important and simple

Something big is happening in April. 

Through the efforts of leadership within the community of targeted parents, the American Psychological Association is beginning the process of reconsidering their official position statement regarding the pathology traditionally called “parental alienation.”  This reconsideration is being prompted by the work of leadership among targeted parents who, among other efforts, are actively petitioning the APA’s Committee on Children, Youth and  Families to revise the APA’s formal Position Statement on “parental alienation.” 

This petition is at:

New APA Position Statement: Some children are manipulated into rejecting a parent.

I urge you to sign the petition.  Ask your extended family and your friends to sign the petition.  Also, note the statement that is linked at the end of the petition:

Results! The APA has initiated the process to update their position statement!

The National Alliance for Targeted Parents

Mar 7, 2016 — Dr. Lauren Caldwell of the APA Committee on Children, Youth and Families, has informed us that “we have initiated [the] process regarding the request to update the 2008 statement. Our next governance meetings will be held in April. I will be back in touch after the meetings to provide an additional update regarding your request.”

Nothing has been accomplished yet.  Organizational inertia is strong.  Systems are traditionally resistant to change. 

But the battle to reclaim professional mental health as your ally has been joined.  We’ll see what happens in April.  But it is time for targeted parents, all targeted parents, your friends and family, to stand up and begin demanding professional competence from the mental health professionals who are assessing, diagnosing, and treating your children and families. 

Leadership is emerging from within the community of targeted parents.  Listen to and follow this leadership.  This is a fight for your children; all of your children.  This is the battle to reclaim the mental health profession as your ally.  We cannot solve this nightmare in any one family until we solve it for all families.  In one voice you are alone and powerless.  In 100, you reclaim your voice.  In 1,000 you reclaim your power.  In 10,000 you become an unstoppable force.  Come together into an unstoppable force.

The goal in changing the official position statement of the APA is twofold

  1. The Pathology Exists: We seek formal acknowledgement by the APA through their position statement regarding “parental alienation” that the pathology of pathogenic parenting by a narcissistic/borderline personality parent surrounding divorce exists.  They can call it whatever they want, “parental alienation,” pathogenic parenting, trauma reenactment pathology, personality disorder pathology surrounding divorce, whatever.  But they must formally acknowledge that the pathology exists. 
  1. Special Population Status: We seek formal recognition from the APA that the children and families experiencing this type of family pathology (your children and your families) represent a “special population” requiring specialized professional knowledge and expertise to competently assess, diagnose, and treat.  We must eliminate the vast number of ignorant and incompetent mental health persons who are currently assessing, diagnosing, and treating your children and families.  Professional competence is not a hope; it is an expectation.

Once we obtain a formal change to the position statement of the APA regarding “parental alienation,” where will this lead?  To professional competence in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of your children and families by ALL mental health professionals.

Diagnosis and Protective Separation

I was recently sent a blog written by Karen Woodall that referenced my work and in which she disagreed with my position on the need for a protective separation of the child from the psychologically abusive parent.

Reunification Therapy: A Comparison of Outcomes in the UK Family Court System

I respect the work Ms. Woodall does.  Unfortunately, she disagrees with my framework.  I, in turn, likely disagree with the framework she is using. Such is the nature of systems change.

This professional disagreement is healthy, and it raises an important point in moving forward with the APA and professional competence generally.  In order to require professional competence we must achieve professional clarity on the terminology we are using to describe the pathology we are seeking to assess, diagnose, and treat.

In her blog post, Ms. Woodall appears to expand the definition of the pathology beyond the pathology of what I am discussing, and she uses a variety of non-defined terms that undermine clarity in the discussion of this pathology.  So I would like to take this opportunity to clarify what I am discussing, even if I remain unsure regarding the pathology that Ms. Woodall is discussing.

Digression: Reunification Therapy

Before getting to my main point regarding the diagnosis of pathology, I have to take an excursion into the realm of mythical therapies.  Ms. Woodall references something called “reunification therapy.”  I’m a clinical psychologist, yet I don’t know what “reunification therapy” is.  That’s because there is no such thing as “reunification therapy” which has ever been defined and described in any of the literature within professional psychology.  It is a mythical form of therapy.  I would request a citation to any description of what “reunification therapy” is. 

I know what psychoanalytic psychotherapy is.  There are numerous descriptions of psychodynamic psychotherapy.  I know what humanistic-existential therapy is.  There are descriptions of various forms of humanistic-existential therapy, such as Rogers’ client-centered therapy and Perls’ Gestalt therapy.  Yalom wrote a wonderful book on humanistic-existential therapy.  I know what family systems therapy entails because there are published descriptions of family systems models of psychotherapy (e.g., Bowen, Satir, Minuchin, Haley, Madanes, and many others).  I know what cognitive-behavioral therapy is.  There are ample descriptions of the theoretical underpinnings and techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy.  I’m even familiar with post-modern therapies such as narrative therapy, solution focused therapy, and feminist therapy.  But nowhere in all of the vast literature on various forms of psychotherapy can I find a description of what “reunification therapy” is.  It is, I’m afraid, a mythical form of psychotherapy.  There is no such thing. 

Again, I would ask for a reference citation that describes the theoretical foundations for “reunification therapy” (is it a form of psychodynamic object relations therapy?  Or cognitive-behavioral therapy?  Or what?  What school of psychotherapy does reunification therapy belong to?) and what are the techniques used in reunification therapy.  How is a determination made to use what type of technique in what type of situation?

Because if there are no descriptions of what “reunification therapy” entails, then the term has no meaning, and I am of the opinion that when we discuss things it helps a lot to use words and terms that have meaning.  I’m a clinical psychologist, and yet I have no idea what “reunification therapy” is.  Citation please.

Main Point: Diagnosis

This issue of clarity in the terms we use leads into the second point, which I believe is even more centrally important to the issue of demanding professional competence in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of family pathology; in clinical psychology there is no such thing as “parental alienation.”  I know this is sacrilegious to even suggest such a thing, and I know that people use the term a lot, as if it had meaning… but it doesn’t.  People also use the term “reunification therapy” as if it had meaning when it doesn’t. 

The construct of “parental alienation” is not a defined construct in clinical psychology.  Sorry.  Not my fault.  The only definition of what the term “parental alienation” means is Gardner’s model of Parental Alienation Syndrome, and the PAS model is not an accepted model of pathology in clinical psychology.  And you know what, I agree with the critics of the PAS model.  It’s a really poor model of the supposed pathology.

But let me add one minor correction to my claims that there exists no description of what “reunification therapy” entails and that the construct of “parental alienation” is not a defined construct in clinical psychology.  There actually is one description of a model for what “reunification therapy” entails.  It’s mine. It’s up on my website and in my book Essays. Also, there is one definition for the construct of “parental alienation” which is based in fully established psychological principles and constructs.   Again, it’s mine.  Foundations offers a defined model for what the construct of “parental alienation” is.  (I know a lot of people have described multiple aspects of the elephant, it’s ears are like fans, its legs are like tree trunks.  But I have not located any other description of the entire elephant that resembles the elephant.)

In my view, discussion improves considerably when terminology has defined meaning, and in my view defined meaning in clinical psychology is based on established psychological principles and constructs.  Proposals for “new syndromes” that represent unique forms of pathology in all of mental health aren’t really solid foundations on which to base clinical assessment, diagnosis, and psychotherapy.  Call me conservative, but in my professional view mental health professionals must assess, diagnose, and treat pathology using standard and established psychological principles and constructs without resorting to a proposed “new syndrome” that is supposedly a unique new form of pathology unrelated to any other form of pathology in all of mental health.

Treatment:  Protective Separation

In her blog post, Ms. Woodall seemingly takes exception to my call for a protective separation of the child from the pathogenic parenting of the allied narcissistic/borderline parent, and also apparently broadens the pathology under discussion to types of pathologies not involving a narcissistic/borderline parent.  I am only talking about what I am talking about.  I am not trying to solve everything under the sun… at least not yet.  We need to take diagnosis of pathology step-by-step.

Diagnosis guides treatment.  This is a really important principle of clinical psychology to understand.  Diagnosis guides treatment. 

We start with diagnosis.

Premise 1:  Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and psychiatric-delusional pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) as a means to stabilize the psychopathology of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

Question 1:  Is there any disagreement with this premise? 

If so, what is the disagreement?  Is it considered acceptable parenting to create significant developmental pathology, personality disorder pathology, and psychiatric-delusional pathology in a child in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent?

If there is no disagreement, then we can move on.

Premise 2:  When a DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse is made, this confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse triggers the mental health professional’s “duty to protect,” and the treatment-related issues change from those involving child custody considerations to those of child protection concerns.

Question 2:  Is there any disagreement with this premise? 

If so, what is the disagreement?  Why wouldn’t a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse trigger the mental health professional’s duty to protect?

If there is no disagreement with this premise, then we can move on.

Premise 3:  In all cases of child abuse, physical child abuse, sexual child abuse, and psychological child abuse, the duty to protect requires that we protectively separate the child from the actively abusive parent.

Question 3:  Is there any disagreement with this premise? 

If so, what is the disagreement?  Why is it acceptable to leave a child with a diagnostically confirmed abusive parent who is creating significant developmental pathology in the child, significant personality disorder pathology in the child, and significant psychiatric-delusional pathology in the child?

Diagnosis guides treatment.  Is Ms. Woodall suggesting that we leave a child with an actively abusive parent?

My position is that it is never acceptable to abandon a child to a physically abusive parent; it is never acceptable to abandon a child to a sexually abusive parent; and it is never acceptable to abandon a child to a psychologically abusive parent.  When a DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse is made, child protection considerations take precedence over all other considerations.

My position is that a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed warrants an immediate protective separation of the child from the psychologically abusive parent.

So is Ms. Woodall’s position that a child who has been given a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse be left with the psychologically abusive parent?  If that’s not her position… then which one of the three premises listed above does Ms. Woodall disagree with?  Because if she agrees with the three premises listed above and agrees that we never abandon a child to an actively abusive parent, then she is in agreement with me regarding the need for a protective separation of the child in all cases where the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting are present in the child’s symptom display.

Easy-peasy.  Just administer the Diagnostic Checklist of Pathogenic Parenting available on my website and poof, everything’s good.  If the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting are present in the child’s symptom display then make the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed and – because diagnosis guides treatment – a protective separation of the child from the actively abusive parent is warranted (based on the mental health professional’s “duty to protect”). 

Diagnosis guides treatment.

Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Bear in mind, I’m only talking about the pathology I’m talking about.  I’m not trying to solve all forms of parent-child conflict… yet.

Diagnosis guides treatment.  See how that works.  Simple.

All that other stuff in Foundations about parental narcissistic and borderline pathology, disorganized attachment, trauma reenactment narratives, and role-reversal relationships just provides the Foundations for making the diagnosis based in fully established and fully accepted psychological principles and constructs.

An attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” isn’t some form of “new theory” – it’s just diagnosis.  Identify the pathology using fully established and fully accepted psychological constructs and pathologies, and make the diagnosis.  Foundations simply provides the Foundations for the diagnosis in established psychological principles and constructs for why each of the three diagnostic indicators are present in the child’s symptom display.  But once it comes to diagnosis, it’s really-really simple.  Three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting by a narcissistic/(borderline) personality parent and voila – the diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

Diagnosis guides treatment, so a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse warrants the child’s protective separation from the actively abusive parent.  Seems pretty clear to me.

This is not some new theory – it’s called diagnosis.

Now could Ms. Woodall be treating forms of pathology other than pathogenic parenting by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent?  Of course.  There are all sorts of family pathologies out there.  There is authentic parent-child conflict.  There is authentic child abuse.  There are parental coalitions in which the parents join together against the child.  There is ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.  There are all sorts of stuff out there.  I’m not trying to solve everything under the sun… not just yet at least.  I’m only talking about one specific form of pathology:

Three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting = V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.  That’s all I’m talking about.

A DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse warrants a child protection response of protectively separating the child from the actively abusive parent.

Diagnosis guides treatment.

Clinical Psychology & Parental Alienation

In clinical psychology, there is no such thing as “parental alienation.” That’s why I always put the term in quotes.

Gardner’s model of PAS is both inadequate and it is wrong.  The pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” is NOT a “new syndrome” that is unique within all of mental health (which then requires an equally unique new set of diagnostic symptom identifiers that have no relationship with any other pathology in all of mental health).

In proposing a “new syndrome” for the pathology Gardner was simply a poor diagnostician.  In proposing that the pathology identified by Gardner as representing “parental alienation” was a “new syndrome” that was a unique new pathology in all of mental health, Gardner too quickly abandoned the professional rigor required for diagnosing the pathology within established psychological principles and constructs.

Diagnosis guides treatment.  Gardner skipped the first step of making a diagnosis.  He too quickly adopted an intellectually lazy approach of proposing a unique “new syndrome.”

In actuality, the pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” is amply described within standard, fully accepted, and fully established psychological constructs and principles.  The parent-child conflict traditionally called “parental alienation” simply represents the child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with one parent against the other parent.  No big deal.  This form of pathology is amply described in the family systems literature.  The preeminent family systems theorist Jay Haley provided the following definition of a cross-generational coalition:

“The people responding to each other in the triangle are not peers, but one of them is of a different generation from the other two… In the process of their interaction together, the person of one generation forms a coalition with the person of the other generation against his peer.  By ‘coalition’ is meant a process of joint action which is against the third person… The coalition between the two persons is denied.  That is, there is certain behavior which indicates a coalition which, when it is queried, will be denied as a coalition… In essence, the perverse triangle is one in which the separation of generations is breached in a covert way.  When this occurs as a repetitive pattern, the system will be pathological.” (Haley, 1977, p. 37; emphasis added)

Haley, J. (1977). Toward a theory of pathological systems. In P. Watzlawick & J. Weakland (Eds.), The interactional view (pp. 31-48). New York: Norton.

I honestly don’t see what all the controversy is about for the past 30 years.  Cross-generational coalition.  Standard stuff.

The renowned family systems theorist, Salvador Minuchin, also identified and described the pathology of the cross-generational coalition:

“An inappropriately rigid cross-generational subsystem of mother and son versus father appears, and the boundary around this coalition of mother and son excludes the father.  A cross-generational dysfunctional transactional pattern has developed.” (Minuchin, 1974, p. 61-62)

“The boundary between the parental subsystem and the child becomes diffuse, and the boundary around the parents-child triad, which should be diffuse, becomes inappropriately rigid.  This type of structure is called a rigid triangle… The rigid triangle can also take the form of a stable coalition.  One of the parents joins the child in a rigidly bounded cross-generational coalition against the other parent.” (Minuchin, 1974, p. 102; emphasis added)

Salvador Minuchin even provided a clinical description of the effects of a cross-generational coalition:

“The parents were divorced six months earlier and the father is now living alone… Two of the children who were very attached to their father, now refuse any contact with him.  The younger children visit their father but express great unhappiness with the situation.” (Minuchin, 1974, p. 101; emphasis added)

Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and Family Therapy. Harvard University Press.

Doesn’t Minuchin’s clinical description of a cross-generational coalition match identically the pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” within the popular culture? – “Two of the children who were very attached to their father, now refuse any contact with him.”  People in the general public call this “parental alienation” – in clinical psychology it’s called the child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition.  Standard stuff.  No big deal.

In clinical psychology, there is no such thing as “parental alienation.”  The term “parental alienation” is an undefined construct.  That’s why everything is such a mess right now, because we’re routinely using a term that lacks defined meaning in clinical psychology.   In clinical psychology the pathology is described as “pathogenic parenting” (i.e., producing psychopathology in the child through aberrant and distorted parenting practices) and as a “cross-generational coalition” of the child with one parent against the other parent.  Standard stuff.  This is not some “new theory” – it’s simply diagnosis.   Gardner was a very poor diagnostician, and because he was diagnostically lazy and proposed a “new syndrome” he led everyone down the wrong path for thirty years of controversy.

Gardner’s definition of the pathology as representing a “new syndrome” which is unique in all of mental health is 100% wrong.  The pathology is not a “new syndrome.”  It is a manifestation of fully established and well-defined forms of existing pathology.  To solve things we simply need to stop applying some vague and poorly defined popular-culture construct of “parental alienation” to diagnosing pathology, and instead apply the professional rigor necessary to diagnose the pathology from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.  No big deal.

Mental health professionals need to STOP using the term “parental alienation” to describe the pathology.  The correct clinical psychology constructs for the pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” are:

1)  The child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with one parent against the other parent, and

2)  Pathogenic parenting in which the distorted parenting practices of the allied parent in the cross-generational coalition are creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3).

If, as Ms. Woodall suggests regarding her cases, the effects of pathogenic parenting are not evidenced in the child’s symptom display, then she needs to define what type of pathology that represents.  But whatever pathology she is treating, it is not what I am discussing.  I am discussing pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3).

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed

A confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse activates the mental health professional’s “duty to protect” which must be discharged by the mental health professional taking affirmative action to protect the child.  In all forms of child abuse, physical child abuse, sexual child abuse, and psychological child abuse, we protectively separate the child from the abusive parent. 

Is Ms. Woodall suggesting that we leave the child with a diagnostically confirmed actively abusive parent?

Diagnosis guides treatment.

See how remaining within standard and established psychological principles brings clarity?  An attachment-based model of the pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” isn’t some “new theory” – it’s called diagnosis.  Diagnosis.

Some cross-generational coalitions involve personality disordered allied parents.  Some don’t.  I’m not talking about those that don’t.  I’m only talking about those that do.  See how using established and defined clinical terminology brings clarity to the discussion?

How do we treat cross-generational coalitions that don’t involve personality disordered parents?  Read Minuchin.  Read Haley.  Read Bowen.  Read Satir.  Read Madanes.  Read Framo.  Read Boszormenyi-Nagy.  That’s not my current concern.  That’s not what I am currently talking about.

How do we treat cross-generational coalitions that DO involve narcissistic/borderline parents?  We first diagnose the degree of pathogenic parenting involved.  How do we do that?  By looking at the child’s symptoms. If the child’s symptoms are evidencing severe developmental pathology (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology (diagnostic indicator 3), then we make the DSM-5 diagnosis of the pathology as V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

And if we’ve made the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed then this activates our “duty to protect” and the treatment related considerations shift from child custody and visitation issues to child protection considerations.   In all cases of child abuse we protectively separate the child from the actively abusive parent. 

Is anyone actually suggesting we leave the child with the actively abusive parent when a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse is made?

It’s actually really simple.  Diagnosis guides treatment. 

Standard 9.01a of the Ethical Principles of Psychologist and Code of Conduct of the American Psychological Association requires that:

9.01 Bases for Assessments
(a) Psychologists base the opinions contained in their recommendations, reports and diagnostic or evaluative statements, including forensic testimony, on information and techniques sufficient to substantiate their findings.

ALL mental health professionals assessing, diagnosing, and treating the suppression of a child’s attachment bonding motivations toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent following divorce should assess for the pathology of pathogenic parenting associated with the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of the allied parent to the current family relationships through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with the child, mediated by the narcissistic/(borderline) personality disorder pathology of the allied parent.  The clinical assessment of pathogenic parenting is based entirely on the features of the child’s symptom display as evidenced in the three definitive diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting created by an attachment-trauma reenactment pathology. 

Notice I never once used the term “parental alienation” in the preceding paragraph.  The construct of “parental alienation” is vague and unnecessary.  It is a term used in the common-culture but it lacks a defined meaning in clinical psychology. 

New syndrome proposals are intellectually and professionally lazy.  All mental health professionals must do the work necessary for the formal diagnosis of pathology.  All mental health professionals need to make the diagnosis of pathology from within standard and established psychological principles and constructs and stop relying on imprecise terminology and constructs.

An attachment-based model for the construct called “parental alienation” is not some “new theory” – it’s called diagnosis.

Diagnosis guides treatment.  Mental health professionals need to stop using the term “parental alienation” – “parental alienation” doesn’t exist in clinical psychology.  Don’t be lazy.

By the way, I am not an expert in “parental alienation.”  I have testified as an expert witness in a variety of cases, and never once have I been qualified by the court as an expert in “parental alienation.”  Not once.  When targeted parents request information about my possible role as an expert consultant and witness I send them a handout in which I explicitly state:

“My professional expertise is in clinical psychology, child and family therapy, diagnosis and psychopathology, parent-child conflict, and child development, not in “parental alienation,” since I approach what has traditionally been referred to as “parental alienation” from within standard mental health constructs and principles, particularly centering around the normal-range development and expression of the “attachment system” during childhood.  In my professional view, the term “parental alienation” is a general common-culture label rather than a professional term, which is used in common parlance to quickly refer to a complex set of family process involving the induced suppression of the normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward one parent (i.e., the “targeted parent”) as a result of the pathogenic influence on the child of the other parent’s personality disordered psychopathology (i.e., the “alienating parent”)… I typically do not use the term “parental alienation” in my expert work and testimony, and my expertise for Court purposes is in:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Child and family therapy
  • Diagnosis and treatment of parent-child conflict
  • Diagnosis of psychopathology within a family context
  • Child development”

Handout:  Dr. Childress Expert Consultation and Testimony

So just for future reference, I’m not an expert in “parental alienation.”  I’m a clinical psychologist.  Diagnosing and treating psychopathology is what clinical psychologists do.  I specialize in child and family pathology, particularly ADHD, angry-oppositional children, and parent-child conflict.  All types.  I’m familiar with autism-spectrum disorders, early childhood pathologies, school failure, childhood developmental trauma and child abuse, attachment related pathologies, juvenile delinquency, and child behavior problems surrounding divorce.  My professional expertise is across  the spectrum of parent-child and family conflict because I’m a clinical psychologist specializing in child and family therapy.  Cross-generational coalitions and pathogenic parenting?  Standard forms of pathology.

I’m not talking about everything under the sun.  I’m only talking about the pathology that I am talking about.  If someone wants to talk about some other form of parent-child or family pathology, then it is incumbent upon them to define what that pathology entails using standard and established psychological principles and constructs that have defined meaning in clinical psychology.  I’m only talking about pathogenic parenting that is creating 1) a suppression of the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent, 2) a set of five a-priori predicted narcissistic and borderline personality traits in the child’s symptom display, and 3) an intransigently held fixed and false belief (i.e., a delusion) regarding the supposedly “abusive” parental inadequacy of a normal-range and affectionally available parent.

When this symptom set is evidenced in the child’s symptom display the appropriate DSM-5 diagnosis is V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed and a protective separation of the child from the actively abusive parent is indicated. 

Diagnosis guides treatment.  A DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed warrants a child protection response under the mental health professional’s duty to protect. 

In my view, a failure by the mental health professional to assess for pathogenic parenting using the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting available on my website would likely represent a breach of Standard 9.01a of the APA ethics code which requires that psychologists base diagnostic statements on information “sufficient to substantiate their findings.”  How can the mental health professional have information “sufficient to substantiate their findings” if the mental health professional did not even assess for the pathology?

If anyone wants to know if the pathology I am talking about applies to your family or your clients, simply complete the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting which is available on my website:

If the child’s symptoms meet the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting by the allied parent, then I’m talking about your family situation. 

If the child’s symptoms do not meet the three diagnostic indicators, then I’m not talking about your family situation.

Simple.

If your child’s symptoms meet the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting by the allied parent, then the appropriate and warranted DSM-5 diagnosis is V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed – because no other pathology in all of mental health will result in these three diagnostic indicators except pathogenic parenting by an allied narcissistic/borderline parent. 

Diagnosis guides treatment.   A DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed engages the mental health professional’s “duty to protect” and shifts treatment-related concerns from those of child custody and visitation to prominent child protection considerations that require the mental health professional take affirmative action to ensure the child’s protection and discharge the mental health professional’s “duty to protect.”

Seems pretty straightforward to me.

In future case examples of alleged “parental alienation” that are offered by mental health professionals, it would be extremely helpful to include data regarding the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting – such as whether the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting were met, and if the diagnostic indicators were not evident in the child’s symptom display, which indicator(s) of pathogenic parenting were not evident and why.  Information regarding whether any of the Associated Clinical Signs were evident would also be helpful in understanding the case dynamics.

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

10 thoughts on “important and simple”

  1. Thank you, I return to court the 24th pro se , and the state is perusing my ex psychiatrist . My 1st packet of files did not get to the person who requested them !!
    I do have a court recorder who I have made sign a contract to not leave out 1 word. He has hired a lawyer saying he is tired of me taking him to court .
    I am giving the judge , all I have , and I will hold my head up , and not be shamed for the proof was there from the initial contact with a psychiatrist whom I told , I had been hit by ex.. He ignored the domestic abuse that
    altered sons and I .
    I am over this ..exposing it must occur and those bottom feeders are hanging by their fingernails .
    Meanwhile another example has been presented in my landlord giving me
    30 days to get out !! In Jan with assurances he was not selling this house and he installs a stove that was needed March 14, when I moved in, and short rent in Feb to pay for the stove replacement which was my stored stove and bam , I come home to find the notice on my door. The betrayal
    set my heart to pals big time , (Topomax was horrific in that production) with my blood pressure way up I had to see a doctor and begin medication . Blood work shows my thyroid , is under at 50 grains of raw thyroid , I must increase my intake .
    Direct hits of lies that go back to my need for steady ground, a foundation in my home and I have achieved that here.. Now I shall move , having weathered the same betrayal , I experienced in 99 being moved from my
    martial home.. This time it is not my house but my home and I am a family even as 1 and so having documented the facts of the landlord’s ineptitude , and endangerment of my self in this house with promises , and I will move when I find my house … and should he choose to take this to court I will prove a case that includes , random drop in’s after many request to call.
    This is what happens when I am opening the truth .. many forces to imped me.

    Not this time.
    I thank you so much for your return and your heroic effort .

    Blessings & Peace,
    Dona Luna

  2. The bottom line of Ms. Woodall’s article is that mental health providers can resolve a child’s symptoms from severe child psychological abuse in 2 days by engaging protective separation. If the therapist does not engage protective separation, treatment can linger on for as long as 18 months. What kind of a provider would choose to prolong treatment and delay recovery? And why?

    1. In the UK, where Karen Woodall operates, it is the court, and the court alone, who decide whether a child has a change of residence. It isn’t a case of a therapist ‘not engaging protective separation’, but it is the case of doing the best job possible with the circumstances allowed. Your question about what kind of a provider would choose to prolong treatment and delay recovery suggests you are linking this question directly to Karen Woodall. I apologise if that wasn’t what you meant. If it was it suggests you haven’t read any of her other blog posts. I suggest you do, to broaden your knowledge of her practice. I suggest that if you do you’ll find it wide and deep and rooted in actual restorative therapeutic practice with many families.
      Dr Childress, you know full well Karen Woodall doesn’t unilaterally advocate leaving a child with a diagnostically recognised abusive parent. It’s disingenuous to suggest that when you know that’s not what she supports. The first case she talks about in the blog you mentions talks about her input, and impact, on a case where she worked to successfully remove the children. It’s almost impossible to do that in the UK. And not every case is a pure example of pathogenic parenting, as you yourself acknowledge. As you well know, she does advocate exploring every avenue in situations, according to what is available to a therapist following court judgements.
      I look forward to the day when courts and social workers understand and recognise pathogenic parenting. I cheer at your part in bringing this possibility a step closer. I’ve signed the petition. I’ve got a close family member suffering from pathogenic parenting of the purest kind. I know first hand how blind the system is. I know first hand how much you and Karen Woodall have helped my family through your ideas, words and support. Please stop taking fake pot shots at a target just to make a point. Or please acknowledge how different the systems are in the UK and US and leave it at that.

  3. Good grief I’m in Italy and the darned change.org site keeps on coming up in Italian… so I don’t know if I signed this or not. Thanks for continuing this good fight Dr C. I am a textbook case of the parental alienation you described in Foundations, and would avail all my papers, interrogatories and court history to the APA if they wanted them. Including my experience working with the ex wife’s therapist who told me last summer “it’s time to stop grieving the loss of my kids and move on.” Adroit manipulation, no empathy, no compassion – just hate, anger and complete control of my two children. Children who I loved and still do, but won’t return an e-mail or a greeting in public. I could be a poster parent for this horrible situation.

    Respectfully,

    Lee Oberto Umbertide, Italy

    On Thu, Mar 10, 2016 at 7:40 AM, Dr Craig Childress: Attachment-Based Parental Alienati

  4. Great blog. So helpful. I wish I had it sooner so I could have used it with my case instead of allowing and even paying for incompetent ‘experts’ to direct our family. It hurt our family more than helped us, unfortunately. I wonder how different the outcome would have been if I had your simple list of the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting by the allied parent and asked them to complete it (if qualified to do so).

    I hope to help guide others that are going through this by directing them to the information you provide in your book “Foundations” and on your web site.

    I truly appreciate your time and effort in documenting this information including the arguments against your opinions, like Ms. Woodall’s. It is so rare for a proffessional to offer SO MUCH useful information for free and why most families have to succumb to the incompetent world of Child protection services, unqualified children’s assessors, lawyers and the family court system as a whole. We need this type of information to guide our proffesionals or hold the CPS or court appointed ones accountable in acting in our children’s best interests. We rely on them so much and most often early intervention is key…we don’t get a lot of chances if the people helping us are not qualified to do so competently.

    So…THANK YOU again. God bless you.

  5. I was interested to see that Karen Woodall’s response (in which she said she would not be responding to Childress) did two things that are exactly what alienators do – she referred to Dr Childress repeatedly as ‘Doc C’, i.e. in a way that felt derisory and dismissive, and she mentioned Dorcy Pruter by saying she was in communication with her, thereby splitting Pruter and Childress (Childress has in the past endorsed Pruter’s work).

    I don’t say I understand Woodall and I don’t know exactly what’s going on between her and Childress. It seems to me Childress is trying to cut through the forest to get to the core of the issue, and achieve a psychological recognition within established mental health of what Woodall would call Pure Alienation. Childress sees that as the starting point for real change within established mental health, a change that will reconfigure the whole playing field. Woodall appears to be resistant to that. What is her fear? Does she fear that if Childress’ work gets recognition, the complexity of the issue will be lost? Does she fear losing her place as an established expert here in the UK? I am very uncomfortable with Woodall’s apparent side-lining of Childress’ work and minimising the value of it.

    But at the end of the day, what I am really struck by is the way in which (to borrow Childress’ model) the pathogen has the power to infect even the most well-meaning people. In my experience Woodall is one of the most well-meaning people in the field of alienation here and is passionate about doing something about it. And yet I believe she is infected by the pathogen. None of us are safe, and as a targeted mother, I know I’m always in danger of this myself; for many years I was a channel, and while I am doing a lot of work on myself to address that, the danger is always there and I have to be constantly vigilant.

  6. I think where “parental alienation” as a term comes in helpful is for parents who aren’t familiar with clinical terms. You repeatedly state that mental health professionals need to use the correct terms and I agree with that. But most parents don’t understand that and certainly aren’t going to enter the correct terms into Google to find the help they need.

    Further, I think what Karen Woodall and others say about her framework having a basis that reflects the UK court system is really important. In my experience, the U.K. Court don’t want to know about pathological parenting, parental alienation, implacable hostility or any other term you wish to use for this dynamic. They don’t want to know. The sooner you are out of their court room, the better. Physical abuse they will take not of but emotional abuse is a different ball game altogether. As a litigant in person, you are strongly advised to make no criticisms of the other parent at all and where the other parent may be narcissistic and sits there in all their shining glory, it’s really tough, dangerous even, to ask for a psychological assessment. You can turn a judge against you doing something like that and then your case is lost and the shining facade of the narcissistic waltzes off home to continue harming the children.

    I also hear Karen being increasingly clear about the two separate types of work that she does. Pure alienation sounds like a different name for the dynamic you describe. Hybrid alienation is, as you say, not something you are focusing on. So you don’t disagree, as such. It’s just that you are talking about one area and Karen’s geographical location and the legal system in that area means that she wants to also provide a service for families where children are alienated from a parent and that is hasn’t been (entirely) because of pathological parenting. Part of the problem in hybrid alienation is the target parent’s own conduct. That’s not your focus.

    My concern is where pure cases can be dismissed as hybrid cases because of the narcissist’s intense projections onto the target parent. I’ve read it so many times – the target parent tries to point out the abuse being done to them and the child and is instead blamed for all that is happening, or it’s turned into a he said she said situation at best. This is even more so in the UK family courts where awareness of this kind of dynamic is so poor.

    I guess my point is that I don’t think either of you are disagreeing as much as you both seem to think you are. You’re both working at a similar problem but yours is focused on one area, Karen’s is focused on two areas – one the same as you and one different to you because this is what the UK needs right now.

  7. It seems to me that a lot of this argument is about definitions and that Karen Woodall and Craig Childress simply do not define parental alienation the same way. Correct me if I’m wrong but Craig Childress defines parental alienation as a metal health disorder and in his book Foundations sets out the diagnostic criteria for this disorder whereas Karen Woodall appears to define parental alienation as a social dynamic, not a mental health disorder. Thus they are not talking about the same thing and nothing can be achieved until it is acknowledged that what they are talking about is not the same.

    Now Karen Woodall, it would appear to me, has said as much on several occasions and says that within this social dynamic there is an overlap with mental health disorders (my paraphrasing and my mistake if not correct) and for that subgroup of children Craig Childress’ analysis is correct and his suggestion that those children should be removed from the pathological parent is what she would recommend to the courts. Indeed it would appear that she carries out this type of removal where the courts make it possible to do so. Thus it would appear to me that there is no major disagreement between Craig Childress and Karen Woodall regarding this group of children.

    Instead it would thus seem that the disagreement is about what to call all the rest of the children who unjustifiably reject a parent. According to Karen Woodall that is the majority of children who reject a parent where there is no justification for this rejection. I am not aware of Craig Childress addressing this issue apart from statements along the line of he is not trying to solve every problem that exists. Notably neither of the parents referred to in Karen Woodall’s blog post were diagnosed with personality disorders and while that may be a misdiagnosis it is also quite possible that one or both of these cases simply fall outside what Craig Childress defines as parental alienation and therefore would not be helped by his approach.

  8. I agree with so much what is said in the comments above. Like Leroy and others who have commented above my case was text book ‘pathogenic parenting’. My trial was held in the US in 2002 (we lost by the way) and PAS was the only terminology we had in those days. However, I spent a great deal of time learning a lot from my very renowned expert witness – whose name I won’t reveal here. However, it is very simple really and why the UK courts don’t ‘get it’ baffles me.

    If your child was trapped in a cult through mind control that child HAS to be removed. The child cannot be removed for a few days for visit and then returned to the cult and the cult (pathogenic parent with a Personality Disorder) must never be visited again. End of.

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