I am a clinical psychologist. Diagnosis and treatment are what I do. I specialize in child and family therapy, parent-child conflict, parenting, and child development. I also teach graduate level courses in models of psychotherapy, clinical assessment, diagnosis and treatment planning, and child development. This is what I do. And you know what? I’m pretty good at what I do.
I was recently consulting on a court-involved case in which I was reviewing the clinical data, conclusions, and recommendations of a child custody evaluation. Like far too many child custody evaluations I’m asked to review, the collection of clinically relevant data was excellent, but the interpretation of the data was abysmal, and the recommendations were 100% wrong. Harmful in fact.
As part of my analysis of this custody evaluation for my client and his attorney, I wrote up a more accurate case conceptualization based on the clinical data reported in the child custody evaluation, along with a possible treatment plan based on this case conceptualization. I did what I do as a clinical psychologist. I collect relevant clinical data (in this case the custody evaluator collected the data for me), I formulate a case conceptualization based on the clinical data (which is called diagnosis), and I develop a treatment plan based on the case conceptualization. I’m a clinical psychologist; that’s what I do.
After completing my brief report for the attorney, my brain was still swirling with all the information and I thought to myself: this information may be more broadly useful to other parents in similar situations. While my case conceptualization and treatment plan was individual to the family situation I was reviewing, the pathology of “parental alienation” (as described and defined in Foundations), is pretty similar across families. It’s a cross-generational coalition of the child with one parent (a narcissistic/(borderline) parent) against the other parent. This is standard family systems pathology (with the addition of parental personality disorder pathology that transforms the cross-generational coalition into a particularly malignant and virulent form).
The treatment plan recommendations are two variants of a prescriptive Strategic family systems intervention. Strategic family therapy is one of the major schools of family therapy, but it requires a fairly sophisticated and knowledgeable family therapist to formulate and enact a Strategic family systems intervention. It is unlikely that most targeted parents will find a general family systems therapist, and it’s extremely unlikely that they will find one capable of developing a prescriptive Strategic family systems intervention. But here I had just done it for this case. For the possible benefit of other targeted parents, I decided to take out the individualized material and construct a generic mini-report on case conceptualization and treatment plan recommendations for the family systems pathology of a cross-generational coalition of the child with one parent against the other parent.
The Strategic family systems intervention requires the cooperation of Court-order to enact. The case I’m consulting on is Court-involved, so that’s what the attorney for my client is seeking. My case conceptualization and treatment plan provides my client’s attorney with an alternative proposal – based in clinical psychology and family therapy – to the extremely flawed recommendations of the child custody evaluation – which are based in forensic psychology of collect the data and then make things up… basically punt because the evaluator has no idea what to do (because they are forensic psychologists who collect data and makes things up, not clinical psychologists who actually do family therapy and solve family pathology).
I have posted my generic case conceptualization and treatment plan to my website, way down at the bottom. A direct link to it is:
Strategic Family Therapy for a Cross-Generational Coalition
I’m not sure if this will be helpful to other targeted parents or not. If it is, I’m happy. If not, oh well, I tried.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
4 thoughts on “Strategic Family Therapy Treatment Plan”
Dr Childress, I am grateful and appreciative of the writings you share for the benefit of anyone caught up in the shock waves of pathogenic parenting.
I have shared some of your writings with professionals/practitioners attached to the situation I am involved with, and even though it/they may not be acknowledged as helpful or even enlightening, I hope the effect filters down and helps someone somewhere.
I have a particular request.
Could you write something from the perspective of a young teenager, that might/could help a young teenager start to recognise, or start to internally acknowledge, their own situation. What’s happening for them, and what this might feel like for that young teenager – the cognitive dissonance this situation produces, and ways they might cope and deal with that, in a language appropriate for that age level.
Thank you so much – you’ve helped me above and beyond- now it’s time to change the courts
Dr. The peace and understanding you have given me is beyond words!!
it is amazing to me that what you write about is exactly what I experienced.
I have relived the experience with every new counselor and there was many who to me….. refused to see the problem (one came close but ex-wife then refused to go and no accountability ), G A L’s, PARENT coordinators (one of them agreed my ex-wife was “the most difficult person to deal with and ex wife fired) change in judge x 2, multiple lawyer changes by ex wife as my ex wouldn’t pay them or fire them buying her more time to mold my kids. FALSE ACCUSATIONS. Criticism and making fun of normal range parenting etc.
Much more but if you could let me know how best to tell my story to help others as my, children are 21, 19 and 16 now. if I have to tell it all and re live I want it to have value for someone else, ya know.
Your work is impeccable!! And I too want to learn from it. I am praying for next steps.
Thanks for listening
CG – I don’t think it’s a good idea to expect Dr. Childress with his indefatigable efforts for us all, to offer on top of that pointillist, case-by-case advice unless you hire him to do so. His online work is available for free. I have an alienated teen and here’s what I’ve been trying for the past 18 months: trying to be a 2 or 3 on a scale of 10 of happiness. Like the Dalai Lama. Clearly enjoying myself. Not allowing despair to suck the love of life out of my marrow. I’ve enjoyed zero success at getting through his wall of scorn, until a few weeks ago, when I executed a perfectly efficient parallel parking maneuver that had me exclaim, “Epic!” over my own parking prowess. My son, in the back, turned to hide a smile. And another time, just a few days ago, I was relating to him on the phone (as he stayed silent, indeed I was staring at the ceiling through FaceTime as he continued playing on his computer) how his brother was so scared by the Cardboard virtual reality app Sisters that he through himself on the floor and ripped the headset off his face. My son laughed and said he would try that app the next time he saw me. Those are the first two instances of my son acting like a human being. I do think those moments fit within what you’re looking for – cognitive dissonance. My son, to see me clearly at ease in my own skin, and continuing to talk with him as if all his hunky dory, as if his scorn of me doesn’t hurt me (it does), gets to him. A little tiny bit. Try it. Try not being a complete miserable bastard, which is the natural state to be in when this happens to you. it’s all terribly counter-intuitive.