In my younger days I used to work in the construction industry, hanging drywall. The construction of any structure occurs in phases and is based on a plan, a blueprint.
In building any structure, we begin by laying the foundation. Upon this foundation, the framing of the structure is then built. As the framing is constructed, the electricians and plumbers weave in their infrastructures. Then the drywall is hung which constructs the functional spaces of the structure. The structure is then completed by installing the doors, windows, and roofing.
The structure for the AB-PA pilot program for the family courts begins with the blueprint, the plan, and will be constructed in integrated phases.
First, we lay the foundation in the standard and established, scientifically grounded, constructs and principles of professional psychology. This will occur with the three AB-PA Certification seminars on May 22, 23, and 24, and it will continue throughout the project. The AB-PA pilot program for the family courts is based on the standard and established, scientifically grounded, constructs and principles of professional psychology.
The AB-PA Certification seminars frame the structure for the treatment team, the pairing of an AB-PA Certified family therapist with an AB-PA Knowledgeable amicus attorney to stabilize family pathology and ensure the family’s successful transition to a normal-range separated family structure.
Within the professionally and scientifically grounded structure of the AB-PA pilot program, we then construct the inner structure of professional knowledge and expertise, the professional skill sets, of the AB-PA pilot program for the Court;
1.) Treatment Focused Assessment Protocol: A structured and standardized six-session treatment focused assessment protocol for attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce,
2.) Contingent Visitation Schedule: A defined and structured Strategic family systems intervention for stabilizing pathogenic parenting in high-conflict divorce.
The next phase in the development of the AB-PA pilot program structure is to create the “rooms” comprised of the actual clinical care, consisting of monthly online clinical consultation groups that build the treatment team.
The AB-PA pilot program for the family courts will rely on a treatment team clinical care model. This is a critical aspect of the AB-PA pilot program for the family courts, the creation of a treatment team approach. This improves all aspects of clinical care and development of professional expertise.
Finally, we add the doors and windows to our structure, the program evaluation research component of the project.
There is also a house paint and landscaping phase of the pilot program for the family courts. This represents partnerships with local area universities for additional research projects regarding high-conflict family pathology, and clinical internship training programs for building the next generation of professional knowledge and expertise.
Baseline of Professional Knowledge
The AB-PA pilot program for the family courts creates a baseline of professional knowledge and competence in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce. We then build upon this structure.
The goal of the AB-PA pilot program is to provide the Court with the highest caliber of professional expertise in clinical psychology; assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. Decisions within the AB-PA pilot program are based on current scientific foundations and established constructs and principles of professional psychology.
Ultimately, the highest caliber of professional knowledge is expected in four domains of professional psychology:
The Attachment System: Bowlby and the research literature on the attachment system.
Personality Disorder Pathology: Beck, Millon, Linehan, Kernberg and the research literature on personality disorder pathology (including the linkages of personality disorder pathology to attachment pathology).
Family Systems Therapy: Bowen, Minuchin, Haley, and the family systems literature in professional psychology.
Complex Trauma: Perry, van der Kolk, and the research literature on the origins and impact of complex trauma in childhood.
These are grounded domains of professional knowledge with established and defined professional information sets directly relevant and applicable to the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce.
The days of tolerance for professional ignorance and incompetence are over. The Courts deserve the highest caliber of professional knowledge and expertise from professional psychology, and it is the obligation of professional psychology to provide the highest caliber of professional expertise to the Court. The goal of the AB-PA pilot program will be to provide the Court with this professional knowledge and professional skill.
Court-Involved Clinical Psychology
The AB-PA pilot program for the family courts in Houston represents the return of clinical psychology to court-involved professional practice.
Child custody evaluations are over-broad in their referral question, are arbitrary and lack scientific validity, and deny equal access to justice by being prohibitively expensive ($20,000 – $40,000 per assessment).
A foundational axiomatic principle of assessment in clinical psychology is to always assess to the referral question. A well-formulated referral question for assessment defines and focuses the assessment procedures. A focused referral question also substantially improves the psychometic qualities of the assessment procedure.
The referral question from the Court is NOT what the child custody time-share should be. The information to answer such an over-broad referral question is not available from professional psychology that would allow for an answer.
The only scientifically and theoretically supported answer from professional psychology would be for shared 50-50% custody based on the equal valuation of all four primary parent-child relationships; mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, father-daughter. Each of these relationships is unique, each is critical to healthy child development, they are each of equal value, and none of these relationship types are expendable.
Based on an equal valuation of all four primary parenting types (father-son, father-daughter, mother-son, mother-daughter), the only supported professional opinion would be for shared 50-50% custody visitation time-share in all cases except child abuse. There is no scientific or theoretical justification for giving primacy to any of these relationship types over any other.
The referral question from the Court is not about the custody visitation time-share schedule. The Court can exercise its normal-range judgement for cases where a deviation from a professional recommendation for a 50-50% custody visitation time-share is warranted.
The issue before the Court is what orders are needed to resolve the high family conflict that is creating excessive litigation and destructive family processes. The referral question from the Court to professional psychology is to identify which parent is creating the child’s attachment-related pathology, and what are the treatment implications?
This is a much more focused and targeted referral question that is fully within the scope of clinical psychology to answer. A structured and standardized six-session treatment focused assessment protocol for attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce can provide the Court with this answer.
Based on the family data from the treatment focused assessment, the Court can make data-driven decisions regarding the course of action. If significant pathology is identified in the treatment focused assessment (documented on the Parenting Practices Rating Scale and the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting for Court review), then an AB-PA treatment team can be constructed by pairing an AB-PA Certified stabilizing family therapist with an AB-PA Knowledgeable amicus attorney. The role of the AB-PA Knowledgeable amicus attorney is to serve as the interface between the stabilizing family therapist and the Court.
The AB-PA Certified mental health professionals in the pilot program for the family courts will participate in monthly online Clinical Case Consultation groups of approximately six mental health professionals. Each mental health professional will be expected to present at least one case during the year of case consultation groups. In addition, all intake assessments will be reviewed within the Clinical Case Consultation group. The amicus attorneys can participate in Clinical Case Consultation groups as warranted (for example, when a particular patient is being staffed in the consultation group).
The treatment team model in clinical psychology helps standardize and improve assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, the treatment team model of case consultation improves clinical decision-making, and the treatment team model in clinical psychology fosters the acquisition of professional knowledge and professional skill sets.
The AB-PA pilot program for the family courts serves as the ground foundation on which to build the highest caliber of scientifically based professional practice and professional expertise.
We build any structure by first laying the foundation. The foundation for the AB-PA pilot program in the family courts are the standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology, including established professional standards of practice in clinical psychology for assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.
We can absolutely solve attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce, once we return to the standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857