This is my fifth post of my line-by-line notes for the AFCC & NCJFCJ Joint Statement on Parent-Child Contact Problems.
Notes 5 is in response to the fourth sentence of the Problem Statement, and the first title in their recommended “considerations”.
Line-by-Line Notes 5
From the AFCC & NCJFCJ:
“AFCC and NCJFCJ support transparent, informed, and deliberate dialogue and response to parent-child contact problems following separation and divorce, or when the parents have never resided together, by adhering to the following considerations:
1. Adopt a child-centered approach”
Dr Childress Notes 5:
There is no such diagnostic pathology as “parent-child contact problems” that is supported by the research literature. It is a made-up new pathology proposal. Professional organizations should use professional-level constructs when discussing pathology (problems).
- The correct professional construct is attachment pathology.
- The correct professional construct is child abuse.
From the AFCC & NCJFCJ: “transparent, informed, and deliberate dialogue and response…”
This statement is vague to the point of uselessness. Diagnosis guides the treatment “response”. Are they intervening with cancer or diabetes? First, identify what the problem is, i.e., first diagnose what the pathology is.
- We must first diagnose what the pathology is before we know how to treat it. We must first identify what the problem is before we know how to fix it.
Diagnose = identify
Pathology = problem
Treatment = fix it
Diagnosis is made based on a pattern-match of symptoms to diagnostic criteria.
- For “transparency” – clearly collect and document the relevant symptoms for the various differential diagnostic possibilities.
- For “informed” – apply the diagnostic criteria and the established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline of psychology to the symptom evidence.
- For “deliberate dialogue” in professional psychology, seek a second-opinion on diagnoses based on the pattern-match of symptoms to diagnostic criteria.
From Improving Diagnosis: “Referral and Consultation. Clinicians may refer to or consult with other clinicians (formally or informally) to seek additional expertise about a patient’s health problem. The consult may help to confirm or reject the working diagnosis or may provide information on potential treatment options. If a patient’s health problem is outside a clinician’s area of expertise, he or she can refer the patient to a clinician who holds more suitable expertise. Clinicians can also recommend that the patient seek a second opinion from another clinician to verify their impressions of an uncertain diagnosis or if they believe that this would be helpful to the patient.”
Improving Diagnosis in Healthcare, a report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26803862/
In clinical psychology (and all of healthcare), diagnosis guides treatment. The appellate system for a disputed diagnosis in healthcare is a second opinion.
From the AFCC & NCJFCJ: “1. Adopt a child-centered approach”
This is manipulative because it contains a false straw man implication that anyone opposing their position takes an approach that is harmful for the child. It assumes by implication that one side has a “child-centered approach” while the other side has the opposite, i.e., a self-centered approach. This is a false assertion by implication.
The framing by itself discounts opposing viewpoints as being “selfish and self-centered”. This is incorrect. It is a false implication.
Everyone wants what’s best for the child, they simply disagree as to what that is. To attribute a “child-centered approach” to your side and attribute by implication that the motivation of those who look at a broader context is a ‘self-centered approach’ is fundamentally wrong and manipulatively misguided.
Everyone wants what is best for the child. That is the truth. One side is not “child-centered” while the other side is “self-centered” by implication – that is a false framing.
The center should not be on the child or on the parent. The center should be on the truth. What is the accurate diagnosis of the problem in the family? Identify the pathology. Then develop a written treatment plan to fix it. That is a center based on the truth. What is the diagnosis?
Identify what the problem is. Diagnose what the pathology is.
The center for treatment should be on the family that surrounds the child, because a healthy or unhealthy family is the context in which the child develops. A “Child Centered Approach” within an unhealthy family with unhealthy parents is a misguided approach. A family-centered approach that provides the child with a healthy family context for development is the proper treatment-oriented approach to conflict resolution within the family.
The focus should be on the family, and on the restoration of healthy attachment bonds in the parent-child relationships within the family context. If there is parental pathology distorting the family relationships, then a focus on the parental pathology and its impact becomes the focus.
A “Child-Centered Approach” misunderstands how families function, and how children become caught up and “triangulated” into the spousal conflict.
From the Bowen Center: “A triangle is a three-person relationship system. It is considered the building block or “molecule” of larger emotional systems because a triangle is the smallest stable relationship system. A two-person system is unstable because it tolerates little tension before involving a third person. A triangle can contain much more tension without involving another person because the tension can shift around three relationships. If the tension is too high for one triangle to contain, it spreads to a series of “interlocking” triangles. Spreading the tension can stabilize a system, but nothing is resolved.”
The Bowen Center Triangles: https://www.thebowencenter.org/triangles
Is the cause of the child’s attachment pathology a two-person parent-child problem caused by the targeted parent? Or is the cause of the child’s attachment pathology a three-person parent-child-parent triangle (a cross-generational coalition of the child with one parent against the other parent).
If the child is being abused by a parent, then diagnose the child abuse and protect the child.
In the absence of child abuse, parents have leadership responsibilities within the family.
From Minuchin: “Children and parents, and sometimes therapists, frequently describe the ideal family as a democracy. But they mistakenly assume that a democratic society is leaderless, or that a family is a society of peers. Effective functioning requires that parent and children accept the fact that the differentiated use of authority is a necessary ingredient for the parental subsystem. This becomes a social training lab for the children, who need to know how to negotiate in situations of unequal power.” (p. 58)
In the absence of child abuse, parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values. In the absence of child abuse, each parent should have as much time and involvement with the child as possible.
Is there child abuse? That is the relevant question for psychologists and the courts.
Psychologists and the courts should NOT be deciding on who ‘deserves’ to be a parent based on arbitrary and unsupported criteria. In the absence of child abuse, parents have the right to be parents in accord with their cultural values, personal values, and religious values. The relevant consideration for psychologists and the courts is whether there is child abuse.
The concern for professional psychology and the courts is possible child abuse whenever there is severe attachment pathology being displayed by the child. In ALL cases of severe attachment pathology surrounding divorce, a proper risk assessment for possible child abuse needs to be conducted to the differential diagnosis of:
- Possible child abuse by the targeted parent creating the child’s attachment pathology toward that parent, i.e., a two-person attribution of causality,
- Possible Child Psychological Abuse (DSM-5 V995.51) by the allied narcissistic-borderline-dark personality parent who is creating a shared persecutory delusion in the child that then destroys the child’s attachment bond to the other parent, for the secondary gain of manipulating the court’s decision surrounding child custody – i.e., creating a false attachment pathology imposed on the child – a Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another (DSM-5 300.19), i.e., a three-person triangle attribution of causality.
The potential family pathological concern is that the child is being “triangulated” into the spousal conflict by the formation of a “cross-generational coalition” of the child with the allied parent against the targeted parent, resulting in an “emotional cutoff” in the child’s attachment pathology toward the parent, as represented in this Structural family diagram from Minuchin,
A characteristic symptom created by a “cross-generational coalition” of the child with the allied parent is called an “inverted hierarchy” in which the child becomes over-empowered by the alliance with one parent to an elevated position in the family hierarchy above the targeted parent, from which the child judges the adequacy of the targeted parent as if the parent was the child and the child was the parent.
This “inverted hierarchy” created by a cross-generational coalition of the child with one parent against the other needs to be properly assessed, and a strictly “child-centered” rather than a broader “family-centered” focus runs the risk of misunderstanding the child’s symptoms within the broader family context.
Based on the application of constructs and principles from family systems therapy, a “child-centered” approach will potentially mask and hide the family pathology behind the cloak of a limited-scope focus on the child’s induced symptoms. A family-centered approach that recognizes the importance of healthy parent-child attachment bonds and the potential triangulation of the child into the family conflict is recommended.
From Stone, Buehler, & Barber: “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, & Barber, 2002, p. 86-87)
The construct of “child-centered” also fails to adequately consider parental psychological control of the child, in which the child is coerced and manipulated into sharing the beliefs of the allied parent (as noted by Stone, Buehler, & Barber above).
The manipulative psychological control of the child by a parent is a scientifically established family relationship pattern in dysfunctional family systems. In his book regarding parental psychological control of children, Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents, published by the American Psychological Association, Brian Barber and his colleague, Elizabeth Harmon, identify over 30 empirically validated scientific studies that have established the construct of parental psychological control of children.
Barber, B. K. (Ed.) (2002). Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
In Chapter 2 of Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents, Brian Barber and Elizabeth Harmon provide the following definition for the construct of parental psychological control of the child:
From Barber & Harmon: “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)
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.
According to Stone, Bueler, and Barber:
Stone, Bueler, & Barber: “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, & Barber, 2002, p. 57)
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.
Soenens and Vansteenkiste (2010) describe the various methods used to achieve parental psychological control of the child:
From Soenens and Vansteenkiste: “Psychological control can be expressed through a variety of parental tactics, including (a) guilt-induction, which refers to the use of guilt inducing strategies to pressure children to comply with a parental request; (b) contingent love or love withdrawal, where parents make their attention, interest, care, and love contingent upon the children’s attainment of parental standards; (c) instilling anxiety, which refers to the induction of anxiety to make children comply with parental requests; and (d) invalidation of the child’s perspective, which pertains to parental constraining of the child’s spontaneous expression of thoughts and feelings.” (Soenens & Vansteenkiste, 2010, p. 75)
Soenens, B., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2010). A theoretical upgrade of the concept of parental psychological control: Proposing new insights on the basis of self-determination theory. Developmental Review, 30, 74–99.
A proposal for a “child-centered” approach will need to include the assessment of a potentially compromised “independent sense of self and identity” with the child due to the manipulative psychological control of the child by the allied parent.
From Kerig: “Rather than telling the child directly what to do or think, as does the behaviorally controlling parent, the psychologically controlling parent uses indirect hints and responds with guilt induction or withdrawal of love if the child refuses to comply. In short, an intrusive parent strives to manipulate the child’s thoughts and feelings in such a way that the child’s psyche will conform to the parent’s wishes.” (p. 12)
Kerig, P.K. (2005). Revisiting the construct of boundary dissolution: A multidimensional perspective. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 5, 5-42.
It is always “child-centered” to protect the child from child abuse. A “child-centered” approach would also entail conducting a proper risk assessment for all cases of severe attachment pathology displayed by a child toward a parent to the differential diagnosis of:
- Possible child abuse by the targeted parent creating the child’s attachment pathology toward that parent, i.e., a two-person attribution of causality),
- Possible Child Psychological Abuse (DSM-5 V995.51) by an allied narcissistic-borderline-dark personality parent who is creating a shared persecutory delusion in the child that then destroys the child’s attachment bond to the other parent, for the secondary gain of manipulating the court’s decision surrounding child custody – a false attachment pathology imposed on the child – a Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another (DSM-5 300.19), i.e., a three-person triangular attribution of causality.
Protecting children from child abuse is always “child-centered”.
Finally, a “child-centered” approach disregards the potential IPV spousal emotional and psychological abuse of the targeted parent by the allied parent using the child as the weapon, a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.82. Protecting all persons from all forms of abuse is required by professional duty to protect obligations.
In all cases of severe attachment pathology surrounding court-involved family conflict, a proper risk assessment for possible spousal emotional and psychological abuse of one spouse-and-parent by the other spouse-and-parent using the child as the weapon needs to be conducted.
All mental health professionals have duty to protect obligations for all persons for all forms of abuse.
A family-centered approach is recommended, and for a variety of reasons, a child-centered approach is contra-indicated – except to the extent that protecting children from child abuse is always child-centered.
When child abuse is a considered diagnosis, a proper risk assessment needs to be conducted.
In the absence of child abuse, parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values.
The relevant issues for the psychologists and the court is whether there is child abuse or spousal abuse using the child as the weapon. A proper risk assessment for both of these possible abuse diagnoses needs to occur.
Dr. Childress Notes 5.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, CA PSY 18857