Trauma Reenactment in Parental Alienation

At its foundational core, the family processes of attachment-based “parental alienation” represent the manifestation of a trauma reenactment narrative of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent that is embedded in the distorted “internal working models,” or “schemas,” of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment networks.

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is psychologically decompensating into persecutory delusional beliefs due to the activation of excessive anxiety surrounding the perceived interpersonal rejection and perceived abandonment associated with the divorce (sometimes the triggering of this perceived rejection and abandonment is delayed until the spouse remarries).

One of the foremost experts in personality disorders, Theodore Millon, describes the propensity for the narcissistic personality structure to decompensate into persecutory delusional beliefs under stress,

“Under conditions of unrelieved adversity and failure, narcissists may decompensate into paranoid disorders. Owing to their excessive use of fantasy mechanisms, they are disposed to misinterpret events and to construct delusional beliefs. Unwilling to accept constraints on their independence and unable to accept the viewpoints of others, narcissists may isolate themselves from the corrective effects of shared thinking. Alone, they may ruminate and weave their beliefs into a network of fanciful and totally invalid suspicions. Among narcissists, delusions often take form after a serious challenge or setback has upset their image of superiority and omnipotence. They tend to exhibit compensatory grandiosity and jealousy delusions in which they reconstruct reality to match the image they are unable or unwilling to give up. Delusional systems may also develop as a result of having felt betrayed and humiliated. Here we may see the rapid unfolding of persecutory delusions and an arrogant grandiosity characterized by verbal attacks and bombast.”

The reenactment of attachment trauma is also documented in the clinical treatment literature,

“Reenactments of the traumatic past are common in the treatment of this population and frequently represent either explicit or coded repetitions of the unprocessed trauma in an attempt at mastery. Reenactments can be expressed psychologically, relationally, and somatically and may occur with conscious intent or with little awareness. One primary transference-countertransference dynamic involves reenactment of familiar roles of victim, perpetratorrescuer-bystander in the therapy relationship. Therapist and client play out these roles, often in complementary fashion with one another, as they relive various aspects of the client’s early attachment relationships. (Perlman & Courtois, 2005, p. 455)

In response to three separate but interrelated psychological stresses associated with the divorce, 1) the threatened collapse of the narcissistic defenses against the experience of primal inadequacy that is triggered by the perceived interpersonal rejection inherent to the divorce (i.e., narcissistic personality processes), 2) the activation of immense anxiety from severe abandonment fears triggered by the divorce (i.e., borderline personality processes), and 3) the reactivation of attachment trauma networks when the attachment system becomes active to mediate the loss experience associated with the divorce (trauma processes), the narcissistic/(borderline) personality decompensates into persecutory delusional beliefs centering on the other parent’s “abuse” potential relative to the child.

This decompensation into persecutory delusional beliefs is centered around the pattern contained in the internal working models (schemas) of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s traumatized attachment networks of 1) victimized child, 2) abusive parent, 3) protective parent. The split representation for the parent role in the attachment trauma networks is the product of the “splitting” dynamic that originated in the relationship trauma involving a parent (i.e, the parent of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a child) who simultaneously triggers attachment bonding and avoidance motivations.

“Various studies have found that patients with BPD [borderline personality disorder] are characterized by disorganized attachment representations (Fonagy et al., 1996; Patrick et al, 1994). Such attachment representations appear to be typical for persons with unresolved childhood traumas, especially when parental figures were involved, with direct, frightening behavior by the parent. Disorganized attachment is considered to result from an unresolvable situation for the child when “the parent is at the same time the source of fright as well as the potential haven of safety(van IJzendoorn, Schuengel, & Bakermans-Kranburg, 1999, p. 226).” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 191)

The family processes of attachment-based “parental alienation” are the product of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent creating a reenactment in the current family relationships of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s own attachment trauma patterns, or “schemas,” by inducing the child into adopting the “victimized child” role within the trauma reenactment narrative. The moment the child is induced into adopting the “victimized child” role, then this automatically IMPOSES upon, and DEFINES, the targeted parent into the role as the “abusive parent” in the trauma reenactment narrative. The definitions of these two trauma reenactment roles (which are created the moment the child adopts the “victimized child” role) then allows the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to adopt the coveted role in the trauma reenactment narrative as the wonderful and nurturing “protective parent,” in direct contrast to the role being imposed on the other parent as the all-bad “abusive parent.”

This artificially created reenactment of “various aspects” of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s own “early attachment relationships” (Perlman & Courtois, 2005, p. 455) represents a false drama in which the present is distorted into a re-creation of the past.

This is psychotic. The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is no longer in touch with actual reality, but is reliving and recreating early attachment relationships that do not reflect actual events in the current world.

The very term “borderline” to describe this type of personality process reflects the recognition of the psychotic core to this type of personality structure,

“The diagnosis of “borderline” was introduced in the 1930s to label patients with problems that seemed to fall somewhere in between neurosis and psychosis. (Beck et al, 2004, p. 189)

Narcissistic and borderline personality structures are simply variants of the same core processes.

“One subgroup of borderline patients, namely, the narcissistic personalities… seem to have a defensive organization similar to borderline conditions, and yet many of them function on a much better psychosocial level.” (Kernberg, 1975, p. xiii)

Delusions and Psychotic Processes

Many people in the general public, and many mental health professionals, have the mistaken belief that psychotic and delusional processes will manifest as overtly “crazy” and bizarre.  That’s not true.

Prior to obtaining my doctorate degree I first obtained a Master’s degree in Community/Clinical psychology and I worked for 15 years on a clinical research project at UCLA on schizophreria.  During my time with this project I was trained to clinical competence on a symptom rating scale called the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS) on which a variety of patient symptoms are rated, including psychotic symptoms, along a 7-point scale from mild to severe.

Psychotic symptoms can manifest along a continuum of severity, and are not always overtly bizarre.  This is especially true for a diagnosis of Delusional Disorder in which the only manifestation of the psychotic process is the presence of an intransigently held, fixed and false belief that is maintained despite contrary evidence.

The diagnostic criteria for the DSM-5 diagnosis of a Delusional Disorder specifically requires that that person’s general functioning is “not markedly impaired” or “obviously odd or bizarre.”

DSM-5 Delusional Disorder

Criterion C: “Apart from the impact of the delusion(s) or its ramifications, functioning is not markedly impaired and behavior is not obviously odd or bizarre.

The delusional belief of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in attachment-based “parental alienation” would be considered a nonbizarre “encapsulated” delusion.

Nonbizarre delusions express content that is within the realm of possibility, such as a fixed and false belief that the person’s spouse is having an extramarital affair. It’s possible that the person’s spouse is having an affair, extramarital affairs are not a bizarre occurrence, but it’s simply not true that the person’s spouse is having an extramarital affair.  Yet no amount of contrary evidence will convince the person that his or her belief in the spouse’s infidelity is wrong. The false belief is maintained despite contrary evidence.

An encapsulated delusion is limited and contained in its scope.  The jealousy delusion noted above would be an encapsulated delusion.  It’s presence and impact would not generally be evident.  Unless you asked the person specifically about the martial relationship you might never know of the existence of this delusional belief.

A bizarre delusion on the other hand, might be that people were inserting thoughts into the person’s mind (called “a delusion of control”). This false belief is outside the realm of plausibility.  This would also not be an encapsulated delusion since it affects a broad spectrum of the person’s perceptions and functioning.

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s delusional belief in attachment-based “parental alienation” stems from the trauma reenactment narrative and is the false belief that the other parent represents an abusive threat to the child.  It is delusional because this belief in the threat potential of the targeted parent is false and yet is maintained despite contrary evidence, it is a nonbizarre delusional belief because it is within the domain of possibility that a parent is abusive of a child, and it is an encapsulated delusion because this fixed and false belief is limited to only a narrow and contained domain of distortion, the perception of the other parent, and is not a false belief that affects a broad spectrum of the person’s perception.

At a deeper level, the delusional belief of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in the abusive parenting threat posed to the child by the targeted parent represents a component of a trauma reenactment in which the narcissistic/(borderline) parent distorts current reality into creating and reliving a reenactment of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s own childhood attachment trauma patterns.

Remember what Millon said about the decompensation of the narcissistic personality under stress,

“Unwilling to accept constraints on their independence and unable to accept the viewpoints of others, narcissists may isolate themselves from the corrective effects of shared thinking. Alone, they may ruminate and weave their beliefs into a network of fanciful and totally invalid suspicions.

The rumination and weaving of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in which they “reconstruct reality” is guided by the attachment patterns embedded in the internal working models, or schemas, of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment system.  The distorted beliefs take on the pattern of the attachment trauma, abusive parent – victimized child – protective parent.  It is the trauma reenactment narrative that is the fundamental psychotic process, of which the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s delusional belief in the abusive threat posed by the other parent is a surface manifestation.

The psychological processes associated with attachment-based “parental alienation” represent the interwoven expression within the family relationships of 1) personality disorder processes, 2) trauma-related processes, and 3) psychotic processes (i.e., the decompensation of narcissistic/(borderline) personality structures into delusional belief systems).

The presence of a delusional belief DOES NOT mean the person will act in an overtly abnormal way, and in the case of a narcissistic/(borderline) personality the person’s nonbizarre persecutory delusional belief may go entirely unrecognized by other people, including mental health professionals, who may mistakenly accept the plausible assertions of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as valid. 

After all, the story offered by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is not abnormal or bizarre, it’s not uncommon for a parent to be a bad parent who presents a risk of emotional abuse for a child, especially when the child is backing up this storyline, the narrative of the trauma reenactment, by adopting the role as the “victimized child,”  And the narcissistic/(borderline) parent presents so well, as articulate and self-assured, and as being so protective and caring for the child’s well-being.  Who suspects a delusional reenactment of childhood trauma when presented with this storyline.

A nonbizarre delusional belief is not always evident.

Professional Competence

The presence of psychotic processes is an extremely serious expression of psychopathology. That many mental health professionals are simply not recognizing and diagnosing the extreme psychopathology involved represents a highly disturbing reflection of the inadequate professional competence of these mental health professionals.

Personality disorders, the attachment system, trauma disorders, and delusional disorders are ALL established DSM constructs. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for mental health professionals to be missing the level of severe psychopathology involved. 

It doesn’t matter what their opinions are about the construct of “parental alienation,” they are required by professional practice standards to be knowledgeable about DSM disorders, particularly if they are treating that type of DSM disorder.

If a mental health professional is diagnosing and treating the family sequelae of trauma-related reenactments of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s psychological decompensation into delusional belief systems, in which the child is enacting the “victimized child” role within the reenactment narrative of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s traumatized attachment networks, then the diagnosing and treating mental health professional better know about trauma reenactments,  narcissistic and borderline personality presentations and processes, and the nature of “internal working models” of the attachment system.

If a plastic surgeon decides to diagnose and treat cancer without possessing the requisite knowledge, training, and background necessary for professional competence, and the patient dies because of the lack of professional knowledge and competence of the plastic surgeon in diagnosing and treating cancer, this would likely be considered malpractice.

If a podiatrist suddenly decided to do brain surgery on a patient’s brain tumor, and the patient dies as a result of the podiatrist’s lack of professional knowledge and competence regarding brain surgery, this would likely be considered malpractice.

Why is it considered malpractice in the medical profession for a doctor to practice beyond the boundaries of his or her professional knowledge and competence but it’s not considered malpractice in mental health?  Oh wait, it is considered malpractice in mental health too.

Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct of the American Psychological Association (2002)

Standard 2.02 Boundaries of Competence

“Psychologists provide services, teach and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study or professional experience.”

It doesn’t matter what they may think about the Gardnerian construct of “Parental Alienation Syndrome” or if they are familiar with the attachment-based model of “parental alienation” described in my writings and in my Master Lecture Series seminars.  Because all of the constructs I describe in an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” are established and accepted psychological constructs within the DSM diagnostic system, AND all of the constructs have a solid and established foundation in the research base of professional psychology.

It doesn’t matter if the plastic surgeon says that he doesn’t believe in this so-callled cancer disease (or never heard of cancer).  If a physician is going to diagnose and treat cancer then it is incumbent upon the physician to ensure that he or she has the necessary professional knowledge and expertise to diagnose and treat cancer. 

“Whoops, my mistake. Didn’t know what I was doing. Sorry.” is NOT an acceptable answer if the patient dies as a result of the professional’s lack of appropriate knowledge and professional competence.

It doesn’t matter if the podiatrist THINKS she can do brain surgery because she went to medical school.  To do brain surgery requires specialized professional knowledge and expertise.  Just because a physician went to medical school does not necessarily mean the physician is competent to do brain surgery without first taking steps to acquire the specialized professional knowledge and training necessary for brain surgery.

There is nothing “NEW” regarding an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” except that these established psychological constructs are being applied to the family processes traditionally called “parental alienation.” ALL of the psychological principles and constructs discussed in an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” are firmly established and accepted psychological principles and constructs that should be part of the professional competence for ALL mental health professionals generally, and particularly for mental health professionals who are diagnosing and treating this set of psychological issues.

If you don’t know what you’re diagnosing and treating, you should probably stay away from diagnosing and treating it.

Notice that in all of my writings, I put the term “parental alienation” in quotes. That’s because the term “parental alienation” represents a popularized lay term for the psychopathology involved.

The correct clinical term is pathogenic parenting (i.e., patho=pathological; genic=genesis, creation). The term pathogenic parenting refers to the creation of psychopathology in a child through aberrant and distorted parenting practices, and the actual clinical psychopathology involved is the psychological decompensation of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent into delusional belief systems that are manifesting through a reenactment of attachment trauma patterns into current family relationships.

When I first entered private practice from my position as the Clinical Director for a children’s assessment and treatment center I knew nothing about the construct of “parental alienation.”  My areas of specialty are ADHD, parent-child conflict, and marital and family therapy, and I have a secondary expertise in early childhood mental health and the neuro-development of the brain during childhood. 

When I ran across my first case of “parental alienation,” however, I was able to recognize the personality disorder processes, the delusional belief systems, and the trauma reenactment.  In my early writings on “parental alienation” I was discussing this clinical phenomenon as warranting the DSM-IV TR diagnosis of a Shared Psychotic Disorder and I was noting the descriptions contained within the DSM-IV TR regarding a Shared Psychotic Disorder diagnosis and the family processes traditionally described as “parental alienation,”

DSM-IV TR – Shared Psychotic Disorder:

“The essential features of Shared Psychotic Disorder (Folie a Deux) is a delusion that develops in an individual who is involved in a close relationship with another person (sometimes termed the “inducer” or “the primary case”) who already has a Psychotic Disorder with prominent delusions (Criteria A).” (American Psychiatric Association, DSM-IV TR, 2000,p. 332)

“Usually the primary case in Shared Psychotic Disorder is dominant in the relationship and gradually imposes the delusional system on the more passive and initially healthy second person. Individuals who come to share delusional beliefs are often related by blood or marriage and have lived together for a long time, sometimes in relative isolation. If the relationship with the primary case is interrupted, the delusional beliefs of the other individual usually diminish or disappear. Although most commonly seen in relationships of only two people, Shared Psychotic Disorder can occur in larger number of individuals, especially in family situations in which the parent is the primary case and the children, sometimes to varying degrees, adopt the parent’s delusional beliefs.” (American Psychiatric Association, DSM-IV TR, 2000,p. 333)

Aside from the delusional beliefs, behavior is usually not otherwise odd or unusual in Shared Psychotic Disorder.” (American Psychiatric Association, DSM-IV TR, 2000, p. 333)

With regard to the course of Shared Psychotic Disorder, the DSM-IV TR notes,

“Without intervention, the course is usually chronic, because this disorder most commonly occurs in relationships that are long-standing and resistant to change. With separation from the primary case, the individual’s delusional beliefs disappear, sometimes quickly and sometimes quite slowly.” (American Psychiatric Association, DSM-IV TR, 2000, p. 333)

When the diagnosis of Shared Psychotic Disorder was discontinued in the DSM-5 I wrote a paper currently up on my website in which I analyzed the clinical psychopathology of an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” relative to the newly revised DSM-5 diagnostic system, and I concluded that the clinical psychopathology represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of,

DSM-5 Diagnosis

309.4   Adjustment Disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct

V61.20   Parent-Child Relational Problem

V61.29   Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress

V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed

Of note, is that the diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder in the DSM-5 is in the category of “Trauma– & Stressor-Related Disorders.”

The clinical psychopathology involved is all comprised of standard psychological principles and constructs.  It is beyond me why this pathology hasn’t been identified and resolved earlier, other than the possibility that the field was so distracted by the debate over the Gardnerian model of PAS that no one bothered to define the pathology from within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.

The pathology is there, and it is clearly evident to anyone with a knowledge of the relevant domains of pathology, and ALL mental health professionals should have at least a basic knowledge of these relevant domains (i.e., personality disorders, delusions, trauma, the attachment system) as part of their foundational understanding of the DSM diagnostic system, since all of these constructs are in the DSM diagnostic system . 

I want to make sure I am entirely clear on this, ALL of the psychological constructs associated with an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” are established and accepted principles and constructs currently within professional psychology and the DSM diagnostic system.  There is absolutely NO REASON why mental health professionals have not, and are not currently, making the appropriate clinical and DSM-5 diagnosis of the pathology.

  • Narcissistic and borderline personality disorders are established and recognized constructs within the DSM diagnostic system.
  • Delusional beliefs are established and recognized constructs within the DSM diagnostic system.
  • The attachment system is a recognized construct within the DSM diagnostic system, and the attachment system has a substantial research base establishing it as a primary professional construct.
  • Trauma is a recognized construct within the DSM diagnostic system, and the construct of trauma has a substantial research base establishing it as a primary professional construct, including trauma reenactment.

Trauma Reenactment

Regarding the reenactment of trauma, van der Kolk describes the impact of childhood exposure to “developmental trauma,”

“After a child is traumatized multiple times, the imprint of the trauma becomes lodged in many aspects of his or her makeup… Unless this tendency to repeat the trauma is recognized, the response of the environment is likely to replay the original traumatizing, abusive, but familiar, relationships.” (van der Kolk 2005)

The recognition of trauma reenactment also includes the association of borderline personality symptoms to trauma reenactment processes:

Trippany, R. L., Helm, H. M., & Simpson, L. (2006). Trauma reenactment: Rethinking borderline personality disorder when diagnosing sexual abuse survivors. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 28(2), 95-110.

As is the role of attachment trauma reenactments in the treatment of trauma-related disorders:

Pearlman, C.A., Courtois, C.A. (2005). Clinical Applications of the Attachment Framework: Relational Treatment of Complex Trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 18, 449-459

According to van der Kolk,

“When the trauma fails to be integrated into the totality of a person’s life experiences, the victim remains fixated on the trauma. Despite avoidance of emotional involvement, traumatic memories cannot be avoided: even when pushed out of waking consciousness, they come back in the form of reenactments, nightmares, or feelings related to the trauma… Recurrences may continue throughout life during periods of stress.” (van der Kolk, 1987, p. 5)

There is absolutely NO REASON that the pathology associated with an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” is not currently recognized and addressed within mental health OTHER than professional ignorance and incompetence.

It is NOT an issue of “parental alienation,” the pathology being expressed in the family processes involves standard, established, and accepted constructs of psychopathology.

If ANY targeted parent is in a position of educating a mental health professional regarding the nature or degree of the psychopathology involved with the construct of attachment-based “parental alienation” then this is clear evidence that a podiatrist is doing brain surgery, i.e., that the mental health professional is practicing beyond the boundaries of professional competence in likely violation of professional practice standards. 

ALL diagnosing and treating mental health professionals should be sufficiently knowledgeable so that it is the mental health professional who is educating the targeted parent regarding the personality disorder dynamics, the delusional processes, the reenactment narrative structure, and the attachment system distortions involved in attachment-based “parental alienation,” NOT the other way around.

I have two invited Master Lecture Series seminars available online through California Southern University in which I discuss at a professional level the nature and severity of the pathology.  Mental health professionals can watch these seminars to become educated and aware of the pathology involved. 

It is NOT about “parental alienation.”  All of the involved principles and constructs are established and accepted principles and constructs within the DSM diagnostic system and the established professional research base.

If you don’t know what you are diagnosing and treating, then you probably shouldn’t be diagnosing and treating it.

Podiatrists are not allowed to perform brain surgery, plastic surgeons are not allowed to treat cancer.

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

References

Personality Disorder

Millon. T. (2011). Disorders of personality: introducing a DSM/ICD spectrum from normal to abnormal. Hoboken: Wiley.

Beck, A.T., Freeman, A., Davis, D.D., & Associates (2004). Cognitive therapy of personality disorders. (2nd edition). New York: Guilford.

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

Trauma Reenactment

Pearlman, C.A., Courtois, C.A. (2005). Clinical Applications of the Attachment Framework: Relational Treatment of Complex Trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 18, 449-459

van der Kolk, B.A. (2005). Developmental trauma disorder. Psychiatric Annals, 35(5), 401-408.

van der Kolk, B.A. (1987). The psychological consequences of overwhelming life experiences. In B.A. van der Kolk (Ed.) Psychological Trauma (1-30). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.

Trippany, R. L., Helm, H. M., & Simpson, L. (2006). Trauma reenactment: Rethinking borderline personality disorder when diagnosing sexual abuse survivors. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 28(2), 95-110.

Professional Standards

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

American Psychological Association (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57, 1060-1073.

Online Seminar on Diagnosis and Treatment

On November 21, 2014 from 10:00-12:00 Pacific Standard Time I will be presenting an online seminar through the Masters Lecture Series of California Southern University regarding the Diagnosis and Treatment of an attachment-based model for “parental alienation.”  

This seminar is offered free to the general public and the seminar will be recorded and made available online through California Southern University’s Master Lecture Series for later viewing.

Registration for this online seminar regarding the Diagnosis and Treatment of attachment-based “parental alienation” is at:

http://www.calsouthern.edu/content/events/treatment-of-attachment-based-parental-alienation/

This Diagnosis and Treatment seminar is a follow-up to my earlier online seminar regarding the Theoretical Foundations for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” that I delivered on July 18 through the Masters Lecture Series of California Southern University, and which is currently available at:

http://www.calsouthern.edu/content/events/parental-alienation-an-attachment-based-model/

My hope is that these two companion seminars will provide foundational information for mental health professionals in understanding, diagnosing, and treating the family dynamics associated with “parental alienation,” so that these seminars can serve as a resource to which targeted parents can refer diagnosing and treating mental health professionals to improve their understanding for the issues involved.

An attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” is based entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.  Within the field of mental health, all of these constructs are fully recognized and fully accepted psychological principles and constructs.

The family systems constructs of the child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition of the child with one parent against the other parent is an established psychological principle within family systems therapy (Haley, 1977; Munichin, 1974).  Minuchin refers to this cross-generational coalition as a “rigid triangle,” Haley refers to it as a “perverse triangle.”

“The rigid triangle can also take the form of a stable coalition. One of the parents joins the child in a rigidly bounded cross-generational coalition against the other parent.” (Minuchin, 1974, p. 102)

“The people responding to each other in the triangle are not peers, but one of them is of a different generation from the other two… In the process of their interaction together, the person of one generation forms a coalition with the person of the other generation against his peer. By ‘coalition’ is meant a process of joint action which is against the third person… The coalition between the two persons is denied. That is, there is certain behavior which indicates a coalition which, when it is queried, will be denied as a coalition… In essence, the perverse triangle is one in which the separation of generations is breached in a covert way. When this occurs as a repetitive pattern, the system will be pathological. (Haley, 1977, p. 37)

Narcissistic and borderline personality disorder processes are recognized forms of pathology within the DSM diagnostic system (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) and are fully elaborated and described by preeminent theorists in professional psychology (e.g., Beck, et. al. 2004; Kernberg, 1977; Linehan, 1993; Millon, 2011).

The attachment system is a well-established and accepted psychological construct within professional psychology, with substantial theoretical foundation and research support (Ainsworth, 1989; Bowlby, 1969; 1973; 1980; Bretherton, 1992).

There is nothing new or controversial in any of these psychological principles or constructs.  They are all established and accepted psychological principles and constructs with which all mental health professionals should be familiar as a matter of professional competence, particularly if they are diagnosing and treating issues involving a child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent that results in the induced suppression of the normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment system.

While targeted parents do not possess the professional background, training, and expertise in professional psychology to explain to the mental health professionals involved with their families the application of these established psychological principles and constructs , I do. 

In these two online seminars I explain to other mental health professionals the application of these accepted psychological principles and constructs to the family processes traditionally described as “parental alienation.”  Hopefully this professional-level dialogue can begin to shift the mental health community into greater professional expertise and responsiveness to the needs of targeted parents and their children that will be necessary if we are to resolve the family tragedy of “parental alienation” for all families in all cases.

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

References

Family Systems:

Haley, J. (1977). Toward a theory of pathological systems. In P. Watzlawick & J. Weakland (Eds.), The interactional view (pp. 31-48). New York: Norton.

Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and Family Therapy. Harvard University Press.

Personality Disorders:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Beck, A.T., Freeman, A., Davis, D.D., & Associates (2004). Cognitive therapy of personality disorders. (2nd edition). New York: Guilford.

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

Millon. T. (2011). Disorders of personality: introducing a DSM/ICD spectrum from normal to abnormal. Hoboken: Wiley.  

Attachment System:

Ainsworth, M.D.S. (1989). Attachments beyond infancy. American Psychologist, 44, 709-716.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. Attachment, Vol. 1. NY: Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. NY: Basic Books.

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

Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, 1992, 28, 759-775.

What Can I Tell the Court?

I received the following question from a targeted parent:

“I am in a custody/divorce battle that has gone on for over two years. I have spent every penny that I could raise on this, over $150k and I am now little more than a broken parent living on very little. I can no longer afford anything for my case so I am now representing myself in Court. I would love to get some ideas on how to present PA in Court.  Thanks much.”

I receive variations of this request a lot. I wish there was some positive answer I could offer.

This is exactly why the Gardnerian model of PAS is a failed paradigm. The Gardnerian PAS paradigm requires that the targeted parent prove “parental alienation” in Court, and this becomes a long and expensive process. Too expensive for all but a few parents, and it takes years of legal struggles.  And all the while, through the years of protracted legal battles trying to prove “parental alienation” in Court, the child’s symptoms become ever more severely entrenched, so that recovering the authentic child becomes increasingly difficult even if there is a positive outcome in Court.

But, except in the most severe cases of “parental alienation,” there is seldom a positive outcome in Court.

The Court will issues orders for custody and visitation that the narcissistic/(borderline) parent will ignore. The targeted parent will return to Court seeking contempt charges, and the Court will not levy sanctions but will instead modify its orders and stress to the narcissistic/(borderline) parent the importance of following Court orders, and these new orders will simply be ignored by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. The targeted parent will AGAIN need to return to Court to obtain the compliance of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent with the PREVIOUS Court orders and the judge will reprimand BOTH parents for not adequately co-parenting.

Meanwhile, time passes and the child’s symptoms become ever more severely entrenched, the child grows farther away from the love of the targeted parent, and the child increasingly surrenders with each passing day to the distorted influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The Court will order “reunification therapy,” even though no such thing as “reunification therapy” exists in any established models of psychotherapy (see On Unicorns, the Tooth Fairy, and Reunification Therapy post). The construct of “reunification therapy” is a fraud perpetrated by mental health professionals on the Court and public. No such thing exists.

I’m aware that “fraud” is a strong accusation, but this blog has a Comments section and I challenge any mental health professional to provide me with a professional reference for what “reunification therapy” entails.  None exists.   No model of “reunification therapy” has ever been proposed or defined within the professional literature. There is no such thing as “reunification therapy” and professional psychology should be ashamed of itself for fostering this “junk therapy” upon the Court and public.

Since “reunification therapy” has no established model, it is essentially whatever the “reunification” therapist makes it up to be. The construct of “reunification therapy” is a made up and fraudulent therapy construct. If any therapist disagrees, there is a Comment section available to you on this post…

There are psychoanalytic models of therapy, humanistic-existential models of therapy, cognitive-behavioral models of therapy, family systems models of therapy, and post-modern models of therapy, but there are no models that define what “reunification therapy” entails.

Nevertheless, the Court will order “reunification therapy” as if it exists, and even this therapy will be delayed by the non-cooperation of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. When it does eventually take place, the reunification therapist is revealed to be clueless regarding how to treat and resolve “parental alienation” and the ineffective and pointless “reunification therapy” will continue for months, or even years, without producing any change whatsoever.

And all the while, the child’s symptoms become ever more established and entrenched, the loving relationship with the targeted parent becomes ever more hostile and rejecting, and the child falls ever more fully under the distorting pathogenic influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. No one apparently sees or recognizes the degree of the pathology.

This is the only “solution” offered by Gardner’s model of PAS, and it is no solution at all. Gardner’s model requires the litigation and proof of “parental alienation” in Court. As long as the construct of “parental alienation” is defined through Gardner’s model of PAS then there will be no solution available to the nightmare of “parental alienation.”

An attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” redefines the construct of “parental alienation” entirely from within standard and established psychological constructs and principles, and seeks the solution FIRST in the mental health system, which can then be leveraged to achieve an efficient and effective solution in the legal system.

When mental health speaks with a single voice, then the legal system will be able to act with the decisive clarity necessary to solve “parental alienation.” The solution to “parental alienation” is in the mental health system, not the legal system. Mental health remains divided by the Gardnerian model of PAS (i.e., it is not accepted by establishment mental health as represented by the DSM diagnostic system), so it requires that targeted parents prove “parental alienation” in Court.

An attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” is based entirely in established psychological constructs and principles that are accepted by establishment mental health (i.e., the attachment system, personality disorder dynamics, delusional processes), which can then be used to establish professional standards of practice, and the single voice from mental health can then be used to efficiently and effectively guide decisions before the Court.

Until a paradigm shift occurs, no solution is available.

I fully understand the desperate struggle of targeted parents seeking a solution, as you feel your relationship with your child slipping away into a nightmare of distortions, hostility, and rejection. I understand that you’re hoping that because I understand what “parental alienation” is that I will have some magic words to give you that will help the Court and therapists understand. Unfortunately, I don’t have magic words to enlightened the unenlightened.

The solution is to be found in a paradigm shift to an attachment-based model of parental alienation (see Finding Empowerment post), and until this paradigm shift occurs within establishment mental health, no solution will be available.  I’m sorry.  I wish it were different. But its not.

If you’re struggling with the Court, your attorney may find my expert testimony helpful (my professional expertise is in child and family therapy, child development, and parent-child conflict; not in “parental alienation”). I can review reports by other mental health professionals and provide a second opinion on the clinical data contained in these reports, and I can provide testimony in response to hypothetical questions that are posed to me by your attorney that mirror the features of your case. This may or may not be helpful to your case.  I am not an attorney.  For legal advice consult an attorney and follow the advice of your attorney.

In general, my opinion as a psychologist is that reframing the issue away from “parental alienation” and over to “pathogenic parenting” that focuses on the child’s symptoms may possibly be helpful, but that is a decision for you to make in consultation with your attorney.

For parents who lack the financial resources to hire an attorney… I fully understand, and I am sorry, because it is unlikely that you will be able to have my testimony or materials admitted into your case because you probably don’t know how to navigate the requirements of the legal system. That’s the expertise that attorneys provide. But legal representation is expensive. I understand that, which is why I am convinced that any solution to “parental alienation” that requires extensive litigation will be unproductive. We need a solution that is practical, that can be accomplished within 6 months, and that does not require excessive financial expenditures. In my view, an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” provides this solution once it is accepted into establishment mental health.

However, I am not an attorney. For legal advice, consult an attorney.

To achieve any hope of a solution, the Gardnerian paradigm of PAS requires that you have a good attorney who can effectively navigate the legal system. Trying to be successful in the legal system on your own will very likely prove unproductive with regard to “parental alienation.” To make use of my testimony or my materials in Court will likely require the expertise of an attorney to actualize. I’m sorry. I wish it was different. I’m working to make it different. But that is seemingly the current state of affairs.

The current Gardnerian model of PAS is a failed paradigm. There is no pragmatic and practical solution available under the current paradigm. Under the Gardnerian paradigm you must prove “parental alienation” in Court.  In the vast majority of cases, this is not a practical solution that can be actualized.

However, the moment an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is accepted by establishment mental health (and there are no barriers to this acceptance, see Nothing New – No Excuses post) then the solution becomes available immediately.

The solution to parental alienation” is to be found in the mental health system, not the legal system. Any effort at a solution that requires the litigation of “parental alienation” in the legal system will be unsuccessful. Litigation in the legal system is far too expensive, takes far too long, and almost invariably produces inadequate results.

I wish I had a different answer. I don’t know what you can provide to the Court to persuade them. If you have an attorney and your attorney thinks my expert testimony may be helpful, then I am available to provide my insight to the Court .

Note: Not every post-divorce parent-child conflict is the result of “parental alienation.” In any analysis of clinical data, I will follow wherever the clinical data leads.  If other potential factors besides “parental alienation” are evident in the clinical data, I will say so.  I have no personal investment in finding “parental alienation,” and I am clear in my writings that I define what has traditionally been called “parental alienation” as “pathogenic parenting” evident in a specific set of child symptoms.  I am a clinical psychologist, and my expertise is in child and family therapy, child development, and parent-child conflict, not in “parental alienation.”

The ultimate solution to parental alienation, however, is to be found in the mental health system, not the legal system, and the solution is not to be found on a case-by-case basis.  The fate of targeted parents will rise or fall together.  It will be solved for everyone, or will be solved for no one.

Once mental health speaks with a single voice, then the legal system will be able to act with the decisive clarity necessary to solve the family tragedy of “parental alienation.”

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

Finding Empowerment

I recently received the following offer from a targeted parent, and I wish to respond on my blog because I believe my response may be of interest to other targeted parents,

“I would like to volunteer myself and my son to assist you in any way we can.”  Shawn

That’s very kind, thank you. I appreciate your offer.  Here’s what I would suggest…

This is important to understand:  There needs to be a paradigm shift within mental health The moment an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” becomes accepted within establishment mental health, the solution to the nightmare of “parental alienation” becomes available immediately.

The attachment-based model of “parental alienation” offers,

  • Clear diagnostic criteria (the three diagnostic indicators) immediately become available to allow the consistent diagnosis of attachment-based “parental alienation” in EVERY case, for ALL therapists and ALL child custody evaluators. The nature and degree of the psychopathology becomes immediately identified the moment it enters any aspect of the mental health system.
  • The pathology of “parental alienation” immediately becomes defined as “pathogenic parenting” (i.e., severely distorted parenting practices that are inducing significant developmental, personality, and psychiatric psychopathology in the child) that requires a child protection response.  

The child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery immediately becomes the professionally responsible and required treatment response to the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

  • Children and families evidencing the three diagnostic indicators for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” become defined as a “special population” requiring specialized professional knowledge, training, and expertise to competently diagnose and treat.  Immediately, all child custody evaluators and all therapists working with this group of children and families must possess an advanced level of knowledge related to,

1.  Narcissistic and borderline personality dynamics, their characteristic presentation and their impact on family relationships,

2.  Family systems dynamics involving children’s triangulation into spousal conflicts through cross-generational parent-child coalitions,

3.  The characteristic functioning and dysfunctioning of the attachment systems during childhood,

4.  The nature and features of parent-child role-reversal relationships, and

5.  The formation of delusional belief systems as a product of decompensating narcissistic and borderline personality processes.

This immediately prohibits diagnosis and treatment by unqualified mental health professionals under standard of practice guidelines laid out in the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, Standard 2.01a. 

“2.01 Boundaries of Competence
(a) Psychologists provide services, teach and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study or professional experience.”

Since ONLY knowledgeable and competent mental health professionals will be able to diagnose and treat this “special population” of children and families, and, since professionally responsible treatment REQUIRES the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of treatment, no therapist, anywhere, will treat without first acquiring a protective separation of the child from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

This will provide a clear and consistent directive from professional mental health to the Court that the issue is NOT one of child custody and visitation but is one of child protection, and that the child’s protective separation from the allied and supposedly “favored” parent is required during the active phase of treatment.

  • Since the appropriate DSM-5 diagnosis for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” includes the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed (see Diagnostic Indicators and Associated Clinical Signs), and since ONLY trained and competent mental health professionals will be diagnosing and treating this “special population” of children and families, then all mental health professionals involved in the diagnosis and treatment of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” will be aware of this DSM-5 diagnosis and will have the decision as legally mandated child abuse reporters to file a child abuse report with the appropriate child protection service agency (note: reporting psychological and emotional abuse is an optional not a mandated report). 

If (when) child protective service agencies begin to receive an influx of these child psychological abuse reports related to the diagnostic indicators for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” these agencies won’t know how to investigate and resolve these reports. They will seemingly have two options,

1.  To accept the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed from the licensed and specially trained and competent mental health professional, which will then necessitate removing the child from the custody of the psychologically abusive narcissistic/(borderline) parent, thereby enacting the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/borderline parent, or

2. To train their investigators in the three diagnostic indicators and associated clinical signs of attachment-based “parental alienation,” so that ALL investigators at ALL child protection service agencies are trained to professional competence in the recognition of pathogenic parenting by a narcissistic/borderline parent that is inducing significant developmental, personality, and psychiatric psychopathology in a child.  I suspect this will be the option chosen by child protective service agencies once an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” becomes accepted within establishment mental health and these agencies begin to receive child abuse reports resulting from clinical diagnoses of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed

If (when) ALL investigators at ALL child protection service agencies are trained to professional competence in the recognition of the pathogenic parenting associated with attachment-based “parental alienation,” then this will help to resolve issues surrounding the reporting of false allegations of child abuse by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, because a child abuse report now becomes a double-edged sword.  Not only will the investigator be investigating the reported abuse, but also the potential for child psychological abuse from the pathogenic parenting of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent associated with an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”  If evidence for the reported abuse is insubstantial but the child’s symptoms display the definitive three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting associated with an attachment-based model of “parental alienation,” then the child protection services may initiate a child protection response of removing the child from the custody of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent due to a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse made by the investigator.

The potential of having the child removed from the custody of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent when false allegations of child abuse are made may cause the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to reconsider before making false allegations of child abuse, and so may have a deterrent effect on the filing of false allegations of child abuse by narcissistic/(borderline) parents.  Of note is that in cases of good faith but erroneous child abuse reports by parents, the child’s symptoms will not display the three diagnostic indicators associated with attachment-based “parental alienation.”

The cooperation of the Court will be necessary to obtain the required protective separation of the child from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of treatment. To gain the cooperation of the Court, the targeted parent will need the strong support of mental health, and mental health must speak with a single voice to the Court, so that all mental health professionals will make exactly the same diagnosis when the child’s symptoms display the three characteristic diagnostic indicators of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” – and all therapists who treat this “special population” are trained and expert in the attachment-based model of “parental alienation” so that no therapist, anywhere, will treat “parental alienation” without first obtaining the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

When professional mental health speaks to the Court with a single voice, the Court can act with the decisive clarity necessary to solve “parental alienation.”

Note: We do not need to litigate the parental psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  The issue is pathogenic parenting and the diagnosis can be made solely based on the child’s symptom display of the three definitive diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation.”

The solution to “parental alienation” is not through the legal system. Any solution that relies on extended litigation to prove “parental alienation” in the legal system will fail. The legal system is far to expensive, takes far too long, and is far too easily manipulated by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Family relationship problems, particularly parent-child relationship problems, need to be resolved within the mental health system.  The legal system needs to be able to rely on a single clear voice from ALL of mental health as to what is needed to resolve the family problems. The attachment-based model of “parental alienation” provides the solid bedrock of accepted and established psychological constructs and principles that can unite mental health into that single voice.

Paradigm Shift

A paradigm shift is needed in mental health, away from the failed paradigm of Gardnerian PAS to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” that is based entirely within accepted and established psychological principles and constructs.

Note: I’m not saying Gardner’s model is wrong, it’s just inadequate to the task of solving “parental alienation.” In proposing the existence of a new “syndrome” defined by a set of anecdotal clinical indicators, Gardner too quickly abandoned the professional rigor imposed by standard and established clinical constructs and principles.  The attachment-based model of “parental alienation” returns to the basic clinical construct first identified by Gardner and applies the theoretical rigor necessary to define the construct entirely within standard and established psychological constructs and principles, thereby correcting the flaw in his approach that led to his construct of PAS being labeled as “junk science.”

There can be no such criticism of an attachment-based model since it meets the standards set by the critics of Gardner’s PAS model.  The attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is defined entirely within standard and established psychological constructs and principles.

A foundational paradigm shift is needed to a theoretical framework that is grounded on the solid bedrock of established psychological constructs and principles.  An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” accomplishes this.

The necessary paradigm shift in mental health is not an evolutionary progression from Gardnerian PAS into a new model, it is a revolutionary change in the foundational framework for conceptualizing “parental alienation.”  The Gardnerian model of PAS becomes irrelevant.

We used to think that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun and all the planets circled the earth.  As we gathered knowledge, our scientific evidence then clearly indicated that the sun was the actual center of our solar system, and that the earth and the other planets circled the sun. Our paradigm for understanding the solar system shifted.  

Yet it took many years for the Catholic church to accept the change in paradigms. Once it emerges, a paradigm shift can nevertheless take a long time to actualize.  Thomas Kuhn, who described the model of paradigm shifts within science, said that the completion of the paradigm shift is accomplished when all the adherents to the old paradigm die. 

The next generation of young psychology and law students will likely be the ones who will carry the paradigm shift in “parental alienation” into professional psychology and the legal system.  The current experts in Gardnerian PAS will likely hold to their favored and familiar model, and the inertia within establishment mental health will simply ignore the attachment-based model for decades, until the current graduate students enter establishment psychology and law.

The solution to “parental alienation” is not to be found in the Gardnerian PAS paradigm. The Gardnerian model of PAS represents a failed paradigm.  In the thirty years since Gardner first proposed PAS we have achieved the current abysmal situation of failed solution.  For a variety of reasons, the solution to “parental alienation” cannot be found in the Gardnerian model of PAS.  It is a failed paradigm. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m saying it is inadequate to the task of actualizing a solution.

The solution to “parental alienation is located in a paradigm shift within professional psychology to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”  My estimate is that this paradigm shift will take about 10 to 15 years to enact.  The empowered activism of targeted parents may be able to reduce this time frame to a year or two, depending on how actively targeted parents advocate for the paradigm shift.

All of the constructs within an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” are established and accepted psychological constructs and principles, so the only barrier to the acceptance of this paradigm by establishment mental health is awareness.  The traditional approach to bringing this information into establishment mental health is through publication of professional papers in peer-reviewed journals.  If I were younger in my career, just starting out and wanting to build my professional reputation, and if the need for a solution weren’t so pressing, I might take this more gradual approach to building the information regarding an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” into the professional literature of establishment mental health.

But I’m not a young psychologist trying to establish my professional career, and the need for a solution is dire.  As for me, I’m 60 years old and I have already had one stroke.  I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be around.  Probably at most another 10 or 12 years before I leave or simply start winding down.  So if I were you, the community of targeted parents, I’d try to get this information into establishment mental health as quickly as possible in order to make as much use of me as you can while I’m still here. 

What I understand is that with every passing day the tragic nightmare of “parental alienation” continues.  A solution is already too long overdue.  Targeted parents and their children don’t have time to wait 10 or 15 years for establishment psychology to gradually accommodate to and adopt a new paradigm.  You need a solution today.

So when I began my journey to define the clinical phenomena of “parental alienation” entirely from within standard and established psychological constructs and principles, I decided to post material to my website as soon as it became available in my work, rather than delay it by writing for publication, and I’ve decided to write for this blog to make the information as broadly available as I possibly can as quickly as I possibly can, because I fully appreciate that the solution is needed yesterday.  With each day that passes the nightmare tragedy continues for targeted parents and their children.

Once I get this information up and out in the public domain, then I’ll return to write for publication.  But not now.  The solution is needed as soon as possible.

But ultimately, this is not my fight.  It’s your fight.  I can give you the tools and weapons, but you must enact the solution.  It is time to act into your power.  The foundational paradigm in mental health needs to change to allow the solution, which means we need to bring the awareness of establishment mental health to the attachment-based model for “parental alienation.” 

I have done my part.  The theoretical foundations are solid and accurate.  I have provided you with articles and essays, with a publicly available online seminar through the Masters Lecture Series of California Southern University, and with all of these blog posts.  There are no conceptual barriers to professional acceptance of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation,”  the theoretical foundations are strong. It is just a matter of awareness within the broader mental health and legal fields.

But an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” has no allies within establishment mental health.  I am a solitary voice.  Current Gardnerian experts in parental alienation will ignore an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” because it’s foreign to them and, ultimately, it will replace the Gardnerian model with which they have grown comfortable.  They’ve spent decades arguing in favor of the Gardnerian model of PAS.  They are experts in the Gardnerian model of PAS.  It is known, familiar, and comfortable.

And in a blink of an eye, the Gardnerian model of PAS will be replaced and will become irrelevant, and it will be replaced by something foreign and unknown to them.  It’s not an evolution of their favored Gardnerian model, it is a revolution that overthrows their favored, known, and familiar Gardnerian model of PAS. Where a moment before they were experts in “parental alienation,” now they become like everyone else, needing to learn a new model, a new paradigm.

But there are no arguments against the attachment-based model, because it’s accurate; it’s what “parental alienation” is.  So Gardnerians will simply ignore the attachment-based model of “parental alienation” and continue talking about how the sun circles the stationary earth, until they are eventually replaced by the next generation in professional psychology.

Nor does an attachment-based model of parental alienation have allies within establishment mental health. For the most part, establishment mental health simply doesn’t care about “parental alienation.”  In establishment mental health, “parental alienation” is simply a small pocket of limited professional interest surrounding child custody evaluations and high-conflict divorce.  The only people interested in “parental alienation” are those who advocate for Gardner’s PAS model, and they’re going to hold onto their PAS model and ignore the attachment-based model of “parental alienation,” and a pocket of opponents to PAS who question the scientific validity of Gardner’s paradigm.  If you’re not in one of these two pockets of professional interest, then the construct of “parental alienation” isn’t really much of a consideration.

Establishment mental health will simply lump an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” in with the Gardnerian PAS group without taking the time to understand the paradigm shift.  So an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” will generally be ignored by establishment mental health simply because they don’t care all that much.  That’s why the paradigm shift that will bring a solution to “parental alienation” will take between 10 to 15 years to achieve, because the attachment-based model of “parental alienation” that contains the solution will simply languish in obscurity because it has no allies to advocate for its acceptance.

So, you ask what you can do to be helpful?  I am a lone voice.  It would be helpful to have allies within the targeted parent community who will bring the awareness of establishment mental health to the existence of this new paradigm for understanding the construct of “parental alienation.”  The sooner it becomes accepted within establishment mental health, the sooner the solution to “parental alienation” becomes available.

Possible Suggestions

I might suggest the following:

1. Organize advocacy groups of targeted parents who are willing to contact leadership in professional mental health to increase awareness of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”  Send emails to the identified leadership in establishment mental health suggesting that they, 1) watch the online seminar available through the Masters Lecture Series of California Southern University, 2) read my blog posts, and 3) read the articles and essays on my website.  You might want to also attach an article or essay from my website, such as the Professional-to-Professional letter, or The Hostage Metaphor article, or the Reunification Therapy article.  Be gentle, be kind, but be relentless.  You’re fighting for your child and you’ve tolerated the professional incompetence of mental health far too long.  It is time that you demand professional competence from professional psychology.  Be kind, but be relentless.  Things must change within professional psychology.

2. Identify and create a list of leadership in professional mental health.

If I were to approach this task, I might look around the homepages of the American Psychological Association, along with various relevant divisions, such as Division 41: American Psychology-Law Society, Division 43: Society for Family Psychology, Division 53: Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, Division 12: Society of Clinical Psychology, looking to identify the leadership of these groups and organizations.

I’d then google the names of the leadership to find email addresses, and I’d send them a brief and polite email suggesting that they watch the online seminar of Dr. Childress regarding a new attachment-based model for describing “parental alienation.”  It’s not Gardner.  It’s new.  It describes a model for understanding “parental alienation” from the perspective of the attachment system.  And attached is an article by Dr. Childress from his website, and you might want to follow up by checking out his blog, he has some very interesting pieces on “parental alienation” from an attachment system perspective on his blog.

I might also google State Psychological Associations, such as the Texas Psychological Association, the New York Psychological Association, the Ohio Psychological Association, the California Psychological Association, etc. and do the same thing, identify and google the leadership of these organizations to find email addresses, and then send them brief and polite emails promoting their awareness for the attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”

I might explore other professional associations, such as the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts and the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.  Psi Chi is an International Honor Society in Psychology for undergraduate and graduate students in psychology. They might be interested in a new attachment-based model of “parental alienation.  Identify and google the leadership to find email addresses, and send them a brief and polite email.

Google APA journals, such as Law and Human Behavior;  Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice;  Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment;  Professional Psychology: Research and Practice;  Journal of Personality Disorders;  Child Maltreatment;  Journal of Family Studies;  Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies;  Journal of Child and Family Studies;  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.  Identify and google the editors to find email addresses and send them a brief and polite email suggesting they watch the online seminar of Dr. Childress regarding an attachment-based model for “parental alienation.”

3. Begin a campaign of emailing the identified leadership in establishment psychology.  Not all at once, but pinging them regularly from time to time. Different people, pinging them now and then.  You have tolerated professional incompetence within mental health for far to long.  Things need to change.  But be kind and gentle, but also be relentless.

4. Email editors for various law reviews at university law schools, suggesting that they watch the online seminar on an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.” The hook for an article in a law school review is how changing the paradigm affects the presentation of “parental alienation” in court.  Instead of “parental alienation” the issue becomes “pathogenic parenting” and instead of a child custody issue the issue becomes one of child protection.  Students will be the ones who will most likely actualize the paradigm shift.

I think it would be interesting for a student bar association at a university law school to join with the Psi Chi honor society at the same university, or at another university, to host an online seminar or panel discussion on “The Changing Paradigm in Defining Parental Alienation in Family Law” or some such topic.  I suspect you might be able to find interest and energy in graduate student organizations.

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

Online Seminar Available

On July 18, 2014 I presented an online seminar through the Master Lecture Series of California Southern University regarding the theoretical foundations for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”

This online seminar is now posted by California Southern University and is available online to the general public at:

http://www.calsouthern.edu/content/events/parental-alienation-an-attachment-based-model/

On November 21, 2014 I will be presenting a second seminar through the Master Lecture Series of California Southern University regarding therapy of attachment-based “parental alienation. This seminar will also be posted online by California Southern University and will be available to the general public.

During the second seminar on therapy, I will assume that the audience is familiar with the content of this first seminar on theory, so I will NOT re-describe the theoretical foundations but will instead move directly into therapy related applications.

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

Stark Reality

To targeted parents:

I am often sought out by targeted parents who want my help to the question,

“How can I reestablish a positive and affectionate relationship with my child?”

My answer is… that’s the wrong question.

The Well-Formed Question

Do you really want me to open the child to a positive and affectionate relationship with you? Knowing full well that the child will pay a terrible price for any show of affection toward you, or even for not rejecting you sufficiently, as a result of the retaliation by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The capacity for psychological cruelty by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is immense. Just think of it for a second. The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is willing to inflict the immense cruelty on you of taking your most precious beloved child from you, so that you no longer have a child, to inflict on you such intense psychological suffering as revenge for your not sufficiently appreciating the “wonderfulness” of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Their capacity for cruelty is immense, and it is without empathy or pity.

If the child shows any affection toward you, or does not reject you with enough display, then the full force of the psychological cruelty that is capable from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent will be turned on the child. The child will have to endure daily hostility, rejection, contempt, and torment. Irrational rules, irrational punishments. Anger. Rejection. Guilt.

The pathological cruelty capable from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is hard enough for a fully developed adult psyche to endure, it is devastating to the still in-formation psyche of the child.

So are you asking me how you can expose your child to this retaliation? You’re asking me how to open up your child and expose your child’s authenticity and vulnerability to the immense  psychological cruelty capable from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  Is that really what you want to do?

“How can I protect my child?”

That’s a much better question.

Until we can protect the child, we cannot expose the child.

How can we ask the child to show affection toward you unless we can first protect the child from the psychological retaliation of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent that is sure to follow any display by the child of affectionate bonding to you, or even just the child’s insufficient display of rejection of you?

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent REQUIRES the child to reject a relationship with you. If the child shows bonding motivations toward the targeted parent, or even fails to show sufficient rejection of the targeted parent (such as insufficiently dramatic displays of protest at visitation transfers), then the child will be subjected to a withering psychological retaliation from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

So, as a therapist, my question to targeted parents is this;

“Do you want me to open the child’s bonding motivations toward you? To stop the child’s displays of rejecting you? To re-form a positive parent-child bond with you? Knowing that to do so will expose the child to an excruciating psychological torment from the retaliation of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent once the child returns to the custody and ‘care’ of the pathological parent.”

As long as the child must live in the world of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, as long as we cannot protect the child from the psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child must find a way to psychologically survive in that world.

My First Exposure

My first case of “parental alienation” involved a 10 year old boy who had to reject a relationship with his mother. I had met with the father on several occasions and the dynamic was obvious. As I sat in the mother-son therapy session with the child sitting apart in a dramatic display of rejection, refusing to play a board game with his mother and me, I decided to reach out with my empathy into the child’s experience.

As I sat talking with the mother, I allowed my empathic resonance to shift over to the child, to the child’s inner experience. I didn’t share this empathic awareness with the child, I just allowed myself to feel what it was like to be him, looking for his authentic self-experience.

As I dropped my empathic awareness into the child’s authenticity, this is what I “heard” in my mind’s imagination,

Child (in my mind’s imagination): “Dr. Childress, can you help me escape from here? I’m trapped, buried deep inside. I don’t want to reject my mother. I love my mother. But I have to reject her because it’s what my dad requires me to do. He’ll torment me if I don’t. Can you rescue me? Can you help me escape from here?

Dr. C (in my mind’s imagination): I’ll see what I can do.

Child (in my mind’s imagination): “But Dr. Childress, don’t get me half the way out. Because if you only get me half the way out my dad will torment me for showing affection for my mom, for not rejecting my mom. If you can’t rescue me, if you can’t get me all the way out, then just leave me here.

Dr. C (in my mind’s imagination): Okay, I’ll see what I can do.

That’s the voice of the child in “parental alienation.”

“Help me. My authenticity is trapped deep inside here. Please, I want you to rescue me. But if you can’t get me all the way out, if you can’t rescue me, then leave me here, because otherwise the pathological parent will torment me if I try to escape but can’t get fully away.”

“At least if my authenticity is buried deep inside, hidden beyond my awareness, then it’s safe. If you expose it but cannot protect it, then the narcissistic/(borderline) parent will destroy it.”

We must first protect the child. Only then can we ask the child to expose his or her authenticity.

Protecting the Child

I am a therapist. I am not the child’s parent. I cannot do what is necessary to protect the child. You must do that.

I can support you. I can write, I can film Youtubes, I can describe what “parental alienation” is for mental health professionals and the Court. I will do everything in my power. But I cannot achieve the child’s protection. Each parent must accomplish that for each child. Every situation has its own individual characteristics, and only you can achieve your child’s protection.

Unless you can protect the child, how can you ask the child to love you? Knowing that to love you will expose the child to the abusive psychological retaliation of the hostage taker?

Or is that just the child’s problem? After all, if we restore the child’s positive relationship with you then you’ll be fine. You’ll have a positive, normal-range relationship with the child. Whatever happens to the child at the other parent’s house, well, that’s the child’s problem.

I know that’s not how you feel. But how, then, can we ask the child to bond to you? We can’t. Not until we achieve the child’s protection from retaliation.

Allies

You, the targeted parent, cannot protect the child unless you have allies. The principle ally is mental health.

It is the responsibility of mental health to recognize the degree of psychopathology and to voice this diagnosis in your support. You are the normal-range and healthy parent. The allied and supposedly “favored” parent is the pathology.  You know that.  I see that.  All of mental health should similarly see it.  But they don’t.

We need to solve that.

Then, once you have a strong ally in mental health, we turn to the Court system. The united voice of mental health can then provide you with the institutional power you need to enlist the power of the Court as your ally, and it is with the power of the Court that we can protect the child.

The solution to “parental alienation” is not through the legal system, it is to be found in the mental health system. When mental health speaks with a single voice, the legal system will be able to act with the decisive clarity necessary to protect the child and solve “parental alienation.”

Until mental health speaks with a single voice, no solution to “parental alienation” is possible. Not for you.  Not for the next parent.  This isn’t because we can’t fix your relationship with your child, it’s because we can fix it.  Yet how can we ask for the child’s authenticity if we are unable to first protect the child’s authenticity?

Do you really want to expose the child to the immense psychological cruelty capable from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?  If we open the child’s affectionate bonding toward you, that’s exactly what we will be doing.

Securing the Mental Health Ally

Currently, one of the major problems in securing mental health as an ally for targeted parents is the massive level of professional incompetence in both the diagnosis and treatment of “parental alienation.” Mental health doesn’t understand what it’s dealing with, what “parental alienation” is.

The first step to securing mental health as an ally is to clear the field of professional incompetence, so that ONLY professionally knowledgeable and competent mental health professionals treat this “special population” of children and families.

Key to achieving professional competence is defining “standards of practice” to which ALL mental health professionals can be held accountable. A Gardnerian PAS model does not allow us to establish professional standards of practice because Gardner too quickly abandoned established and accepted psychological constructs to describe what he thought was a new “syndrome.” We need to return to the foundations and re-define the construct of “parental alienation” entirely from within standard and established psychological constructs, so that we can then use this definition to establish “standards of practice” for ALL mental health professionals who work with this “special population.”

That’s what I set about to do, and that’s what I have accomplished with an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”

I cannot enact the protection of your child. You must accomplish that. But I can give you the weapons from within professional psychology to achieve your child’s protection and the recovery of your child’s authenticity.

The Next Step

The next step in achieving mental health as your ally is to establish these “standards of practice” within mental health, so that ALL diagnosing and treating mental health professionals are knowledgeable and competent.

If you are going to rely on me for that, I would anticipate that this will take between 10 to 15 years for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” to achieve professional acceptance.

Within two years I will submit for publication. It will take about a year and a half for the article to be published. It will languish in obscurity for another two years, when my second and third articles become published. A little more interest will emerge. I’m currently 60 years old. Within the year I’m going to be shifting my focus back to my primary professional practice domain of ADHD (I’ve actually solved what “ADHD” is and how to treat and resolve it, and in order to accomplish this I had  to advance child therapy into the 21st century, so I need to get back to these areas of prime importance. Solving “parental alienation” is a side-track for me). At some point in the next decade I’ll retire. At some point I’ll pass away. Then my work will gradually be “discovered” and picked up by younger therapists and researchers, and it will gradually find its way into the professional mainstream.

My estimate is that if you leave it to me to carry the solution, it will take between 10 to 15 years to achieve mental health as an ally.

What I’ve tried to do is give you the professional weapons you need to carry the fight for your children. I’ve defined the theoretical foundations for the construct of “parental alienation” on the solid and scientifically supported bedrock of attachment theory and personality disorder dynamics. From a professional psychology standpoint, I’ve done the heavy lifting for you. You now have a theoretical foundation built on solid bedrock that you can leverage to achieve the solution. But the fight for your children must be yours.

If you take up this fight to establish an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” within mental health, to require a “standard of professional practice” with this “special population” of children and families, then you may perhaps shorten the time-frame needed to acquire mental health as an ally. Perhaps to as little as a year or two. The theoretical foundations are extremely solid. You have everything you need.

Along the way, I’m willing to do whatever I can to support your voice within mental health.

Stark Reality

Because of my understanding of what “parental alienation” is, I’m often asked by targeted parents what they can do to restore a relationship with their child.

The stark reality is, nothing.

How can we ask the child to love you, to bond with you, to expose their authenticity, if we cannot also protect them from the torment of psychological retaliation that is sure to be inflicted on them by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?

We must first protect the child.

Then, and only then, does a solution become available. And in order to protect the child we MUST have the strong and steadfast support of mental health. This requires that we clear the field of professional incompetence by establishing professional “standards of practice” for ALL mental health professionals who work with this “special population” of children and families.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” provides the necessary theoretical foundations on the established bedrock of attachment theory and personality disorder dynamics.  An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” can be leveraged into standards of professional practice for ALL mental health professionals who work with this “special population” of children and families.

How long this solution takes to enact, how long before we are able to protect our children… that’s up to you.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.