process of staff-splitting… for 30 years. Oh my gosh. Thirty years.

When I first looked at the debate, it took me about 30 seconds to recognize the splitting.

“We are the wonderful protectors of children”

Whether this statement is made by the Gardnerians or by the critics.

“They are callous and uncaring about the suffering of children”

Whether this statement is made by the Gardnerians or by the critics.

“We are the righteous and noble. They are the enemy to be defeated.”

Again, whether this statement is made by the Gardnerians or by the critics.

Stop it.  Splitting.  Splitting.  Splitting.

“We” are idealized and “they” are demonized. Stop it.

All of you should be really embarrassed. How can you have succumbed to the parallel process of staff-splitting for so long? The only answer I can come up with is ignorance about working with borderline personality processes. Linehan’s identification of staff-splitting is from 1993. Twenty years ago.

If you don’t know about borderline personality processes, I would gently suggest that you may be practicing beyond the boundaries of professional competence if you are working with borderline personality processes.

But enough with my chastisement. The important thing now is to stop it. We are not idealized and they are not the enemy. On both sides of this unnecessary debate. The critics must also stop it. We are not your enemy. We all have the same goal. Protection of children 100% of the time.

Protection of children 100% of the time when the targeted parent is the narcissistic parent.

Protection of children 100% of the time when the supposedly favored parent is the narcissistic parent.

ALL children need to be protected from all forms of child abuse 100% of the time.  There is absolutely no disagreement.  There are no sides.

We need to start listening to a recognized expert in dealing with borderline personality processes, Marsha Linehan:

1.) “The starting point for dialogue is the recognition that a polarity has arisen”

2.) The disagreement represents a “failure of synthesis”

3.) The disagreement is treated as “equally valid poles” in the dialogue

4.) “Resolution will require working toward synthesis.

The critics are rightly concerned that Gardner’s PAS model is too sloppily put together and will expose some child abuse victims to re-victimization.  I’ve seen child abuse up close and personal  That’s a valid concern.

Our concern is that professional incompetence and ignorance results in the acceptance of superficial appearances that leads to a misdiagnosis of the severely pathogenic parenting involved in the child’s role-reversal relationship with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent as representing an authentic display of the child’s rejection of the targeted parent, and that the pathology involved in attachment-based “parental alienation” rises to the level of a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

From our position advocating for the construct of “parental alienation,” achieving synthesis involves expending the necessary effort to define the construct of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established professional constructs, so that we can develop strong diagnostic indicators that are both sensitive AND specific, and that can be used in 100% of the cases to accurately differentiate when the narcissistic parent is the targeted parent and when the narcissistic parent is the supposedly favored parent, so that we can protect 100% of the children 100% of the time.

From the other side, movement toward synthesis represents the acknowledgement that an attachment-based model for the construct of parental alienation represents an accurate description of the clinical phenomenon and warrants a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed when the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” are present.  Synthesis.  Solution.

There are no sides. We are all on the same side. I invite the Gardnerians to join us in synthesis. I invite the critics to join us in synthesis. You are not our enemy, and we are not yours. We all want exactly the same thing. To protect children from the abuse inflicted on them by a narcissistic parent.

When mental health speaks with a single voice, we can achieve a solution to “parental alienation.” It is time for a solution.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologist, PSY 18857

Generic Letter to Minor’s Counsel

For what its worth, I drafted a generic letter to minor’s counsel in an effort to explain the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.” This letter is up on my website, near the top, and a direct link to it is,

Letter to Minor’s Counsel

I am not optimistic that minor’s counsels (or therapists) will listen, people tend to do what they tend to do, and influencing them is hard.  But, I’m trying to provide you, the targeted parent, with the psychology words to understand and possibly explain what’s happening.
The appointment of minor’s counsel is essentially the appointment of legal counsel to represent the pathology in the family (see The Appointment of Minor’s Counsel Must Stop post). It’s a very bad thing that should stop immediately.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Dominoes Part 1: Paradigm Shift

This is the first post of a two-part series.  The second post in the series is “Dominoes Falling: The Sequence


The story is familiar.

Obvious indicators of severe “parental alienation” are evident, and may even be acknowledged by mental health professionals, but key mental health social workers, therapists, and custody evaluators fail to stand up and identify the obvious. 

They avoid acknowledging the obvious pathology by saying,

“I don’t believe in parental alienation.”

How is it that so many people, therapists, social workers, child custody evaluators, child attorneys, judges, can simply dismiss the severely distorting influence on the child by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent? How is that possible? Why does that happen?

The Failure of the PAS Paradigm

The reason people can simply dismiss “parental alienation” is because the Gardnerian PAS paradigm allows it. 

The PAS model described by Gardner in the mid-1980s is an abject failure.

In the 30 years since its introduction, the PAS model has failed to solve the nightmare tragedy of “parental alienation. If any pro-Gardnerian PAS supporter actually wants to argue the point with me, my initial question will be,

“Are you seriously going to look targeted parents in the eye, hear their stories, the years of lost relationships with their children with no end in sight, the utter failure and incompetence of mental heath in recognizing and solving their nightmare, the tens of thousands of dollars spent in endless litigation, and with all this tragedy that surrounds us, you’re seriously going to maintain that the PAS model is a success?”

After 30 years, if it is not a success, it is a failure.  The PAS model is a failure because the nightmare continues.

Targeted parents, and more importantly their children, need a paradigm for the construct of “parental alienation” that successfully resolves the issue now.  Today.  In all cases.

The Solution Must be Efficient

The solution paradigm needs to achieve a full resolution to the pathology of “parental alienation” in less than six months, preferably in less than three months, preferably in less than six weeks – that’s my goal, and I honestly believe this goal is achievable.

Child Developmental Periods:

The developmental periods of childhood appear to have a two-year phase cycle built into them, in which new developmental phases open up about every two years, 4-6 years old; 6-8 years old; 8-10 years old; 10-12 years old; 12-14 years old; 14-16 years old; 16-18 years old.  It is as if the brain has an internal biological clock governing maturation that’s set at a two year rhythm.

There are distinctly different developmental qualities of children during each of these periods, and each active period of brain development during childhood relies on the successful prior development of neural networks created in the preceding developmental phases. Distortions to development in earlier phases create cascading distortions in later development.

When we are faced with problematic child development, we need to restore healthy and normal-range development as quickly as possible so as to lose minimal healthy maturation.

Losing more than 6 months of a 2-year cycle of development to psychopathology is unacceptable.

The severe pathology associated with attachment-based “parental alienation” needs to be fully resolved in less than 6 months, preferably less than 3 months so that we can restore the child’s normal-range developmental trajectory with minimal loss of healthy development.

The Solution Must be Affordable

The solution paradigm must be cost effective and broadly available to all parents and families. It cannot, therefore, rely on proving “parental alienation” in Court since this can take years and is prohibitively expensive for most normal-range families. The financial cost of proving “parental alienation” in Court places any solution that requires proving “parental alienation” in Court beyond the financial reach of most families. 

Any solution that requires proving “parental alienation” in Court will mean that we will wind up abandoning the children to the pathology. This is not acceptable.

The Solution Must Provide Professional Competence

Our children’s healthy development is far too important for us to permit and accept professional incompetence.

The solution paradigm must establish clearly defined standards of professional knowledge and professional practice to which ALL mental health professionals can be held accountable, so that we entirely eliminate ALL professional incompetence in treating this “special population” of children and families.

The issues surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of this “special population” of children and families requires specialized professional knowledge, training, and expertise – let me emphasize that… expertise – to appropriately, accurately, and competently diagnose and treat.

Professional ignorance and incompetence is not acceptable.

The solution paradigm MUST provide DEFINED standards for professional knowledge and competence to ensure professional expertise.

A paradigm shift is needed.

The Gardnerian paradigm for PAS meets NONE of these standards required for a successful paradigm.  An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” meets ALL of these standards for a successful paradigm.

The First Domino: The Paradigm Shift

There needs to be a foundational shift from a Gardnerian PAS definition for the construct of “parental alienation” to an attachment-based definition of “parental alienation.”

The only reason that people can say, “I don’t believe in parental alienation” is that they are allowed to reject Gardner’s proposal of a “new syndrome” in professional psychology that is based on his proposed anecdotal set of clinical signs that have no relationship to any established or validated scientifically based constructs or principles in professional psychology.

Gardner’s model of PAS allows people to believe or not believe it.

The critics of “parental alienation” have steadfastly maintained over thirty years of argument and debate that the Gardnerian PAS model lacks sufficient theoretical foundation… and you know what… they are absolutely right.

Both sides in this unnecessary debate are correct.

Gardner was correct in identifying the existence of a valid clinical phenomenon which he called “parental alienation.”  But then he too quickly abandoned the necessary professional rigor needed to define the construct of “parental alienation” within standard and established psychological principles and constructs. Instead, he took what I would consider an intellectually lazy approach of proposing a “new syndrome” consisting of a set of anecdotal clinical features.

The critics of the PAS model are also correct. They have argued, correctly, that the PAS model lacks scientifically grounded validity. They are absolutely right. But the failure of Gardner to apply the necessary professional rigor required to define the construct of “parental alienation” within scientifically grounded principles and constructs does not mean that there isn’t a valid clinical phenomenon that he recognized, only that Gardner’s description of it lacks robust scientific accuracy.

But instead of accepting the constructive criticism offered by the critics of PAS so as to then apply the necessary professional rigor needed to define the construct of “parental alienation” within standard and established psychological principles and constructs, the Gardnerian PAS advocates have stubbornly tried to argue and prove the existence of a “new syndrome.”   Why?   Take the constructive criticism offered to you and apply the necessary professional rigor needed to define the construct of “parental alienation” within standard and established psychological principles and constructs. Don’t be lazy.

When I first came across the nightmare tragedy of “parental alienation,” I was appalled at the level of professional incompetence in general mental health from professionals who entirely missed seeing the severe degree of pathology involved.  I was also stunned by the apparent sloth displayed by the PAS advocates in steadfastly proposing a “new syndrome” rather that simply applying the professional rigor needed to describe the construct of “parental alienation” using standard and established psychological constructs and principles.

In unraveling what “parental alienation” is, the child’s rejection of a relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent is clearly a distortion to the child’s attachment system. So let’s start there.

Next, the child is displaying narcissistic/(borderline) symptoms of grandiose judgment of a parent, an absence of empathy for the targeted parent (an extremely concerning child symptom by the way), a haughty and arrogant attitude of contemptuous disdain for the targeted parent, a prominent attitude of entitlement, and splitting.

Q: How does a child acquire these narcissistic/(borderline) symptoms?

A: Through an enmeshed psychological relationship with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent. That’s the ONLY way a child acquires these symptoms.

No sooner than I blink my eyes, and I’m two steps in to unraveling “parental alienation.”

The presence of an enmeshed relationship with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent strongly suggests a role-reversal relationship in which the child is being used as a “regulatory object” to regulate the emotional and psychological state of the parent.  A role-reversal relationship is associated with the “disorganized” category of attachment.

Going deeper.

Hey, you know what… the formation of narcissistic/(borderline) personality organization has also been linked to a disorganized attachment in childhood. So the personality disorder features of the parent are also linked to the attachment system. And the child is displaying severe distortions to the attachment system, and attachment trauma has been demonstrated to be transmitted across generations…

Within a relatively short period of time I was well on the way to uncovering the nature of the pathology from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.

I then set about researching, reading, poking around, looking up articles, reading, learning, researching, reading.  Connecting the lines of association, unpacking the material.  What does Kernberg say about narcissistic and borderline personalities?  What does Millon say?  What’s the research linking personality disorder formation and attachment? What’s the research on attachment trauma?  Forming the links. Doing the research.  Applying the professional rigor necessary to uncover what “parental alienation” is, and to define the construct of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established psychological constructs and principles.

Why?  Because the solution to “parental alienation” requires it.  In order to solve “parental alienation” we must first establish what it is.  The foundations for the construct must be established on the solid bedrock of scientifically valid constructs and principles.

Don’t be lazy.  Accept the criticism of establishment mental health and do the necessary work. If the criticism of PAS is that it lacks scientific foundation, then let’s set about describing what “parental alienation” is using scientifically established constructs and principles. Don’t let them reject the construct, and we do this by accepting and addressing their criticism.

That’s what I set about to do, and that’s what an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” accomplishes.  We now have a paradigm for describing the construct of “parental alienation” from entirely within the scientifically established constructs and principles of the attachment system, personality disorders, and established family systems constructs.

The attachment system isn’t a matter of belief.  It is a scientifically validated fact.

Personality disorders aren’t a matter of belief. They are established facts within the DSM diagnostic system.

Children’s triangulation into the spousal conflict and the formation of cross-generational coalitions aren’t a matter of belief.  These are core principles in a major and primary school of psychotherapy.

All of the constructs associated with an attachment-based model of “parental alienation,” are established and scientifically supported facts, not beliefs

The foundations for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” are established on the solid bedrock of scientifically valid constructs and principles which will DISALLOW mental health professionals from saying they “don’t believe in parental alienation.” — It’s not a matter of “belief,” it’s a matter of ignorance or knowledge.

The robust scientific foundations surrounding an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” forces disbelievers to change their statement from “I don’t believe in parental alienation” to “I am ignorant and don’t know what I’m talking about.”

These are very different sentences.

None of the constructs used in an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” are a matter of “opinion.” If some ignorant critic wants to argue any of these points, I’ll simply point them to the writings of John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and Mary Mains; to Otto Kernberg, and Theodore Millon, and Aaron Beck; to Salvador Minuchin and Jay Haley. These are the people saying these things, go argue with them.  I’m just applying what these people say.

And “these people” are among the top echelon of preeminent figures in professional psychology.  In all of professional psychology, there are no more respected figures in their respective domains than the experts I just listed.  An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is grounded solidly on the bedrock of established psychological principles and constructs.

And then there are the next echelon of top-tier experts, Lyons-Ruth, Fonagy, Sroufe; Stern, Shore, Tronick, Masterson, Bowen, van der Kolk, van IJzendoorn. These too are among the preeminent recognized leaders in their respective fields. If you’re arguing with me, take it up with them. I’m simply applying their work to the construct of “parental alienation.”

“Well, Newton, I just I don’t believe in that gravity thing your proposing.”

It’s not a matter of belief, its a scientifically supported fact.

“You know, Galileo, that’s an interesting idea about the earth traveling around sun, but I just don’t believe it.”

It’s not a matter of belief, its a scientifically supported fact.

These are not matters of opinion or belief. They are recognized facts. The issue is not whether you believe them or not, its whether you are knowledgeable or ignorant.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is not an opinion.  It’s a fact.

Changing Paradigms

The Gardnerian PAS description for “parental alienation” is so incredibly poor, and just plain lazy, that it ALLOWS people to believe it or not.

Solving the family tragedy of “parental alienation” is too important to leave it to the beliefs of the ignorant.  It is our responsibility to apply the necessary professional rigor required to define the construct of “parental alienation” within established and scientifically supported constructs, so that there is no question possible that it is a fact; not a belief, not an opinion, a fact.

An attachment-based model accomplishes this. The first domino that needs to fall to achieve a solution to “parental alienation” is to achieve a foundational paradigm shift from a Gardnerian PAS model to an attachment-based model.

Gardnerian Resistance

So far, I’ve been gentle with the Gardnerian contingent of experts, allowing them to come to terms gradually with the impending change in paradigms. The Gardnerian PAS model is going away. It is going to be replaced by a scientifically grounded attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” which will provide targeted parents and their children with an immediate and actualizable solution.

But time is running out for the Gardnerians. The time for sitting on the fence is quickly passing.  The time will come when the current Gardnerians will need to choose their paradigm.

They can switch to the attachment-based paradigm that is based in established principles of professional psychology that will provide targeted parents with an immediate actualizable solution by,

Establishing clear diagnostic criteria for diagnosing attachment-based “parental alienation,”

Establishing standards of practice to which mental health professionals can be held accountable regarding required knowledge and practice standards necessary for professional competence, ,

Establishing a professional mandate for the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery stabilization,

Or they can hold on to the Gardnerian PAS paradigm.  But why? What advantage does the Gardnerian PAS model provide?  In thirty years it has failed to provide targeted parents with an actualizable solution.  The Gardnerian PAS model requires targeted parents to prove “parental alienation” in Court.  It’s diagnostic indicators are vague and allow for dispersing responsibility between both parents.  It provides no standards of practice to which mental health professionals can be held accountable. I could go on and on about the limitations and inadequacies of the Gardnerian PAS model. 

So why would any mental health professional who cares about providing targeted parents and their children with a solution to their nightmare, a solution that can be actualized immediately, still hold on to an outdated and inadequate Gardnerian model of PAS?

The change in paradigms is coming.

I understand how hard it is to let go of a beloved attachment.  For 30 years the Gardnerians have waged a valiant fight for children and families.  They have become attached to the PAS paradigm.  It has served as a central focus of their professional lives.  And now PAS will disappear.

They have fought so hard and so valiantly for acceptance of PAS, and now, overnight, PAS will never be accepted.  Ever.  Not because it is rejected, but because it is irrelevant.  “Parental alienation” will be solved… but without the PAS model.  PAS isn’t wrong, it’s just unnecessary. Poof.

I’m sorry.

But the paradigm needs to change.  The solution is in an attachment-based model not in the continuation of the PAS paradigm.

I’m hoping that the Gardnerian contingent can come to terms with the changing paradigms, so that they can let go and adapt to the coming changes.  And I invite them to join in changing the paradigm, to bring their fully voiced support to the paradigm shift.  We could use your help.  The new paradigm may seem disorienting at first, but it is rich in possibilities.  Linking “parental alienation” to the attachment system opens up broad and deep vistas for understanding.

Solving “Parental Alienation”

My advice is often sought by targeted parents concerning what they can do to solve the “parental alienation” in their family. But unless we solve “parental alienation” for all families, we cannot solve it for any specific family.

The solution to “parental alienation” requires a paradigm shift to a new model for describing the construct of “parental alienation.”  A model that is based entirely within scientifically valid and established psychological principles and constructs. An attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” provides this model.   Once the paradigm shifts, the first domino will fall.

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

Dominoes Falling: The Sequence

This is the second post of a two-part series.  The initial post in the series is “Dominoes Part 1: Paradigm Shift


We cannot solve “parental alienation” for any individual family until we solve it for all families.  And solving parental alienation” for all families will require a paradigm shift away from a Gardnerian PAS model to an attachment-based model that has its foundations in established scientific principles and constructs of professional psychology (see Dominoes Part 1: Paradigm Shift post).

Once that first domino of the paradigm shift occurs, a series of dominoes will follow, beginning with diagnosis, followed by protective separation, and leading to the final domino of treatment and restoring the child’s healthy development. 

But we cannot achieve the final domino of the restoration of the child’s healthy and normal-range development until the first set of dominoes have fallen.

The Second Domino: Diagnosis & Defined Standards of Professional Competence

Once the first domino of the paradigm shift falls, the second domino will immediately fall.  Immediately with the paradigm shift the three definitive Diagnostic Indicators for attachment-based “parental alienation” become operative (see Diagnostic Indicators and Associated Clinical Signs).

We will then have a clear and definitive set of diagnostic criteria for identifying attachment-based “parental alienation” in all cases, and to which ALL mental health professionals can be held accountable

Professional accountability is key to achieving professional competence.  Since the Gardnerian PAS model is not defined through established psychological principles and constructs, and instead proposes a “new syndrome” within psychology, the PAS model does not allow us to establish defined domains of knowledge or professional practice to which ALL mental health professional can be held accountable

Under the PAS proposal of a “new syndrome,” resting as it does on poorly defined theoretical foundations, mental health professionals are allowed to say, “I don’t believe in parental alienation” and this is acceptable.  Mental health professionals are free to accept or not accept this proposed “new syndrome” of PAS, so that “I don’t believe in parental alienation” and “parental alienation doesn’t exist” are acceptable statements.  Ignorant perhaps, but acceptable.

An attachment-based model solves this. Because it is defined entirely from within standard and scientifically established professional constructs and principles, adherence to an attachment-based paradigm is not a matter of belief, it becomes an expectation.

Furthermore, the Diagnostic Indicators for attachment-based “parental alienation” are dichotomous, meaning that “parental alienation” is either present or absent. No grey areas.  Which means that mental health professionals can no longer avoid identifying the pathology by assigning “shared responsibility” to “both parents.”  The diagnostic presence of attachment-based “parental alienation” is the SOLE result of the distorted parenting practices of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

When the three Diagnostic Indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” are evident, the targeted parent is NOT responsible for producing any aspect of the child’s symptoms.

The three Diagnostic Indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” focus solely on the child’s symptom display,

We do not need to evaluate the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  The child’s symptom characteristics provide all the definitive proof necessary for identifying the source of the child’s symptoms as being the distorted pathogenic parenting practices by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

This is important, we are not proving “parental alienation” through the Diagnostic Indicators, we are proving pathogenic parenting” (patho=pathology; genic=genesis, creation).  Pathogenic parenting is the creation of significant psychopathology in the child through aberrant and distorted parenting practices. 

Our sole diagnostic focus is on the child’s symptom display for indicators of the characteristic pathology that can ONLY be the product of severely pathogenic parenting by an allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent, i.e., the three Diagnostic Indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation.”

When all three of the definitive Diagnostic Indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” are present, ALL mental health professionals will make exactly the same diagnosis regarding the presence of “parental alienation” given the same clinical information. It’s no longer a matter of belief or opinion. It becomes an expectation of competent professional practice

If a mental health professional does not make the accurate diagnosis in response to the displayed presence of the three definitive Diagnostic Indicators, then the mental health professional can be held accountable for the misdiagnosis.

By establishing clear domains of knowledge and professional expertise required to work with this “special population” of children and families, we can eliminate the involvement of incompetent and fundamentally ignorant mental health professionals. Only mental health professionals who possess the necessary professional knowledge and expertise needed to competently diagnose and treat this special population of children and families will be allowed to work with this group of children and families.

If you are going to work with attachment-based “parental alienation” you MUST know what you are doing.  That is not a suggestion.  It is a requirement.

The moment we have a professionally established diagnosis for the construct of “parental alienation,” mental health can begin to speak with a single voice. The division in mental health created by the controversy surrounding the Gardnerian PAS construct will be ended.

Both sides in the debate were right.

Gardner was correct, there is a valid clinical phenomenon involving a child’s induced rejection of a relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent,

AND…

The critics were right, Gardner’s PAS definition of this clinical phenomenon lacked the necessary scientific foundation in established psychological principles and constructs.

Once the first domino falls and the paradigm shifts to an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation,” the second domino of diagnosis immediately falls, and mental health becomes united into a single voice that establishes clearly defined domains of knowledge and professional practice for identifying professional competence in diagnosing and treating this “special population” of children and families, to which ALL mental health professionals can be held accountable.

The Third Domino: Protective Separation

Once the second domino of diagnosis falls, the third domino falls. In every case of diagnosed attachment-based “parental alienation” professionally responsible treatment REQUIRES the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery stabilization period.

This is a treatment-related requirement in every case of identified attachment-based “parental alienation” (i.e., the presence in the child’s symptom display of the three Diagnostic Indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation”).

Since all therapists treating attachment-based “parental alienation” will have established professional competence and expertise, no therapist, anywhere, will treat attachment-based “parental alienation” without first acquiring the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

When mental health speaks with a single voice, the Court will be able to act with the decisive clarity needed to solve the pathology of “parental alienation.”

Once the paradigm shifts, so that established standards of professional practice allow us to eliminate professional incompetence from diagnosing and treating this “special population” of children and families, then the knowledge and expertise in mental health will require that no therapist anywhere will treat a case of attachment-based “parental alienation” without first obtaining the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The Court will then have two choices, either order the child’s protective separation from the allied and supposedly favored parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery stabilization period, or abandon the child to psychopathology.

But there’s more. When the three Diagnostic Indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” are present, standards of professional practice will require that the clinical diagnosis of attachment-based “parental alienation” must be made by the mental health professional.  This is where the quote marks around “parental alienation” become relevant.  The clinical diagnosis of “parental alienation” is not the DSM diagnosis.  The DSM-5 diagnosis will be an Adjustment Disorder, AND the additional DSM-5 diagnosis of,

V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

Here’s the linkages:

The presence of the three diagnostic indicators requires a clinical diagnosis of attachment-based “parental alienation”

A clinical diagnosis of attachment based “parental alienation” triggers the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed

The DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed requires a child protection response from the mental health professional. 

This duty to protect can be discharged by the mental health professional filing a child abuse report with an appropriate child protection agency

Initially, the child protective service agency receiving these reports won’t know what to do with these reports of child abuse. They will have three choices:

1.  Ignore the report. It is unlikely that they will choose this option.

2.  They can accept the diagnosis made by the mental health professional and take the appropriate child protection response of removing the child from the care of the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent and placing the child in the protective care of the targeted parent, thereby enacting the protective separation required for treatment of attachment-based “parental alienation” without having the targeted parent spend years of expensive litigation trying to prove “parental alienation” in Court.

3.  They can conduct their own independent investigation.

If they choose option 3, then all of their investigators who respond to these reports will need to learn the attachment-based model of “parental alienation,” thereby further eliminating professional ignorance and incompetence in working with this “special population” of children and families.

And once they learn an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” they will apply the same diagnostic standard of the three definitive Diagnostic Indicators for attachment-based “parental alienation. When the three Diagnostic Indicators are present, the investigator will confirm the diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse made by the reporting mental health professional, and the child protective services agency will then remove the child from the care of the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent and place the child in the protective care of the healthy and normal-range targeted parent.

The necessary child protection response of the child’s protective separation  from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) will be achieved without needing extensive litigation within the Court system.

If the Court reviews the placement decision made by the child protection agency, then the Court will be presented with two independent DSM-5 diagnoses of Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed, one made by an expert in this specialty area of professional practice, and one made independently by the child protection agency.

Two independently established DSM-5 diagnoses of Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed are sufficient to warrant the removal of the child from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, so that the child can be placed in the protective care of the normal-range parent during the period of the child’s active treatment and recovery stabilization.

Once the child’s symptoms have been resolved and stabilized, the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent can be reintroduced with treatment monitoring to ensure that the child’s symptoms do not reemerge.

If the child’s symptoms reemerge upon reintroducing the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, then another period of protective separation and supervised visitation would be warranted.

When mental health speaks with a single voice, the legal system will be able to act with the decisive clarity needed to solve “parental alienation.”

The Fourth Domino: Treatment

Once the third domino of the child’s protective separation is achieved, the fourth domino will fall.

My first book on the theoretical foundations of an attachment-based model is due out shortly. The first domino of the paradigm shift is falling. I’m anticipating my second book on diagnosis to appear this summer. The second domino will begin to fall. I’m anticipating my third book on treatment for around this time next year. The last domino will begin to fall.

The treatment domino is the most exciting. There are some things about treatment I haven’t yet shared. 

I am optimistic, I am convinced, that when we reach this phase of the solution we will be able to resolve the child’s symptoms (with a protective separation in place) within a matter of days.  Days.

We will still need a period of protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in order to stabilize the child’s recovery.  But I am convinced that we can achieve an initial resolution of the child’s symptoms within a matter of days.

This last domino is in the works.

Imagine resolving the child’s symptoms of “parental alienation” within a matter of days. This is my goal, our goal, and I am convinced it is achievable.

The Solution

We must achieve the solution for all families, or we can achieve the solution for no families.

The solution requires a series of dominoes to fall, and the first domino is the paradigm shift from the Gardnerian paradigm of PAS to an attachment-based model of parental alienation which is based entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.

Whether this first domino takes one year or ten is up to you, the community of targeted parents. I’m doing what I can, but I can only do so much on my own.

The reason mental health professionals can say “I don’t believe in parental alienation” is because the Gardnerian PAS model allows them to say this.

An attachment-based model will not allow them to say that they “don’t believe in parental alienation,” because the principles on which an attachment-based model are constructed are not a matter of opinion or belief, they are established and scientifically validated facts.

The solution to “parental alienation” awaits the falling of the first domino, the change in paradigm. Once the first domino falls the remaining dominoes will begin to fall in succession.

In order to achieve a solution for any individual family we must achieve a solution for all families.

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

Court Consideration of Adolescent Wishes

I was recently asked a question by a targeted parent about the practice in some Courts of considering the wishes of an adolescent in custody placement decisions, and I’d like to share my response.

While I will explain my response in a lengthy post, it’s actually quite simple: 

At no time should the Court ever consider the wishes expressed by the child whenever there is spousal-parental conflict.

Pretty simple.  Now let me explain why.  There are two primary reasons.

First, the authenticity of the child’s expressed wishes may likely have been compromised by a “role-reversal” relationship with the allied and supposedly favored parent (who is likely seeking the admission of the child’s wishes for Court consideration).

Second, whenever there is spousal conflict, seeking the child’s input essentially triangulates the child into the spousal-parental conflict.  This is EXACTLY the WRONG thing to do.  Bad.  Bad.  Bad.  Extremely destructive.  It not only supports the pathology in the family, it actually fosters and creates pathology in the family and it will have extremely harmful effects on the child’s underneath psychology.  We DO NOT ever want to triangulate the child into the spousal conflict.  No. No. No.  Never.  I don’t care what the age of the child is.  Never.  No.

1. The Role-Reversal Relationship

One of the central concepts in understanding “parental alienation” is the role-reversal relationship.

In healthy child development, the child uses the parent as a “regulatory other” for the child’s emotional and psychological state.  When the child faces a developmental challenge that the child cannot independently master, the child emits “protest behaviors” that elicit the involvement of the parent who helps the child regain an emotionally and psychologically organized and regulated state.

The parent acts as an external “regulatory other” (also called a “regulatory object”) for the child.  In doing so, the parent “scaffolds” the building of the child’s own internal networks for self-regulation.  With the brain, we build what we use.  Every time we use a brain system it gets a little stronger, more sensitive, and more efficient through use-dependent changes.

In healthy child development, every time the parent acts as a “regulatory other” for the child by scaffolding the child’s state transition from a disorganized and dysregulated brain state (as manifested in disorganized and dysregulated behavior) back into an organized and well-regulated brain state (as manifested by calm and cooperative behavior) all of the brain networks and brain systems that were used in this transition process become stronger, more sensitive, and more efficient.  We build what we use.

Over multiple repetitions of these state transitions, the child’s own brain networks for making these transitions become stronger, more sensitive, and more efficient so that the child develops the internalized capacity for “self-regulation” without the need for the scaffolding support of the “regulatory other” of the parent.  Overall, this development of internalized self-regulatory capacity is called the child’s development of “self-structure.”

This is a very important construct… the development of the child’s own self-structure through the repeated scaffolding support provided to the child by the “regulatory other” role of the parent.

The parent’s role as a “regulatory other” for the child is extremely important for the healthy development of the child.  In fact, it is THE central role of parenting beyond providing basic food and safety.  By acting as a “regulatory other” for the child, the parent “scaffolds” the child’s internal development of healthy “self-structures” for the child’s independent self-organization and self-regulation.

One of the leading figures in attachment research, Alan Sroufe, describes this process.

“At first, they [caregivers] are almost solely responsible for maintaining smooth regulation.  They attend to the infant’s changes in alertness or discomfort and signs of need, imbuing primitive infant behaviors with meaning  In the typical course of events, caregivers quickly learn to “read” the infant and to provide care that keeps distress and arousal within reasonable limits.  And they do more.  By effectively engaging the infant and leading him or her to ever longer bouts of emotionally charged, but organized behavior, they provide the infant with critical training in regulation.”

“The movement toward self-regulation continues throughout the childhood years, as does a vital, though changing, role for caregivers.  During the toddler period, the child acquires beginning capacities for self-control, tolerance of moderate frustration, and a widening range of emotional reactions, including shame and, ultimately, pride and guilt.  Practicing self-regulation in a supportive context is crucial.  Emerging capacities are easily overwhelmed.  The caregiver must both allow the child to master those circumstances within their capacity and yet anticipate circumstances beyond the child’s ability, and help to restore equilibrium when the child is over-taxed.  Such “guided self-regulation” is the foundation for the genuine regulation that will follow.” (Sroufe, 2000, p. 71)

However, in a role-reversal relationship the normal roles for the parent and child are reversed, so that it is the parent who uses the child as a “regulatory object” for the parent’s emotional and psychological state.  This is extremely destructive to the child’s emotional and psychological development.  The parent is essentially robbing the child’s self-structure development to support the parent’s own inadequate self-structure.

In healthy child development, the parent empathizes with the child and responds in ways that keep the child in a regulated state, i.e., acts as a “regulatory other” for the child.  This scaffolds the healthy development of the underlying neurological networks in the child’s brain that are central to healthy self-structure development.

In a role-reversal relationship, this is reversed so that it is the child who empathizes with the parent and responds in ways that keep the parent in a regulated state.  The roles are reversed.  The parent becomes the child and the child fulfills the psychological parent-role for the psychologically infantile parent.  This is extremely destructive to the child’s healthy development of self-structure.

And this unhealthy role-reversal relationship will be passed on to future generations.  The child in a role-reversal relationship will have his or her self-structure development robbed by the parent to feed the parent’s own inadequate self-structure.  When this child grow up, this child-now-adult will have inadequate self-structure organization because it was robbed in it’s healthy development in order to feed the parent’s inadequate self-structure. 

So this child, now an adult, will repeat the role-reversal use of the child with his or her own children.  The child-now-adult will use his or her own children in a role-reversal relationship to feed the inadequate self-structure of the parent which had been robbed from the parent’s development during the parent’s childhood. 

The role-reversal relationship is a pathology that is passed on trans-generationally from one generation to the next.

And so it goes, from generation to generation.  Parents using their children to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent, rather than healthy child development in which the parent meets the emotional and psychological needs of the child.  Instead, in the pathology of the role-reversal relationship each generation of parents rob their children of their healthy childhood development to meet the inadequate childhood development of the parent who had been robbed of self-structure development in his or her own childhood with his or her own parent.

Key Construct:

In a healthy parent-child relationship, the child uses the parent as a “regulatory other” for the child’s emotional and psychological state. 

In a pathological role-reversal relationship, the parent uses the child as a “regulatory other” for the parent’s emotional and psychological state.

So, to turn now to the question of adolescents’ “independent” judgment;

For any child no matter the age who is engaged in a role-reversal relationship with a parent, the child’s capacity for “independent” judgment has been significantly compromised by both the severity and the specific nature of the pathology of the role-reversal relationship. 

Instead of a normal and healthy childhood development that would result in normal-range and healthy self-structure, the child’s psychological development has been severely compromised by the use of the child in the parent’s psychopathology to serve as a “regulatory object” for the parent’s own emotional and psychological needs.

If a child has experienced normal-range development then we may be willing to provide some consideration to the expressed wishes of an adolescent.  However, the development of a child in a role-reversal relationship with a parent has been severely distorted by the role-reversal relationship so that their judgment is significantly compromised.  The child’s expressed wishes no longer reflect the authenticity of the child, but are instead being used in the service of meeting the needs of the pathological parent. 

When the child is in a role-reversal relationship with the pathology of the parent in which the child is meeting the needs of the psychologically infantile parent, the child’s expressed wishes are no longer authentic to the child.

The analogy would be to a hostage situation.  In the case of a role-reversal relationship the child is a “psychological hostage” as a “regulatory object” to the needs of the pathological, inadequate, and psychologically infantile parent.

Would we consider the statements made by a hostage as being authentic while the hostage is still in the custody of the hostage taker?  Absolutely not.

The child is acting under psychological duress (whether the child realizes it or not). 

Would it be sufficient to ask the hostage, “Are you being influenced by anyone in making these statements?” while the hostage was still in the custody of the hostage taker?  Absolutely not.  Of course the hostage will say, “No, I’m not being influenced” to our question.

Imagine an American hostage held by Islamic terrorists.  The American makes a televised statement critical of American policies.  Would we believe that these statements made by the hostage while the hostage was still being held by the terrorists represented the authentic beliefs of the hostage, and weren’t being coerced and influenced by his captors?  Of course not. 

What if the Islamic terrorists allowed a newspaper reporter to ask the hostage, “Are you making these statements of your own free will, or are you being told what to say by your captors?”  and the hostage said, “I am making these statements of my own free will.  No one is telling me what to say.”  Would we then say, “Well, I guess that settles it, these are the hostage’s authentic beliefs.”  That would be just plain stupid beyond imagination.

The statements made by the hostage are under duress as long as the hostage is in the custody of the captors, even if it is under psychological duress.

In a role-reversal relationship, the child is a “psychological hostage” to the pathology of the parent.  The child is being “psychologically held” in a role-reversal relationship by the pathology of the parent to act as a “regulatory object” for the parent so that the pathology of the parent can feed off of the child’s self-structure development, robbing the child of self-structure to support the inadequate self-structure formation of the parent.

But to all external appearances, the child will appear to be in a hyper-bonded relationship with the allied and supposedly favored – but actually severely pathological – parent. 

Role-reversal relationships are extremely pathological. The inadequate self-structure of the parent is feeding off of the healthy self-structure of the child to the extreme detriment of the child’s healthy development. 

The child is being robbed of a normal and healthy childhood in the service of meeting the emotional and psychological needs of a pathological parent, who was robbed in his or her own childhood of healthy development. 

Parents feeding off of their children’s self-structure to support the parent’s own inadequate self-structure development is extremely pathological.

So when evaluating the statements made by a child of any age, a prominent “moderator variable” in our consideration needs to be the possible presence of a role-reversal relationship in which the child is being used by a pathological parent as a “regulatory other” to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent. 

Before considering the statements of any child, the question is whether the child is being held as a psychological hostage through the child’s use as a “regulatory other” to the pathology of the parent.

To all external appearances, the child will look like he or she is in a bonded relationship with the pathological parent.  But to a trained and expert eye, the role-reversal relationship is clearly evident in a variety of features.  Only an incompetent and ignorant psychologist will miss a role-reversal relationship and believe the superficial presentation of a bonded relationship. 

Unfortunately, many mental health professionals who work with children are incompetent and ignorant.

If a role-reversal relationship exists, this is extremely destructive to the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development, and if left untreated and unresolved the role-reversal relationship represents a continuing risk not only to the current child but to the development of future generations of his or her children as well, so that treatment and resolution of the pathology becomes imperative and child protection considerations become prominent concerns.

2. Triangulation of the Child

Whenever there is spousal conflict there arises a significant risk that the child will be “triangulated” into the spousal conflict.

Triangulating the child into the spousal conflict is extremely destructive for the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development.  We NEVER want to triangulate the child into the spousal conflict.  Never, never, never.  Under any circumstances.  Never.

The spousal conflict is a two-person event.  When the child is brought into the middle of it, either the child will be torn apart by allegiances to both parents, or the child will need to take sides in the spousal conflict.  Either way, it is extremely destructive to the child to be triangulated into the spousal conflict.  We want to keep children out of the middle of their parents’ conflict.

When the child does become triangulated into the spousal conflict, the direct goal of therapy is to untriangulate the child from the spousal conflict.

Whenever there is spousal conflict, the risk of pathologically triangulating the child into the spousal conflict is extreme.

If we ask the child or adolescent what they want, WE ARE TRIANGULATING THE CHILD INTO THE SPOUSAL CONFLICT!!!!!!

No. No. No. This is exactly what we DON’T want to do.

Furthermore, any hopes for therapy will be smashed.  Abandon all hope of successful therapy for the child’s well-being.  The Court has essentially inflicted the pathology onto the child. 

Under NO circumstances do we ever want to ask the child what the child wants when there is spousal conflict.  We are essentially asking the child to choose sides in the spousal conflict, and we are opening the door directly to the role-reversal use of the child by the parent to meet the parent’s emotional and psychological needs. Pathology, pathology, pathology.

If the Court is concerned about the child’s well-being, then the Court should appoint a psychologist to serve as the voice of the child’s healthy development.  But under no circumstances should we ask the child to choose sides in the spousal conflict.

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

References:

Sroufe, L.A. (2000). Early relationships and the development of children. Infant Mental Health Journal, 21(1-2), 67-74.

Testimony by a Treating Therapist

I am sometimes asked by a treating therapist for a consultation regarding attachment-based “parental alienation.”  I have just added a handout to my website, near the top, regarding my thoughts on how a treating therapist might describe in Court testimony the issues surrounding attachment-based “parental alienation.”

A direct link to this handout is:

Testimony by a Treating Therapist

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

The Exclusion Demand as Independence

I received a Comment from a targeted parent to my Exclusion Demand post in which the targeted parent indicated that a prior therapist had justified the child’s “exclusion demand” rejection of the targeted parent as representing the child’s desire for independence. 

I want to address this (and any other therapist-offered justifications for the “exclusion demand”) as a separate blog post because I believe professional competence to be so incredibly important as a required expectation for all therapists working with children.

The suggestion by ANY therapist that the child’s “exclusion demand” represents even a remotely normal-range expression of emerging child independence is incredibly ignorant, and just plain stupid. Let me describe why:

Preparatory Foundation

First, there are a number of cultural factors that are involved in a consideration of this therapist suggestion that the “exclusion demand” represents the child’s seeking independence. The construct of independence is culturally defined and tends to be a more prominent construct in Northern European cultural values than in more collectivist cultures, such as Hispanics and Asian cultures. Furthermore, the construct of “independence” reflects a male-dominated value system rather than a more female-oriented value system that emphasizes mutual interdependence.

But let’s put all this entirely relevant information aside so we can get right the heart of the immense stupidity of suggesting that the “exclusion demand” represents the child’s normal-range (or even abnormal-range) seeking of independence.

1. Frequency

All children – 100% – must deal with issues of separation and independence (interdependence) from parents and the family of origin. If the “exclusion demand” was a normal-range expression of the child’s seeking independence, then we would expect to see this symptom in a vast number of normal-range children, since ALL children must deal with this issue. So we would expect to see millions of children expressing the “exclusion demand.”

Go to any park on a Saturday afternoon. How many children are demanding that their parents not attend their soccer or baseball games?  None.  Not a single child. Go to any school music performance by children, how many children are demanding that their parents not attend their school concert performance.  None.  Not a single child. Go to any high school football or basketball game, how many of the adolescent players are demanding that their parents not attend their game.  None.  Not a single adolescent.

And many of these families have significant pathology. Yet we NEVER see the “exclusion demand.”  Never.  Yet if the “exclusion demand” was an expression of the child’s independence and 100% of children need to address this issue, then we would expect to see millions of children expressing the “exclusion demand” but instead the rate of the “exclusion demand” in the normal (and abnormal) range population is 0%.

Furthermore, the developmental challenge of independence occurs in adolescence (Erikson), so we should NEVER see the “exclusion demand” prior to the age of 12.  And developmentally, adolescents do not express their emerging independence by excluding parents from public events. The most common way of establishing adolescent independence is through the increased frequency and intensity of angry exchanges between the adolescent and parent that psychologically highlights boundaries of self-autonomy. Go to any high school football or basketball game. How many players have demanded that their parents NOT attend the game.   None.  Not a single one. Yet all of the players are adolescents, and many of the families have significant pathology.

To suggest that the “exclusion demand” is an expression of the child’s seeking “independence” is just plain stupid.

2.  Healthy Child Development

Healthy children love their parents.  “Independence” – whatever that concept may mean – with regard to children and families is weird.  Children and families are inter-dependent.  Children are separate and independent, and they are involved and integrated into the family.  Healthy child development NEVER means the child’s rejecting a parent.

Normal adolescents express independence by causing conflicts that highlight psychological boundaries.  Normal adolescents express independence by withholding information about friends and activities from parents.  Normal adolescents express independence by socially different clothing or grooming choices, or by holding and expressing different values from their parents.

Children, even adolescent children, do not express independence by not loving a parent.  Not loving a parent is a symptom of extreme clinical concern

3.  Separation-Individuation

Furthermore, the primary model of “individuation” is Margaret Mahler’s from her direct research with children.  Mahler describes three component phases of separation-individuation, 1) the separation phase, 2) the depressive phase, and 3) the rapprochement phase.  In the separation phase the child seeks greater psychological independence by increasing angry exchanges with the parent.  This is followed by the depressive phase in which the child’s emotional expansiveness created by separation collapses in the child’s psychological isolation, which is then followed by the child’s return to the parent to repair the relationship with the parent (the rapprochement phase).

So if the “exclusion demand” represents the child’s seeking of independence, we would also expect to see the rapprochement phase in which the child seeks to repair the bond to the rejected parent.  But we NEVER see the child seeking to restore the parent-child bond following the “exclusion demand” symptom. Never.

4.  Independence from Whom?

If the “exclusion demand” is an expression of the child’s desire for independence, then the child should be expressing the symptom toward BOTH parents, since the child needs to separate and become independent from both parents (assuming the irrational belief in independence rather than the actual construct of healthy inter-dependence).

But wait. The child is already rejecting the targeted parent. So the child has a whole bunch of independence from the targeted parent.  If the child is seeking independence then the child should be displaying the “exclusion demand” symptom toward the bonded-parent not toward the parent the child is ALREADY separated from.

Why would the child need to separate from the parent the child is already separate from, but NOT from the parent the child isn’t separated from?

Why would telling a parent not to come to a music recital attended by every other child’s parent, represent “independence?”  Why would a parent sitting in the bleachers with all the other parents watching the child play sports at a public event reflect the child’s “independence?”

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Stupid Reasons

Just because a therapist offers a “reason” doesn’t make the reason rational.

“Your child is excluding you from attending his baseball games because his horoscope has Jupiter in the house of Sagittarius.”

Is that a reason?  Yep.  Is it a stupid reason?  Yep.

“Your child is excluding you from attending her school Christmas play because she’s seeking independence.

Is that a reason?  No doubt.  Is it a stupid reason.  Absolutely.

The “exclusion demand” is nowhere near normal.  It’s not even close to abnormal.  The “exclusion demand” is a symptom of extreme pathology. When I hear this symptom my clinical concern immediately becomes a 10 on a 10-point scale.

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