Changing Paradigms

There are substantial efforts underway from targeted parents to make use of my work in defining an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” to achieve a solution to the family tragedy of “parental alienation.” These efforts have my full support and I will do whatever I can to help in finding a solution.

Professional mental health should be the staunch and firm allies of targeted parents in protecting the healthy development of their children. But instead, professional psychology has been lost in a quagmire of professional incompetence, ignorance, and ineptitude – divided within ourselves by an unnecessary and unproductive debate that has failed in our responsibility for protecting the healthy development of the children.

We must bring this internal debate in professional psychology to a close.

The family tragedy of “parental alienation” must end. Today. Each day that passes without a solution is a day we abandon children to the psychological child abuse of “parental alienation.”

To find a solution means that the divisive internecine debate within professional psychology must be brought to an end.

The official position of the American Psychological Association on the construct of parental alienation is,

“January 1, 2008

Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome

The American Psychological Association (APA) believes that all mental health practitioners as well as law enforcement officials and the courts must take any reports of domestic violence in divorce and child custody cases seriously. An APA 1996 Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family noted the lack of data to support so-called “parental alienation syndrome”, and raised concern about the term’s use. However, we have no official position on the purported syndrome.”

http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2008/01/pas-syndrome.aspx

This is an inadequate professional position. This official position must change.

Obsolete

First, the position taken by the APA is about “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” which is no longer a relevant paradigm for describing the psychological processes of “parental alienation.”

The paradigm is shifting from PAS to an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” that is based entirely within scientifically established psychological constructs and principles. A new position statement is needed regarding an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation.”

Toward this end, my first book regarding an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is due out shortly, with my second book on Diagnosis due this summer. In the initial book, “Foundations,” I describe the theoretical foundations for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” at three separate, but interrelated, levels of analysis,

Family Systems Level: a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent against the other parent.

Personality Disorder Level: the use of the child by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent in a role-reversal relationship as a “regulatory object” for the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent

Attachment System Level: The reenactment of attachment trauma patterns from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent into the current family relationships, expressed in the (false) trauma representational pattern of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent.”

With this book, the paradigm will begin shifting away from a Gardnerian PAS definition of “parental alienation” that originated in the 1980s based on a set of anecdotal clinical indicators, to a current 2015 attachment-based definition for the construct that is based entirely on the solid professional bedrock of scientifically established psychological principles and constructs.

With this shift in paradigm, the American Psychological Association will need to revisit its position statement regarding the construct of “parental alienation” relative to an attachment-based reconceptualization for this construct.

The current position statement of the APA is out of date and obsolete.

Misdirected Focus

Second, the focus of the APA’s position statement is misdirected toward domestic violence rather than the attachment system pathology evidenced in “parental alienation.”

The opening sentence of the position statement regarding “parental alienation” diverts the focus from the family tragedy of a child’s induced rejection of a relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent, over to the issue of domestic violence. While domestic violence is a peripherally related construct, it is neither the primary nor foremost construct in “parental alienation” that it would warrant the focus for the APA’s position statement.

At its core, the pathology of “parental alienation” involves distortions to the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent. The severe distortions to the child’s attachment system are the direct result of pathogenic parenting practices of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and represent the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent into the current family relationships.

The focus of the APA’s position statement should be on the pathogenic parenting that is inducing a suppression in the normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment system relative to a normal-range and affectionally available parent.

The primary and central focus of the position statement should be on the child and the child’s symptoms, not on a peripherally related topic of domestic violence generally.

Out-of-Date

Third, the APA’s position statement cites as its primary reference to “parental alienation” a 1996 task force conclusion about the lack of scientific support for the PAS model proposed by Gardner. This citation of a task force conclusion from 20 years ago about a paradigm that is no longer relevant is extraordinarily out of date and entirely inadequate.

As the leading professional organization, the position of the APA should be based on current theoretical paradigms and current scientific evidence related to the attachment system, role-reversal relationships, the trans-generational transmission of developmental trauma, and the formation of personality disorder pathology relative to attachment trauma. There is substantial scientific support derived from the child development literature for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” as the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent into the current family relationships through the formation of a role-reversal relationship with the child in which the child is being used as a “regulatory object” for the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Given the immense amount of child development research that has emerged over the past 20 years, including important research on the socially mediated neuro-development of the brain during childhood, a new APA Presidential Task Force focused specifically on the psychological needs of children and psychopathology in the family would be warranted.

In particular, this Task Force should examine issues of,

  • Creating a clearly articulated operational definition for the construct of “parental capacity” that is used as a central construct in child custody evaluations;
  • Creating a clearly articulated operational definition for the construct of the “child’s best interests” that is used as a central construct in child custody evaluations;

If clearly articulated operational definitions for these two central constructs used in child custody evaluations are not forthcoming from professional psychology, then the practice of child custody evaluation should cease, as the conclusions and recommendations derived from child custody evaluations that lack operational definitions for these two central concepts will lack scientifically established reliability and validity.

  • A specific examination of role-reversal pathology within families as a form of psychological child abuse;
  • A specific examination regarding the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma within families;
  • A specific examination of parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology as a manifestation of attachment trauma that is transmitted trans-generationally to the child;
  • A specific examination of professional standards for education and training of child and family therapists, including specification of required domains of curriculum content necessary for professional competence in child and family therapy.

Synthesis

Both sides in the unproductive professional debate surrounding the construct of “parental alienation” are correct.

The Gardnerian position is correct. There is a valid clinical phenomenon in which a child is induced into rejecting a relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent as a result of distorted parenting practices by an allied and supposedly favored “alienating” parent.

The opponents of the Gardnerian PAS model are also correct in that Gardner’s definition of this clinical phenomenon as a “new syndrome” identified by a set of anecdotal clinical indicators lacks sufficient theoretical foundation.

Both sides are correct.

An attachment-based model offers a resolution to this unproductive and damaging professional debate by reformulating the definition for the construct of “parental alienation” from entirely within scientifically established and accepted psychological principles of the attachment system, attachment trauma, and parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology.

We must end this unnecessary and unproductive professional debate so that we can set about solving the family tragedy of “parental alienation” for the far too many parents and children who are living this ongoing family nightmare.

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

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