The Citadel of Establishment Mental Health

You will need mental health as your ally in order to defeat the pathogen of “parental alienation” and rescue your children from the pathology that has captured them and destroyed your lives.

As long as the mental health response to the pathogen of “parental alienation” remains so deeply inadequate and flawed, then there will be no solution. The legal system will be unable to act with the decisive clarity necessary to protect your children as long as the mental health system remains frozen in unproductive and irresponsible internal debate between entrenched and intransigent factions.

“Parental alienation” is not a child custody issue; it is a child protection issue.

The debate within mental health is about to be brought to a close.

Within an attachment-based reformulation of the “parental alienation” construct, it is the professional obligation of mental health to identify the severity of the pathology expressed in “parental alienation” as a child protection issue. Once mental health identifies the severity of the pathogen, we can then achieve an appropriate child protection response from the legal system.

Our first series of battles will be to reclaim the mental health system from the pathogen. The pathogen has disabled the mental health response to the pathology of “parental alienation” by locking up the mental health system in an unproductive internal debate. Foundations provides a fundamental theoretical reformulation for the construct of “parental alienation” that allows both sides in this unproductive debate to come together, to reach synthesis and agreement, and to bring the unproductive debate in mental health to an end.

Our first set of battles will be to reclaim the mental health system from the pathogen, and restore the mental health system as your ally. Once mental health is your ally, we will turn next to the legal system and, with the power of your new ally of establishment mental health, we will obtain the necessary child protection response to the pathogen of “parental alienation” from the legal system.

First the mental health system, then the legal system.

Prior Battles

The citadel of establishment mental health has been assaulted before, without success. But always with the Gardnerian model of “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (PAS).

This time, for this battle, we are not fighting under the battle flag of Gardnerian PAS. There will be NO Gardnerian PAS banner on this battlefield.

Gardnerian PAS has failed to take the citadel of establishment mental health. The Gardnerian model of PAS is a failed paradigm. There will be no Gardnerian PAS battle flag on this battlefield.

The most recent effort to storm the citadel of establishment mental health with the Gardnerian PAS model occurred with the publication of the DSM-5 in 2013. This afforded the Gardnerian warriors their best opportunity to breach the gates of establishment mental health and plant the flag of “parental alienation” within the citadel of establishment mental health. The staunch Gardnerian warriors launched an all-out effort with the DSM committees, seeking to have the construct of “parental alienation” recognized as a legitimate psychological process.

They failed.  The citadel remains in the hands of the pathogen.

The DSM-5 completely and fully rejected inclusion of the construct of “parental alienation” as a recognized phenomenon within establishment mental health. The Gardnerian contingent tried to put as good a face on their defeat as possible, but in truth their defeat was complete and total.

The Gardnerian model of PAS is a failed paradigm. It has been repeatedly and consistently rejected by establishment mental health across 30 years and with a full examination of its scientific and theoretical basis.

At the time of the DSM-5 defeat, I was well on the way to an attachment-based reformulation of the “parental alienation” pathology. The defeat of Gardnerian PAS did not surprise me. I had conducted an analysis of the pathogen, the situation, and the solution when I first set out on my journey seven years ago to empower you to be able to protect and rescue your children from the pathogen of “parental alienation.”  That the pathogen had once again defeated the PAS model was disappointing, but of absolutely no surprise.

This is the most malicious, sophisticated, and dangerous pathogen I have ever encountered. Its category is a “trauma pathogen,” like domestic violence, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, and it has defensive information-structures designed to disable efforts to interfere with the enactment of the pathology. This is a very sophisticated pathogen.

When Gardner first penetrated the “veil of concealment” that hides the trauma pathogen of “parental alienation” from view he didn’t realize just how sophisticated and malignant this pathogen is. His initial description of the pathogen using the eight anecdotal indicators of PAS and his proposal of a “new syndrome” based on these anecdotal indicators was totally inadequate to the task.

The sophisticated defensive structures of the pathogen simply acquired allies in mental health and then feasted on the unsophisticated PAS model. Gardner totally underestimated the sophistication and malevolence of this pathogen. The most devastating counter-attack was labeling the PAS model with the epithet of “junk science.” This was a devastating label that effectively disabled the PAS paradigm as an effective theoretical model.

Gardner’s error was in too quickly abandoning the professional rigor necessary to define the pathogen from within established psychological processes and constructs. With all due respect for the clinical acumen of Richard Gardner in penetrating the pathogen’s “veil of concealment” by identifying the existence of the pathogen, he was simply too conceptually lazy in defining the information-structures of the pathology. His error was in proposing a “new syndrome” (a conceptually lazy approach) rather than working out the pathogen’s information structures. This allowed the allies of the pathogen in mental health, the pathogen’s “binding sites of ignorance” that are used by the pathogen to disable the mental health response to the pathology, to attack Gardner’s efforts to interfere with the enactment of the pathology.

The refrain from establishment mental health became:

“There is no such thing as a new syndrome of parental alienation”

“Parental alienation doesn’t exist.”

This denial of the pathogen is allowed by the Gardnerian PAS model because it proposes a “new syndrome” that is not based in any preexisting and established psychological principles and constructs.

The fundamental problem lay in the proposal of a “new syndrome” which could then be rejected by establishment mental health.

The failure to ground the theoretical formulation of “parental alienation” within established psychological principles and constructs means that we are unable to establish accepted standards of practice for the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of the pathology known as “parental alienation.” Without established standards of practice, professional ignorance and incompetence goes unchecked.

For example, I can write a report to the court saying that the child needs to be protectively separated from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, but then some ignorant mental health professional will nullify my recommendations by telling the court that “the child’s wishes should be respected” in rejecting a normal-range and affectionally available parent, and that the child “isn’t ready” to be reunited with the targeted-rejected parent. So knowledge is nullified by ignorance.

Only the legal system has the power to protect your children. In order to achieve a solution in the legal system, the mental health system must speak with a single voice.

This is a child protection issue.

The court needs to immediately transfer care of the child to the child’s authentic, normal-range, and protective parent (i.e., the currently targeted-rejected parent) and the court must impose a no-contact order on the child’s communications with the pathogenic parent during the period of the child’s active treatment and recovery stabilization.

When knowledge speaks to the court, there must be NO dissenting opinion from ignorance that colludes with the psychopathology. Our adversary is the pathogen; our enemy is ignorance.

We will need to cleanse the mental health system of ignorance with regard to the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of the “parental alienation” pathogen. This will require that we have clearly established domains of professional knowledge necessary to establish professional competence in assessing, diagnosing, and treating this “special population” of children and families to which ALL mental health professionals can be held ACCOUNTABLE.

Gardnerian PAS cannot provide these defined domains of professional knowledge needed to establish professional competence to which all mental health professionals can then be held accountable.

Foundations can. That is exactly why I wrote it.

Seven years ago, it became evident to me that the solution to “parental alienation” required the development of an alternative paradigm for defining the pathogen. One that did not propose a “new syndrome” but that instead defines the pathology of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.

This would mean that the allies of the pathogen (the pathogen’s “binding sites of ignorance” in establishment mental health) could no longer claim that “parental alienation doesn’t exist.”

In an attachment-based reformulation, ALL of the component psychological processes used in defining the construct of “parental alienation” are already fully established and accepted psychological processes and constructs. Personality disorders exist. The attachment system exists. Delusional beliefs exist. Role-reversal relationships, cross-generational coalitions, regulatory objects, trauma reenactment. All of these things are already accepted by establishment mental health as existing.

An attachment-based model makes no proposal for a “new syndrome” that somehow needs to be accepted by professional mental health. All of the component processes of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” are ALREADY ACCEPTED by establishment mental health.

This is important to understand: Since an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is based entirely on established and accepted psychological principles and constructs, there’s nothing for establishment mental health to “accept.” Establishment mental health has already accepted ALL of the component processes.

Hopefully, I’m beginning to see some light-bulbs of understanding starting to light up.

“Ohhhh, I think I get it. So by using an attachment-based reformulation for defining what “parental alienation” is, we can skip that whole step of “seeking the acceptance” of establishment mental health.”

Yep.

“We only need to seek acceptance if we’re proposing a “new syndrome” – like PAS.”

Yep.

“But with an attachment-based model we’re not proposing a “new syndrome.”

That’s correct.

“So there’s nothing for establishment mental health to accept or reject”

That’s correct.

“They just need to become aware.”

Yep. 

<Ding>

So seven years ago I set out to provide you, the child’s authentic and protective parent, with the theoretical Foundations – the professional “words-of-power” – that you would need to storm the citadel of establishment mental health and reclaim the mental health system as your ally in fighting the pathology of “parental alienation.”

Forging Your Weapon

Seven years ago I set about unraveling the pathology of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs. Not one idea or construct is borrowed from Gardner. An attachment-based model is an entirely alternate reformulation of the pathology from completely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.

Along this journey I would post to my website my gains in unraveling the pathology as soon as I had them, in the possibility that one of you might be able to use the emerging insights of this alternate model of “parental alienation” to solve your particular situation. But I knew that the actual solution involved reclaiming the citadel of professional psychology from the current ignorance and collusion with the pathogen. Until we solved the mental health system, we could not solve the legal system, and only the legal system has the power to protect your child from the pathogen.

So we must first fix the mental health response to the pathogen, then use the power of the mental health system to fix the legal system’s response to the pathology. Then, and only then, will we be able to solve “parental alienation” for your specific family and your specific child.

And when we fix the mental health and legal systems, we will solve “parental alienation” for ALL children and ALL families. So you are all in this together. You cannot achieve a solution for your specific situation until we achieve a solution for all children and all families.

Once I had the basic structure of the model, I shifted to my blog to begin describing the component pieces of the model as these became organized, again in the possibility that someone somewhere might be able to use this formative information as I set about forging the actual weapon from this theoretical foundation.

Your Weapon

With the publication of Foundations, your weapon is forged and is now available to you.

Foundations provides to you with the solid theoretical bedrock of established and accepted psychological principles and constructs – the professional “words-of-power” – that will allow you to assault the citadel of establishment mental health… and win.

With the professional “words-of-power” I provide you in Foundations, you will take the citadel of professional psychology.

When you march and fight under the field banner of Foundations, you will not be asking establishment mental health to “accept” some new syndrome. You will be expecting them to recognize existing and accepted forms of psychopathology.

However, be aware – you are fighting ignorance. You cannot be ignorant if you are fighting ignorance.

If you use a Gardnerian PAS model, thinking that you can just throw the words “parental alienation” at the citadel for another countless time… you will lose. Just like you’ve lost for 30 years. Nothing will change.

If you think you can simply throw up to establishment mental health the words “parental alienation” and that something will be different now, you’re simply being ignorant. You cannot fight ignorance by remaining ignorant.

There will be NO Gardnerian PAS banner on this battlefield.

This battle will be fought under the field banner – the professional “words-of-power” – of Foundations.

If you use the professional “words-of-power” I provide you in Foundations – narcissistic/(borderline) personality disorder, disorganized attachment, attachment trauma, splitting, cross-generational coalition, trauma reenactment, role-reversal relationship, regulatory object – then you will be victorious.

I have forged for you the weapon you need to protect your children, and if you come together as one you will be an unstoppable force. Across seven years I have forged this specific weapon for you from out of the solid bedrock of established psychological principles and constructs for exactly this fight – to reclaim mental health as your ally.

The time to end “parental alienation” has arrived.  Today.  Now. We do not need professional mental health to accept anything.   We expect them to be competent.  The pathology of “parental alienation” ends.  Today.  Now.

“Parental alienation” – as defined in Foundations – is not a child custody issue; it is a child protection issue. And we expect professional competence in assessing, diagnosing, and treating the severe psychopathology of an attachment-based reformulation for the construct of “parental alienation.”

On July 1, 2015 my series on your Empowerment will be posted to YouTube. 

On July 1, 2015 we begin our fight to reclaim the citadel of establishment mental health as your ally.

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

July 2015

Foundations Banner Red-BlueFor far too long you have been dis-empowered and made helpless by the allies of the pathology, and have been unable to protect your children from the psychological abuse of “parental alienation.”

For far too long you have endured the devastating emotional and psychological trauma of being alienated from your dear and beloved children by the loathsome actions of the narcissistic-borderline parent.

For far too long, the mental health system has been blind to your suffering and the legal system deaf to your entreaties.

This is all about to change.

Foundations Banner GreenIn July of 2015, the battle to reclaim mental health as your ally and the child’s will be engaged.  In the weeks ahead I will be posting a series of YouTube videos describing the campaign to recover your children — to rescue them from the pathology which they have too long endured.

The initial battle will be the battle for mental health.  The pathogen of “parental alienation” has infected and disabled the mental health response to this severe form of trauma pathology that is being enacted in your families. 

Mental health is currently paralyzed; locked in a polarized debate over the mere existence of the pathology.  It exists.  Foundations defines it.  The debate will be brought to a close.

Foundations Banner Green-BlueBe aware, there will be NO Gardnerian PAS banner on this battlefield.  We will NOT fight the battle to reclaim mental health as your ally using the Gardnerian PAS model.

Foundations fully describes and defines the pathology within established psychological principles and constructs. 

With Foundations, we have seized control of the battlefield from the pathogen.  WE now control the battlefield, and we will be relentless in our efforts to rescue and recover your children… all of your children.

Once we have achieved mental health as your ally, we will then use the power of your new ally in mental health and turn next to the battle of the courts. 

Once mental health speaks with a single clear voice, the legal system will be able to act with the decisive clarity needed to resolve the pathology.  This first set of battles – for the integrity of mental health – are the pivotal engagements.

The solution we achieve will need to be efficient.  We must be able to achieve a resolution through the courts and through mental health in less than 6 months from the time the pathology is identified

The solution we achieve will need to be affordable.  No lengthy and repeated involvement of courts and attorneys that bleed the family of financial resources.

We Will Not Abandon bannerAnd the solution must recover the adult children – the adult survivors of childhood parental alienation. 

All of these goals are achievable.

We will not abandon a single child to the pathogen of “parental alienation.”  The family pathology and continuing trauma of “parental alienation” needs to stop.  Today.  Now.

The long nightmare of “parental alienation” must be brought to a close, and your children must be returned to the normal and healthy childhood they deserve, free from their parents’ conflict.  And hearts ripped apart in childhood need to be recovered and restored now that they are grown..

In July of 2015, we begin our journey to recover your authentic children from the pathology of “parental alienation.”  Prepare yourself.  Arm yourself with the professional words-of-power from Foundations. 

There will be NO Gardnerian PAS banner on this battlefield.  You will need the professional words-of-power offered in Foundations for the coming battles. 

The words-of-power contained in Foundations give you the power to overcome this pathogen.  You will need them. 

You are more powerful than you know. 

Amplify your power.   Come together in an unstoppable force.  The time is now, this your fight.  I am not your warrior, but I have given you your weapon.  A foundation of solid bedrock on which to stand and fight.

In less than two weeks I will be posting a series of YouTube videos.  In July, 2015 the battle to recover your children will be engaged in earnest.

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

Four Child Banners

Field Banners

Our adversary is not a person.

Our adversary is not your ex-spouse, the alienating narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Our adversary is not a system.

Our adversary is not the mental health or legal systems.

Our adversary is a pathogen.

A pathogen is like a virus. The pathogen we fight is not a physical virus, like polio or small pox. It is a psychological pathogen, infecting the information structures of the attachment system (the “meme-structures” of the attachment system).

And understand this: We have only one enemy – ignorance.

I will explain why later, but it is important that we end the process of taking “sides” – your side – my side – it needs to stop. We are ALL on the same side.

Splitting into polarized “sides” is a manifestation of the pathogen.  If you see “sides” forming work toward synthesis.  In the upcoming battle for mental health, the pathogen will try to create splitting within mental health, and perhaps even within our own ranks.  Be alert for splitting.  It’s a clear sign of the pathogen’s presence infecting the dialogue.  Work for synthesis in dialogue.  Be alert for polarized extremes.  Avoid (and be alert for) unnecessary hyperbole. 

The pathogen will try to distract the focus away from the pathogen by creating “sides.” We cannot allow this to happen. We must avoid polarized sides.  Our goal is “synthesis” not “victory.” 

Be kind. Be nice. But be resolute and relentless. Do not fight, but do not flee. Stand your ground, with resolute gentleness, and continue to move relentlessly forward.

There are NO sides. There is only ignorance and knowledge.

We ALL want the same thing.  We all want to support the healthy emotional and psychological development of children.  Them, us, everybody.

We ALL want to stop child abuse in every single case. 100% of the time.

That’s true of everyone in mental health, that’s true for all targeted parents, that’s true of everyone in the legal system.

We are all on the same side. This is critical. I will explain why later.

We have only one enemy. Ignorance.

I know this pathogen better than anyone on this planet. I have spent the last seven years analyzing each and every nook and cranny, each and every “meme-structure,” of this pathogen. I know exactly what it’s going to do, and I’m (hopefully) ten steps ahead of it.

That’s what has taken me so long. Preparing for exactly this day, for exactly this battle, forging exactly the right weapon for you to use to recover and rescue your children.

We are ready. It is time for you to unsheathe your weapon, and let’s set about the task of rescuing your children… All of your children.

The time has arrived. Not one more day will we tolerate the psychological abuse of your children. Not one more day.

So let me explain our adversary, to prepare you for the coming battle; the “battle for mental health.”

The Pathogen

I know this pathogen better than anyone on the planet, and let me assure you (as if you didn’t already know) that this is the most malignant, vicious, and dangerous psychological pathogen I have ever encountered. And mind you, I’ve worked with children in the foster care system. I’ve seen all the various forms of child abuse pathogens up close and personal. And this one is the nastiest I have ever encountered.

I’m not going to spend time now going into the details of why I know what I know, I’m just going to assert this information and you’ll have to trust that I know what I’m talking about. Later, once we have achieved our goals, once your children are back in your arms, then we will have the leisure of sitting around the fire telling war stories, and I can explain how I know what I know about this pathogen. But for now, you’ll just have to trust me on this one… I know this pathogen.

On a related note, if any division within APA wants to extend me an invitation to submit a proposal for a presentation on “The Meme-Structure Analysis of the Parental Alienation Trauma Pathogen” I guarantee you, I will knock your socks off. Guaranteed phenomenal.

What makes this pathogen so particularly malignant and dangerous is that it has a very sophisticated defensive structure. In all my years of providing psychotherapy, I’ve never seen a pathogen’s defensive structure this sophisticated, and dare I say, elegant.  The defensive meme-structure (information structure) of this pathogen is extraordinary.

There are three components to the defensive meme-structure of this pathogen

Stay Hidden

The pathogen hides by projecting the focus of blame. The two major projections of blame are,

1)  Onto the child; (“It’s not me, it’s the child that… xyz”)

2)  Onto the other parent (“It’s the other parent who is the source of the problem.”)

It’s in this latter projection of blame onto you, the other parent, where this pathogen truly excels. Absolutely masterful defensive manipulation of blame onto you. I describe this in Foundations. This defensive meme-structure can reach truly masterful levels of interwoven manipulation and exploitation.

Throughout the alienation process, which can span years of continuing alienation, the pathogen is consistently able to keep the focus of external scrutiny on the parenting practices of you, the targeted parent. And even though you are entirely a normal-range and loving parent, no one ever believes that you are.

Why is that?

It’s a defensive meme-structure of the pathogen. I know what it is and I can describe it in detail. And we will be disabling it. The pathogen lays hidden in the shadows, in the dark recesses.  We will be exposing the pathogen to the light.

The pathogen also stays hidden behind the child (that’s, in part, how it keeps the focus on you). It is essentially using the child as a “human shield.” No one sees the pathogen because they naturally assume the child is authentic. No. When this pathogen enacts the pathology, it steals the authentic child. 

The child is caught in a role-reversal relationship with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent and is being used as a “regulatory object” to regulate the emotional and psychological state of the parent.

If you don’t know the meaning of what I just said, for goodness sake would you please read Foundations.

If you try to fight this pathogen without arming yourself with the words-of-power from Foundations, this pathogen will eat you for breakfast. This is the meanest, nastiest, strongest and most dangerous pathogen I have ever encountered. Do not underestimate it. Do not go into battle unarmed.

You will absolutely 100% need to read Foundations. You cannot battle this pathogen without being armed with the words-of-power.

The pathogen remains hidden behind the child. 

When other people, including therapists, assume (falsely) that the child is authentic, this then redirects the focus of external attention onto you. By remaining hidden, the pathogen is safe to enact the pathology.

When someone is able to penetrate the veil of concealment that hides the pathogen from view, and so sees the pathogen directly, this exposure of the pathogen threatens the ability of the pathogen to enact the pathology.  In response to threat, a second level of defensive meme-structures are activated; ATTACK

ATTACK – Viciously

When the pathogen is seen, the person who has exposed the pathogen becomes a threat to the pathogen’s ability to enact the pathology.

The pathogen needs the pathology. The pathogen requires the pathology. This need to enact the pathology is at the level of a neurologically imposed psychological imperative. There is no other alternative for the pathogen. It MUST enact and maintain the pathology.

Again, if you don’t know why, for goodness sake, read Foundations. Our enemy is ignorance. There is no excuse for you to be ignorant when we are fighting ignorance.

When you become an ex-husband, it is an imperative imposed by the structure of the pathogen that you also become an ex-father. There is no other alternative for the pathogen. This MUST occur. When you become an ex-wife, you must become an ex-mother as well. This is a neurologically imposed imperative for the pathogen. There is no other alternative possible for the pathogen.

The pathogen NEEDS the pathology. It requires the pathology.

When someone penetrates the veil of concealment and sees the pathogen, this threatens the pathogen’s ability to enact the pathology. The response of the pathogen to threat is to attack with incredible viciousness and a complete disregard for truth, accuracy, and reality.

Truth, accuracy, and reality will offer NO defense against the pathogen. The attack is not designed to destroy you (in which case truth, accuracy, and reality would provide a defense). The attack is designed to disable you, to nullify your threat, to nullify your ability to interfere with the enactment of the pathology.

The attack is to put you on the defensive, and to put the focus of attention onto you, and thereby take it off the pathogen. Whether the attack succeeds in harming you is secondary to its defensive role of putting the threat posed by the other person on the defensive and thereby nullifying the threat.

Here’s an important point in the upcoming “battle for mental health.”  I see the pathogen.  I therefore represent a tremendous threat to the pathogen’s ability to continue to enact the pathology. There is no doubt, that once the pathogen becomes aware of me, once you join this battle, this pathogen is going to attack me with all the viciousness and venom it can possibly muster.

This will occur with 100% certainty, because it is part of the defensive meme-structure of the pathogen. Stay hidden. If exposed, attack, and attack with incredible viciousness and without regard for truth, accuracy, or reality.

Right now, the pathogen is slumbering relative to me and an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”  You have yet to activate an attachment-based model to cleanse the pathogen from mental health, so it’s not noticing that I see it. Once it knows I’ve seen it, it will attack, with 100% certainty.

When this happens, don’t worry. I’m expecting it and I’m ready for it. I’ve got defensive meme-structures in place, including what I’m doing right now by exposing the pathogen’s process. I’m optimistic that I’ll be okay.

That’s why Foundations needed to be so complete in it’s theoretical formulation.  It has to be prepared to withstand the certain attack which the pathogen will launch against it, and against me (through the allies of the pathogen).

When this attack on me occurs. Ignore it. Don’t defend me. I’ve got it covered. That’s my battle, not yours. Trust me on this. Keep your eye on YOUR battle to recover your children. Don’t worry about the brew-ha-ha that’s swirling around me. The goal of the attack is to distract the threat that you pose to the pathogen. Do NOT be distracted. I’ll be okay.. I think.  I’m expecting it.  I’ve done some preparation.

Don’t worry about defending me. Use your weapon, use Foundations, keep going forward.

I’m putting myself out there as your lightening rod. As long as the lightening rod is grounded, there’s no effect.  I’m ready, I think. I’ll pull the attack for you. That becomes my battle, not yours. Yours is for the children.

To rescue your children, you must clear the influence of this pathogen out of mental health. It has infected mental health, you must cleanse the influence of the pathogen from mental health. Once you do that, the attack on me will stop. Don’t lose focus, don’t be distracted. Keep going. When the pathogen attacks, it means it’s recognized your threat.

Allies: Binding Sites of Ignorance

The third defensive meme-structure of the pathogen is to seduce and employ allies. It exploits allies to both enact the pathology (primarily the ally of the child, but also at times extended family such as step-parents or grandparents), and also to disable threats that might interfere with the pathogen’s ability to enact the pathology.

Because it seeks to remain hidden as its primary defense, the pathogen seeks “binding sites of ignorance” which don’t see the pathogen, and which it can then turn into allies to enact the pathology or disable efforts to interfere with the pathology.

The pathogen uses the ignorance of others as its primary means to remain hidden.

Our primary weapon is therefore knowledge, which we will use to expose the pathogen. 

Exposing the pathogen is why you need the words-of-power that I provide you in Foundations.

In my case, when the pathogen launches its attack on me, it will turn to its established allies in mental health to launch the attack. Because it has been sleeping relative to me, it’s not yet aware of the threat posed to it by an attachment-based reformulation of the construct of “parental alienation,” so the initial attack will be as if I am advocating a Gardnerian PAS model.

Ally of the Pathogen:  “How dare Dr. Childress empower targeted parents to action based on such a flimsy theoretical structure as parental alienation.”

Dr. Childress:  You’re talking about a Gardnerian model of “parental alienation” aren’t you? Oh, I would absolutely agree with you, if that was what I’m doing. But I’m NOT talking about a Gardernian model of PAS, I’m talking about an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.” Have you read Foundations?

Ally of the Pathogen:  “No”

Dr. Childress:  Oh, then I really suggest you do. Because until you do, you don’t really have anything relevant to add to the discussion. Once you’ve read Foundations, then come back to me and we can talk. But until then, what you have to say really isn’t relevant because you have no idea what we’re talking about.

So let’s take a moment to talk about how to handle the “criticisms” of “parental alienation”

Criticisms of Parental Alienation

When you are marching and fighting under the Field Banner of Foundations (i.e., of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation”), you have made ALL of the criticisms of “parental alienation” irrelevant.

Because ALL of the criticisms of “parental alienation” are based on a Gardnerian model of “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (PAS) – and we’re NOT talking about Gardnerian PAS, we’re talking about an attachment-based re-conceptualization for the construct of “parental alienation.”

That’s why I have been systematically distancing myself from the Gardnerian PAS model. In one fell swoop we are going to NULLIFY ALL of the criticisms of “parental alienation.”

All of them. Every single last one of them. Not one criticism of parental alienation left.  By making all of them irrelevant.

We are not going to fight that battle. It’s a pointless and unnecessary battle.  Been fought for 30 years. Where’s it gotten us.  Here.  Well that’s no good.

We don’t need to fight that battle.

Just say to the Gardnerian critics,

Response Part 1:  “You’ll receive no argument from us. We will concede ALL of your criticisms. We will concede that all of your criticisms of Gardnerian PAS are correct.

Response Part 2:  “But we’re not talking about a Gardnerian PAS model, we’re talking about an attachment-based model. So all of your arguments that are critical of a Gardnerian PAS model are…. well… completely irrelevant.

Response Part 2:  So unless you want to talk about an attachment-based model, please go away because you have nothing relevant to add to the discussion.

It’s as if they want to talk about Middle East foreign policy. While that’s very interesting, and they may well have wonderfully insightful views on Middle East foreign policy, that’s not really relevant to the discussion we’re having about “parental alienation.”  So unless they have something relevant to say, politely ask them to go away until they have something relevant to say.

I spend the Introduction to Foundations setting up this response of yours to the critics of “parental alienation” (the allies of the pathogen”).  In the Introduction I make ALL of the criticisms of “parental alienation” irrelevant. I have entirely cleared the battlefield for you of all the mines that were out there. All the criticisms of “parental alienation” are gone.  Evaporated.  All of them.

There is NO criticism currently expressed regarding an attachment-based model.  They may emerge, but God help ’em if they try, because I’m gonna kill it.

“You want to take me on? Really? After reading my blog posts.  After reading Foundations.  Is that really what you want to do?

“Okay.  Let’s do it.  Let’s have an online public debate.  Dr. Childress and critic. You and me. Moderated debate. 2 hours.  And we’ll post it online for everybody to see.”

As you enter the battle for your children, there are NO, zero, criticisms of “parental alienation” – none – when you march and fight under the Field Banner of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”

When I first began distancing myself and the attachment-based model from Gardnerian PAS I drew criticism from the Gardnerian PAS experts, “Why do you have to be so hard on Gardner? Can’t we co-exist peacefully? It’s not good to create division within our ranks. We need to stay unified.”

I made a mild effort to explain it (“What advantage does a Gardnerian PAS model offer?”), but I didn’t expend much effort because it was too hard to explain to them. They’re too stuck in their model. They need to see why.

Now, for this moment, is why.

By separating from a Gardnerian PAS model we entirely nullify ALL of the arguments against “parental alienation.” You don’t have a single obstacle standing between you and your children except ignorance.  I have nullified ALL of the criticisms of “parental alienation” for you.

You’re welcome.

Go forth and get your children back. First, the battle for mental  health. We are going to clean the pathogen from mental heath.  Then we use the power of our new ally of mental health to turn the legal response into what is needed (i.e., an efficient and limited cost means to obtain a protective separation). Once we turn the legal system to  be able to efficiently acquire a protective separation of your child from the pathogen of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, then we can treat and restore your children’s healthy authenticity. And that means their authentic love for you, their authentic moms and dads who have loved them, and fought for them. 

That’s what we’re going to make happen. That’s what YOU are going to make happen.

But this means you MUST march and battle under the banner of an attachment-based model. You CANNOT bring Gardnerian PAS with you. If you bring Gardnerian PAS into the battle, the pathogen will eat you for breakfast and pick its teeth with your bones.

To recover your children we must relinquish the Gardnerian PAS model. I recognized this early on, and I made the decision that your children are far more important than professional egos about being “right.” If we can rescue and recover your children, and restore them to you, by conceding defeat over Gardnerian PAS. Works for me. Let’s do it.

I don’t care one whit for who’s right and who’s wrong in our professional debate. I don’t care one whit for professional egos. All I care about, the ONLY thing I care about is retuning your children to your embrace. If it takes relinquishing Gardnerian PAS to do that. No problem… AS LONG AS YOUR CHILDREN ARE RETURNED TO YOU.

But let me be abundantly clear on this… we will not compromise on the return of your children. Under NO circumstances will we endure another day of your children’s psychological abuse by the pathogenic parent. It stops. Today.

We are not “asking” for professional mental health to become competent. Oh no, no, no. We are EXPECTING professional mental health to BE competent.

In Foundations I have made you dangerous to ignorance. That has been my goal all along. To empower you. To make you dangerous.

The pathogen locates allies through binding sites of ignorance.  By making you dangerous to ignorance, I have given you a weapon to separate the pathogen from its allies.

It was a trade. In order to make you dangerous, I needed to relinquish the Gardnerian PAS model. The criticism of the Gardnerian PAS model was that it was not based in established science. Okay then, challenge accepted. And I set about developing an alternative model that is based entirely within standard and established scientific foundations. I’ve done that. It’s described in Foundations.

Foundations makes you dangerous to the binding sites of ignorance.

Read Foundations to acquire the words-of-power.  Then pay particular attention to Section 4: Professional Issues. This section is the weapon forged from the Foundations.

In becoming dangerous to the binding sites of ignorance, you have become empowered to rescue your children.  There is a specific meme-structure on the pathogen that seeks to dis-empower you. Pretty effective isn’t it. This meme-structure exploits allies, the binding sites of ignorance.  This is where the pathogen is vulnerable.  Cut it off from the binding sites of ignorance, and it can no longer dis-empower you.

You are about to live into your power.

If you have not read Foundations, shame on you. There is NO WAY for you to engage in this upcoming battle for your children unless you become armed and dangerous to ignorance.

You CANNOT march into this battle under the banner of Gardnerian PAS. There will be NO Gardnerian banner on this battlefield. If you march under a Gardnerian banner, there will be no place for you in this fight. (Don’t worry, I am certain that Gardner would approve if it means defeating this pathogen.  And we’ll come back to honor his courage and insight once the fight is over).

You MUST march into this fight under the banner of the attachment-based model. If you march and fight under the attachment-based model, you will be victorious. I know this pathogen better than anyone on this planet. The attachment-based model is specifically designed to disable this specific pathogen.

In my upcoming YouTube videos I will lay out the strategy in detail. In two weeks, join me to go over our plans for the coming “battle for mental health.”  In the meantime, arm yourself with Foundations.  Become dangerous to ignorance.

Your Power

In the coming battle for your children, we are not going to be “asking”… the stakes are too high.  We are fighting to recover a healthy and normal-range childhood for your children. In the battle for mental health, we are not “asking for professional competence, we are expecting it. In Foundations, I have made you dangerous to ignorance.

You are stronger and more powerful than you know.

Like an earthquake under the ocean, the attachment-based model described in Foundations is like a tectonic shift in the earth that creates a tsunami.

The ocean is swelling, even as we speak, and the full power of this tsunami is headed to shore. But on the surface of the ocean, there is no evidence of the power that is building beneath it in a mighty wave. Beginning in July of 2015 this wave – you, the child’s authentic parent – will begin to reach the shores of professional mental health, and when you do, you will become an unstoppable force.

Foundations is the earthquake.  Become the unstoppable wave.  Find your power.

But hold no illusions. The pathogen is extremely powerful. Look what it’s done to you for 30 years. You will need all the power you can muster. Alone, you are one. Join together and you become a tsunami. You are unstoppable.

Field Banners

In historical times, armies marched into battle under banners of the various clans or nobles or nations. I would suggest that you consider doing the same.

I notice that many targeted parents make use of Internet memes to express ideas. I would encourage you to develop Field Banners with emblems of your clan or country. As many and as varied as you like. March and fight under the Field Banner you choose.

There is no more fierce animal than a mother bear defending her cub. What a wonderful symbol. Perhaps a ferocious bear protecting a child’s stuffed teddy bear.

Or perhaps another animal of power, or favorite animal, a lion, or wolf, or a griffin. Or perhaps a sheep or newt for all I care, as long as it’s a fierce and absolutely determined battle sheep, or battle newt. (ahhh, the feared “battle sheep.”  Sets me to trembling just thinking about it.)

Or perhaps your child has a favorite toy or activity, and you would like to make this the symbol of your battle. As many battlefield heralds as there are of you. Each clan, each family.

But more broadly too, come together under your nation’s battle herald. Australia, England, the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa. Do you need a single national banner? Absolutely not. Who cares. This isn’t for them. It’s for you. It to rouse your heart and set your will.

What is the Field Banner of Foundations, of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation?” I don’t know. I’m open to suggestions.

But let this be clear. From this day forward, under NO circumstances will we tolerate your children’s psychological abuse at the hands of the pathogenic alienating parent.

It stops. There is no alternative.

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

Wake up!

Wake up!  Make noise.  Bang on pans with wooden spoons.  Yell, shout, rouse the sleeping.  The battle to recover your children is about to be engaged.  Wake up from the slumber of your victimization.

The road though the courts has been a failed road.  The road through mental health has been a failed road.  Your experience has been one of disempowerment and helplessness.  But all that is about to change.

When I started working on the solution seven years ago, I recognized the pathological structure of trauma. Your helplessness and victimization, with no way to make it stop. The pathogen we are fighting is a trauma pathogen. It acts in sophisticated ways to disempower you, to make you helpless to protect your beloved child.

To solve “parental alienation” requires that you, the targeted parent, the child’s authentically loving parent, become empowered to protect your children. Seven years ago I saw that. So seven years ago I set about that task, to empower you, the child’s authentic loving parent. To empower you to fight for your children, to protect your children, and to ultimately rescue and recover the authenticity and love of your children. 

For seven years I have been working toward that goal.  Making my progress available to you as quickly as possible through my website and blog.  But always working toward the ultimate goal of empowering you to be able to rescue and recover your children.

During that time, understandably desperate targeted parents repeatedly asked me for help, “Dr. Childress, help me. What can I do?” and my response has consistently been the same,

“Nothing. There is nothing you can do. As long as the mental health and legal systems remain so fundamentally broken, there is nothing you can do to protect your child. And if we cannot first protect your child, then we cannot rescue your child.”

I have always told you the truth, and I will unflinchingly speak truth to power. If there is any doubt, read Stark Reality, On Unicorns, the Tooth Fairy, and Reunification Therapy, or Child Custody Evaluations. I will not tell you something that is not true, and I will not give you false hope.

So listen carefully, the time to recover your children has arrived. Now. Today.

I would not say this to you if it wasn’t true.

But this is your fight, not mine. These are your children and it is ultimately for you to rescue them. This is your battle. I am not your warrior… I am your weapon.

Your Battle

A parent who endured the heartbreak of alienation recently had an insight about her alienation from her children. She told me,

“When I refer to myself as an alienated parent, I think of myself as a victim, and the abusing parent gets all of the power. We need a different vocabulary for the alienated parent and eventually the alienated child.”

She’s absolutely right.

My suggestion to her was to begin calling the abusive narcissistic/(borderline) parent the “pathogenic parent” – the parent who is inducing psychopathology in the child.

And to call the targeted parent – you – the “authentic parent.” For you are the authentic parent. You are fighting to protect the healthy development of your child.

In the wisdom of Solomon, when the two mothers disputed who was the true mother of the child, Solomon ordered that the child be cut in two and that half be given to each parent. The false parent agreed, but the child’s true mother said no, and said that the child should instead be given to the other woman. The child’s true mother would rather give up the child to a false parent than see the child destroyed. In his wisdom, Solomon recognized the child’s true mother and awarded the child to the authentic parent.

The pathogenic narcissistic/(borderline) parent is willing to destroy the child.  You are not.  Because of this, you lose your loving relationship with your child to the pathology of the pathogenic parent.  You are the authentic parent.  You are fighting for the healthy development of your child.

As the authentic parent you must rise up to protect your children. You must rescue your children from the pathology of the pathogenic parent.

Authentic Parent:  “But Dr. Childress, how can I protect my child when mental health and the legal system collude with the pathology?”

Dr. Childress:  You’re absolutely right. So our first step is to get mental health to stop colluding with the pathology.

Once we have mental health as your ally, our second step is to get our ALLY of mental health to use its power to get the court system to protect your child. 

That is what we are going to do… That is what YOU are going to do, over the next six months to a year.

Authentic Parent:  “How?  How am I going to be able to do that?”

Dr. Childress:  <smiling>  Well now, that’s just what we’re going to be taking about in the weeks ahead.

But in the coming battle, I am not your warrior. I cannot fight this battle for you. But I AM your weapon.  For seven years I have been forging the weapon for you to use in exactly this battle.

The pathogen we are up against is vicious, dangerous, and very powerful.  But so are we.  We are fighting to recover your children. We will rescue your children, all of your children.  Because we must.

This is your fight.  I am your weapon.

Two Weeks

In two weeks I am going to post a series of YouTube videos speaking directly to targeted parents regarding the strategy for the upcoming battle to rescue and recover your children.

In this series of YouTube videos I’m going to lay it all out for you. You can watch them, your friends can watch them, the media can watch them, all of mental health can watch them. There will be no secret about our strategy. We want people to know exactly what we’re doing. 

We will not, under any circumstances, continue to surrender your children to their psychological abuse by the pathogenic parent.  It stops.  We will begin to fight back.

The pathogen we are fighting disempowers you, it seeks to make you victims.

In the days ahead, you will be victims no more.  You are about to live into your power.  For seven years I have been forging your weapon against this pathogen.  It is ready. 

Our Adversary is Ignorance

The pathogen we fight seeks allies, principally in mental health, but also in the legal system. It then exploits the power of these allies to disempower you, and to disable any effort to interfere with the enactment of the pathology. 

To locate allies, the pathogen seeks “binding sites of ignorance” in mental health (i.e., ignorant mental health professionals) to infect the mental health system and disable its response to the pathogen. Once it locates a “binding site of ignorance,” it then does it’s “dance of display” to entice and seduce the ignorance into becoming an ally.

The pathogen then exploits the ally to disempower you and to disable efforts to interfere with the enactment of the pathology.

Our response is going to be to disempower the pathogen by cutting it off the from its allies in mental health.  

We are going to target the binding sites of ignorance that the pathogen is using to achieve its power to disempower you and its power to disable our efforts to stop the pathology.

Our adversary is ignorance. The vulnerability of the pathogen is the binding sites of ignorance which it uses to acquire allies

You must arm yourself with knowledge.  If you have not already bought Foundations, shame on you.  Foundations is our weapon.  Our weapon is knowledge.  Our adversary is ignorance.  We are going to cut the pathogen off from its binding sites of ignorance that the pathogen uses to gain access to the mental health system, that then allows the pathogen to disable the mental health response to the pathogen.

For seven years I have forged the weapon. It is ready. Read Foundations. You will need the words it contains in the coming battle – role-reversal; regulatory object; splitting; attachment schemas; trauma reenactment; special population. The pathogen we fight is powerful. Its ally is ignorance. Your weapon is knowledge.

Wake up, and prepare yourself. The time to commiserate in your helplessness and suffering is over. The time for empowerment and action has arrived.

Your weapon has been forged. It is available to you. Read Foundations, watch the YouTube series, and let’s set about the task to be accomplished.

In this opening round of battles, we are going to demand – not ask – demand – a revision of the APA Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome based on an attachment based model of “parental alienation” as laid out in Foundations.  And we are going to demand – again, not ask – demand – formal recognition of your children and your families as representing a “special population” requiring specialized knowledge and expertise to diagnose and treat, based on an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”

Arm yourself.  Read Foundations.  It is your weapon.

Learn the words of empowerment.  Role-reversal; regulatory object; reenactment narrative; cross-generational coalition; splitting.  But focus on the final section of Professional Issues.  The first three sections establish the foundations, but the final section is your weapon, forged from the foundation of the first three sections.

I will give to two weeks to prepare yourself.  Then I will begin to move forward once more. Time is precious.

Upcoming Resources

Here’s a preview of additional publications that are planned to be appearing on Amazon.com over the next few months.

Late June:

Essays on Attachment-Based Parental Alienation: The Internet Writings of Dr. Childress

This will be a compilation of my website and blog essays. Nothing new, but a more convenient format for newly discovering mental health professionals.

An Attachment-Based Model of Parental Alienation: Single Case ABAB Assessment & Remedy

This booklet is designed for targeted parents to provide to the court through their attorneys, parenting coordinators, guardians ad litem, therapists, custody evaluators, or simply pro se, as a proposed approach to an empirically-based assessment of attachment-based “parental alienation” in cases where there may be some doubt (of the court’s) as to whether there is “parental alienation,” or alternatively as a remedy version of the ABAB protocol in cases where there is likely “parental alienation.”

We are beginning to work on the next phase of addressing the legal system response.

Across the Summer and Fall:

I have a series of booklets planned for the various “bystanders” in the trauma reenactment narrative (I’m trying to keep these booklets to about the 75 to 100 page range – shorter is better), with the following titles:

The Narcissistic Parent: A Mental Health Guide for Children’s Attorneys

The Borderline Parent: A Mental Health Guide for Children’s Attorneys

These booklets are comprised primarily of quotes from the research literature with my commentary surrounding the areas of pathology documented by these quotes.

Assessment and Remedy for Parental Alienation: Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluation

A discussion of the constructs of “parental capacity” and the assessment of parenting.

The capacity for empathy is THE central defining feature of “parental capacity” and needs to be the central defining feature in any assessment of parenting. Narcissistic and borderline personalities are characterologically incapable of empathy. Assessing for narcissistic and borderline personality processes in a parent therefore becomes a central professional obligation of child custody evaluations.

Treating Parental Alienation in High-Conflict Divorce: A Therapist’s Guidebook

Provides the basic structure for treating the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” using therapy principles and constructs.

Understanding Children and Families of High-Conflict Divorce: A Guide for Teachers, Principals, and School Counselors

A broad discussion of the family processes of high-conflict divorce and how school personnel can support children caught in the middle of their parents’ spousal conflict

Fall of 2015:

An Attachment-Based Model of Parental Alienation: Diagnosis

This will be the second book in the series (Foundations – Diagnosis – Treatment). In this book I will more fully elaborate on the three diagnostic indicators for attachment-based parental alienation and on the DSM-5 diagnosis for this pathology.

Linked to the discussion of the DSM-5 diagnosis of attachment-based “parental alienation” will be a discussion dedicated to the issues surrounding a more explicit inclusion of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” into the DSM diagnostic system (in the Trauma and Stress Related Disorders section).

The primary focus of the Diagnosis book, however, will be to provide a full description of each of the variety of associated characteristic features (Associated Clinical Signs) of attachment-based “parental alienation” that regularly co-occur in association with this pathology. I touched on several of these associated clinical signs in Foundations, such as:

The use of the specific term “forced” to characterize efforts to encourage the child’s formation of a bonded relationship with the targeted parent (“I don’t want to be forced to see my mom. Maybe later, when I’m ready.” – “I can’t force the child to go on visitations with the other parent.”);

The allied parent seeking to have the child testify in court to reject the targeted parent;

The various themes of rejection offered by the child (and by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent), such as a past “unforgivable event” that is used to justify the child’s rejection of the targeted parent (these characteristic themes for rejection are actually projections of narcissistic/borderline personality traits onto the targeted parent)

Statements by the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent of “We need to listen to what the child wants” and “We should let the child decide whether to go on visitations,”

The “exclusion demand” made by the child that the targeted parent be excluded from attending the child’s events

In Diagnosis, I will more fully elaborate on each one of the many associated clinical signs evidenced in attachment-based “parental alienation,” providing a full description for why we see that specific associated clinical sign.

Foundations was first. Then comes Diagnosis. Treatment is planned for the spring of 2016 (but I’m hoping that Treatment may not be necessary because “parental alienation” will, hopefully, be solved by the spring of 2016. It’s your fight, it’s up to you).

September/October of 2015 (following Diagnosis)

Conducting a Treatment Needs Assessment of Parental Alienation: An Alternative to Child Custody Evaluations

This booklet will be an instructional guide directed toward mental health professionals for conducting a focused assessment of the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” for the court.

A focused treatment needs assessment will require about six hours of clinical interviews, two hours of report writing, and can be completed in less than six weeks at a cost of less than $2,000, as an alternative to a full child custody evaluation.

This will be a companion booklet to Diagnosis and to the Single-Case ABAB Assessment & Remedy booklet for the court.

This is an ambitious writing schedule, we’ll see how much I can get done.  We are moving forward.  Behind the scenes, the solutions to the legal system and therapy are being worked out.  First mental health. Then the legal system. Then therapy. The battle for mental health is about to be engaged. Wake up and empower yourself. The time to recover your children has arrived.

And we plan to recover ALL the children, even the adult survivors of childhood alienation. I will have a special YouTube segment discussing the strategy for recovering the adult survivors of childhood alienation.

I will give you about two weeks to empower yourself with the constructs of Foundations.  I will then post a series of YouTube videos discussing the strategy for recovering your children.

For the Gardnerian PAS experts, the time for sitting on the fence is rapidly coming to a close. You must decide on a paradigm. The Gardnerian paradigm offers no solution. The attachment-based paradigm does. Join us and add the power of your voice to enacting the solution to “parental alienation.”

I will wait two weeks for you to arm yourself with Foundations. Then I will begin to move forward once more to rescue and recover the children. Time is precious.

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

Child Custody Evaluations

I am still reviewing the scientific literature on child custody evaluations. I’m at the third or fourth tier of research right now.  In my review of the literature to date, which is fairly extensive, I am deeply disturbed by what I’m finding, or actually NOT finding.

From what I see…

There is absolutely no scientifically based foundation to the practice of child custody evaluations. Zero. None.

Child custody evaluations are little more than exceedingly expensive guesses. As far as I can tell, the recommendations produced by child custody evaluations are no more valid that looking in a crystal ball or reading the entrails of a goat.

I have found no scientific research supporting the validity of the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody evaluations. In fact, I’ve found no scientific research that has even TRIED to support the validity of the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations.

And even the theoretical foundations from clinical and developmental psychology that might be relied on for making the guesses that occur in child custody evaluations appear to be absent or deeply flawed.

Let me be clear on this statement:

Based on my review of the research literature, there is no scientific research or scientifically derived data to support the validity of the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations.

The Construct of Validity

The scientific construct of validity essentially means that the conclusions we reach as a result of our assessment or research are true… that they are valid.

According to a standard textbook on scientific methodology (Cozby, 2009):

“Validity refers to “truth” and the accurate representation of information” (p. 85).

The scientific construct of validity refers to the degree to which the findings of our assessment or research are true.

So, for example, the validity of an intelligence test means the degree to which the intelligence test actually measures the construct of “intelligence.”

A test of puzzle solving ability might represent a valid measure of intelligence, depending on how “intelligence” is defined, but a test of a person’s ability to count from 1 to 10 is not likely to be a valid test of intelligence (depending on how the construct of “intelligence” is operationally defined).

I don’t want to become too technical on this point, but I do want to establish that this isn’t me, this is standard scientific methodology, so again, turning to the textbook definition of validity:

“Construct validity refers to the adequacy of the operational definition of variables. To what extent does the operational definition of a variable actually reflect the true theoretical meaning of the variable?

In terms of measurement, construct validity is a question of whether the measure that is employed actually measures the construct it is intended to measure.

Applicants for some jobs are required to take a Clerical Ability Test; this measure is supposed to predict an individual’s clerical ability. The validity of such a test is determined by whether it actually does measure this ability.” (Cozby, 2009, p. 96)

Validity is a central construct in scientific research and assessment.

The scientific method contains several defined approaches of establishing validity for an assessment instrument or procedure.  Again, according to Cozby (2009) these scientifically established methods for determining validity include:

Face Validity

The content of the measure appears to reflect the construct being measured.

 Content Validity

The content of the measure is linked to the universe of content that defines the construct.

 Predictive validity

Scores on the measure predict behavior on a criterion measured at a time in the future.

Concurrent validity

Scores on the measure are related to a criterion measured at the same time (concurrently).

Convergent validity

Scores on the measure are related to other measures of the same construct.

Discriminant validity

Scores on the measure are not related to other measures that are theoretically different.

Cozby, 2009, p. 97

Again, I don’t want to get too technical in this blog post, I just want to highlight that this isn’t me.

The construct of validity is a standard scientifically defined construct regarding whether something we assert is true, and there are standard scientifically defined approaches to establishing an assessment procedure’s validity.

Regarding the validity of the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody evaluations (i.e., are they true), no effort has even been made to establish the scientific validity of the conclusions and recommendations reached through the process of child custody evaluations. Much as I try (and I’m trying), I cannot find a single research study examining the scientific evidence for the validity of child custody evaluations.

I want to be clear on this, I’m not saying that the scientific data on the validity of child custody evaluations is weak… I’m saying it is NON-EXISTENT.

There is absolutely NO scientifically established foundation for the validity of the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody evaluations. None. Zero. Not one study. Ever. Nothing.

There is no scientific support whatsoever for the validity of the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody evaluations. Might as well cast tarot cards or have a monkey throw darts at a dartboard.

There is no scientifically based support for the validity of the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody evaluations. None.

Child custody evaluations are essentially, “junk science” and “voodoo assessment.”

That’s a strong statement.

Yet I would challenge any proponent for the practice of child custody evaluations to cite for me one research study that even seeks to establish the scientific validity of the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody evaluations. No one has even tried to establish the scientific foundation for the validity of child custody evaluations.

Even more to the point, however, I would challenge the proponents for the practice of child custody evaluations to cite me the research support demonstrating the validity for the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations, the face validity, content validity, predictive validity, concurrent validity, convergent validity, and/or discriminant validity.

There is none. Zero. Nothing. There is NO scientifically established foundation for the conclusions and recommendations produced by the practice of child custody evaluations. None.

The systematic collection of data provides the APPEARANCE of scientific rigor, but the conclusions and recommendations are 100% guesswork. There is no scientific support for the validity of the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody evaluations. None.

The conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations are essentially “junk science” – “voodoo assessment” – rattle some beads, perform some rituals of data collection, recite some incantations, and just make up some recommendations based on the whims and prejudices of the moment.

Despite the apparent rigor involved with the systematic collection of data, there are NO scientifically described or established criteria in any of the literature for linking the conclusions and recommendations made in child custody evaluations to the data collected. As far as I can tell, it is pure, unadulterated, guesswork that has no defined linkage to any theoretical or scientifically established foundation.

Might as well read the entrails of a goat.

Operational Definitions

As noted by Cozby, the key to establishing the scientific validity for any assessment procedure is to “operationally define” the construct being assessed.

If, for example, we are going to create an assessment for “intelligence,” we first need to “operationally define” what we mean by “intelligence.” Is it the amount of vocabulary the person knows? Is it some form of problem solving ability? Is it a combination of both? Are there different types of “intelligence?”

How do we define the construct of “intelligence” that we are going to be assessing?  The operational definition for the construct provides the foundation for the scientific validity studies that will follow.  If we don’t have an operational definition for the construct, then we cannot collect scientific data on the validity of the construct because we haven’t defined what the construct means.

Once we define what we mean by a given construct, such as “intelligence,” other people may then disagree with our definition, and a lively debate and dialogue ensues regarding the definition of the construct. And different approaches to assessment will emerge based on different approaches to defining the construct.

However, if we don’t ever define the constructs we’re assessing, then no debate or discussion ever occurs.  Everyone just makes up their own definitions based on whatever they need the construct to mean in order to justify what it is that they want to do.

In one case, the “best interests” of the child are factors xyz. In another case, they’re factors abc. In a third case, they’re factors qrs. There is no defined standard for determining what the “best interests” of the child are.

For evaluator A, the child’s “best interests” might be x.  For evaluator B, the child’s “best interests” might be y.  Without an operational definition for the construct, the “best interests” of the child become whatever I want them to be in order to justify my decision.

The “best interests” of the child becomes a fluid and malleable construct that I can define in any way I want based on whatever it is that I want to do.  If I want to recommend xyz, I simply emphasize xyz as being in the “best interests” of the child and I minimize the importance of qrs.  If, on the other hand, I want to do qrs, then I simply define qrs as being in the “best interests” of the child, and I minimize the importance of xyz.  The construct becomes a means to justify whatever decision I want to make.

My decisions aren’t based on the best interests of the child. In fact, it’s just the reverse, the “best interests” of the child are based on my decision. Whatever I decide, I then use the construct of the “best interests” of the child to justify this decision.

Q: But aren’t your conclusions and recommendations based on the data?

A: Naw, not really. I collect a lot of data, but then I can interpret and weight the data in any way I want. I can make this thing more important than that. Or I can ignore this data and highlight that data. I can do that in any way I want, because nothing is defined, there are no operational definitions for any of this. It’s all based on however I define the constructs based on my desires, whims, and prejudices. So I just decide what I want my conclusions and recommendations to be, and then I interpret the data accordingly, weighting this and discounting that.

Q: But what about all that data collection you do? Doesn’t that mean anything?

A: That’s just show. It’s a ritual we go through to give the appearance of scientific rigor.

By putting in so much effort and collecting so much information it looks like our conclusions and recommendations must be based on the application of “scientific principles” to the thorough collection of data. But that’s just a show for the audience. If we didn’t collect all that data, no one would give our conclusions any credibility. So we have to do it to establish our credibility.

But when it comes down to it, there’s no established principles or guidelines for how we INTERPRET that data, and it’s the interpretation of data that really matters. So we can pretty much do whatever we want in terms of coming up with our conclusions and recommendations, we can reach any conclusion we want or offer any recommendation, without any restriction or limitation imposed by whether our conclusions or recommendations are accurate or correct.

Generally it’s best to stay in the mid-range with recommendations.  If you don’t take a stand, you can’t really be attacked.  Just kind of go with the way things are, maybe a little nudge here and there.  And if there’s any unresolved issues, just recommend therapy.

Oh, and here’s the best part, because child custody evaluations are kept protected by the court, no other mental health professionals ever review our work for the accuracy of our interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations.  We can pretty much do whatever we want  And let me tell you, all that time spent collecting data, and then report writing, is pretty lucrative.

Providing operational definitions for a construct allows professional psychology to discuss and debate the accuracy of this definition. New ideas emerge and the understanding for the construct deepens and improves through professional dialogue and debate, which ultimately leads to better assessment procedures and improved methodologies. 

For example, in the field of intelligence assessment, developing an operational definition for the construct of intelligence has created tremendously robust professional dialogue and disagreement. There’s Spearman’s proposal for a general intelligence factor (“g”), there’s Thurstone’s set of primary mental abilities, there’s Cattell and Horn’s proposal for fluid and crystallized intelligence, there’s Howard Gardner’s (different Gardner) proposal for eight distinctly different types of intelligence.  With each proposal regarding an operational definition for “intelligence” our understanding for and assessment of the construct improves.

Absence of Professional Discussion

Where is the corresponding robust debate and dialogue regarding the constructs used and assessed by child custody evaluations?

What do we mean by the construct “best interests” of the child? How are we operationally defining this construct of “best interests?”

As important as our operational definition for this construct, what is the scientific evidence that supports our operational definition of the “best interests” of the child as being the factors we identify?  Where is the professional dialogue and debate?

What do we mean by the construct of “parental capacity?” How are we operationally defining the construct of “parental capacity?”

As important as our operational definition for this construct, what is the scientific evidence that supports the factors we’re using in our operational definition of  “parental capacity?” Where is the professional dialogue and debate surrounding the key factors in parenting?

Where is the robust debate and dialogue within professional psychology surrounding what factors define the “best interests” of the child, or what factors define “parental capacity?” There is none. It is totally absent. Doesn’t anyone else in mental health find that spookily disturbing? That we have NO professional dialogue or debate about such central tenets of child custody assessment?

Q:  How is it we have NO discussion or debate around defining these constructs?

A:  There’s no disagreement because we just let everyone make up whatever definition they want.  No definition.  No debate.

Try as I may, I cannot find a single operational definition for either of these key and central constructs for the assessment conducted in child custody evaluations. I find general guidelines, such as for the “best interests” of the child:

  1. the child’s wishes,
  2. any history of abuse,
  3. the parents’ wishes,
  4. each parents’ ability to share the child with the other parent, and
  5. the environment that best promotes the development of physical, mental, and spiritual faculties.

Current statutes. (2003). In Handbook of forensic psychology: Resource for mental health and legal professionals. Oxford, United Kingdom: Elsevier Science & Technology.

But these general guidelines for domains of information to consider lack the specificity needed to be reliable operational definitions for the construct of “best interests” of the child.

How should we interpret the child’s expressed wishes? How much weight do we give them relative to other factors?

Debate: And if we consider the child’s expressed wishes, won’t we then be turning the child into a “prize to be won” by the parents, and won’t this lead to efforts by the parents to influence the child’s choice and preferences (“Choose me, Choose me. If you come live with me I won’t make you do homework. If you come live with me I’ll buy you a new gaming system.”). Won’t this turn the child into a battleground for the parents’ spousal dispute as a “prize to be won” by the “best parent” (by the parent who best appeases or most intimidates the child)?

How will considering the child’s wishes affect, or be affected by, the parent’s ability to share the child with the other parent? Aren’t we making it harder for the parents to “share the child” by making them competitors for the child’s affection?

And how are we operationally defining the last construct of “the environment that best promotes the development of physical, mental, and spiritual faculties” of the child? What are the criteria by which we are making this determination?

In all of my efforts to date, and they have been considerable, I have yet to find an operational definition for either of the key and central constructs of child custody evaluations; the “best interests” of the child and the “parental capacity” of the parent. I see these terms used, I just haven’t located an operational definition for what these terms mean.

Without operational definitions for either of these key and central constructs of child custody assessments, then there can be no scientifically established basis for the assessment. The child custody evaluation becomes nothing more that “making it up as we go” by defining “best interests” or “parental capacity” in whatever way we want in order to justify whatever we decide to do.

I find a whole lot of guidelines for what data to collect, and for how the data should be collected. But that’s not the same thing as operational definitions for how to INTERPRET and use the collected data to reach a conclusion and recommendations. It’s this second part, regarding the criteria by which the clinical data obtained during the custody evaluation should be interpreted, in which the professional silence is deafening.

Not my Fault

The emperor has no clothes. Sorry.  He’s naked.  That’s not my fault.

To my professional colleagues… don’t get mad at me. Somebody needs to say it. Child custody evaluations have no operational definitions for the key and central constructs they use in their assessment, and they have no scientific support for the validity of the conclusions and recommendations they make.

Child custody evaluations are scientifically naked. The emperor has no clothes. Sorry. Not my fault. I’m not the tailor, I’m only the kid standing on the parade route, watching the (naked) emperor go by.

Child on the parade route: “Look mommy, that custody evaluation has no clothes on.”

Mommy: “Shhh, don’t say that, you’ll get in trouble.”

Don’t blame me, I’m not the tailor.  I’m just the kid watching the naked emperor go by.

There is no scientifically established basis for the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations. They are “junk science” comprised of “voodoo assessment” – rattle some beads, perform some rituals, recite some incantations, and make up some pronouncement based on whatever whim, motive, or prejudice moves you.

Secrecy of the “Insiders”

Child custody evaluations are secret reports guarded and protected by the court. Since their release is restricted, they are not subject to critical professional review and scrutiny. They represent the judgement of one person, operating alone, without consultation or review. When they are subjected to review and scrutiny, it is typically by other forensic child custody evaluators to see if the “procedures” of the child custody evaluation process were followed, not regarding the accuracy of clinical data interpretation and the validity of the recommendations.

Any critical review of the child custody report is not about the clinical interpretation of the clinical data, or the validity of recommendations that were derived from the interpretation of the clinical data.  Instead the review is about the “procedures” employed in the custody evaluation; did the custody evaluator rattle the proper beads and perform the proper rituals to appease the tutelary spirits of child custody? Were collaterals interviewed?  Were home visits made?  Were the proper test instruments employed?

And the best way to stay out of trouble is to make middle-of-the-road recommendations.  And by all means, DON’T IDENTIFY PARENTAL PATHOLOGY (even if identifying the parental pathology is in the best interests of the child).

The rare professional reviews of child custody evaluations that do occur do not typically involve a critical analysis regarding the accuracy of the clinical psychology interpretations made regarding the clinical data collected, nor do they involve a critical analysis of the appropriateness from a clinical psychology framework regarding the recommendations made based on the interpretation of the clinical data.

In my role as an expert consultant in legal cases, on multiple occasions the court has made available for my review child custody evaluations. I have had the opportunity to review the clinical data reported in the custody evaluations, as well as the professional interpretation of this clinical data and the recommendations that were made based on this interpretation of the clinical data. As a clinical psychologist, I am deeply appalled by the extraordinarily poor interpretations of the clinical data that I have found in the child custody evaluations that I have professionally reviewed.

As a clinical psychologist, it is bad. VERY bad.

Statement to the Court

I have tremendous respect for the courts and our legal system.

My father, an attorney, worked for the federal court system for 30 years. He was with the State Bar of California and served as a magistrate within the court system. He was a man of great integrity. I have a deep respect for him, and for the court system in which he served.

Out of my deep respect for the justice system and for the Court, and from my professional integrity as a clinical psychologist serving children and families, and from my professional background in CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY (not forensic psychology), my understanding of child and family psychotherapy, and my professional knowledge of child development, I wish to respectfully offer to the Court my extremely deep and troubling concern about the QUALITY of the clinical interpretations made in forensic child custody evaluations.

The secrecy in which these child custody evaluations are held prevents their professional review regarding the level of professional competency and therefore accuracy of the clinical interpretations of the clinical data collected in these forensic evaluations. These forensic evaluations do an exceptional job of collecting data, but the clinical interpretations of the clinical data is, in the cases I have reviewed, deeply flawed and deeply troubling.

I am concerned that an inherent conflict of interest exists within forensic psychology that prevents an adequate critical analysis within professional psychology regarding the practice of child custody evaluations, and that this inherent conflict of interest prevents relevant information from being made available for the Court’s consideration regarding the absence of scientifically established validity for the recommendations provided by child custody evaluations and the poor quality of clinical interpretations contained within these custody recommendations.

The field of child custody evaluations is currently within an echo chamber of like-minded forensic psychologists that prevents an appropriately critical professional oversight and review of the interpretations and recommendations made in child custody evaluations, and of the absence of scientifically established foundation for the interpretations and recommendations made by child custody evaluations.

Based on my review of the clinical interpretations made in the multiple child custody evaluations that the Court has allowed me to review as an expert consultant to my clients, I wish to respectfully offer to the Court my deep concern as a clinical psychologist regarding the level of professional accuracy contained in the CLINICAL interpretations of the clinically relevant data contained in child custody evaluations, which adversely affects the conclusions and recommendations reached in these child custody reports.

Recommendation to the Court

The recommendations I would respectfully offer to the Court are:

1.)  Consulting Psychologist:  I would recommend that the Court allow each parent (if they choose) to select a consulting psychologist in addition to the court-appointed forensic evaluator, thereby creating a panel of three psychologists surrounding the custody evaluation; one psychologist representing the court, and a psychologist representing each of the parents, much in the same way as each parent is represented by legal counsel in the courtroom.

2.)  Review and Consultation:  I would recommend that these consulting psychologists be empowered to review with the court-appointed psychologist the clinical data once it is collected by the court-appointed custody evaluator, and that they provide professional consultation to the court-appointed custody evaluator regarding the interpretation of the clinical data, and the potential conclusions and recommendations to be derived from the clinical data.

3.)  Dissenting Opinion:  I would also recommend that these consulting psychologists be allowed to write a “dissenting opinion” if they choose regarding the interpretation of the clinical data and the recommendations made by the court-appointed psychologist, which would be appended to the final report of the court-appointed custody evaluator.

This oversight and consultation by independent professionals is warranted by the tremendous importance of the decision and recommendations provided by the child custody evaluation and the complete absence of scientific foundation for the validity of the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody assessments.

Professional Psychology

I would also call on professional psychology to critically examine and consider the theoretical and scientific foundations for the practice of child custody evaluations. My concerns are based on the following.

1.)  Absence of Scientific Foundation:  The complete absence of any research examining and supporting the scientifically established validity of the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody assessments. There is no supporting scientific evidence for the face validity, content validity, predictive validity, concurrent validity, convergent validity, or discriminant validity of the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody assessments. In the absence of such supportive scientific evidence, the recommendations offered by child custody assessments are little more than “junk science” and “voodoo assessment.”

2.)  Absence of Operational Definitions:  The complete absence of established operational definitions for the key and central constructs of the child’s “best interests” and the parent’s “parental capacity” that are central to the child custody assessment.  Given the incredible importance of the recommendations being rendered by child custody evaluations in influencing the Court regarding the lives of children and families, there needs to be a much more engaged and vigorous professional discussion regarding the specific factors defining the constructs of the child’s “best interests” and the parent’s “parental capacity” to meet those interests (similar to the robust discussions generated surrounding the construct of “intelligence”).

3.)  Cultural Considerations:  Any assessment of parenting and family processes is necessarily embedded in a cultural context. A robust and vigorous discussion needs to be engaged regarding the influence of culture on the process of child custody assessment and the formation of recommendations, particularly around the standard employed in assessing parenting practices and the establishment of family values.

4.)  Conflict of Interest:  The current practice of conducting child custody evaluations is financially lucrative. The ability of forensic psychology to critically evaluate itself is therefore compromised by an inherent conflict of interest. As a consequence of this inherent conflict of interest in meeting the needs of clients, it becomes even more essential to ensure that a deeply critical independent analysis be conducted regarding the scientific validity for the interpretations and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations.

5.)  Secrecy and Oversight:  Procedures need to be established to provide reasonable professional oversight regarding the validity of the clinical interpretations made by a child custody evaluator, especially given the complete absence of scientific support for the validity of child custody assessments and recommendations.

Conclusions

Based on my review of the scientific literature surrounding the conclusions and recommendations provided by child custody evaluations, I have reached the conclusion that the practice of child custody evaluations as currently structured represents little more than “junk science” and “voodoo assessment” which does not merit consideration in court proceedings.

I am certain that this conclusion will generate considerable disagreement.  My response is to request a citation to any scientific article that even assesses the face validity, content validity, predictive validity, concurrent validity, convergent validity, or discriminant validity of the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody evaluations.

To take this incredibly low bar just a tad higher, I would request a citation to any research demonstrating the face validity, content validity, predictive validity, concurrent validity, convergent validity, or discriminant validity of the conclusions and recommendations produced by child custody evaluations.

Also, I would request a citation to any “operational definition” for the constructs of “best interests” of the child and “parental capacity” of the parent which are the central tenets of the assessment.

You don’t need to reference me to the general professional guidelines regarding what information to collect, or how to collect it.  I am asking for the reference to the actual operational definitions for what these constructs mean that can be applied to the collected data in interpreting and formulating the conclusions and recommendations of the assessment (i.e., an operational definition for what factors in the collected data indicate the “best interests” of the child or the “parental capacity” of the parent, and regarding an operational definition for what factors in the data indicate “non-best interests” and “non-parental capacity” of the parent.

Until the scientific foundation for the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations is established, I must conclude that child custody evaluations are little more than “junk science” and “voodoo assessment” that do not merit court consideration. Rattle some beads and read the entrails of a goat.

Or offer me a citation for the scientifically established validity of the conclusions and recommendations derived from child custody evaluations.

Craig Childress, Psy.D
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

References:

Cozby, P. C. (2009). Methods in Behavioral Research: Tenth Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Current statutes. (2003). In Handbook of forensic psychology: Resource for mental health and legal professionals. Oxford, United Kingdom: Elsevier Science & Technology.

Puzzles

I received the following question from a targeted parent and I thought my response may be of broader interest:

Dr. Childress, can you give an example of a question that you would put to a child that would indicate any of the narcissistic processes and the splitting dynamic from your 2nd set of diagnostic indicators in a child’s symptom display.


Response:

There isn’t a specific question, per se. Typically the display of the child will evidence narcissistic symptoms in response to my general question:

Dr. C:  “So, tell me. Why do you hate your mom (your dad) so much?”

and my follow-up questions asking for specific incidents to support the child’s general assertions.

As the child responds, the child will display an attitude of judgement of the parent from an elevated position above that of the parent.  As I ask about specifics, a sense of entitlement will become evident.

As I probe for empathy  (“How do you think it makes your mom feel that you don’t want to be with her?”), the child will evidence a complete absence of caring and empathy for the targeted parent’s experience of love and emotional suffering. Oftentimes the child will display a characteristic attitude that the targeted parent “deserves” to be rejected, or that the display of love and suffering by the targeted parent is “fake” or a lie.

When I inquire about the favored parent, on the other hand, the child provides a uniformly positive critique of the allied and supposedly favored parent, free from parent-child troubles.

The Puzzle

Think of it this way, clinical psychology is like putting together a puzzle. The parent tells you what they think the puzzle is, which may or may not be accurate. Sometimes the parent has no idea what the ultimate picture is, and the origins of the child’s behavior and angry outbursts are a total mystery to the parent.

I’ll then open the box and begin putting the puzzle pieces together to see what the picture is. Is this the trains in the mountain puzzle, or is it boats on the lake? I’ll start with the borders because they have straight edges (i.e., the general family context and general complaints). As I’m putting together the general structure, I’ll look for similar color patterns (i.e., emerging themes).

Gradually I’ll begin to recognize shapes in the picture that can help in locating specific pieces to complete a particular pattern. Eventually the picture emerges (typically even before all the pieces are in place). There may be some pieces missing here and there, but it’s clearly a picture of cats in the garden. It’s definitely not a locomotive. Nor is it a picture of boats on the lake.

There are three cats in the picture, one’s black with short hair, one’s grey and white stripes, and one’s black and white. I’m missing the pieces for this one’s ear, and I don’t have the pieces for the black cat’s left paw. They’re in a garden with red and yellow flowers, this portion of the garden is missing, as is this part of the fence. But it’s clearly cats in the garden, and it’s definitely not a locomotive or boats on the lake.

So when I conduct an initial clinical interview, the parent typically tells me what the puzzle is (i.e., they present me with the picture on the box top). The parent will say to me,

“Dr. Childress, can you help me with this problem?  I have a puzzle of a train in the mountains.”

I then open the box and start putting together the pieces to see if that’s true, if it’s really a train in the mountains, and also to determine which train in the mountains puzzle it is. Is it the one with the steam locomotive going across the canyon bridge, or is it the one with the modern locomotive coming out of the tunnel?

Dr. C: “So what does the child do? Can you give me an example? How do you respond when your child does that? How does the child respond to what you do? What’s going on in the surrounding family? How do you and the other parent get along?”

Gradually, I put the puzzle picture together. If it’s actually a train, I can begin asking questions that help me understand if it’s a steam engine or a modern locomotive. Is it traveling through farmlands or across mountains? Is there a bridge over the river, or is this the train with red and yellow boxcars?

The “Alienation” Puzzle

In attachment-based “parental alienation” the allied parent says to me,

Parent:  “Dr. Childress, I have a puzzle of a train in the mountains. See, look here, here’s some pieces from the puzzle. Here’s a piece with the train’s engine and smokestack. Here’s one of the engine’s wheels. This one is a puzzle piece showing one of the boxcars. And look at this picture on the box top. See, it’s of a train going through the mountains.

Sure enough, the picture on the box top is of a train in the mountains. And the puzzle pieces I’m shown are clearly from a locomotive.

So, let’s open the box and start putting the puzzle together. I never just accept the picture on the box top. I always put the puzzle together myself, just to make sure.

So, let’s put this picture together… hmmm that’s odd. The actual puzzle pieces in the box are much smaller than the locomotive pieces I was shown. You know what… those locomotive pieces don’t belong to this puzzle (i.e., the symptom display by the child is inauthentic).

So, let’s start with the edges… and… wait, this isn’t a locomotive puzzle. You know what… This looks like cats in the garden. Well if it’s cats in the garden, then there should be a red and yellow piece that goes right in this spot. Yep. There it is. And there should be another black and red piece that goes right here. Yep. There it is. And then there should be a kitten’s nose that goes right here. Yep. There it is. This isn’t train in the mountains, this is cats in the garden.

Well, I’ve still got some time left, let’s put together more of the puzzle just to make sure. This area should be red and yellow flowers, with this piece here and another one over here. Yep. This is the grey cat’s eye. Yep, it goes right here and fits with this. There’s the bee over here on the flower. Yep. We’re definitely looking at cats in the garden.

I see the picture made by the puzzle pieces, clear as day. We’re looking at three cats in the garden.

As I try to put together the puzzle train in the mountains, I realize that’s not the picture which is being revealed by the actual puzzle pieces,

The initial “presentation” is one of parent-child conflict caused by the targeted-rejected parent. However, as I collect the clinical data, the parent-child conflict is not being initiated by the parent’s problematic behavior, but is being initiated by, dare I say provoked by, the child.

Furthermore, the child’s attachment system display is not authentic. Child protest behavior is an “attachment behavior” designed to increase parental involvement (commonly referred to as seeking “negative attention”). In this situation, the child is showing “detachment behavior,” a motivated desire to sever the parent child bond. An authentic attachment system never shows “detachment behavior” except under an extremely limited set of severely abusive parenting (e.g., incest or chronic and severe parental violence), or in response to a cross-generational coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent (i.e., attachment-based “parental alienation” – cats in the garden).

As I’m putting together the actual puzzle pieces, they form into the picture features of the cats in the garden puzzle. Once I begin to recognize the cats in the garden puzzle (typically because the puzzle piece of “detachment behavior” is so distinctive of cats in the garden), I then begin to look for three specific puzzle pieces in each of three different locations (i.e., the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation”) because no other puzzle has all three of these pieces except cats in the garden.

Cats in the garden has a black and red piece here, a yellow and red piece that goes right here, and a piece with a kitten’s nose that goes right here (i.e., the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation”).

Train in the mountains has a black and red piece here, just like cats in the garden, but train in the mountains doesn’t have the red and yellow piece here. Instead, train in the mountains has a green piece in that location. And train in the mountains definitely doesn’t have a kitten’s nose. So if there is a kitten’s nose in the puzzle, it definitely can’t be train in the mountains.

Boats on a lake has the same black and red piece and the same red and yellow piece (although the shapes of these pieces are different from the shapes of these pieces in cats in the garden), but boats on a lake doesn’t have a kitten’s nose either.

Dogs at play has a kitten’s nose over here, but not in the same location. And dogs at play does not have the black and red piece. And instead of the red and yellow piece, dogs at play has a red and green piece in that location.

Only cats in the garden has all three pieces. And even when there is overlap in the pieces shared by the different puzzles, the actual pieces are slightly different shapes, and in slightly different locations across the different puzzles.

So if you know what the different puzzles are, it’s actually pretty easy to spot train in the mountains, or boats on the lake, or cats in the garden. You just have to know what the pictures are and know what you’re looking for in each picture. That’s called “knowing what you’re doing.”

But even more importantly, I’m not making the diagnosis of cats in the garden based just on the three specific puzzle pieces alone, although I could because they’re so distinctive and definitive of cats in the garden. Instead, I go ahead and put together some more of the puzzle, and sure enough, the actual picture that emerges is of three cats sitting and playing in the garden.

It’s not the three puzzle pieces that make it cats in the garden. It’s the actual picture itself that makes it cats in the garden. The three puzzle pieces (the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation”) are just easily identifiable definitive markers for cats in the garden. It’s the actual picture of three cats sitting among flowers that makes the puzzle cats in the garden.

The Original Question

So then, to answer the question about what specific questions I ask to elicit the child’s narcissistic symptoms, the primary question is to ask the child about the child’s reasons for rejecting the targeted parent. I ask the child to explain it to me.

Puzzle Analogy

If the puzzle picture is of the train in the mountains, then the child’s explanation for the parent-child conflict is going to be some variant of xyz.

If, on the other hand, the puzzle picture is of boats on the lake, then child’s explanation for the parent-child conflict is going to be a variant of abc.

If the puzzle is of cats in the garden, then the child’s explanation for the parent-child conflict is going to be qrs.

I always start with what I’m told the puzzle is. So if I’m told the puzzle is dogs at play, that’s what I start with and I begin to put together the puzzle picture of dogs at play. Sometimes the puzzle turns out to be one of the other dog puzzles, such as dog on the fire engine or hunting dog with duck. But which dog puzzle becomes evident as I put the puzzle pieces together.

Once you know the various puzzles, it’s pretty straightforward determining which exact puzzle it is (i.e., whether it’s an ADHD spectrum issue, or a parenting problem issue, or an autism-spectrum issue, or sensory-motor sensitivities, etc.). Each puzzle has distinctive features.

If the puzzle pieces don’t actually fit the initial presentation of the picture by the parent (this isn’t a dogs puzzle, this is one of the boat series) I then readjust to unravel the actual puzzle picture from of the actual puzzle pieces. As a clinical psychologist, I really don’t care if its dogs at play or boats on the lake, or train in the mountains. I just want to know which puzzle we’re dealing with so that we know how to fix things.

That’s what clinical child and family therapy does. It fixes things. But first we need to know if the puzzle is dogs at play or boats on the lake. If we try to fix dogs at play but the actual puzzle is train in the mountains, our efforts are going to be entirely ineffective. Determining which puzzle were working with is called “diagnosis.”

So, in putting together the puzzle I’ll start by asking the child,

Dr. C:  “So tell me, why don’t you want to be with your mom?” (or dad)?

Child responses to boats on the lake puzzles have one set of characteristics. Child responses from the train in the mountains puzzle have a different set of characteristics. Cats in the garden… holy cow, the child’s responses in cats in the garden are highly distinctive. It’s incredibly easy to spot cats in the garden (i.e., attachment-based “parental alienation”).

Q: So why do so many mental health professions not diagnose cats in the garden?

A: Because they don’t even know this puzzle exists. They think everything is train in the mountains. So when the allied parent and child show them the box top of the train in the mountains picture, and the child displays the three over-sized puzzle pieces of the locomotive, the ignorance of these mental health professionals just accepts that it’s the train in the mountains puzzle.

Q: But don’t they see that it’s not a train, it’s cats?

A: No. Because they don’t put the actual puzzle together. They just accept that the picture on the box top is the actual puzzle. Kinda lazy if you ask me. And it results in a wrong diagnosis, which then results in incorrect and ineffective treatment. They’re treating train in the mountains, when the actual puzzle is cats in the garden. Pointless and ineffective treatment.

Plus, these mental health professionals don’t even know there is such a thing as the cats in the garden puzzle. That’s why I wrote Foundations. This book explains the cats in the garden puzzle. Once mental health professionals read Foundations, they will go “Hey, this isn’t train in the mountains. This is cats in the garden.” Until they read Foundations, however, they’ll just go on diagnosing and treating train in the mountains no matter what the actual puzzle is.

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