Psychologists are not allowed to harm people.
Both parents in divorce are people, we are not allowed to hurt either one.
Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct of the American Psychological Association
3.04 Avoiding Harm
(a) Psychologists take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, organizational clients, and others with whom they work, and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable.
Forensic psychologists harm people, a lot of people. They make recommendations that parents should not be allowed to see their children – yet they make no DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse that would justify the recommendation.
The emotional grief and emotional harm done to the targeted parent is severe and is clearly foreseeable. It is also avoidable. Develop a treatment plan instead.
Professional psychology should not be in the business of deciding custody visitation schedules. That is the court’s job. We are treatment.
The only justification to separate a parent and child is child abuse, and then, only for as long as the active threat of child abuse exists. In cases of child abuse, we provide collateral therapy for the parent and restore the parent-child bond as soon as it is safe and practical. In clinical psychology, we don’t separate children from parents unless it’s a case of child abuse
In clinical psychology, we diagnose child abuse:
DSM-5 Child Physical Abuse (V995.54; p. 717)
DSM-5 Child Sexual Abuse (V995.53; p. 718)
DSM-5 Child Neglect (V995.51; p. 718)
DSM-5 Child Psychological Abuse (V995.51; p. 719)
If there is no DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse, then there is no professional justification to separate the child from the parent.
Courts decide on custody visitation schedules. Psychologists diagnose and treat pathology, and the treatment plan of professional psychology does not harm people.
Custody Visitation Schedules
There are three basic custody visitation schedule options:
Default 1: 50-50 Shared. This would be the recommended default option from clinical psychology based on the following: There are four foundational parent-child relationships, father-son, father-daughter, mother-son, mother-daughter. Each is unique, each is equally valuable, none are replaceable by the other.
There is no supported reason to give primacy to one type of bond over the other in the importance to the child’s healthy development. Each relationship is unique. Therefore, the default recommendation from clinical psychology would be a shared 50-50 schedule in all cases except child abuse.
Parents can mutually decide on alternative schedule patterns that meet their needs, but the default recommendation from clinical psychology is 50-50 shared custody in all cases except child abuse.
Default 2: Every-Other-Weekend. If a 50-50 schedule is not practical or achievable for some reason, then the next default option would be to an every-other-weekend schedule for one parent, with the primary residential parent having the school-week schedule. This will have positive and negative features that are unavoidable from this schedule.
If there is a choice (avoidable), clinical psychology recommends a 50-50 schedule in all cases except child abuse. If that is not practical or other factors apply (unavoidable), then – the court – can decide on an every-other-weekend schedule.
This will harm the parent-child relationship with the less-visited parent, and will therefore harm both parent and child. There are no scientifically established grounds for clinical psychology to select an every-other-weekend schedule over a 50-50 schedule, and without justification there is no reason for clinical psychology to ever recommend an every-other-weekend schedule when a 50-50 schedule is practical and available, except a DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse.
Default 3: School Year/Vacations. If distance factors prevent an every-other-weekend schedule, then one parent receives primary physical custody during the school year and the other parent receives time advantages on the vacation schedule to compensate. This will have positive and negative features that are unavoidable from this schedule.
This will harm both parents and the child. If it can be avoided by either of the other two visitation schedules, then the 50-50 shared custody schedule or the every-other-weekend schedule are recommended as less harmful to the involved people.
Schedules of no contact with the mother (the child receiving zero mom-love) or no contact with the father (zero dad-love reaching the child) are NOT healthy and are severely harmful to the parent and to the child. Since schedules of no-contact (no mom-love or no dad-love reaching the child) are harmful, visitation schedules of no-contact (or severely limited contact that essentially represents no substantial normal-range involvement) should be avoided under Standard 3.04a.
The ONLY justification for separating a child from a parent is child abuse, and child abuse should be accompanied by a DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse made by the mental health professional.
Supervision of parent-child contact is only used with a documented DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse.
Forensic Child Custody Evaluations
Forensic child custody evaluations are routinely in violation of Standard 3.04a in harming the targeted parent (targeted for spousal IPV using the child as a weapon).
The custody visitation time with the targeted parent is often reduced and sometimes eliminated WITHOUT a corresponding DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse to warrant the separation. This causes severe harm to the targeted-rejected parent (and to the child).
Psychologists are not allowed to harm targeted parents with their recommendations. If a separation (harm) is necessary and unavoidable (child protection), then it needs to be accompanied by a DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse.
Any family conflict is a treatment issue, not a custody issue. Courts decide custody schedules, psychologist diagnose and treat pathology.
The Referral Question
Psychologists assess to the referral question. The referral question, “What should the child’s custody schedule be?” is over-broad and unanswerable from the knowledge base of professional psychology. It is also the court’s decision
Clinical psychology – all clinical psychologists – should refuse this referral question for assessment and should help the client (the parents and court) refine the referral question directed to professional psychology to one that is answerable by professional psychology, such as what is the pathology in the family and what is its treatment.
Professional psychology assesses, diagnoses, and treats pathology, including family pathology (family systems therapy). The referral to professional psychology should address those areas, the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of pathology – not custody visitation schedules following divorce, that is the court’s decision.
If clinical psychology is asked for a recommendation, it should be the three default options in order, and we do not separate parents and children except in cases of child abuse, and then only with a corresponding DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse to warrant the separation. We then develop a written treatment plan to alleviate the risk of child abuse and we restore the parent-child bond as quickly as is safe and possible.
Psychologists are not allowed to hurt people, and targeted parents are people.
Forensic psychology evaluations routinely provide NO treatment discussion or recommendations other than referral for unspecified treatment. Often, the referral is to “reunification therapy” which is a non-existent form of therapy – no professional book or journal article has ever been written that describe a model of therapy called “reunification therapy.”
If child custody evaluations refer to therapy, it should be to an actual existing form of psychotherapy – such as family systems therapy – and the treatment issues and structure for a treatment plan should be specifically identified in the referral (e.g., high-anger parenting, disengaged neglectful parenting, a cross-generational coalition, unresolved parental trauma, etc.).
If harm is done to one parent, then this harm should be unavoidable and the “Evaluator” should take steps to minimize the harm, such as by describing the recommended 6-week to 12-week treatment plan for restoration of the parent-child bond, with benchmarks and outcome measures for ongoing assessment of treatment progress.
All psychologists treating any form of pathology are required to know the treatment approaches for that pathology. Family conflict with normal-range family members is 100% treatable and solvable. If the family contains a member who is not “normal-range,” then this feature of the family needs to be documented by the assessing psychologist as a DSM-5 diagnosis to allow adjustments to the treatment plan.
Separation of the child from the parent (i.e., less than an every-other-weekend schedule) is only professionally justified in cases of child protection, and cases of child protection should be accompanied by a professional DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse. A treatment plan should then be provided that will resolve the threat of child abuse and restore the parent-child bond.
Psychologists are not allowed to harm people. Targeted parents are people.
The only reason to ever separate a child from a parent is child abuse, and any recommendation from professional psychology for any separation of the child from a parent needs to be accompanied by a corresponding DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse. Without such a DSM-5 diagnosis, there is no risk of child abuse so there is no need for “protection” of the child.
All recommendations surrounding child custody should be treatment oriented and treatment focused. That is the professional domain of clinical psychology, that is our value to the court. Professional psychology does not decide on custody visitation schedules following divorce – the courts do.
Professional psychology assesses, diagnoses, and treats pathology. That is the scope and domain of professional psychologists.
If the recommendations of a forensic child custody evaluation harm anyone, and the targeted parent is included as a person, then the recommendation of the forensic psychologist is in violation of Standard 3.04a of the APA ethics code (Avoiding Harm), and the burden of proof falls to the forensic psychologist to demonstrate that the harm to the targeted parent was not “avoidable” by any other recommendation (such as a treatment-focused recommendation), and the forensic psychologist must take affirmative action to minimize the harm that is not avoidable by any other recommendations.
Targeted parents are people. The decisions and recommendations of forensic psychologists cannot harm them.
“Greater Good” Justification
This includes a “Greater Good” justification that harming the targeted parent is of benefit to the child and other parent. This “Greater Good” justification is addressed in Standard 3.04b. Psychologists are not even allowed to participate in harming terrorists, even if such enhanced interrogation could save the lives of others. If psychologists are specifically prohibited in participating in harm to a terrorist, this applies as well to parents following a divorce – both parents.
Forensic psychologists need to get out of the business of providing custody recommendations to the court. Deciding custody visitation schedules is the court’s obligation. Professional psychology is the field that diagnoses and treats pathology. That’s the appropriate professional role for psychology in the courts.
Psychologists are not allowed to hurt people. Targeted parents are people.
Causing harm to a person because they “deserve” to suffer, because they are a “bad parent,” based on loosely defined or non-defined criteria is in violation of Standard 3.04a of the APA ethics code and is in violation of the professional’s “duty of care” for all of their clients… including the targeted parent – they are a person, and they are a client as well in the family system.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857