Bring Me the Leeches

From Wikipedia:

Medieval medicine in Western Europe was composed of a mixture of existing ideas from antiquity, spiritual influences and what Claude Lévi-Strauss identifies as the “shamanistic complex” and “social consensus.”

In the Early Middle Ages, following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, standard medical knowledge was based chiefly upon surviving Greek and Roman texts, preserved in monasteries and elsewhere.  Many simply placed their hopes in the church and God to heal all their sicknesses.  Ideas about the origin and cure of disease were not purely secular, but were also based on a world view in which factors such as destiny, sin, and astral influences played as great a part as any physical cause.  The efficacy of cures was similarly bound in the beliefs of patient and doctor rather than empirical evidence, so that remedia physicalia (physical remedies) were often subordinate to spiritual intervention.

The underlying principle of medieval medicine was the theory of humours.  This was derived from the ancient medical works, and dominated all western medicine until the 19th century.  The theory stated that within every individual there were four humours, or principal fluids – black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood, these were produced by various organs in the body, and they had to be in balance for a person to remain healthy.  Too much phlegm in the body, for example, caused lung problems; and the body tried to cough up the phlegm to restore a balance.  The balance of humours in humans could be achieved by diet, medicines, and by blood-letting, using leeches.

plague doctorOur current mental health approach to the family pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” in the popular culture is absolutely medieval. 

“Bring me the leeches.”

The degree of professional ignorance and incompetence is incredibly profound.  Professional psychology should be ashamed of itself.

“The patient’s humours are clearly out of balance. There is too much phlegm.  We must balance the patient’s humours to restore good health.  Bring me the leeches, we must bleed the patient.”

There is no such thing as “reunification therapy.”  Nowhere in any of the professional literature is there a defined model for what “reunification therapy” entails.  No theorist.  No description.  Nothing.  Nowhere.  They are just making stuff up – completely making stuff up.  Any mental health professional who says they do “reunification therapy” is selling snake oil.  Who knows what’s in the bottle of elixir they’re selling.

There is no such thing as “reunification therapy.”  It doesn’t exist. 

“Bring me the leeches.”

There are NO studies – not one – demonstrating the validity of the conclusions and recommendations of child custody evaluations.  Child custody evaluations spend extensive amounts of time collecting data and writing reports, but when it comes to interpreting what the data means – they just make it up.  Really.  They just make it up.  Whatever they feel like.

“The patient has too much black bile which is causing the patient to be overly melancholic.  Bring me the leeches.”

Seriously, it’s that bad.

I continually receive requests from targeted parents for help. 

“What can I do?  Do you know any therapists in wherever?”

I’m sorry, but as long as our mental health professionals are “diagnosing” an imbalance in humours, there is no hope whatsover.

It’s like going to a physician and being diagnosed with diabetes and being treated with insulin.  The problem is… what the patient actually has is cancer.  So the patient is treated with insulin and dies from the undiagnosed and untreated cancer.

That’s the state of our current mental health response to the family pathology traditionally called “parental alienation.”

But it’s even worse than that, because instead of receiving an even remotely accurate diagnosis and possibly effective treatment, the patient is actually diagnosed with an imbalance in their humours and is treated with leeches.  Oh my God.  I am astounded by the degree of professional ignorance and incompetence.

Because of the profound degree of professional ignorance – “bring me the leeches” – the patient is left to educate the professional.  Targeted parents must EDUCATE the mental health professional regarding the nature of the pathology.  Oh my God.  What sort of upside-down world is that?

Imagine going to a physician with symptoms of a disease and having to EDUCATE the physician regarding the nature of the disease you have.  That’s absurd.  Yet that’s exactly the situation targeted parents face.  Because the degree of professional ignorance is so incredibly profound, the patient has no choice but to try to educate the professional.  Bizarre.  Truly bizarre.

Imagine going to an architect and having to instruct the architect on the intricacies of load-bearing structures and blueprint design.

Imagine going to an attorney and having to instruct the attorney in the nature, precedent, and interpretations of the law.

Imagine going to a cardiac surgeon and having to instruct the surgeon on the nature of the circulatory system and then educate the surgeon on surgical procedures.

Imagine having to instruct the mental health professional regarding the nature of the mental health pathology and its treatment.

Bizarre.  Truly bizarre.  Professional psychology should be ashamed of itself.

The current state of professional psychology with regard to the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of the family pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” is absolutely medieval.  Bring me the leeches.

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

10 thoughts on “Bring Me the Leeches”

  1. Hello,
    Just a thought, Do you have any advice on how the attorney can ask questions to the ALIENATOR that would produce a reaction or response that the judge or others might think is “Strange?”
    I’ve noticed that the attorneys don’t seem to know how to expound on questioning the ALIENATOR! It’s like they’re asking the right questions but the response seems normal for the ALIENATORS picture they have painted BUT the picture they’ve painted is a lie! Well mostly, there’s a small, very small truth in it.
    I am curious and I understand you’re not an attorney but you would know what to ask if you were assessing the situation.
    Thank you and I hope you can give a few pointers.
    Oh I just thought of something! What if the attorney asks questions as if the other parent were doing the things the ALIENATOR is doing to see how they would respond to that same kind of treatment if it was done to them?
    I don’t know! This is so frustrating!!
    Thank you Dr Childress

  2. THANK YOU for putting into words what I have learned and our children have suffered through experience (Child Protection Service, Children’s Lawyer, Therapist, Family Lawyer, Court). I did learn all and feel like I knew what was happening to our family. The court even said that their Dad had ‘alienating behaviours’ and the OCL (John A. Butt from Brantford, ON) reported and expressed concern over his alienating behaviours and EVEN made a report to CPS during the investigation! …but in the end ‘the children told him and other counsellor’s that they want to live with their Dad’ and of course the false allegations claimed throughout would mean they were ‘estranged’ from me, not alienated. Ironically (actually by common sense and accurate psychplogical theory), my eldest is now living with me full-time and my youngest more than 50% of the court ordered time….by CHOICE. Thankfully the court did not follow the OCL’s (John A. Butt) suggestion of sole custody to the alienating parent, however the 50/50 shared custody did not protect our children from the continued psychological abuse and conflict.
    Thank you for all you do, Dr. Childress. I hope that I can make a difference also, through my situation.

    1. I am not a clinician, but I have been following several highly-publicized divorce cases in which children have come to reject a parent. And following means reading online a good many folks cheering from the sidelines, many reiterating talking points that don’t seem to further honest examination in any way. And it would seem that the assumed dichotomy between alienation and estrangement is one example.

      As a non-clinician, but someone with a fair amount of experience with children in families, it would seem as though what we know first in certain families is that the children are exhibiting behavior that is atypical, non-normal, problematic, clinical. Bonding to two parents is the normal pattern. When that is not the case, I don’t think it’s too big a leap to start looking for some causal toxicity in the environment. What I do not understand is the insistence on the part of some that the environment is the result of two competing entities, one good and one evil. That is the stuff of fairy tales and mythology. And it leads to these gotcha sorts of arguments over whether the children are alienated or estranged. Is it Mommy’s or Daddy’s fault and who wins the prize (the children)?

      There are no parents so perfect as to be wholly blameless in their children’s upbringing and resulting behaviors. Fortunately children are pretty resilient and they are hardwired to bond–even in the face of really bad parenting, or even abuse. The symptoms of abuse vs alienation really are quite distinct and different. I don’t see this is a case of seeing identical behaviors and then deciding who is at fault.

      1. The issues are more complex that who’s “at fault.”

        The attachment system is the brain system governing all aspects of love and bonding across the lifespan, including grief and loss.

        During childhood, the attachment system acquires patterns of expectation regarding love and bonding (and grief and loss).

        The narcissistic/(borderline) personality of the allied parent in this form of family pathology is the product of childhood attachment trauma. This relationship patterns of the childhood attachment trauma for this parent as a child have become embedded into the “internal working models” (also called “schemas”) of this parent’s attachment system.

        The pattern of this childhood attachment trauma that’s contained in the “internal working models” of the parent’s attachment networks is:

        “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent.”

        When the divorce occurs this parent’s attachment networks begin to glow warm again in response to the loss of the spousal attachment bonds (the patterns contained in the parent’s attachment networks begin to glow warm in order to mediate the loss experience associated with the divorce). This glowing of the attachment networks surrounding the divorce experience (regarding the processing of loss and the attendant sadness) reactivates the patterns of this parent’s attachment trauma that are embedded in this parent’s internal working models.

        Within this parent’s attachment networks are the childhood trauma patterns of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent” and the divorce reactivates these trauma patterns from childhood.

        In addition to these reactivated attachment trauma patterns from childhood are the current representational networks for the current family members – the current spouse, the current child, and the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. This creates two sets of concurrently activated networks in the attachment system; one from the childhood trauma experience and one for the current family members.

        This concurrent activation of two sets of representational brain networks in the attachment system (the brain system for all things love and bonding) creates a psychological equivalence (a fusion) for these two sets of concurrently activated brain networks. They essentially become fused into a combined meaning structure:

        The current targeted parent (the abandoning-rejecting spouse) becomes psychologically equivalent to the “abusive parent” in the attachment trauma networks of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

        The current child becomes psychologically equivalent to the “victimized child” schema in the naracissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment networks.

        And the narcissistic/(borderline) parent adopts the coveted role as the “protective parent” in the attachment trauma reenactment narrative.

        All the characters are now in place to reenact the childhood attachment trauma of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, with each of the current family members assigned a role in this trauma reenactment narrative:

        “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent”

        targeted parent – current child – allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent

        All the narcissistic/(borderline) parent needs to do to create the trauma reenactment narrative is to lead and manipulate the child into accepting the “victimized child” role in the trauma reenactment narrative. The moment the child accepts the false trauma reenactment role as the “victimized child,” this immediately defines the targeted parent into the “abusive parent” role in the trauma reenactment narrative irrespective of the actual parenting practices of this parent; and the child’s false trauma reenactment role as the supposedly “victimized child” also allows the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent to adopt and to conspicuously display to others the role of the supposedly “protective parent.”

        The moment the child adopts the “victimized child” role, all the other corresponding roles are created that will allow the reenactment of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s childhood attachment trauma into the current family relationships.

        But none of this narrative is true. The targeted parent is not abusive. The child is not victimized. And the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is not a protective parent. It’s all a false creation and reenactment of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s own childhood attachment trauma which is contained in the internal working models of this parent’s attachment networks.

        It’s a delusion.

        The third diagnostic indicator of AB-PA – the child’s delusional belief (acquired through the influence of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent) regarding the child’s supposed “victimization” by the targeted-rejected parent – represents the symptom of this false trauma reenactment narrative.

        It’s all a false story – a false narrative – created long ago in the childhood attachment trauma of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent which is being reenacted now into the current family relationships.

        Prager (2003) describes this trans-generational transmission of trauma”

        “Trauma, as a wound that never heals, succeeds in transforming the subsequent world into its own image, secure in its capacity to re-create the experience for time immemorial. It succeeds in passing the experience from one generation to the next. The present is lived as if it were the past. The result is that the next generation is deprived of its sense of social location and its capacity to creatively define itself autonomously from the former… when time becomes distorted as a result of overwhelming events, the natural distance between generations, demarcated by the passing of time and changing experience, becomes obscured.” (p. 176)

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

        Prager, J. (2003). Lost childhood, lost generations: the intergenerational transmission of trauma. Journal of Human Rights, 2, 173-181.

      2. Dr. Childress, I understand, I think, although I follow a layman’s path and rely more on a sense of empathy with the players, and particularly though oddly with the alienator.

        Being abused/abandoned/neglected as a child is confusing and painful. A child who feels unloved looks around and sees other families (including the fairy-tale happiness of TV sitcoms many of us of a certain age grew up on) in which children are loved and cared-for. And being highly ego-centric, as children are, the child believes that they are not loved because they are in some way unloveable. Some become overachieving little adults to become more loveable and some simply act out their unloveability (or if a middle child they will find escapes in introspection). But, they all grow up and find mates–still carrying the secret of their unloveability–until their marriage hits crisis. Their mate may get fed up with trying to fill the emptiness, or they may take pre-emptive action themselves in order to prevent being abandoned again.

        I see this as all protective behavior–covering the very painful secret of being damaged and unloveable. There can be no grey areas. Spouse is all wrong because the only other possibility is that I am all wrong–and that hurts. Hurts like the threat of death or becoming eclipsed into nothingness. The children function as a warm blanket of protection, or a magic mirror to feed back the much-needed message of being an acceptable human being, deserving of being loved.

        I fully agree. There is a lot of re-enacting going on in these situations.

        I do hope that you are able to bring the mental health community along, because courts alone simply cannot respond to the emotional aspects of this.

  3. This is a concise summary of my experience with the entire system. After concluding that there was nothing effective I could do – human resources who know family system dynamics are at the moment a small population in the overall landscape, I bought many copies of “Foundations.” I gifted the books to several in places of authority. Maybe it will be better for those who follow.

    In a strange way, I have come to realize that this is what it is like to be part of a small minority that presents no financial motivation to accurately diagnose, solve or prevent. Rather, without – and this is my opinion, a solid position within the APA, these families will continue to suffer through the horrors.

    Bright spots exist, I am deeply grateful for your work, and that of Dr Baker, Wilfrid vn Boch-Galhau, Bill Eddy and Randi Kreger, Luke Matthews and Julie Burkhardt, Robert Hare and Martha Stout (everyone should read “The sociopath next door.” To name but a few. Yes indeed the men and women who have met this monster know it is real, and the response from the mental health community is often less than inspiring. But I really feel a meaningful conversation has started. An awakening of sorts. The unfortunate news is that this enlightenment is traveling at glacial speed and has no owner, or champion. The APA could be that leader, but it has yet to fully sign on to the concept of pathogenic parenting, a somewhat tricky position given the litigious nature of our society. In other words, damage has been done, damages can be remedied in court. What exposure would professionals have if a position paper from the APA were to make it clear that many had misdiagnosed, mistreated and harmed as a result of incompetency, a family or many families over the years? Seems like we may be fighting insurance companies, nervous practitioners and half the legal community here. I suspect that many agendas lurk in the shadows of this problem.

    Sorry for prattling on, my 2 cents…

  4. I think questions, in general, create a lot learning opportunities – an Action Learning process. Also, I think it’s important to ask for a remediation plan and hold all professionals accountable.

    As we know, there are systemic problems in family law. The professionals involved are typically neglectful and limited in their actions and competencies (many not keeping their biases in check).

    Therefore, this system – unit of participants – are creating and fostering civil oppression. They’ve created a competitive approach (versus a cooperative one) to managing the conflict. Within this type of oppressions (which can be fall under the umbrella of all the abuse experienced – parental alienation, legal abuse, gaslighting, character assassination, etc.), there are certain groups of people/professionals benefitting. Therefore, it’s in their interest to continue the oppression and maintain status quo. Plus, on a psychological level, for them to realize how they’re complicit to the oppression and abuse, they must wrestle with their psyche and acknowledge that they have become abusers. In order for them to perceive and understand their roles and participation (being complicit) in all of this, they will need to have a paradigm shift, yes?

  5. I have endured PA for almost 10 years in a crosss-border setting with 2 children 10 and 14. My case is absolute textbook with an extra serving of psychopathology from a woman that was sexually abused as a child and has turned out an abuser herself. If you are ever in need of case studies I’d gladly offer my case for study. Thanks for the important work done, and your pessimism expressed in your blog is indeed justfied I think, especially for scientific participants in this almost pre-historic situation with family law and PA. My kids are in Switzerland and I dare to say that the legal position of a non-residential father would probably reflect that in the US in the 1940’s. It’s absolutely ridiculous, people at Child Protection Services don’t even know what you are talking about when you come up with the issue.

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