SBS Intervention

“Remedy:  The manner in which a right is enforced or satisfied by a court when some harm or injury, recognized by society as a wrongful act, is inflicted upon an individual.”

http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/remedy

Just a reminder, I am not an attorney.  I am a psychologist.  For legal advice consult an attorney and follow the advice of the attorney.  In this post I will be discussing a possible compromise intervention that may, in some cases, be presented to the Court as a proposed remedy based on the legal strategy of the attorney in a given situation.


I am increasingly being asked by attorneys to serve as an expert consultant or witness regarding cases of “parental alienation.”

Just for the record, I am not an expert in “parental alienation.”  From a clinical psychology perspective, the term “parental alienation” is not a defined clinical term. 

The proper clinical term for the interpersonal and family processes typically called “parental alienation” is “pathogenic parenting” (patho=pathology; genic=genesis, creation).  Pathogenic parenting is the creation of significant child pathology as a result of highly distorted parenting practices.

My professional expertise is in child and family therapy, diagnosis and psychopathology, parent-child conflict, and child development.

I recently met with a targeted parent and discussed her situation.  I then spoke with her attorney regarding the case.  The attorney believes the evidence of “parental alienation” is substantial.  There is a history of unsuccessful “reunification” therapy and a child custody evaluation is pending.

From a psychological perspective, I recommended that the approach remain focused on the child’s evident pathology (i.e., on pathogenic parenting) and the child’s treatment needs rather than on trying to prove that “parental alienation” has interfered in the relationship of the targeted parent and child.

Attachment-based “parental alienation” is not just a matter of disrupting the targeted parent’s relationship with the child, it is a matter of inducing serious and severe psychopathology in the child through the distorted pathogenic parenting practices of the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  I believe it is best to remain grounded in the child’s pathology and in the treatment needs of the child.

My concern is that if the focus shifts to proving “parental alienation,” then this invites an identification of harm or injury as being to the parental rights and parental relationship of the targeted parent, leading to a remedy directed toward satisfying the harm and injury done to the targeted parent

If, on the other hand, the focus remains on the extent and severity of the child’s pathology that is being created by the distorted pathogenic parenting of the allied and supposedly favored parent, then the remedy involves the treatment needs of the child that are necessary to restore the normal-range and healthy development of the child.

It’s not about injury to the parent, its about injury to the child.  The remedy isn’t focused toward the parent, the remedy is focused toward the child.

Attachment-based “parental alienation” isn’t a child custody issue, it’s a child protection issue.

Again, I am a psychologist not an attorney, but I would tend to recommend avoiding the construct of “parental alienation” as  I view this as chasing a rabbit down the rabbit hole.  The narcissistic/(borderline) parent responds, “prove it,” and then we’re into chasing a nearly impossible task of proving distorted parenting and we have lost the grounding afforded by a relentless focus on the nature and severity of the child’s pathology and treatment needs, and on what is necessary to restore the normal-range and healthy development of the child.

When we remain focused on the nature and severity of the child’s symptoms, we open the door to the treatment needs of the child.  The treatment needs of the child depend on the clinical diagnosis regarding the origin of the child’s pathology. I am a clinical psychologist.  That’s what I do.  I identify the origins of child pathology and I develop and implement treatment plans that will restore the child’s healthy development based on what the origins of the child’s pathology are.

Q:  Could the nature and extent of the child’s pathology be originating spontaneously from the child?  A: No.

Q:  Could the nature and extent of the child’s pathology be the product of the pathogenic parenting of the targeted-rejected parent?  A: No.

Q: If the child’s severe pathology is not originating spontaneously from the child, and is not a product of the pathogenic parenting of the targeted-rejected parent, then what could be the origins of the child’s pathology?

A:  The child’s pathology is being induced by the distorted pathogenic parenting practices of the allied and supposedly favored parent.

Remedy: What are the treatment needs of the child to restore normal-range and healthy development?

Again, this is not legal advice.  I am a psychologist.  This is just my opinion from my perspective as a clinical psychologist.  This is what I do for a living.  I first identify the nature and severity of the child’s pathology.  I then use features of the child’s pathology to identify the origins of the child’s pathology.  I then develop and implement a treatment plan to resolve the child’s pathology based on my assessment regarding the origins of the child’s pathology. 

I am a clinical child and family psychologist. That’s what I do.  I do this for autism-spectrum disorders, for ADHD-spectrum disorders, for child depressive and anxiety disorders, for oppositional and defiant child behavior, for school failure, for attachment disorders, for parent-child and family conflicts.

I do this across the developmental spectrum; for young children and their families, for school-age children and their families, for adolescents and their families.

1.)  Identify the nature and severity of the child’s pathology.

2.)  Use features of the child’s symptom display to identify the origins of the child’s pathology.

3.)  Develop and implement a treatment plan that will restore the child’s normal-range and healthy development based on the identified origin of the child’s pathology

Treatment Needs

The attorney and I then discussed what the treatment needs of the child are in this case based on the information I had from the targeted-rejected parent.

We discussed the child’s potential triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with the allied and supposedly favored parent against the other parent.

We discussed the child’s apparent narcissistic and borderline symptoms as described by the targeted parent, and the possible origin of these reported child symptoms in the pathogenic parenting practices of the allied and supposedly favored parent.

I described the hypothesis that the child was experiencing a misunderstood and misinterpreted grief response relative to the lost relationship with the beloved-but-now-rejected targeted parent, and we then discussed the treatment for that.

We discussed the means by which the child’s symptomatic rejection of a normal-range and affectionally available parent could be induced through a role-reversal relationship with a narcissistic-borderline parent who is using the child as a “regulatory object” to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent.

I discussed the importance relative to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” of a protective separation of the child from the pathology of the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery as representing a necessary condition for protecting the child if we are to ask the child to expose his or her authenticity.

Treatment Plan

As we discussed the remedy the attorney could seek from the Court for the severely pathogenic parenting associated with an attachment-based model of “parental alienation,” my  recommendation was Dorcy Pruter’s “High Road to Family Reunification” protocol. I have reviewed her protocol and I completely understand how she achieves the recovery of the children’s relationship with the targeted parent. The “High Road” protocol would be my first-line recommendation for restoring the parent-child relationship, over and above any other approach to family reunification.

Her protocol requires that the Court order a 9-month period of protective separation of the children from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  I understand why this is necessary and I entirely agree with the requirement. 

With this protective separation in place, she asserts that her protocol is capable of restoring normal-range parent-child relationships in a matter of days, and based on my review of her protocol, I would agree with this assessment of the protocol’s effectiveness..

In my view, this is the best approach for restoring  children’s affectionally bonded relationship with the targeted parent because of its effectiveness, its intensity, and its speed.  The child’s initial recovery will be fragile at first, so a continued protective separation of the child from the pathogenic pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is needed to stabilize the child’s recovery.

The attorney and I then discussed the likelihood in this case that the Court would order a protective separation of the child from the allied and supposedly favored pathogenic parent.  This will likely be dependent on the strength of the evidence that can be presented to the Court regarding the severity of the pathogenic parenting as evidenced in the child’s symptoms, and the associated treatment needs of the child necessary to restore the child’s healthy and normal-range development.

The SBS Intervention

As we discussed remedies relative to the child’s pathology and treatment, and the possible reluctance of the Court to order the necessary protective separation of the child which would be required for the child’s treatment and recovery, I remembered an old “compromise solution” for the Court that I developed back in 2011, the Strategic-Behavioral-Systems Intervention (SBS Intervention). 

The SBS Intervention is a Strategic family systems intervention that targets the power dynamic in the family. 

Strategic Family Systems Therapy

From a Strategic family systems framework, the child’s symptom confers power.  Strategic family systems therapy analyzes the power dynamics within the family and develops a prescriptive intervention which, if followed, will alter the power dynamics so that the symptom just drops away because it no longer serves its function of conferring power within the family relationships.

Strategic family systems therapy is a less common form of family systems therapy because it requires a fair degree of sophisticated skill in family systems therapy to first analyze the power dynamics within the family and then to also develop a prescriptive solution which, when implemented, will automatically alter the power dynamics within the family in a way to release the symptom.

While difficult to develop, and as a consequence rare in clinical practice, a good Strategic family systems intervention, however, can be quite elegant and powerful in its operation. The major limitation to Strategic family systems therapy is the level of clinical skill required to develop a prescriptive intervention that alters the specific power dynamics within the family in a way that will release the symptom.

The SBS Intervention

The Strategic-Behavioral-Systems Intervention for attachment-based “parental alienation” represents my effort to develop a Strategic family systems intervention for attachment-based “parental alienation.”  My goal in this is to provide the Court with a possible compromise solution to removing the child entirely from the care of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

I sent the SBS Intervention protocol to the attorney with whom I was consulting for her consideration as a possible proposed remedy.

I have also posted the Strategic-Behavioral-Systems Intervention protocol to my website, and a direct link to it is at:

Strategic-Behavioral-Systems Intervention

Note:  My recommendation as a clinical psychologist would be for a period of protective separation of the child from the pathogenic pathology of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery stabilization.

If the SBS Intervention is tried as a compromise solution to a complete protective separation, then I would recommend a six-month trial of the SBS Intervention.  If the SBS Intervention has not restored the child’s normal-range development after a six-month “Response-to-Intervention” trial, then I would recommend a complete protective separation of the child from the pathogenic parenting of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent and intervention with the High Road protocol.

If the High Road protocol of Pruter’s is not possible, then I would recommend a treatment model along the lines described in my essay on Reunification Therapy available on my website.

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

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