“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson
We are returning to the ground foundation of science to solve the attachment-related family pathology of a child rejecting a parent surrounding divorce.
There is no such thing as AB-PA. What AB-PA does is simply integrate the current scientific knowledge of professional psychology in order to diagnose attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce.
AB-PA is Bowlby, and Beck, and Millon, and Kernberg, and Minuchin, and Haley, and Bowen, and Fonagy, and Stern and all of the scientifically grounded research in professional psychology.
AB-PA is not the moon. AB-PA is the finger pointing at the moon.
We are returning to the foundational ground of science to solve an attachment-related pathology that emerges surrounding divorce.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
Can the scientifically grounded foundational knowledge of professional psychology solve attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce? Absolutely, without a doubt.
Then why aren’t we solving it?
A: Because of professional ignorance and incompetence. It’s as simple as that. The mental health professionals who are assessing, diagnosing and treating attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce are simply ignorant and incompetent regarding the scientifically established constructs and principles of professional psychology – Bowlby, Minuchin, Beck – and in the professional practice of assessment and differential diagnosis.
Five domains of scientifically grounded fields of professional psychology – five information sets drawn from the scientifically grounded research in professional psychology – are required to solve attachment-related family pathology that emerges surrounding divorce:
The Attachment System: The attachment system is the neurological brain system that governs all aspects of love and bonding throughout the lifespan, including grief and loss. There is substantial scientifically grounded research surrounding the nature and functioning of the attachment system.
Principle Professional Figures: Bowlby, Ainsworth, Main, Lyons-Ruth, Bretherton, Shroufe. There is a substantial scientific research and professional literature foundation describing the attachment system.
Personality disorders: Personality disorders are stable constellations of maladaptive psychological traits that affect relationships, behavior, and daily functioning.
Principle Professional Figures: Beck, Millon, Kernberg, Linehan. There is a substantial research and scientifically grounded professional literature regarding personality disorder pathology.
Family systems therapy: Family systems therapy is one of the four primary schools of psychotherapy (the others being psychoanalytic therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and humanistic-existential therapy). Family systems therapy is the ONLY school of psychotherapy that provides treatment models for solving current family relationships. All of the other schools of psychotherapy only provide models for individual psychotherapy, not family therapy.
Principle Professional Figures: Bowen, Minuchin, Haley, Madanes, Satir, Goldenberg. There is a substantial scientifically grounded research and professional literature for family system therapy.
Intersubjectivity: The “intersubjective” brain system is a neurologically based (mirror neurons) primary motivational system of the brain responsible for creating the psychological connection of a shared psychological state. The scientific study of the relationship systems of attachment and intersubjectivity are closely associated, with considerable linkages, cross-pollination, and associations of constructs.
Principle Professional Figures: Stern, Tronick, Trevarthan, Fonagy, Stolorow, Siegel. There is a substantial research and professional literature foundation in the scientifically grounded field of intersubjectivity.
Complex Trauma: The field of complex trauma contains extensive scientific literature on the impact of relationship-based complex trauma on the developing brain of the child. The literature and scientific research surrounding complex trauma is closely linked to the literature and scientific research on the attachment system, since parent-created trauma will substantially impact the love-and-bonding system of the brain; the attachment system
Principle Professional Figures: Perry, van der Kolk. There is a substantial research and professional literature foundation surrounding complex trauma.
Acquiring Professional Knowledge
There are a variety of ways that a mental health professional can acquire the professional knowledge and competence needed to assess and diagnose attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce. I have made my 40-page AB-PA reference list available on my website. Reading the material on that reference list is one way.
Start with Bowlby, Minuchin, Millon, Beck, and Kernberg. Then expand into Lyons-Ruth and disorganized attachment, Stern and Tronick on intersubjectivity, Linehan on personality disorder pathology, and Minuchin, Haley, and Bowen regarding family systems therapy. Goldenberg and Goldenberg provide a nice summary of family systems therapy and its constructs.
Look to the research literature on the attachment origins of personality pathology, Fonagy is particularly valuable. Van der Kolk on developmental trauma and the trans-generational transmission of trauma is also particularly valuable.
The pathology of concern is called “pathological mourning” (Bowlby, 1980). It’s being caused by the psychological collapse of self-structure organization in a narcissistic/(borderline) parent (Beck; Millon; Linehan) triggered by the rejection and abandonment of the spousal attachment figure through the divorce.
The characterological structure of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is inherently unable to process the sadness, grief, and loss surrounding the divorce (the loss of the attachment-figure), and is instead translating “feelings of sadness and mournful longing” into “anger and resentment loaded with revengeful wishes” (Kernberg, 1977).
In response to the collapse of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality structure triggered by the inherent spousal rejection and abandonment of divorce, the narcissistic/(borderline) personality parent triangulates the child (Bowen, 1978, Minuchin, 1974; Juni, 1995) into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with the child against the targeted parent (Minuchin, 1974; Haley, 1977).
The loss of psychological boundaries discussed by Minuchin as an “enmeshed relationship” involves the “intersubjective field” described by Stern, Tronick, Fonagy, Siegel. In his seminal work describing family systems, Bowen describes that poor “differentiation” of psychological boundaries within the family, originating from unprocessed “multigenerational trauma,” represents the causal factor in creating “emotional cutoffs” in families.
This is all standard and established, scientifically supported professional literature. The fact that this scientifically grounded information is not being applied to the solution of attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce speaks more to the ignorance and incompetence of the mental health professionals than it does to our inability to solve pathology. We can absolutely solve this pathology, once we return to the standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology.
The issue is knowledge, professional level knowledge. Mental health professionals can acquire the necessary knowledge and competence in a variety of ways. My personal AB-PA reference list is available (Dr. Childress: AB-PA Reference List).
What I do in Foundations is to pull together all of the relevant scientifically established information from professional psychology and apply it to the attachment-related family pathology of a child rejecting a parent surrounding divorce. Foundations and the attachment-based description of the pathology it provides makes it easier for mental health professionals to acquire broad basic levels of professional knowledge and competence necessary to solve the pathology.
But AB-PA is not the moon, it is not the scientifically grounded knowledge of professional psychology itself. AB-PA merely points to the moon. AB-PA simply applies the already existing scientifically grounded knowledge of professional psychology to the attachment-related family pathology of a child rejecting a parent surrounding divorce.
“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
Science: Verifiable Predictions
The thing that I like about science is that it is verfiable. Scientifically established constructs provide predictions that are testable.
AB-PA is a scientifically based model of pathology and it makes a verifiable prediction:
Verifiable Prediction: Weaponization of the child into the spousal conflict by a narcissistic/(borderline) personality parent creates a constellation of three disparate, distinctive, and otherwise impossible to explain symptoms;
1) Attachment system suppression toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent,
2) Narcissistic personality disorder traits in the child’s symptom display (the “psychological fingerprints” of control by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent);
3) An ecapsulated persecutory delusional belief evidenced in the child’s symptom display regarding the child’s supposed “victimization” by the normal-range parenting of the targeted parent.
This represents a verifiable or refutable prediction made by AB-PA. Are these three disparate symptoms found in the child’s symptom display? Look. See if they are there. Test the prediction. Are these three symptoms evident in the child’s symptom display?
This is called the scientific method. Collect evidence to test the prediction.
If these three symptoms are present in the child’s symptom display… then this set of symptoms requires explanation. AB-PA not only explains the symptoms – it predicts exactly this symptom pattern.
This is called scientifically based practice. The model makes a verifiable or refutable prediction. Evidence is collected, and the prediction is either confirmed or disconfirmed. Scientifically based practice.
The thing that I like about science is it is provable. It produces predictions that can be tested and verified. Are these three symptoms present in the child’s symptom display? Testable. Provable.
AB-PA Pilot Program for the Family Courts
We are now beginning the process of actualizing the solution provided by scientifically grounded professional practice. The AB-PA pilot program for the family courts is designed to solve the attachment-related family pathology of “parental alienation” as defined through the scientifically established constructs and principles of professional psychology;
Family Systems Clinical Definition: The child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with an allied parent against the targeted parent, resulting in an emotional cutoff in the child’s relationship with the targeted parent.
Attachment System Clinical Definition: The trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the current family relationships, mediated by the personality disorder pathology of the allied parent that is itself a product of this parent’s childhood attachment trauma.
Notice that I did not rely on any construct called “parental alienation” in either of these professional-level clinical descriptions of pathology. We are returning to the standard and established – scientifically validated – constructs and principles of professional psychology.
We can absolutely solve this pathology once we return to the standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology. The AB-PA pilot program for the family courts does this. The goal of the AB-PA pilot program for the family courts is to provide the Court with the highest caliber of professional knowledge and expertise in solving attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce.
Scientifically grounded professional practice.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
The Key to Solving High-Conflict Divorce in the Family Courts: Proposal for a Pilot Program in the Family Law Courts