Response 2 to the APA: Stop Lying to these Parents

One of the many parent-warriors received this response from the APA regarding a revision of their official Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome

Mr. Dennison,
Your message to several of our board members was forwarded to me for a response.  The American Psychological Association has no official position on “parental alienation syndrome,” but because significant public concern about the related issues has been expressed to APA, the association plans to appoint a working group to review the scientific literature on high-conflict family relationships in which children are involved and recommend next steps for advancing knowledge development and application in this area.”

In my post, Response to the APA, I addressed the core issue that the APA has yet to understand; this isn’t about Parental Alienation Syndrome or high-conflict divorce.  This is about professional incompetence – rampant and unchecked professional incompetence.

Let me now respond to a second major problem with the APA’s response… they’re lying when they say “The American Psychological Association has no official position on parental alienation syndrome.”

To the APA:  I’m a clinical psychologist.  You can bulls*** the general public and they may not know how to respond, but I’m a clinical psychologist.  You can’t lie to me.  What you’re doing is called a “double-message” that creates a “double-bind” for the recipient in the communication process

You are using the Statement to take a position, but then you deny that you are taking a position.

In your “no position statement” you cite task force conclusions from 20 years ago that dealt with a peripherally related different topic (family violence) to denigrate the construct of “parental alienation,” using the pulpit of the APA to make the “Statement” that “parental alienation” lacks supporting scientific data , that it is a “so-called” pathology rather than a real form of pathology, and you use the voice of the task force to raise the APA’s professional “concerns about the term’s use.”

You absolutely 100% take a position, and your position is 100% clear.  It’s simply that you then verbally deny the obvious, “However, we have no position on the purported syndrome” which creates a double message.  One message, the APA’s position against the construct of “parental alienation” is being so STRONGLY suggested and clearly implied that it is abundantly obvious to all who read the Statement of the APA, but then the second message denies the existence of the first.  This creates a “double bind.”

Wikipedia: Double Bind.  A double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, and one message negates the other.  This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will automatically be wrong regardless of response.

So if we respond to the APA’s Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome by asking that the APA change it’s position statement on “parental alienation,” the APA says, we have no position on “parental alienation,” yet if we don’t respond by asking for a change to the position statement of the APA, then the APA’s position that “parental alienation” is a “so-called” form of non-existent pathology that lacks scientifically supporting data, and that the APA has “raised concerns” about the use of the construct all are allowed to be propagated into the general discussion.

That’s the double-bind that your double-message creates for the parents exposed to this pathology.  No matter how they respond, they’re wrong.

You know it’s a double-message.  I know it’s a double-message.  You’re just denying it’s a double-message.  You know what denying a double-message is called?  Crazy making.

Psychology Today: How to Handle a Crazymaker.  Kimberley Key; 3/18/14

“Crazymaking is when a person sets you up to lose, as in the examples above: You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You’re put in lose-lose situations, but too many games are being played for you to reason yourself out of it.”

To the APA:  STOP IT.

You absolutely know exactly what you’re doing.  You’re psychologists.  I absolutely know exactly what your doing.  Stop it.   Your double-message to these parents is crazymaking.  Stop it.

Their pain and suffering is too great and is too authentic for you to be playing these cruel types of mind-games with them.

If you have no position on “parental alienation,” then take down your Statement and have no position.  Simple as that.

No Position = No Statement.

Do you have a position on the Loch Ness monster?  No?  Where’s your Statement indicating that you have no position on the Loch Ness monster?  There is none.  You know why?  Because you have no position on the Loch Ness monster.

Or else openly acknowledge the obvious, that you do have a position on Parental Alienation Syndrome. That you believe it lacks scientific support, that it is a “so-called” non-existent form of pathology (not a real form of pathology), and that you have grave concerns about the term’s use.

I’m totally fine with that.  In fact, I’m in 100% agreement with that.

Dr. Childress Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome

There is no such thing as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).  The construct of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) lacks scientific support because it is an ill-conceived and ill-defined form of supposed pathology.  Dr. Childress has significant professional concerns about the how the construct of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is defined through a set of made-up symptom identifiers.

Because the construct of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) emerged in response to an actual attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce, a more general construct of “parental alienation” has developed to label the underlying attachment-related pathology that can occur in the context of divorce.

However, because the construct of “parental alienation” is also inadequately defined from a professional standpoint, Dr. Childress calls directly upon all responsible mental health professionals to STOP using the construct of “parental alienation” in professional-level discourse.

Yet, because the more general term of “parental alienation” has become so completely embedded in the popular-culture as a common-use label for a form of attachment-related family systems pathology surrounding divorce, professional psychology will be obliged to continue the use of the term “parental alienation” in broader discussions with the general public, but all professional-level discussions should return to using only standard and established constructs and principles involving only established and defined forms of pathology.

The construct of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) with its eight supposed symptom identifiers should be entirely retired from professional-level discussion.

No double-message there.  I’m clear as a bell.  Parental Alienation Syndrome is a horrific model of pathology.   No doubt about it.

That does not, however, mean that there is not an actual form of pathology captured by the common-culture label of “parental alienation.”  Absolutely the pathology exists.  It’s just not a “new syndrome” that is unique in all of mental health, as proposed by the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) model of the pathology.

The pathology people are calling “parental alienation” is a standard form of attachment-related pathology called “pathological mourning” (Bowlby, 1980) involving the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of a narcissistic/(borderline) personality parent to the current family relationships, mediated by the personality disorder pathology of the parent which is itself a product of this parent’s childhood attachment trauma.

And this isn’t me saying this.  This is John Bowlby and Arron Beck and Theodore Millon and Otto Kernberg and Salvdor Minuchin and Jay Haley and Murry Bowen and Bessel van der Kolk and countless others in the scientific and theoretical literature who are describing and defining the pathology.  I’d be more than happy to point you to the specific literature where these preeminent figures in professional psychology describe the pathology.

“The deactivation of attachment behavior is a key feature of certain common variants of pathological mourning.” (Bowlby, 1980, p. 70)

“They [narcissists] are especially deficient in genuine feelings of sadness and mournful longing; their incapacity for experiencing depressive reactions is a basic feature of their personalities.  When abandoned or disappointed by other people they may show what on the surface looks like depression, but which on further examination emerges as anger and resentment, loaded with revengeful wishes, rather than real sadness for the loss of a person whom they appreciated.” (Kernberg, 1977, p. 229)

“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 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)

In 2002, fifteen years ago, Brian Barber and his colleague Elizabeth Barber in his book Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents (2002), published by the American Psychological Association (you guys – you guys published this) defined the construct of a child’s psychological control by a parent:

“Psychological control refers to parental behaviors that are intrusive and manipulative of children’s thoughts, feelings, and attachment to parents.  These behaviors appear to be associated with disturbances in the psychoemotional boundaries between the child and parent, and hence with the development of an independent sense of self and identity.” (Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 15)

Manipulation and exploitation are hallmarks of the narcissistic and borderline personality pathology. Do I really need to cite the literature on that?  Really?

Barber and Harmon (2002) cite over 30 empirically validated scientific studies measuring the construct of parental psychological control with children, and nearly 20 additional studies on constructs related to psychological control.

Stone, Buehler, and Barber (2002) describe the process of the psychological control of children by parents:

“The central elements of psychological control are intrusion into the child’s psychological world and self-definition and parental attempts to manipulate the child’s thoughts and feelings through invoking guilt, shame, and anxiety.  Psychological control is distinguished from behavioral control in that the parent attempts to control, through the use of criticism, dominance, and anxiety or guilt induction, the youth’s thoughts and feelings rather than the youth’s behavior.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 57)

In their study on the psychological control of children, Stone, Buehler, and Barber establish the link between parental psychological control of children and marital conflict:

“This study was conducted using two different samples of youth. The first sample consisted of youth living in Knox County, Tennessee.  The second sample consisted of youth living in Ogden, Utah.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 62)

“The analyses reveal that variability in psychological control used by parents is not random but it is linked to interparental conflict, particularly covert conflict.  Higher levels of covert conflict in the marital relationship heighten the likelihood that parents would use psychological control with their children.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 86)

Stone, Buehler, and Barber even provide an explanation for their finding that intrusive parental psychological control of children is related to high inter-spousal conflict:

“The concept of triangles “describes the way any three people relate to each other and involve others in emotional issues between them” (Bowen, 1989, p. 306).  In the anxiety-filled environment of conflict, a third person is triangulated, either temporarily or permanently, to ease the anxious feelings of the conflicting partners.  By default, that third person is exposed to an anxiety-provoking and disturbing atmosphere.  For example, a child might become the scapegoat or focus of attention, thereby transferring the tension from the marital dyad to the parent-child dyad.  Unresolved tension in the marital relationship might spill over to the parent-child relationship through parents’ use of psychological control as a way of securing and maintaining a strong emotional alliance and level of support from the child.  As a consequence, the triangulated youth might feel pressured or obliged to listen to or agree with one parents’ complaints against the other.  The resulting enmeshment and cross-generational coalition would exemplify parents’ use of psychological control to coerce and maintain a parent-youth emotional alliance against the other parent (Haley, 1976; Minuchin, 1974).” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 86-87)

APA, you guys pubished this 15 years ago – 15 years ago.  Do you really need a “working group” on this?  Really?  Don’t you even read your own stuff?

This is not Dr. Childress saying this stuff.  This is John Bowlby, Otto Kernberg, Theodore Millon, Aaron Beck, Salvador Minuchin, Jay Haley, Murray Bowen, and the list goes on and on…

The pathology most definitely exists, it’s just that Gardner’s PAS model is a horrific model of pathology.

It’s time we returned to standard and established constructs of professional psychology and leave the wilderness of supposedly new forms of pathology – “new syndromes” – behind us.

But APA, stop giving crazy-making double-messages to these parents.

The pathology these parents are addressing already has a prominent double-bind “crazy-making” component as an embedded feature of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality pathology at the casual roots of the pathology.  So when you take a position and then deny taking a position, this just adds to the trauma-experience of these parents.  Stop it.

I am totally fine with getting rid of Gardnerian PAS entirely.  Woo hoo.  Let’s return to standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology.  I’m all for that.

But just don’t do your crazy-making double-messages with these parents.  They deserve better from you.

If the APA has no position on “parental alienation” derivative constructs, then the APA’s Statement on this should be right next to their no-position Statement on Loch Ness monsters and Sasquatch.

No Position = No Statement.

But stop the crazy-making double-messages.  That’s beneath you as a professional organization of psychologists.  You should know better, and you should do better. Stop it.

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

To targeted parents: Do you hear how the pathogen has infected the APA?

“It’s not me, it’s the child who doesn’t want to…”

“It’s not the APA, it’s (the child) the APA Presidential Task Force who says this.”

How much more blatantly obvious can the pathogen’s presence in the APA be?  “It’s not me, it’s the child (it’s not me, it’s the 1996 APA task force).”

Double-messages, double-binds, crazy-making communication.  The pathogen has infected the APA and is disabling the APA’s response to the pathology.  The APA is essentially a collusive ally to the psychological abuse of the child.

The APA is not doing this as a conscious choice.  They are simply ignorant and are being used by forces within the APA that are infected with the pathogen (i.e., who seek to be the “protective other” in a false trauma reenactment narrative – called “counter-transference” and the “parallel process” of splitting.)

One of the leading experts on borderline personality pathology, Marsha Linehan, describes the parallel process of spitting that can arise in mental health professionals who are treating borderline personality pathology:

“Staff splitting,” as mentioned earlier, is a much-discussed phenomenon in which professionals treating borderline patients begin arguing and fighting about a patient, the treatment plan, or the behavior of the other professionals with the patient… arguments among staff members and differences in points of view, traditionally associated with staff splitting, are seen as failures in synthesis and interpersonal process among the staff rather than as a patient’s problem… Therapist disagreements over a patient are treated as potentially equally valid poles of a dialectic.  Thus, the starting point for dialogue is the recognition that a polarity has arisen, together with an implicit (if not explicit) assumption that resolution will require working toward synthesis.” (Linehan, 1993, p. 432)

By defining the pathology from entirely within standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology, AB-PA serves in working toward synthesis between “equally valid poles in a dialectic.”

Gardnerian PAS is a horrific model of pathology – AND – the pathology most definitely exists and is fully described and identifiable using standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology.  Synthesis.


Barber, B. K. (Ed.) (2002). Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Barber, B. K. and Harmon, E. L. (2002). Violating the self: Parenting psychological control of children and adolescents. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting (pp. 15-52). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Vol. 3. Loss: Sadness and depression. NY: Basic Books.

Kernberg, O.F. (1975). Borderline conditions and pathological narcissism. New York: Aronson.

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York, NY: Guilford

Stone, G., Buehler, C., & Barber, B. K. (2002) Interparental conflict, parental psychological control, and youth problem behaviors. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC.: American Psychological Association.

6 thoughts on “Response 2 to the APA: Stop Lying to these Parents”

    1. Double-binds are embedded in the nature of the pathogen, it has to do with the “disorganized attachment” origins of the pathology.

      People within the the APA who have access to decision making around this pathology – particularly domestic violence protection advocates back in the 1990s and 2000s are concerned about DV fathers using allegations of “parental alienation” as a false-defense – to divert from the true reason the child doesn’t want to be around the father, which is his prior domestic violence hostile-aggressive parenting by the father. That’s why you see the opening sentence of the APA’s position statement address allegations of domestic violence.

      The concerns of DV and child abuse protection advocates are valid concerning a Garderian PAS model. The symptoms proposed by Gardner for PAS are incredibly problematic. That’s why the APA issued a negative position statement. Establishment psychology does not like Gardnerian PAS at all.

      But there are also some within the DV and child abuse protection ranks who come from their own childhood trauma backgrounds (i.e., have the damaged set of information structures in their attachment networks), and this trauma background resonates with the false trauma reenactment narrative proposed by the child and narcissistic/(borderline) parent of (“abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent,” and these mental health professionals with influence are vicariously working out their own trauma abuse history by becoming the “protective ally” of the child in support of the false trauma reenactment narrative.

      It is the influence of these people within the APA that leads to the symptom display of the double-bind in the APA position statement. The APA is infected with the pathogen. Not all of it, just enough to disable the mental health response to the pathology. What AB-PA is designed to do is expose the pathogen so it can be “cleansed.” The APA says their problem with the construct of “parental alienation” is that it is a proposal for a new form of pathology. Okay, then. AB-PA address this and defines the pathology entirely within standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology. The APA should now have no problem whatsoever with the AB-PA model.

      AB-PA can also differentiate 100% of the time between true “parental alienation” and a DV or child abuser falsely alleging “parental alienation.”

      So the APA is not using a “trap.” They’re just being influenced by people who are allies in enacting the pathology (because they are vicariously working through their own childhood trauma issues). Once we expose and clear away this distorting influence, the APA will emerge as a staunch ally of targeted parents and the children.

  1. The task force paper referenced in the current no-position position is so bad that the APA has refused to send folks a copy. This is documented in a peer viewed paper. A link can be found in “The APA and the mental health child abuse scandal”:

    In 2010, the APA’s Dr. Silva criticized the study upon which it is based, saying it is “outdated” and “in need of review” , while declining to make it available. However, no change to the policy was ever initiated.

    1. Wow. Uhhh… wow.

      APA, you should be ashamed of yourselves. APA, how dare you cite a source that isn’t publicly available for scrutiny. You and I both know that’s just not right. If you cite a source, your source should be available for review and scrutiny. You know that and I know that.

      That’s just not right.

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

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