Karen Woodall is one of the most beloved experts in “parental alienation” and her efforts on the behalf of targeted parents and their children are legendary and heroic.
Dr. Childress is one of staunchest and fiery allies of targeted parents and their children.
Dr. Childress provides a blunt and caustic challenge to Karen Woodall.
To make a point.
The solution to “parental alienation” REQUIRES a paradigm shift from a Gardnerian PAS model to an attachment-based model of the pathology.
I don’t care if you don’t see it. Trust me, it does.
For nearly a year now I’ve been alerting Gardnerian PAS experts that this day is coming when we must sacrifice the Gardnerian PAS model in order to achieve a solution to the pathology of “parental alienation.” I know it will be hard for them. They have fought for so long and with such valor and determination to have the Gardnerian PAS model accepted by establishment mental health.
And then this outsider is going to come along and tell them that they have to give up their beloved PAS model of “parental alienation.” They know every nook and cranny of this beloved model. They’ve lived it and breathed it for decades.
But to achieve synthesis with establishment mental health, which we must do to achieve a solution, we must sacrifice the Gardnerian PAS model for the pathology.
I knew this from the start. The mental health system is broken and rife with incompetence. We must clear out all of the professional incompetence. But a Gardnerian PAS model didn’t allow us to do that because it wasn’t accepted by establishment mental health. It was “controversial.” It did not allow us to establish standards of practice to which mental health professionals could be held accountable.
Then, when I looked to the legal system I saw that the response of this system was also massively broken. We could not get an appropriate legal response because mental health was not giving clear direction to the legal system. Why? Because of the Gardnerian PAS model. It was too hard to prove. If one mental health professional says it’s “parental alienation” another one says no it’s not. Even if some symptoms are present it’s considered only moderate alienation and no effective action is taken. And courts are reluctant to separate the child from the supposedly bonded relationship with the allied narcissistic/borderline parent, so they’d order “reunification therapy” that was undermined by the allied narcissistic/borderline parent and which was totally ineffective. It was, and is, a complete mess.
And if the allied parent made allegations of child abuse then another whole level presented itself. Immediately, the targeted parent lost visitation for six months, a year, two years, and was sometimes placed on supervised visitation. All the while the alienation becomes more firmly entrenched. The entirety of the surrounding systems were a complete and total mess.
So… where to start.
First, any solution that requires targeted parents to prove parental alienation in court is no solution at all. The financial cost of proving “parental alienation” in court is prohibitive to the vast majority of targeted parents. Proving “parental alienation” in court takes way too long, years that are lost to the relationship of the child with the beloved targeted parent, years that can never by recovered, and all the while during the legal process the alienation becomes ever more firmly entrenched. It’s also far too easy for the narcissistic/borderline personality to manipulate the legal system with delays, and delays, and delays, and to nullify court orders by simply disregarding them, forcing the targeted parent into endlessly seeking additional court redress, costing more and more money, draining the financial ability of the targeted parent to continue to fight the alienation.
Any solution that requires targeted parents to prove parental alienation in court is no solution whatsoever.
So what then? The solution must come from mental health. How?
If we try to diagnose “parental alienation” it’s too subtle. Because of my expertise in family systems therapy and early childhood mental health, the role-reversal use of the child as a regulatory object stands out with neon lights. But for most incompetent mental health professionals, they totally miss it. They don’t know what they’re doing so they get caught in the manipulative drama that the narcissistic/borderline parent and child play out before them.
And the manipulation of the child into the role-reversal relationship doesn’t happen by “badmouthing” the other parent. It’s much more subtle. The child first is induced into stabilizing the emotional and psychological state of the narcissistic/borderline parent to prevent the psychological collapse of this parent into dysregulation. Then, once the child is a regulatory object for the parent, the child is easily induced into being a “victim” of the supposedly “abusive” parenting of the targeted parent. But no one – and I mean no one – was talking about that. It seemed everyone thought that the manipulation of the child occurred in a more direct way through saying bad things about the other parent.
And then there’s the anxiety variant of the pathology, where the child would have “panic attacks” at visitation transfers, and later at even the thought of an upcoming visitation with the targeted parent. How can we educate all mental health professionals in all of the subtleties of the induction and expression process?
Okay. First things first. We need to clear out professional incompetence and get to only a select set of experts who assess, diagnose, and treat this type of pathology. How do we do that? We need standard and established domains of professional competence to which all mental health professionals can be held accountable. Can Gardnerian PAS give us these domains? No, because Gardnerian PAS is not accepted by establishment mental health and because it is not defined using any accepted and established forms of pathology to which we can hold mental health professionals accountable.
So the first thing we’re going to need to do is develop a model of the pathology that gives us clear and well-defined domains of professional competence to which we can hold all mental health professionals accountable in order to clear out all of the incompetent mental health professionals so that we’re only working with a select group of experts.
Another failure of the Gardnerian PAS model is by proposing that the pathology is a “new syndrome” it gives establishment mental health the opportunity to reject it. Which establishment mental health did. So in this new model we must define the pathology entirely using standard and fully established psychological principles and constructs that don’t give establishment mental health the opportunity to reject the model because everything about the model is all based entirely on established and existing forms of already accepted pathology.
One of the biggest hurdles so far, one that is still only partially accomplished, has been changing the mindset of everyone to realize that if the model is properly structured we don’t need establishment mental health to accept anything, because everything is already standard and established stuff. Everyone, including the critics, are all so used to the “new syndrome” idea that they’re having a rough time breaking free of that mindset. Personality disorders are not “Dr. Childress’ new model” – the attachment system is not “Dr. Childress’ new model.” It’s not even “parental alienation” – it’s a cross-generational coalition. The “new syndrome” mindset is so deeply embedded in everyone.
That’s why a solution is available right this moment but no one sees it, because everyone is thinking “new syndrome” rather than established pathology. I’m a clinical psychologist. All the pathology is right there, and it’s always been there. It’s just that everyone is so conceptually captivated by the “new syndrome” mindset they didn’t apply standard models of psychopathology. If people can just break free of the “new syndrome” mindset they’ll realize that the solution has been there all along, like Dorthy’s ruby slippers.
Another problem we face, however, is if we try to prove “parental alienation” by the allied pathological parent then we’re chasing the narcissistic/borderline parent down a rabbit hole of trying to prove the parent’s pathology and subtle actions (“I’m just listening to the child”). We can’t get trapped into trying to prove the bad parenting of the allied narcissistic/borderline parent. That’s just a rabbit hole of endless frustration.
Wait a minute, if we switch to the construct of “pathogenic parenting” then we can remain totally with the child’s symptoms, and then extrapolate to the parenting practices that produce that specific set of child symptoms. So what symptoms are the key identifiers of the pathology?
And so I set about unraveling the pathology.
This road didn’t just suddenly come about. I’ve been working on this for seven years. I’m a pretty smart guy, and I’ve studied the pathology in detail, and I bring a unique perspective out of early childhood mental health and the neuro-development of brain systems. If you know the attachment system, you can diagnose the pathology on the attachment system display alone (it has to do with it being a “goal corrected primary motivational system”). there is so much more that I haven’t even gotten to yet. I’m just waiting for people to catch up. For example, I haven’t even begun to address the intersubjectivity system accounting for the “psychological enmeshment” in the pathology (what Tronick refers to as a “dyadic state of consciousness” involving mutual co-regulation of psychological states).
I studied every nook and cranny of this pathology and I wove a model that is going to catch it. Three diagnostic indicators. Gotcha. Pathogenic parenting. Totally focused on the child’s symptom display. Totally defined using standard and established symptom identifiers. And giving us the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed – not Suspected… Confirmed.
And establishment mental health can’t avoid it because it’s all standard and established stuff.
Ooooo, but I need to avoid getting locked into establishment mental health nitpicking the pathology. So I need to define it at a micro level. It’s going to get kicked into the experts on personality disorders and the attachment system within the citadel for vetting. It has to withstand that. Reading, reading, reading. Kernberg, Millon, Bowlby, Beck, van der Kolk, research and more research, disorganized attachment, narcissistic personalities, unraveling, unraveling. Seven years in preparation for this point right now.
And then, how do I explain it to people. It’s so complex and interwoven. It’s a knot of pathology expressed across generations of trauma. Try to explain it this way, that way, another way. Three levels, family systems level, personality level, attachment level, yeah, that seems to work the best.
Done. Foundations. Now we have domains of professional competence to which we can hold mental health professionals accountable. Now we can begin to clear out the massive incompetence and get down to a select group of experts who know what they’re doing.
Three diagnostic indicators. Don’t give them a choice to be incompetent. If the three diagnostic indicators are present, it’s V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed. Get ready for the “No it’s not – prove it.” I’m ready. Nothing yet. Pretty straightforward – pathogenic parenting creating developmental pathology, personality pathology, and delusional pathology. Prepare for the challenge to delusional pathology. I’m ready. It will hold.
Three diagnostic indicators then ALL mental health professionals must make a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed. Standards of practice to which ALL mental health professionals can be held accountable. Clear out the incompetence.
Duty to protect. Encourage (require) the mental health professional to file a child abuse report with Child Protective Services. CPS won’t know what to do initially, but as these reports start coming in more and more they will read up on the attachment-based model and adopt the same framework for assessing the pathology. Three diagnostic indicators = V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed. The targeted parent will then have two independently provided diagnoses of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed to take into the court system.
There is so much more. So much more.
But this is no accident. I didn’t suddenly wake up one morning and say, hmmm, I think I’ll come up with an idea to solve parental alienation.
Seven years I’ve been working out exactly – exactly – what’s needed to fix both the broken mental health system and the legal system surrounding their response to this pathology. And this is it.
I’m sixty years old. I’ve already had one stroke. My time is limited. I’m an ADHD guy who got sidetracked into this pathology. I want to go back to writing my ADHD and parenting books. There’s some amazing stuff I’ve got with that, but I can’t get to it because I’m busy with this “parental alienation” stuff. We need to wrap up this pathology first, then I can go back to ADHD and neuro-developmental parenting.
The focal target is the Position Statement of the APA. We want them to acknowledge the existence of the pathology, and they have no choice. The pathology is NOT “parental alienation, it’s narcissistic and borderline personality pathology. They have no choice but to acknowledge the pathology. I purposely didn’t give them a choice. This will completely address the “parental alienation” doesn’t exist statement.
A major symbolic shift will occur when the APA changes their position statement to acknowledge that the pathology exists. And they will change it because they have no choice. When they do, it will create a tectonic shift in our response to the pathology of “parental alienation.” I don’t care what they call the pathology. If they object to the term “parental alienation” then we’ll compromise on “pathogenic parenting.” The details of what they call the pathology are less important than that they formally acknowledge that the pathology (i.e., the impact of narcissistic and borderline personality pathology on family relationships following divorce) exists.
By the way, the term “pathogenic” is an established term in clinical psychology and developmental psychology. It was a term used in the DSM-IV TR related to Reactive Attachment Disorder
“Pathogenic care as evidenced by at least one of the following…” (DSM-IV TR p. 170)
Seven years. Detail by detail. I am not giving establishment mental health a choice.
Pathogenic care is their word. They have no choice but to recognize the pathology of “pathogenic care” – we’re just adapting the term to this pathology. The presence in the child’s symptom display of Diagnostic Indicator 1 attachment system suppression (notice that the use of the term pathogenic care in the DSM-IV TR is related to an attachment disorder – every detail), Diagnostic Indicator 2 personality disorder traits, Diagnostic indicator 3 delusional beliefs = pathogenic care. The APA doesn’t have a choice. Gardner made a mistake in his “new syndrome” proposal because it gives them the choice to reject it. And they did. I saw that. I’m not making the same mistake. I’m not giving them the choice to accept or reject any of this.
The delusional belief (Diagnostic Indicator 3) is really interesting. That potentially has the most vulnerability because the construct of delusions is not widely understood. In my younger days, before entering my ADHD work, I worked for about 15 years on a clinical research project at UCLA on schizophrenia. Every two weeks with each patient we would administer the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale of 18 symptom domains, including severity of delusional beliefs, rated on a seven-point scale from not present to severe. Every year we would go through reliability training. I know delusions. The cutoff of pathological is a rating of 4 on the seven-point scale. Below a rating of 4 the beliefs are unusual, but broadly normal-range. Above a rating of 4 they become pathological. I know the difference between a delusion rating of a 3 and a delusion rating a 4. I know the difference between a delusion rating a 5 and a delusion rating a 6. I know delusions. That’s what allowed me to recognize the delusion in “parental alienation.” It would be considered an “encapsulated persecutory delusion” with a rating of between 5 and 6. The delusional belief of the parent is between a 6 and 7. The actual pathology is a shared delusional disorder.
But in order to support this diagnostic indicator of the delusional belief, I needed to describe it’s theoretical support in the attachment-trauma reenactment narrative and the misattribution of anxiety by the narcissistic/borderline parent. This stuff is solid.
And the delusion is what kicks the pathogenic care into Child Psychological Abuse. There is no way establishment mental health can argue that inducing a delusional belief in the child, particularly one that results in the loss of a normal-range relationship with an affectionally available parent, does NOT represent pathogenic care. I’m not giving them a choice.
So the moment the APA adjusts its position statement to acknowledge that the pathology exists, this will send a seismic shockwave through all of mental health, both in the U.S. and abroad, particularly since this change in the position statement is caused by the advocacy of targeted parents. The pathology exists. Done. No argument.
Then, we also have the second change to the position statement: “special population” status. By defining the construct entirely within standard and established psychological constructs and principles that establishment mental health MUST acknowledge, I have established domains of professional knowledge required for professional competence, attachment trauma pathology, personality pathology, family systems pathology. The actual areas are less important than the change to the position statement establishing these families as a “special population” requiring specialized professional knowledge and expertise.
How can the APA possibly argue that professional ignorance is acceptable? They have to relent on this. Then immediately we have achieved the goal of banishing professional incompetence. And it’s all high-profile, so all mental health professionals know that the pathology of “parental alienation” has been formally recognized (I don’t care what they call it) and that it requires specialized professional training and expertise to competently assess, diagnose, and treat.
So who does this training? Hey, I know. How about you Karen? You know this pathology extremely well. Hey, how about the other PAS experts who know this pathology from years of experience. Hey, why don’t we have some conferences to put together the training curriculum required for professional competence?
This is not an accident. I know exactly what I’m doing. And there’s more. Much more.
Then I’ll go back to writing my ADHD book and then I’ll die, leaving all of you with this gift.
But all of this – all of this – requires a switch from the Gardnerian PAS model to the attachment-based model. If we go to the APA and ask them to acknowledge that Gardnerian PAS exists and that Gardnerian PAS warrants the designation as a special population, none of this is possible. Their position statement is already about Gardnerian PAS, and you see how well that worked out. We can only seek a change to the position statement using an attachment-based reformulation of the pathology. That’s why I did it.
The Gardnerian PAS models does not give us a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed and the Gardnerian PAS model does not give us a change to the APA position statement.
All of this – all of this – requires a paradigm shift from the Gardnerian PAS description of the pathology to an attachment-based description of the pathology. And there’s more I haven’t discussed.
So all of the Gardnerian PAS experts, including yourself, who continue to hold onto the Gardnerian PAS model and it’s eight diagnostic indicators have now become part of the problem. We must enact a paradigm shift to an attachment-based model to achieve a solution to “parental alienation.”
This needs to happen. I know you don’t see it. But it needs to happen.
I know I’m an “outsider” and I’m not part of the “club” of parental alienation experts who have been fighting this fight for so long and with such determination. I know it’s hard to have this “outsider” come in and tell you that you have to give up your beloved PAS model and adopt his new model. I know it’s hard. But it needs to happen.
There is a terrific World War II movie with Alec Guinness and William Holden, The Bridge on the River Kwai. In the movie, the Alec Guinness character is a British officer who is a prisoner of war, and he develops an esprit de corps in his troops surrounding their building a quality bridge for their Japanese captors. At the end of the movie there’s a wonderful scene where the Alec Guinness character tries to prevent the bridge that he built for the Japanese from being blown up by British commandos because he has become so psychologically attached to the bridge that he has lost sight of the overall context of the war.
I am the William Holden character sent to blow up the bridge. Sorry. I am encouraging all PAS experts to recognize the overall context of the war we are fighting. We must blow up the bridge of Gardnerian PAS to achieve the victory in our war with the pathology of “parental alienation.” The longer we hold onto the Gardnerian PAS model and its eight symptom identifiers, the longer the solution is delayed.
I purposefully and carefully crafted an attachment-based model of the pathology across seven years for specifically this purpose, to solve the broken mental health system response to the pathology of “parental alienation.” From this solution, ripples will emerge that will spread into the legal system and to the mental health systems in other countries. Your challenge in the UK will not be solved by another 10 or 20 years of direct fighting. The U.S. may be more advanced than the UK in our response to the pathology, but it’s still an absolute mess over here in the U.S. Everything is broken. Everything.
But when the APA in the U.S. changes its position statement on “The Family Pathology of Parental Alienation” a major tectonic shift will occur that will ripple through all mental health systems in all countries. The pathology formally exists, the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of the pathology will require specialized training and expertise, and the pathology will receive a DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.
You are a beloved leader within the “parental alienation” community. Your support or lack of support will speed up or slow down the pace by which we achieve this solution. Dr. Childress and his commandos are going to blow up the bridge. If you try to save the bridge, you become part of the problem.
I don’t care one whit for professional sandboxes. The only thing I care about is bringing an end to this pathology as quickly as humanly possible. If you become part of the problem then you’re in the line of fire. Watch the ending to The Bridge on the River Kwai. We are going to blow up the bridge, we need to blow up the bridge of Gardnerian PAS in order to create the systems changes needed to enact the solution.
If you don’t see that, well… with you or without you we will blow up the bridge.
If you try to hold onto the Gardnerian PAS model, you will become part of the problem that will need to be overcome. If you work with us to create the paradigm shift, then you greatly speed up the pace by which we achieve a solution.
I’m 60 years old. I want to go back to writing my ADHD and parenting books. I’m trying to give you and all targeted parents a gift of a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse for the pathology of “parental alienation” and formal recognition of the pathology by the APA, along with their formal recognition that the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of the pathology requires specialized training, knowledge and expertise. Why are you looking a gift horse in the mouth? You can wait until after I’m dead to adopt the model and enact the solution, but if you do it while I’m still around I can be of much more use to targeted parents and their children. Up to you.
The Gardnerian PAS model offers no solution whatsoever. Any solution that it even potentially offers is only available by proving “parental alienation” in court. That is no solution whatsoever.
The solution must come out of changes to the mental health system. The solution requires a paradigm shift to an attachment-based model. That is exactly why I worked out every detail of this model across seven years of formulation. It is no coincidence that I began to shift the terminology to “pathogenic” and that the DSM-IV refers to “pathogenic care” with regarding to a disorder in the attachment system. Every detail. If you think things are fine, then keep on with what your doing. But otherwise, let me solve this pathology.
The solution REQUIRES a shift from the Gardnerian PAS model to an attachment-based model. We need the three diagnostic indicators of an attachment-based model to replace the eight diagnostic indicators of the Gardnerian PAS model. This needs to happen. Otherwise, everything stays just the same for the next 30 years.
If you continue to advocate for maintenance of the Gardnerian PAS model you become part of the problem that we will need to overcome. If you support the paradigm shift you can speed up the process immeasurably. I am going to blow up the bridge. That is a fact. Because it needs to happen to win the war.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857