Psychopathology and Custody Evaluations

You want to hear something particularly disturbing? Child custody evaluators are actually instructed NOT to identify parental pathology in their reports. That’s right. They are specifically instructed by their Standards of Practice NOT to identify parental psychopathology in their reports.

Here is Standard 4.6c from the Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), the umbrella professional organization for family law attorneys and child custody evaluators:

(c) Evaluators recognize that the use of diagnostic labels can divert attention from the focus of the evaluation (namely, the functional abilities of the litigants whose disputes are before the court) and that such labels are often more prejudicial than probative. For these reasons, evaluators shall give careful consideration to the inclusion of diagnostic labels in their reports. In evaluating a litigant, where significant deficiencies are noted, evaluators shall specify the manner in which the noted deficiencies bear upon the issues before the court.

Now first, let me acknowledge that Standard 4.6c does not specifically say, “don’t identify parental pathology.” It doesn’t say exactly that. It refers to “diagnostic labels” (such as narcissistic and borderline personalities), and it only cautions that evaluators “shall give careful consideration to the inclusion of diagnostic labels in their reports” (a professionally temperate euphemistic statement for don’t do it) because “diagnostic labels can divert attention from the focus of the evaluation.”

Actually, I would strenuously disagree with the premise that “diagnostic labels can divert attention from the focus of the evaluation.”  I firmly believe that diagnostic nomenclature actually advances our understanding of the CENTRAL feature of the evaluation, maintaining the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development. But I’ll defer this particular discussion for a bit.

But the implication of Standard 4.6c is clear, don’t label a parent’s pathology as borderline or narcissistic.

Why not? Because, according to the AFCC, the effects could be more “prejudicial than probative.”

Definition of Prejudicial: harmful to someone or something; detrimental

Definition of Probative: having the quality or function of proving or demonstrating something; affording proof or evidence

So here are my questions:

Question 1. So what are the “harmful” effects of identifying a parent as having a prominent borderline or narcissistic pathology, and are there potential harmful effects of NOT identifying a parent’s borderline or narcissistic pathology?

Question 2: Are there benefits from identifying a parent’s borderline or narcissistic pathology and using a diagnostic nomenclature to capture the description of the pathology.

Diagnostic Labels

Diagnostic labels aren’t just words applied to people, they represent complex psychological constructs of extensive meaning. That’s why we use them. They are a short-hand professional description for a complex network of associated pathologies.

For example, when I use the term narcissistic personality, this has a network of complex pathologies associated with it:

Splitting:  There is very likely to be splitting pathology in which perceptions of other people are polarized into all-good and all-bad extremes.

Projection:  There is likely to be a prominent use of projection. This means that the accusations that this person makes toward other people, such as the other spouse, are likely to be an indication of the narcissistic personality’s own psychological processes.

Pathological Mourning:  This person will have prominent difficulty processing sadness, grief, and loss, and we are highly likely to find problematic terminations to relationships involving a complete cutoff of the other person when they fail to provide the narcissistic personality with ongoing “narcissistic supply.”

Delusional Beliefs:  The narcissistic personality readily decompensates into delusional belief systems, so the presence of an encapsulated delusional belief regarding the other spouse is highly likely.

Degradation of Others:  The narcissistic personality is highly judgmental and contemptuous of others, so a demeaning and dismissive attitude toward the ex-spouse is very likely, and is highly likely to be communicated by the narcissistic parent to the children.

Lack of Empathy:  The narcissistic personality completely lacks the capacity for empathy. This means that a narcissistic parent will be unable to empathically attune to the child’s needs. Instead, the narcissistic personality parent will engage the child in a role-reversal relationship in which the child’s authenticity is obliterated and the child is expected to reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the narcissistic parent (including the contemptuous disdain for the other parent).

Subjective Truth:  Truth and reality are subjectively and arbitrarily defined by the narcissistic personality, and can often bear little resemblance to actual truth and actual reality. The narcissist often inhabits a fantasy world of their own construction. They feel that the normal rules that govern the actions of other people do not apply to them, so they frequently disregard restrictions on their behavior and they frequently disregard the rights of others. This creates a nearly impossible co-parenting relationship.

Vengeful: Narcissistic personalities are highly retaliatory and vengeful, particularly toward those who have caused a “narcissistic injury” to them, such as by rejecting the self-perceived magnificence of their narcissist’s grandiosity.

etc.

So the moment any mental health professional uses the diagnostic identification of “narcissistic personality” a whole set of associated meanings also constellate around this term. That’s why we assign terms to designate specific patterns of pathology, so that we don’t have to individually identify all the component aspects each time we discuss the pathology.

The use of diagnostic nomenclature also provides insights into the pathology that may not yet be evident in the clinical interview. For example, if I see a haughty and arrogant attitude and an absence of empathy, then by recognizing these as potential diagnostic indicators of a narcissistic personality I might then look for projective processes and splitting. If these are present, I might become more skeptical regarding this person’s assertions of reality, meaning that I’ll need to verify this person’s interpersonal perceptions with additional information.

The same is true if I identify a pathology as representing the diagnostic construct of a borderline personality structure. Immediately, a whole set of associated clinical constructs become active, such as abandonment fears, splitting, potential childhood sexual abuse, presentation as the “victim,” etc.

The reason we use this diagnostic nomenclature is because it conveys a complex network of meaning. If we restrict ourselves from using this diagnostic nomenclature, then we are reduced to identifying each component of an organized pathology as if it was a separate psychological process. It’s not. It’s all part of a single organized psychological process, a single pathological organization.

For mental health professionals to intentionally withhold information about parental psychopathology is highly questionable and it sounds manipulative. Rather than sharing accurate mental health information regarding the parents, we are seeking to intentionally influence the recipient’s response to the pathology by not disclosing the nature of the pathology. We are essentially colluding with the pathology by attempting to hide the pathology.

In my view, Standard 4.6c should state:

“If parental pathology is evident, then the extent and implications of this pathology should be described and explained.”

That’s it. Period. If that includes providing the relevant diagnostic nomenclature to organize the description of the pathology, then that’s fine; identify the nomenclature and the implications of the pathology.

If the parent’s behavior would meet diagnostic criteria for Bipolar Disorder, then the custody report should say that the parent’s behavior meets diagnostic criteria for Bipolar Disorder.

If the parent’s behavior would meet diagnostic criteria for Schizophrenia, then the custody report should say that the parent’s behavior meets diagnostic criteria for Schizophrenia.

If the parent’s behavior displays prominent narcissistic or borderline personality traits, then the custody report should say the parent’s behavior evidences prominent narcissistic or borderline personality traits.

The truth is what it is. Intentionally withholding or trying to “soften” the truth to protect the pathological parent, particularly with regard to legal/family decisions of profound consequence to the child, is, in my view, highly inappropriate professional behavior.

The truth is what it is.   We should not withhold psychological nomenclature from the court in an effort to influence the court’s decision.  The court should have access to all the relevant psychological information, including relevant psychological nomenclature for parental pathology, and it is then up to the court to determine how to weigh that information.

Consideration of Question 1: Prejudicial Impact

Question 1. So what are the “harmful” effects of identifying a parent as having a prominent borderline or narcissistic pathology, and are there potential harmful effects of NOT identifying a parent’s borderline or narcissistic pathology?

Someone is going to have to answer this for me, because I don’t see the harmful effects of identifying a parent’s narcissistic or borderline pathology in a child custody evaluation. The identification of parental pathology will lead to a better decision in support of the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development.

Hmmm, harmful to whom?  To the child?  How would identifying parental pathology in a child custody report be harmful to the child?  Nope. Don’t see it.  Harmful to the targeted parent?  Nope. Don’t see how identifying the parental pathology of one parent is harmful to the other parent.  Harmful to the pathological parent?  That seems to be the implication.  Don’t identify parental pathology because doing so will be harmful to the pathological parent.

That seems an odd mandate, for the AFCC to suggest that custody evaluators intentionally act to protect the pathological parent. That appears to represent the intentional imposition of an inherent bias into the evaluation process in favor of the pathological parent. When there is significant parental pathology, shouldn’t our sole focus be on protecting the child from the pathology of the parent?  And wouldn’t overtly identifying the nature and severity of the parental pathology help us to protect the child?

The identification of parental narcissistic or borderline psychopathology may mean that the narcissistic/borderline parent does not obtain custody of the child, or that the contact of this parent with the child may be restricted in some way due to the impact of this parental psychopathology, and I suppose someone could say that the narcissistic/borderline parent was therefore “harmed” by the identification of their pathology – but I find that kind of rationale highly convoluted.

The pathology of the parent is what it is. We are considering the healthy development of the child. I am not willing to sacrifice the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development to collude with the psychopathology of the parent by hiding the nature and extent of the parent’s psychopathology. If the parent has prominent narcissistic/borderline personality traits then the parent has prominent narcissistic/borderline personality traits. The truth is the truth. If the child needs to be protected from the psychopathology of the narcissistic/borderline parent then child needs to be protected from the psychopathology of the narcissistic/borderline parent. The truth is the truth.

To suggest that we somehow bend or distort the truth is, in my view, highly unprofessional conduct. The truth is what it is. Yet the AFCC appears to be instructing child custody evaluators to consciously introduce bias in favor of the pathological parent into child custody reports by consciously withholding relevant information about the organized pattern of pathology evidenced by the parent.  What we should do is deal with the truth. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. We don’t shut our eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Diverting Attention?

The AFCC believes that:

“the use of diagnostic labels can divert attention from the focus of the evaluation”

I absolutely 100% disagree. The use of professionally sound diagnostic nomenclature to describe parental psychopathology can highlight the issues CENTRAL to the focus of the evaluation. The presence of profound parental psychopathology, such as narcissistic and borderline personality pathology is of CENTRAL importance to comprehending the pathology and conflict within the family and evaluating the healthy developmental needs of the child.

In my view, the AFCC is trying to protect the pathology of the narcissistic/borderline parent from exposure, and is doing so at the expense of the child. The truth is the truth.

If schizophrenic pathology is present in a parent, say so.  

If bipolar pathology is present in a parent, say so.

If obsessive-compulsive hoarding pathology is present in a parent, say so.

If narcissistic/borderline personality pathology is present in a parent, say so.

To attempt to manipulate the response of the court to the truth by withholding or distorting the information we provide to the court is, in my opinion, unprofessional conduct. And, in my opinion, it is reprehensible to protect exposing the pathology of the parent at the expense of the child’s healthy development.

In my view, Standard 4.6c of the AFCC is seeking to prevent the exposure of the narcissistic/borderline parent’s psychopathology at the expense of protecting the child’s healthy development.

Q: Are there potential harmful effects of NOT identifying a parent’s borderline or narcissistic pathology?

Yes, absolutely.  When we intentionally withhold relevant psychological information in an effort to influence the outcome of decisions, we foster and support ignorance in decision making.  From the ignorance we foster regarding the full nature of the pathology evidenced by the parent, ignorance which is created when we intentionally withhold relevant psychological information (the diagnostic nomenclature describing a coherent complex pattern of parental pathology), we increase the likelihood that an incorrect decision regarding the child’s well-being will be made. Because we have intentionally withheld relevant psychological information from the court, the court may not fully appreciate the nature and extent of the parental psychopathology or the need to protect the child from the distorting effects of the parental psychopathology.

Our professional obligation is to provide the court with the psychological facts. All the psychological facts. Our role is not to shade the facts in this way or that in an effort to influence the outcome in some way. We are serving as psychological consultants to the court. The court has THE RIGHT to the psychological facts… all of the psychological facts… including the psychological nomenclature describing the organized pattern of psychopathology evidenced by a parent.

In my view, the AFCC is 100% wrong in trying to manipulate an outcome in favor of the pathological parent by shading the facts presented to the court.  The truth is the truth, including the appropriate psychological nomenclature used in professional psychology to describe the organized pattern of pathology evidenced by the parent.

We should simply speak the whole truth.

FBI Analogy:  What if the policies and procedures of the FBI crime lab were to routinely not report on some category of ballistic evidence because it might have a prejudicial effect on the outcome of the trial. That’s not a decision for the FBI crime lab to make. They are to analyze the ballistic data and report on the findings… ALL of the findings.

Same for psychologists. The truth is what it is. We should provide the court with the full psychological truth. If this includes the psychological nomenclature for describing the pattern of pathology evidenced by a parent, then this includes the psychological nomenclature for the pattern of pathology evidenced by a parent.

I am both surprised and appalled that it is acceptable to the court that the information they receive from child custody evaluations is systematically distorted in favor of not identifying parental pathology, which introduces a systematic bias into child custody evaluations in favor of the pathological parent. And this is okay?

Apparently it is… at least for the present.

Question 2: Benefits to Disclosing Pathology

Question 2: Are there benefits from identifying a parent’s borderline or narcissistic pathology and using a diagnostic nomenclature to capture the description of the pathology.

I think there are. Recognizing standard and established forms of pathology grounds our assessment in standard and established psychological principles and constructs. 

The use of appropriate professional categories for identifying pathology organizes our assessment process and provides theoretical coherence to the interpretation of the clinical information. The use of appropriate professional nomenclature for pathology identifies the disparate aspects of parental psychopathology as representing an organized pattern of problematic parenting with predictable expressions and predictable consequences on family relationships.

The truth is the truth.  Recognizing and identifying the truth allows us to make better decisions than would otherwise occur through intentionally withholding relevant psychological information from the court.

The court has a right to know.  It is not up to us to decide what professional information to make available to the court and what information to withhold from the court in an effort to influence the decision the court makes.  Our professional obligation is to provide the court with the relevant psychological information.  What the court does with this information is the court’s responsibility.

RICO

Systematically distorting the reporting of parental pathology in an effort to hide the nature and severity of this parental pathology is only one of a number of highly problematic features associated with child custody evaluations.  My prediction is that within the next five years the AFCC, the APA, and child custody evaluators are going to be hit with a class action RICO lawsuit. The practice of child custody evaluations in the family law system is an organized racket for financial gain.

No Scientific Validity

There is no scientific evidence for the validity of the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations.  None.  There is no evidence of construct validity, no evidence of content validity, no evidence of predictive validity, no evidence of concurrent validity, no evidence of discriminant validity.  None.  There is no scientific evidence for the validity of the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations. NONE.

No Theoretical Foundation

While child custody evaluations involve extensive data collection (which, by the way, is what makes them so exceedingly expensive – it’s the data collection process not the quality of the findings that makes child custody reports so expensive), no established psychological models from professional psychology are applied to the interpretation of this data. No established psychoanalytic model, no established humanistic or existential model, no family systems model, no cognitive-behavioral model, no established model of professional psychology is applied to the interpretation of the collected data. Child custody evaluators simply make up whatever interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations they want without reference to any established psychological model, principles, or constructs (even the DSM-5 is prohibited by Standard 4.6c according to the AFCC).

The conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations are simply made up, with no inherent linkage to any of the data they collected earlier. I’m hoping that an attorney is beginning to see the RICO lawsuit.  It’s an organized racket.  Charge for extensive data collection, but then simply make up the findings and recommendations however you like.  There is NO linkage of the conclusions and recommendations to the extensive (and expensive) data collection phase, and there is no consistent or reliable application of established psychological principles or constructs to the interpretation of the collected data or the recommendations made by the evaluation.

No Key Definitions

There are no operational definitions for the two key constructs of child custody evaluations, “parental capacity” and the “best interests of the child.” Without operational definitions for these key constructs, these constructs are without defined meaning. This allows the custody evaluators to essentially make up whatever conclusions and recommendations they want, and then post hoc, after the fact, define these conclusions and recommendations as being in the “best interests of the child” (simply because the custody evaluator says so, and this is acceptable because there are no operational definitions for what these terms mean).

An Organized Racket

There is absolutely NO VALIDITY to the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations. Zero.

That’s a bold and assertive statement. There is a comment section to this post. I challenge anyone to cite me the research support for the construct validity, content validity, predictive validity, concurrent validity, or discriminant validity of the conclusions and recommendations made by child custody evaluations… <crickets>  There is none.

At $20,000 to $40,000 per single child custody evaluation, it is a very lucrative organized racket. By providing “standards” for child custody evaluations, the AFCC becomes the organized syndicate, and the evaluators are the capos.  The parents are “the marks” in a confidence scheme, a shell game.  I suspect a RICO lawsuit is coming in the next five years.

If an attorney wants to know exactly where to go to uncover the shell game, look to the interface between the two parts of the custody evaluation.  Part 1 is the data collection and report writing that documents the collected data. This is where all the money is made by conducting exceedingly extensive data collection without clear theoretical focus.  They substitute quantity of information collected for focused quality of information.  They do this because they don’t know what they’re looking for.  And in truth, it actually doesn’t matter what they’re looking for because they just make up Part 2, the interpretation and recommendations, anyway, so it doesn’t really matter what the data is.

The two parts to the child custody evaluation:

Part 1 – Data Collection and Reporting:

The first part is an exhaustive (and expensive) collection and reporting of data. This involves interviewing all the family members on multiple occasions, conducting home visits and observations, administering, scoring, and interpreting a variety of test instruments, interviewing collateral informants and reviewing collateral documents, and then there is the report writing in which they document all the information that was collected.

All of this time is billed at hundreds of dollars an hour. This would be fine if this data collection actually meant something, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean a damn thing, because of Part 2 – Data Interpretation and Recommendations.

Part 2 – Interpretation and Recommendations

There are absolutely NO guidelines for how the data collected in Part 1 is interpreted, nor are there any guidelines governing what recommendations should be made from this data. Child custody evaluators just make it up. Seriously. They just make this part up.

The Public: “Surely you’re exaggerating, Dr. Childress. They’re not just making up their interpretations and recommendations.”

Dr. Childress: No, actually I’m not exaggerating. They are entirely making up their interpretations of the data and their recommendations based on whatever whim moves them at moment.

I’ll explain this more fully in future posts. But the racketeering issue is what occurs between Part 1 (the billable hours part of data collection) and Part 2 (the make-it-up interpretation and recommendations part).

It’s a shell game. Watch the moving shells of data collection, interviews, testing, home observation, all to distract you from the key moment when the custody evaluation switches from data collection to data interpretation. At that moment the custody evaluator palms the pea.

So which shell is the pea under? Oooooo, so sorry. Better luck next time and thanks for playing. That will be $30,000 please. Next. Step right up. Try your luck at custody evaluation.

Parent: But what about the clearly evident psychopathology of the other parent?

I’m sorry, we don’t identify psychopathology. It might prejudice the case against the pathological parent. Don’t blame me, it’s the AFCC’s rules… don’t identify pathology, too prejudicial against the pathological parent if we identify their pathology.

RICO, RICO, RICO.

Think I’m wrong…

I challenge professional psychology, the APA or AFCC, to cite for me the research support for the construct validity, content validity, predictive validity, concurrent validity, or discriminant validity of the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations.

I challenge professional psychology, the APA or AFCC, to provide me with the operational definitions for the key constructs of “parental capacity” and “best interests of the child” that are used in interpreting the data of child custody evaluations.

I challenge professional psychology, because they know I’m right.  They know that establishing the validity of an assessment procedure and operationally defining the key constructs used in the assessment are foundational to ALL assessment procedures.  Personality assessment, Intelligence assessment.  Achievement testing.  They know that.

I teach courses in Assessment and Psychometrics at the graduate level.  I know that establishment mental health knows that demonstrating validity and providing operational definitions for the key constructs of the assessment are foundational to the assessment process. Establishment psychology, you know that, and I know you know that. So why aren’t you doing what’s right? Why aren’t you demanding that your professional membership do scientifically sound and professional assessments.

“Because we don’t know what that is with regard to child custody.”

Exactly.  Once you admit that, then we can begin the process of building professionally sound and scientifically supported assessments.  We can do it.  We did it for the constructs of intelligence.  We did it for the constructs of personality.  We can do it for the constructs of parental capacity and the best interests of the child.  Is it hard?  Yep.  Is it complicated?  Yep.  So’s intelligence, so’s personality. 

We start by offering definitions for the constructs “parental capacity” and “best interests of the child.” Then someone disagrees and offers a counter definition.  Then five different groups offer five alternative definitions… and we set about the process of defining the constructs.

Then, once we have the constructs defined (even if we have yet to settle on a consensus definition) we set about developing the methods for how we assess for that operationally defined construct. And once we have developed our assessment procedures, we subject our assessments to reliability and validity studies.  We absolutely know how to do this.  So why aren’t we doing it?

Establishment mental health, you may not like what I’m saying in calling out the racket of child custody evaluations, and you may see me as your enemy, but I’m actually your best friend.  I’m actually on your side.  We know how to do the right thing, and the current practice of child custody evaluations is NOT it.  Intelligence testing is the right way.  Personality testing is the right way.  The Rorschach lacked scientific validity. So Exner fixed it.  We know what to do.  Do the right thing.  I know you know what that is.  The RICO lawsuit is on its way.  I’m just trying to alert you.  I’m your best friend.

If an assessment process lacks scientifically established validity and lacks operational definitions for its key constructs, then it is not professionally acceptable. Establishment psychology knows that, and I know they know it. So the question for establishment mental health becomes, what are you going to do about it?

It is directly analogous to the NFL and the issue of player concussions. The medical evidence of football-related concussions leading to long-term brain damage in NFL players was there for decades, but the NFL turned a blind eye because football was so financially lucrative. The NFL tried to suppress this medical information, and eventually it took a players’ lawsuit to bring the medical evidence to light and achieve an $870 million dollar settlement against the NFL.

The professional organizations in psychology now face a similar moment of truth. There is no scientific support for the practice of child custody evaluations. Zero. It is a shell game.  Watch the moving data collection while the pea is palmed in the interpretation and recommendations.

There’s no point attacking me.  I’m not the problem.  The lack of scientifically established validity and operational definitions for key constructs is the problem.  I’m just the kid on the side of the road saying, “Hey look mommy, the emperor has no clothes.”

I’m not the problem. If you want to be wearing some clothes, then go put some clothes on.

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

20 thoughts on “Psychopathology and Custody Evaluations”

  1. Sounds interesting! Many thanks for sending it. Going to read entire article on laptop. Also working on my draft affidavit, application & terms of reference. Talk soon. Best, Adrian

    On Wednesday, 21 October 2015, Dr Craig Childress: Attachment-Based Parental Alienati

  2. Dr. Steve Miller testified to a CT State task force last year in January and confirms an institutionalized splitting of professionals. At an AFCC conference he attended, a seminar speaker dogmatically asserted that if “a parent presents anxious and intense, you can be sure that’s how they parent.” This is clearly a fundamental attribution error that is leveraged by the pre-Childress reformulation of parental alienation. If I were rich, I’d would fund the attachment based model to it’s Schopenhauer’s bitter end… that it is self-evident…

  3. Thank you Tamarin!!! And thank you Dr. Childress for allowing us to use your blog to communicate, We are working very hard to launch the Alliance Website and Facebook so we have a place to gather, share, and work together. In the meantime, I just can’t let this teachable and empowering moment pass. Everyone needs to see this video. Dr. Miller and I have had our differences, but I will never negate his credibility in his field. I like the fact that Dr. Miller uses the terms alienation and estrangement. We need to get away from the words “parent alienation.” ooh, blasphemy? No. The behaviors Dr. Miller describes are actually predictable behaviors of a narcissistic/borderline parent who has had a severe melt down because of the extreme anxiety he or she feels as a result of the divorce. These parents have a history of being abusive throughout their relationships with the family but suddenly it has seriously escalated. They didn’t just “poof” become alienators. By the way, I also think that the term alienator minimizes the fact that these parents are child abusers.

  4. I love how you think, Dr. Childress! So grateful to have you leading the battlefield with such tenacity and profound understanding of this psychological child and spousal abuse. Thank you!

  5. From what I understand (and experience myself), Cluster B personality disordered individuals tend to be abusive, whether it is emotionally, psychologically, physically and/or spiritually abusive. In counseling, the spouses of these disordered individuals are advised that staying is not a healthy choice for them or their children. But, when they do leave as a result of no longer choosing to tolerate abuse, they are abused further, now by the psychological community and, in turn, the courts.

    The psychological community who, with one hand, counsel a spouse to leave based on the behavior of the pathology, then with the other hand, obliterate the leaving spouse by refusing to acknowledge the pathology, and putting the abuser in power by giving into his or her hands the lives of precious children, thereby marginalizing the abused parent, and subjecting the children to abuse, now untempered, because the normal range parent is cast aside.

    This is inconsistent behavior on the part of the psychological community. The abused spouse/targeted parent, and the children are damned either way.

    And what a Hell it is to live always at the mercy of whatever the Cluster B, who is in complete power now, chooses to concoct at any given moment.

    1. Unfortunately, your analysis is correct. In many of these cases, the pathology is nearly identical to the pathology of domestic violence involving power, control, and domination, except that instead of using his fists to batter his spouse the abusive partner is using the children. I will be more fully examining the connection of some variants of the “parental alienation” pathology to domestic violence in future posts.

      Craig Childress, Psy.D.

  6. I appreciate your post. I am a targeted father. Reading my custody evaluation makes me sick to my stomach and it is now more clear to me why it was such a plain shock when I read it the first time. I see how only functioning was considered. Child preference was also considered, but alienation was already deeply embedded.

    Although my children would have benefited greatly from a diagnosis at time of CE, what happens with a clear diagnosis if both parents possess damaging traits? Would that overwhelm the current system? If so, how could it be stabilized?

    1. It is possible that both parents have pathology. This situation becomes highly problematic for protecting the emotional and psychological development of the children. As we move forward, we can begin to consider the variants of the pathology. What’s important is to move the professional dialogue away from the construct of “parental alienation” over to standard and established forms of pathology, i.e., narcissistic and borderline parental pathology. This will provide greater clarity on how we deal with all the differing variants of the pathology. The borderline-style parent will manifest the pathology in slightly different ways than the more narcissistic-style parent. There are also variants that add other personality disorder traits, such as prominent antisocial traits, paranoid traits, or obsessive-compulsive personality traits.

      In professional psychology, we need to begin moving away from the construct of “parental alienation” over to established constructs of personality disorder pathology, attachment pathology, family systems pathology, and pathogenic parenting. This will greatly improve our assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of this very serious family pathology.

      Craig Childress, Psy.D.

    2. If both parents are diagnosed with abusive levels of NPD/BPD, the threat that both of them could lose their children to the system (foster care, etc) might be just enough to push one or both of them to reluctantly agree to counselling. Or maybe it would need to be framed as a competition: “the first one to successfully complete NPD/BPD rehabilitation wins the kids!” Maybe that wouldn’t even be enough though. Maybe the treatment for people with abusive levels of NPD/BPD has to begin with threats of institutionalization of themselves unless they agree to, and stay with, counselling. After all, underneath all of the pathology is a person who is in dire need of help.

      If mental health was ever able to have the stones to stand up to abusive NPD/BPD individuals, and then given the power that is necessary to influence them (since authority and insight are useless), maybe there could actually begin to be a way to treat this “other special population” of traumatized people. For these patients, “tough love” by extremely compassionate people who have been given the power to make their lives hell unless they keep working with them may be their only hope.

  7. It may be that the reluctance to diagnose in the standards you quoted was advocated by the evaluators themselves, to protect them from lawsuits / licensing complaints of disordered parents. It seems really intended to protect the evaluators. Is there a way to address this issue?

    In these days of nonjudging and nonshaming, there’s a perception by many that “just because mom/dad has a mental illness doesn’t mean they’re a bad parent.” Is there any evidence for this, and are cluster B disorders different from other illnesses in this regard? Maybe the lazy assumptions / myths of our court system can be replaced with fact-finding and objective hard evidence.

    1. You are probably right, to protect themselves from lawsuits… So they shouldn’t even do them then!
      I believe that they have actually just opened themselves up for lawsuits by trying to keep themselves from lawsuits. (Does that make sense)? In so many words, a parent believes that an evaluation will be scientific, accurate, and truthful. Oh, and not purely opinion based.
      Once again, disappointed in our so called legal system.

      “Fact finding hard hitting evidence”– love it!

  8. I’m absolutely sure psychopathological features in parent are to be mentioned and diagnosed. I’ve alwys been open to discussion of my own limitations and possiblities due to my bipolar disorder, but there is proof that bipolar parents can be fully capable of rising a child with lov, empathy and care. This provided they’re in treatment and take their medication. Schizophrenics same story. There is over whelming evidence that these people can parent in a healthy way profounded there is openess and commutnication. In Holland we havee special courses for children of all ages to teachn them how to cope with the parents pathology, name it openly and clearly and teach the child how to handle a parent who is different and has handicaps. These re the so-called Axis ! disorders. These people ususlly have an intact form of emphatizing with and care for a child. Except, it is a little different from normal. In my case, I am bipolar, it means that I need a lot of rest and I cannot travel. In almost any other respect I am normal.
    I’m raising this here because Cluster B disorders typically are not open, won’t seek treatment, will be forever in denial and don’t give a s… about their childrens needs, as long as they get what they need from the child. These disorders are hardly treatable, very damaging to the child and can lead to clear-cut abuse. What cluster B disorders have in common is an impaired sense of self and an impaired conscience. They may abuse the child secretly at home, and in public nothing seems wrong. They are also prone of parentification and projective identification. Often the “normal” or Axis I spouse has been subjected to psychological manipulation and abuse. These people should get extra help, as they are victims, too. They may present as emotionally unstable, often after years of domestic violence , and lose their children, even if there is conclusive proof of the pathology of the perpetrator. Just my two cents.

    1. Thank you for your insights, I agree with you. First, however, let me caution you that while you’re “sure” that “psychopathological features in a parent are mentioned and diagnosed” in child custody evaluations? They’re not. In my role as an expert consultant in legal cases I’ve now had the opportunity to read multiple child custody evaluations. They’re bad. Really, really, bad. The problem is that they are never reviewed for quality assurance. And in those rare cases where a custody evaluation is reviewed by another mental health professional, it’s reviewed by another custody evaluator who only looks at the data collection component, not the interpretation and conclusion component. They are bad. Really really bad.

      But you’re absolutely right in saying that bipolar parents are fully capable of raising a child with love, empathy, and care when the symptoms of the bipolar disorder are being appropriately managed with medication. If a parent has bipolar disorder, I would simply suggest that this diagnosis be noted and that the caveat be made in the custody recommendations that the recommendations apply when the parent’s bipolar disorder is being appropriately stabilized with medication, and that if the parent has a “significant relapse” of depression or mania, then the child’s primary care may benefit from being transferred to the other parent during the duration of the parent’s manic or depressive episode, and then be returned to the standard custody and visitation arrangement once the parent’s symptoms have stabilized again.

      And with regard to personality disorder pathology, you are again absolutely correct. It is a very severe form of pathology that does not necessarily display overtly and does not readily seek treatment, particularly the narcissistic personality organization. Yet the narcissistic and borderline personality organization has an extremely damaging impact on the psychological and emotional development of children. I would refer the interested professional to the work of Linehan on the “invalidating environment” and the work of Moor and Silvern (2006) on the failure of parental empathy. On my list of extremely bad parenting, narcissistic and borderline parents fall number 2, right behind sexual abuse incest as the worst possible parents. While others can reasonably disagree and say that severe physical abuse or meth addicted parents are worse, I don’t think so. I think the life-long damage to the psychological “self-structure” of the child from the pathogenic parenting of a narcissistic borderline parent merits their assignment as the second worst parent possible, right behind the sexually abusing parent who is clearly the number 1 worst possible parent.

      Craig Childress, Psy.D.

  9. I note that a psychologist’s opinion is elevated to “fact” in this article. It is indeed a fact that several different psychologists have been know to issue several different diagnoses of the same patient. If a dx can be used in family court against the “disordered,” more suffering parents will avoid getting the help they need. A dx is a label that has been highly stigmatized, especially Cluster B personality disorders.

    If a parent’s disorder can cause harmful behavior, there should be abundant evidence in the form of actual behavior during the course of hir parenting to be used in court without recourse to hir psychiatric label.

    1. You and I have a substantial difference of opinion.

      First, if the “opinion” of the psychologist cannot be trusted to use legitimate and established psychological nomenclature (the DSM-5) that has clearly articulated operational definitions for its use, how can we then turn right around and trust the opinion of a psychologist to make conclusions and recommendations about child custody involving constructs of “parental capacity” and “best interests of the child” that have NO operational definitions that define the meaning of these constructs? We cannot trust the psychologist under one circumstance yet we can then turn right around and trust the psychologist in the other? I find that absurd. Either we trust the psychologist’s opinions or we don’t.

      If we cannot trust the opinion of the psychologist to use legitimate and established psychological nomenclature in a custody evaluation based on extensive data collection, how can we trust the opinion of psychologists to use legitimate and established psychological nomenclature under any circumstances? Shouldn’t we then just do away with the diagnostic nomenclature altogether since we cannot trust professionally trained psychologists to be able to appropriately identify when that legitimate and operationally defined psychological nomenclature is relevant?

      Second, my primary focus is on protecting the child from the psychopathology of the parent, not on protecting the parent’s psychopathology from exposure. Your primary focus appears to be on protecting the parent’s interests. My primary, and sole, focus is on protecting the child’s healthy development. We seemingly have different focal areas of concern.

      Third, in my opinion, child custody evaluations are so incredibly problematic that the practice should stop completely. Again, if we cannot trust a psychologist to use legitimate and established psychological nomenclature that has a substantial base in the professional literature, a substantial research base, and clearly articulated operational definitions for its use, how can we then turn right around and trust this same psychologist to make interpretations and reach conclusions and recommendations based on constructs of “parental capacity” and “best interest of the child” that have NO established literature base, NO research base, and NO operational definitions for what these constructs mean? In my opinion, that’s a ludicrous assertion. Either we trust the psychologist’s opinions or we don’t.

      Finally, how would you propose that we collect “abundant evidence in the form of actual behavior” of a role-reversal relationship of the parent and child in which the child is being used as a regulatory object to stabilize the psychopathology of a narcissistic/borderline parent? What, in your opinion, would represent “abundant evidence in the form of actual behavior” for this type of pathology?

      If, as you propose, we cannot trust the psychologist to use legitimate psychological nomenclature that has clear operational definitions for its use, then I will propose that we cannot trust the opinions of this same psychologist about “parental capacity” and “the best interests of the child” that have NO operational definitions for their use? We need to completely stop the practice of child custody evaluations. The conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations have NO scientifically established validity.

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

  10. This is very disturbing, yet again, to learn of another way that parents are taken advantage of via money because they believe in justice and believe the courts will do what is in the “best interests of the child”. (That phrase has been programmed into our subconscious in order to make it harder for us to believe that the courts, moist of the time, do NOT have the “best interests of the child” in mind.

    I have a question, in the state I live in, and other states as well, we have a Bubbles of Love week. In this week, one of the goals is to have Mayors of different towns to declare a week a Stop Parental Alienation Week.
    They then get a plaque, declare the week, get some press… then it’s on to the next area of business.
    I’ve looked at these pictures of these Mayors proclaiming Against Parental Alienation week, and, it should make me happy. However, it makes my gut churn. They are only doing it for the press, nothing ever changes, they don’t know what they are talking about. As long as they believe it is against child abuse in some form, they welcome the press. I bring this up because I want to challenge the courts in my state, in my county. Hey…the Mayor proclaimed a week against Parental Alienation…yet, the courts don’t recognize this. Sooo…who is right? The courts or the Mayor?
    (I’m sure my question would be danced around).

    Tired of seeing children used to advance causes, elections and money.
    I will definitely hit this issue the next Bubbles of love week and ask the question if the Mayor believe this exists so much so, that he would actually proclaim a Prevent Parental Alienation Week… why don’t the courts recognize this? Hmmmm….
    Then go on to a simplified definition of PA, your Attachment Based PA and that it is already in the DSM because of this, this and this…

    Just wanted to bring this to your attention and others. It seems some Officials are contradicting themselves, correct?

    Also love your blog on Gardnerien PAS. Thank you!!

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