Let me start by saying that I know persons of other nationalities are following the discussion, but I’m not trying to solve things in your countries, at least not yet (you’ll see my thoughts on this aspect by the end of this post). I’m just trying to solve things in the United States right now.
In the United States, the key player in the solution is the American Psychological Association, the APA. The APA has established standards of practice governing psychologists, the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. There are different professional organizations for Marriage and Family Therapy and Social Work, but if the APA changes then these other professional organizations will follow suit. The key is the APA.
It doesn’t matter what we think as a collective group within “parental alienation experts.” What matters is what the APA thinks. The end game is not whether Dr. Baker and Dr. Childress make up and play nice. That’s not going to change a thing. What matters is that we create change in the APA that will ripple through all of the professional practice response to the pathology of “parental alienation.”
What’s important to understand, is that I have a strategy here. I’m not just running off crazy and half-cocked. There is definitely a strategy to this. There are about 20 components to this strategy, with about three main lines. I laid out one of the main lines in my post I’ll Explain It Just Once. In this current post I’m going to explain another main line to the strategy, the APA end game strategy. But it’s important to understand that there is a strategy to this.
I’m not a “parental alienation” expert. I’m from the outside. I’m from ADHD and early childhood mental health. I only came over here to fix the broken mental health response to the pathology of “parental alienation.” Once we’ve completed the APA end game, I’m going back to ADHD and parenting generally.
The reason I left ADHD and came over here is because this is the most horrific pathology I have ever seen, and I’ve worked with kids in the foster care system. To kill someone’s children because you’re mad at them and want revenge is an abomination. And what this pathology does to the self-structure development of children is a form of child psychological abuse. When I ran into this pathology and recognized the extent of the failures in both the legal system and the mental health system, I just had to stop what I was doing and come over here to fix this.
The first thing I did was a thorough analysis of the broken mental health system and legal system response. Once I figured out what needed to happen to fix these systems’ response to the pathology, and the order of the fix, I then set about analyzing the structure of the pathology. I realized that people wouldn’t be able to recognize the solution by just explaining it to them, there were too many integrated moving parts to the solution. I would simply have to enact the solution, and then at some point they would see its integration and go, “Ohhhhh, I get it.” Hopefully we’re reaching the “I get it” moment (actually we’re past where I thought it would start to dawn on people).
So now I’m going to explain the APA end game.
The APA Strategy
The primary problem in the professional mental health response to the pathology of “parental alienation” is the degree of extensive incompetence of mental health professionals who are involved in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of this pathology. If we could limit the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment to only persons expert in Gardnerian PAS we’d have the solution. Problem is, we can’t.
So we need to establish domains of competence to which all mental health professionals can be held accountable in order to clear out the extensive incompetence surrounding the recognition and diagnosis of this pathology. This will allow us to gain control of the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of this pathology. Establishing domains of professional competence that would be subject to APA Standard 2.01 (and 9.01) requires that the APA give its tacit approval to the pathology. There’s no formal governing body of the APA tasked with “approving” official pathologies, but if we can obtain a signal from the APA, then this would go a huge way to solving things.
The group tasked with formally designating pathologies is the American Psychiatric Association through their diagnostic codex, the DSM (currently in its fifth revision; the DSM-5). I know, Psychological – Psychiatric; APA and APA. Confusing. But we in mental health have all of this squared away. I’m focused on changes in the American Psychological Association not changes in the DSM.
The key is the APA (American Psychological Association) Position Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome. Notice an interesting aspect of this official position statement, it is directed specifically at Gardnerian PAS. It’s so incredibly specific. If we offer up an entirely different model for defining the pathology, then the APA must then CHANGE their position statement to accommodate this new model. Are gears beginning to click into place, are you beginning to get it?
This change in the position statement MUST occur, because the current position statement ONLY covers Gardnerian PAS.
Whether this formal change to the wording of the position statement occurs in 10 years, or 5 years, or next week, it must at some point change. That’s the revolutionary importance of Foundations. It presents the American Psychological Association with an entirely different and separate model for defining the pathology, so that they MUST now change their official position statement in order to accommodate this new model as well. Ten years, five years, next week, it must happen, it’s just a matter of time. Get it?
I’ll give you a little preview of where this post is going to end. I want to achieve a four-day conference hosted by the APA with invited participants to work out the new wording changes to the official APA position statement. The participants at this official sit-down will include representation from our team and representation from opponents and other relevant stakeholders. From this 4-day official conference, the APA will announce the new wording, and the group will probably produce an official position statement paper, with individual commentary by each of the participants who want to provide a commentary.
From our team, I’d like to see William Bernet, Amy Baker, Linda Gottlieb, and myself. I’d like Dr. Bernet to lead our team. I’m not familiar enough with the other side to comment on who would receive an APA invitation for that team, but it’s likely to include all the standard arch-nemeses of Gardnerian PAS.
But this is important to understand:
This formal APA 4-day conference is ONLY to address wording changes to the APA position statement made necessary by a NEW model – an attachment-based model – NOT to deal with anything Gardnerian PAS, because the current position statement of the APA fully addresses what they want to say about “Parental Alienation Syndrome.” Been there, done that.
So the ONLY people who will receive invitations from the APA (I’m not going to be in charge of invitations to this little soiree; the APA is going to decide to whom it wants to extend invitations) will be people relevant to the discussion of wording changes needed to address the NEW attachment-based model. They are not going to re-open Gardnerian PAS. So if William Bernet and Amy Baker and Linda Gottlieb – or whoever – want an invitation to this event, and I really-really want them at the table, then they are going to have to speak from an attachment-based perspective, because that’s the only people who will be on our side. The APA is not going to invite Gardnerian PAS people. They’ve already decided on that model. That’s closed.
Do I hear more gears clicking?
So let me finish off with the guest list. I’d like to see our team headed by Dr. Bernet because he has the most extensive knowledge of the pathology and of the history of trying to get formal recognition for the pathology. I’d like Amy Baker there because of her solid research into the pathology and she is the media face of “parental alienation.” I’d like Linda Gottlieb there because she worked with Salvador Minuchin and she has the family systems component nailed. I’ll be there as the central representative of the NEW model.
But Drs. Bernet and Baker and Linda Gottlieb are ONLY going to receive an invitation from the APA (not from me, from the APA) if they are relevant to an attachment-based model, because their expertise in Gardnerian PAS isn’t relevant to the purpose of the conference, which is ONLY made necessary by the need for a wording change to accommodate a NEW alternative model to Gardnerian PAS for describing the pathology.
So when Dr. Bernet and the other Gardnerians want me to play nice and work together, they don’t get it. If an attachment-based model is subsumed under a Gardnerian PAS model, then there is NO REASON for the APA to revise its position statement. It is vital – and indeed central – to this strategy that an attachment-based model be an entirely different and ALTERNATIVE model to the Gardnerian PAS model. This will force the APA to change the wording to their position statement. Get it?
To flesh out my wish list for the participants from our team, I would hope that Karen Woodall could receive an invitation representing our global colleagues, since this is a global phenomenon, and I would propose that Amanda Sillars attend representing both Australia and the stake-holders of targeted parents. I think that’s a pretty good dance card for our team. But I’m open to who is on our team.
I know this, though. If none of the Gardnerians change to an attachment-based model, I may have to carry representation all on my own. I don’t want to, but if I have to I will.
Then there will be the other side, probably composed of all the arch-nemeses of Gardnerian PAS.
But again, this APA conference is only caused by an attachment-based model being a new and alternative model to Gardnerian PAS, so that there are now two different models which must be addressed by the APA’s position statement, and the only people getting invitations will be attachment-based people since the Gardnerian PAS model will be nowhere on the agenda.
Back in my younger days of being an expert in Internet Psychology, I received an invitation from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in collaboration with the Office for Protection from Research Risks (OPRR) to a conference to develop a white paper on Internet research in mental health. I envision a very similar sort of targeted “white paper” type of officially sponsored 4-day conference, focused specifically on coming up with wording changes to the APA position statement made necessary by the NEW attachment-based alternative to the Gardnerian PAS model
Is the strategy starting to make sense to you?
Our position is that we want two things, 1) acknowledgement that the pathology exists, and 2) designation of these children and families as representing a special population who require specialized professional knowledge and expertise to assess, diagnose, and treat.
I think those are totally middle-of-the-road and reasonable positions.
Here’s how I envision the negotiation process:
Their Side: No Gardnerian PAS.
Our Side: Agreed
Our Side: Acknowledge the pathology exists (personality disorder pathology affecting families surrounding divorce) and “special population” status for these families.
Their Side: Agreed.
Yay. Breakthrough. The gridlock is ended.
(We may have the framework of a deal worked out even before the start of the conference).
Now to the specifics of the wording.
Wording of Pathology Exists
Our Side: “Family relationships surrounding divorce can be affected by a variety of factors, including the negative influence of one parent regarding the child’s relationship with the other parent.”
Their Side: We want acknowledgement of child abuse trauma and domestic violence.
Our Side: Then we also want acknowledgement of “pathogenic parenting” and personality disorder pathology
Proposal: “Family relationships surrounding divorce can be affected by a variety of factors including the child’s response to child abuse, prior domestic violence in the home, and pathogenic parenting by a personality disordered parent.
And so we’d go, back-and-forth. Perhaps the best option would be to remain general and not be too specific, and to just produce a general sentence that:
Proposal: “Family relationships surrounding divorce can be affected by a variety of complex factors.”
I could probably live with that. The conference itself and the invited guest list of conference participants is acknowledging that the pathology exists. We’d work something out in terms of acceptable wording. My goal is to get us the conference, the sit-down with APA. From that point on, I’m flexible.
Wording of Special Population
Our Side: “Because of the varied complexities of family relationships, those families that are involved in high-conflict divorce situations represent a special population requiring specialized professional knowledge and expertise to competently assess, diagnose, and treat.”
Their Side: “We want this specialized knowledge to include children’s response to abuse trauma and domestic violence.”
Our Side: “Agreed. We want this specialized knowledge to include personality disorder pathology, attachment trauma pathology, and family systems expertise.”
And so we’ll work out the exact wording, back-and-forth in productive dialogue and mutual cooperation to reach a common goal. The APA itself can close its position statement with the same general neutral position it currently has, of having “no official position” on the pathology of “parental alienation.” No problem.
Kumbaya, and the lion lays down with the lamb.
Okay, I’m not entirely that naïve. But we’re smart people. We’ll be able to work something out. If the other side becomes intransigent, then they will just marginalize themselves because then they expose that nothing is acceptable to them. Narcissistic and borderline pathology exists. The particular vulnerabilities of these personality disturbances will be specifically triggered by divorce. To be intransigent on recognizing this is simply to maintain a false position of inflexibility. Authentic child abuse and domestic violence exist. We have no problem acknowledging that, as long as the pathology (personality disorders and “parental alienation” – with a fall-back position to “pathogenic parenting”) is also acknowledged as existing. Dogs exist and cats exist. No problem. We’ll be able to work this out.
Then I go back to ADHD, leaving Dr. Bernet, Dr. Baker, Linda Gottlieb and the rest of the “parental alienation” experts to work out the details within the actual field of practice.
The conference itself will be a high-profile acknowledgement that the pathology exists, as is the need for a wording change to the APA position statement. As importantly, if not more so, is that targeted parents and their children are formally designated as a special population requiring specialized professional knowledge and expertise, which will dramatically improve the quality of the mental health response to the pathology.
From where I sit, this is a win all the way around, most of all for the targeted parents and their families. But it is ONLY made possible by a second NEW model alternative to Gardnerian PAS. As long as Gardnerian PAS remains the dominant paradigm for defining the pathology, there is no need for the APA to change its position statement.
Are you still not seeing that?
So, Dr. Bernet, when you write an article saying that an attachment-based model is just the same old thing (Old Wine in Old Wine Skins) you are actually preventing this sit-down with the APA.
You’re all saying I’m not working with you. From my position, you’re not working with me.
My goal is to get this sit-down sometime in 2016 simply by the pressure on the APA applied by targeted parents. But Dr. Bernet, imagine if you went to your contacts in the APA and started talking up the attachment-based model,
“Oh my God, there’s a new model out here for parental alienation that defines it from entirely within standard and established constructs using the attachment system. This could potentially revolutionize our approach to diagnosis and treatment. You really need to take this new model into consideration. We need a sit-down conference to work out wording changes to your official APA position statement to take this new model into consideration.”
And I’m handing you the good-cop/bad-cop on a silver platter.
APA: Well Bill, you know this Dr. Childress calling for licensing board complaints, that’s kind of over the top
Bill: Yeah, I know. He gets like that. But if we had this sit-down conference to change the wording of the APA’s position statement, I’m confident I could get him to back off on that.
Work with me people. I’m taking the outside position so you don’t have to. You can be all moderation and reasonableness. Work with me. You don’t think I know what I’m doing?
Dr. Baker, you are the media face of “parental alienation.” Imagine if you made a high-profile switch to using the three diagnostic indicators of an attachment-based model. That would create a tectonic shift in mental health. The APA would have to have this sit-down with us on a wording change to their official position statement. You and Dr Bernet working in tandem, it’s sure to get done.
Work with me people. I’m not your enemy. If you stop me, then we don’t get this 4-day conference to change the wording of the APA position statement to acknowledge that the pathology exists and obtain special population status for targeted parents and their children.
But this is ONLY possible from an attachment-based model. It is not possible from a Gardnerian PAS model because the APA already has a position statement on Gardnerian PAS.
And look at this, if their position statement were about “parental alienation” more generally, a wording change might be a harder sell. But look there, right in the title, and in the body of the statement, they are ONLY referring to Gardnerian PAS. A new alternative model has ‘em. They have to change their position statement to accommodate the new alternative model as well. We’ve got ‘em.
But only if we approach this from an attachment-based model perspective.
And then look at the first key breakthrough. Our opponents don’t want a Gardnerian PAS model. We agree. That’s the key to achieving this breakthrough. But then does the position statement say there’s no Gardnerian PAS? No it doesn’t. If you want to go back to a Gardnerian model after the conference, go ahead. After the conference if you want to define 30 variants of “parental alienation,” be my guest. There will be more than enough time for that, once we stop the bleeding out of this pathology.
Think of this, once we get a statement that the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment requires specialized knowledge and expertise, this doesn’t specify what knowledge and expertise. You can all discuss and debate what type of expertise is necessary to your heart’s content. Fine by me. But first things first.
Dr. Bernet, Amy Baker, Linda Gottlieb and the rest, if you insist on holding onto the Gardnerian PAS model, then I along with those targeted parents who “get it” are ultimately going to provoke the APA into this 4-day conference (that’s why I’m calling for licensing board complaints – I’m trying to motivate the APA to address our issues, the wording changes to the official APA position statement. – I’m trying to be as annoying as hell to them. Get it?).
And this conference won’t be about Gardnerian PAS. They already have a position statement about Gardnerian PAS. If you hold onto Gardnerian PAS you won’t get an invitation to participate in this conference, because the conference is NOT going to re-open Gardnerian PAS. It’s ONLY going to address wording changes to the APA position statement prompted by the existence of a second, alternative model to Gardnerian PAS.
I want you at this conference. Dr. Bernet, I’d like you to lead our side. Amy Baker, Linda Gottlieb, I’d like you there. But I’m not in charge of the guest list invitations. If you remain on the outside, you will remain on the outside. Ultimately targeted parents and I are going to prod and provoke the APA into eventually holding this 4-day conference on wording changes to their official position statement on “parental alienation.” It’s going to happen because the current position statement of their’s is too narrow now that there are two alternative models. Get it? If you simply subsume the attachment-based model into the current Gardnerian model then we lose this entire advantage. Get it?
This is really far more of the strategy than I was hoping to have to spell out in print. After all, we will eventually be going into negotiations and I’d rather not spell out too much in advance. I was hoping that just the general sophistication advantage of the attachment-based model and it’s ability to give us a DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse and the call to change the APA position statement would be enough to get you to come on board. But apparently not. So I guess I need to be really specific on the strategy.
Good-cop/bad-cop. Get a conference with the APA for them to change their wording on their official position statement to acknowledge the pathology and require specialized domains of knowledge and expertise. Get it?
If left on our own, I’m hoping that targeted parents and I can achieve this sit-down with APA sometime in 2016. But maybe targeted parents will be slow to mobilize and activate. And maybe it will take two or three years to achieve this conference. But Dr. Bernet and Dr. Baker, with your fully active support, could we achieve this 4-day conference by March of 2016? April? July? Every day that passes is one day too long for these families.
Please. Don’t sit on the sidelines in this fight. You’re saying I’m not cooperating with you. From where I sit, you’re not cooperating with me. We’re all on the same team. Join me. But if you choose to sit on the sidelines and force targeted parents and I to achieve this sit-down with the APA entirely on our own, oh well, I guess that’s what we have to do.
This is far more of the strategy than I was hoping to have to disclose. So if at some point this blog post mysteriously disappears, don’t be surprised.
So we have the APA end game and we have the DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse. Those are two of the lines. There’s more. There’s another line for how we join with allies in domestic violence and attachment trauma, both for the conference but also for the DSM-5.1 revision. There’s more. But are you starting to see it yet?
If you leave targeted parents and I to do this on our own, well, not much we can do about that. We’ll do what we have to do.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857