A Trans-Global Pathogen

I recently received an email asking if Standards 2.01 and 3.04 of the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code here in the United States applied in Canada.  No.  Each nation has it’s own regulatory standards governing the practice of professional psychology.

To help this parent understand how to apply the principles of our struggle with the pathogen here in the United States to her struggles with the impact of the pathogen on her family in Canada, I googled the code of ethics for Canada and (with appropriate caveats to the parent that I am not a Canadian psychologist) I identified for this targeted parent similar standards in the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists to Standards 2.01 and 3.04 in the Ethics Code of the American Psychological Association.

Based on the question of this parent, I thought it might be helpful at this point to formally recognize that the pathogen of attachment-based “parental alienation” (as defined in Foundations) is a trauma pathogen that has the same structural pattern in all nationalities, just like the trauma pathogens of domestic violence and physical child abuse are found and expressed in all nations.

The trauma pathogen of “parental alienation” (as defined and described in Foundations) represents the transmission of attachment trauma across several generations.  The childhood developmental trauma experienced by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent resulted in a disorganized attachment system that subsequently coalesced during late adolescence and early adulthood into the narcissistic and borderline personalty traits that are now driving the pathology described in an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” (Foundations).

But the pathogen didn’t begin with the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. Instead, the origins of the pathology likely extend back at least one generation earlier, to the parent of the current narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  The Alpha parent for the pathology (i.e., the parent of the current narcissistic/(borderline) parent) was the likely recipient of the initial trauma experience, which then distorted this Alpha parent’s parenting practices with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a child that then produced the disorganized attachment that later coalesced into the narcissistic and borderline personality traits that are now driving the current “parental alienation” pathology.

This trauma pathogen likely extends across at least three generations, with the most recent trans-generational iteration of the original trauma being reflected in the symptoms of attachment-based “parental alienation.”

(Based on my analysis of the “information structures” of this pathogen, I suspect that the initial trauma that entered the family several generations earlier was sexual abuse, and was likely incest, so that the current expression evidenced in the symptoms of attachment-based “parental alienation” likely represents the trans-generational iteration of sexual abuse trauma – not in all cases, but in many.  Once professional mental health moves beyond it’s current impasse regarding its response to this pathogen then we can begin to discuss and research these deeper issues regarding this particular pathogen.)

A trauma pathogen within the attachment system that is being transmitted through aberrant and distorted parenting practices will be the same in the United States as it is in other countries. It is reasonable to expect that the pathology will be the same in Australia, and Britain, and Poland, and Portugal, and South Africa, and the Netherlands, and Germany, and South America, and Asia, as it is in the United States, just like domestic violence and child abuse are trauma pathogens found across nationalities as well.

So while we are engaged in our battle with the pathogen here in the United States, families are struggling with the same pathology across all regions of the globe. So I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge this trans-global impact of the pathology, and to say once again, that we are all in this together.  As we achieve advances against this pathogen here in the United States, this will help in the global struggle against the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.” Similarly, as advances are made in other nations, this will aid us here in the United States.

In adapting our struggle here in the United States to the struggles of targeted parents in other parts of the globe, the issue becomes identifying the applicable standards of professional practice for your country’s professional psychological association.  In the struggle of targeted parents across the globe to obtain an appropriate response from professional mental health to the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” (i.e., to a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent involving the role-reversal use of the child as a regulatory object for the parent’s emotional and psychological state), targeted parents will need to identify the professional standards of practice applicable to the professional organization within their nation in order to apply these professional standards of practice to the expectation for professional competence.

Within the United States, what I have activated for targeted parents with Foundations (i.e., with an attachment-based reformulation for the construct of “parental alienation”) are Standards 2.01 and 3.04 of the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code concerning “Boundaries of Competence” and “Harm to the Client.”  What you will want to do in other countries is to look at the professional practice guidelines for professional psychology (typically codified as the Ethics Code) and look for these standards governing “Boundaries of Competence” and “Harm to the Client.”

As an illustrative example for this process, let me select the Australian Psychological Society Code of Ethics.  From my informal read on the global battle against the pathogen of “parental alienation,” Australia seems to be the most advanced, slightly ahead of the United States in its recognition of the trauma pathogen, although all nations remain woefully inadequate in the responses of their mental health systems to the pathology.  From what I’m told, Britain is reportedly one of the least advanced, although many nations could likely challenge for that dubious distinction.

Caveat

Let me begin with the caveat that I am an American psychologist and am not an expert in the legal and ethical issues of Australian psychologists.  I will defer to the analysis and judgement of Australian psychologists regarding the interpretation of their Code of Ethics.

I am offering my observations merely as an illustrative example for targeted parents on how to identify the relevant standards of practice for their professional organizations.  The interpretation of these standards of practice in any country should be discussed with the psychologists in those countries.

I also want to acknowledge that I am leaving out professional organizations governing Master’s level mental health professionals.  I am doing this entirely for the sake of simplicity  There are a variety of additional professional organizations, each with their own ethics code, but I would venture to say that all of the ethics codes for these additional professional mental health organizations will contain explicit standards or language related to “Boundaries of Competence” and “Harm to the Client.”  So entirely for simplicity’s sake I am going to remain focused on the professional organizations for psychologists, since I’m a psychologist.

With this caveat in mind, I wish to offer an example of how to recognize the relevant standards of practice for the professional organization in your nation.

APS Ethics Code

The  Australian Psychological Society Ethics Code is available online, and can easily be retrieved for general review by a google search.

The first thing of note in this Ethics Code is Standard A.6 regarding the release of information.  Standard A.6 states:

Release of information to clients

Psychologists, with consideration of legislative exceptions and their organisational requirements, do not refuse any reasonable request from clients, or former clients, to access client information, for which the psychologists have professional responsibility.

This standard seemingly gives targeted parents a right to request their children’s records from a treating psychologist.

In the U.S., specifically in California, psychologists can refuse this request if they believe it will be harmful to the client, but then they must document in the patient’s record what harm would be inflicted on the client by the release of information, and then they are still required to release the information to a mental health professional designated by the parent. This is a California state law, so you will need to check on the specifics of “release of information” laws for your specific jurisdiction.

Based on Standard A.6, it would seem that targeted parents in Australia may be able to use consultant psychologists as an aid to achieve professional competence.  If Australian targeted parents could identify even a few capable and competent psychologists (Foundations) who would be willing to review the work of other mental health professionals, then the targeted parents could request that the treatment records for their children be sent to one of these capable and competent psychologists for review (the targeted parent would have to pay for the time that their consultant psychologist spent reviewing the case material; essentially they would be hiring a expert professional consultant). An outside professional review of the case records of the treating psychologist might encourage development of a broader level of general knowledge and competence from all mental health professionals through the guided mentorship of these expert psychologists.

For example, a targeted parent came into my office the other day for consultation.  Based on this father’s situation we may be requesting the records of the treating clinician.  In this particular case, there has been two years of “reunification therapy” involving just the child with no contact between the child and the targeted parent for the past two years because the child supposedly “wasn’t ready” (to be loved). Based on our discussion, we may need to find out more about what specifically is going on in terms of treatment, and we might actually wind up meeting face-to-face with this psychologist (the father and I together) to discuss diagnosis and treatment planning.

So a professional review of cases by your consulting psychologist may help to encourage all mental health professionals to become competent (Foundations) when assessing, diagnosing, and treating this “special population” of children and families.

Knowing that targeted parents WILL request the records of their children and that these records WILL BE REVIEWED by a psychologist familiar with the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” (Foundations) may encourage a general improvement in the quality of knowledge and services provided by mental health providers generally.

Next, in the APS Ethics Code note “General Principle B: Propriety,” which states

Psychologists ensure that they are competent to deliver the psychological services they provide. They provide psychological services to benefit, and not to harm. Psychologists seek to protect the interests of the people and peoples with whom they work. The welfare of clients and the public, and the standing of the profession, take precedence over a psychologist’s self-interest. (emphasis added)

This is the type of wording you’re looking for.  This Standard would apparently require that psychologists are responsible for ensuring that they are competent and do not harm their clients.  This means that it is NOT your responsibility to educate them. It is THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to “ensure that they are competent.”

Psychologists are not allowed to be incompetent and they are not allowed to harm their clients.

Then note what’s said in the “Explanatory Statement” that follows the initial general statement of the APS Ethics Code regarding professional competence:

Explanatory Statement

Psychologists practise within the limits of their competence and know and understand the legal, professional, ethical and, where applicable, organisational rules that regulate the psychological services they provide. They undertake continuing professional development and take steps to ensure that they remain competent to practise, and strive to be aware of the possible effect of their own physical and mental health on their ability to practise competently. Psychologists anticipate the foreseeable consequences of their professional decisions, provide services that are beneficial to people and do not harm them. Psychologists take responsibility for their professional decisions. (emphasis added)

A key element of this Explanatory Statement of the APS Ethics Code is the requirement that the psychologists “take steps to ensure that they remain competent.”  With regard to “parental alienation,” this would mean that they remain current regarding current theoretical models of “parental alienation” (Foundations).

A similar requirement in the Ethics Code of the American Psychological Association is Standard 2.03 on “Maintaining Competence” which states that,

“Psychologists undertake ongoing efforts to develop and maintain their competence.”

If a psychologist fails to “undertake continuing professional development” (Foundations) in order to “ensure that they remain competent this would seemingly represent a violation of the professional standards of practice (or practise) as mandated by the APS Ethics Code.

Again, it is of note that it is NOT the client’s responsibility to educate the psychologist.  It is the psychologist’s responsibility to already BE competent and to REMAIN competent.

As a targeted parent, it would seemingly be polite on your part to nicely (not angrily, not arrogantly; be kind) notify the psychologist that your expectation is that they are competent in the relevant domains of knowledge necessary to competently assess, diagnose, and treat the special circumstances surrounding your children and family (Section Four; Foundations).  But with or without your notification, psychologists are nevertheless responsible for knowing personality disorders, the attachment system, the decompensation of personality disorders into delusional beliefs, and the basic family systems concepts of the child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with one parent against the other.

These are some of the professional words-of-power from Foundations It is important to remember that the term “parental alienationhas NO power.  Absolutely none. To activate professional standards of practice you MUST use the professional-words-of-power that I provide in Foundations.

Targeted parents become empowered by the professional words-of-power I’ve provided in Foundations.  I didn’t write Foundations to explain “parental alienation” to targeted parents (well, sort of, but that wasn’t its main purpose).  I wrote Foundations to empower targeted parents to hold mental health professionals ACCOUNTABLE.

Standard B.1 Competence

So after reading the broad ethical principles, examine the specific Standards of the ethics code.  There will almost always be specific Standards covering “Boundaries of Competence” and “Harm to the Client.” With the APS Ethics Code, this is Standard B.1, which states:

B.1.1. Psychologists bring and maintain appropriate skills and learning to their areas of professional practice.

B.1.2. Psychologists only provide psychological services within the boundaries of their professional competence. This includes, but is not restricted to:

(a) working within the limits of their education, training, supervised experience and appropriate professional experience;

(b) basing their service on the established knowledge of the discipline and profession of psychology;

(c) adhering to the Code and the Guidelines;(emphasis added)

Psychologists must know what they’re doing.  The issue is whether the psychologist who is assessing, diagnosing, and treating the pathology being expressed by your children and in your family is competent to do so based on his or her education, training, and supervised experience?

And this is where Foundations comes into play.  In the first three sections of Foundations I define and describe the areas of necessary professional competence from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.  This then defines the “boundaries of competence” needed to assess, diagnose, and treat this “special population” of children and families.  Then, in Section Four I take it one step further.  I specifically identify the domains of knowledge needed for professional competence (based on the material in the preceding three sections) and I even identify specific literature defining these domains of knowledge.

This activates the Standards in the Ethics Code for the professional psychological organization in your country regarding “Boundaries of Competence.”

The relevant domains of professional knowledge described and defined in Foundations for assessing, diagnosing, and treating an attachment-based reformulation for the pathology of “parental alienation” would include the following:

  • The Attachment System:  This includes the reenactment of attachment trauma (called “the transference” when enacted within the therapist-client relationship; called “core schemas” by the preeminent theorist Arron Beck; called “internal working models” of attachment by the preeminent attachment theorist John Bowlby).
  • Narcissistic and Borderline Personality Dynamics:  This includes the characteristic presentation of narcissistic and borderline personality dynamics in clinical interviews, the psychological decompensation of narcissistic and borderline personality processes into delusional beliefs, and the role-reversal relationship in which the child is used as a “regulatory object” by the narcissistic/borderline parent to stabilize and regulate the emotional and psychological state of the parent.
  • Family Systems Constructs:  This includes constructs of the child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with the allied parent (the “favored” parent) against the other parent.  This would also include a professional understanding for the impact on family relationships from the addition of the “splitting” dynamic characteristic of narcissistic and borderline personality processes to the cross-generational coalition.

I describe all of these constructs in Foundations and apply them to the pathology of “parental alienation.”  You will need to read Foundations to begin to acquire these professional words-of-power.  Don’t worry about the technicalities.  Remember, it is the RESPONSIBILITY of the mental health professional, not you, to know this material.  But unfortunately, given the general state of professional ignorance, you’re going to have to at least become familiar with the professional words-of-power.  Dorcy Pruter has established her own companion site to my Empowerment videos that can also help guide you through understanding and using the professional words-of-power.

Accountability

Here in the United States, if a psychologist asserts that he or she possesses the necessary competence to assess, diagnose, and treat this “special population” of children and families, then my next sentence will be,

“Can you please document for me how you acquired your training and expertise in these areas?” – which is essentially saying “prove it” it formal-speak.

On the other hand, they can simply avoid this whole challenge to their professional competence by just reading Foundations and doing the right thing when the three definitive diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” are present (i.e., make the appropriate DSM-5 diagnosis as described in Foundations, which includes the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed).

If they do the right thing, then my next sentence is,

“Thank you.”

Standard B.3

According to Standard B3 of the APS Ethics Code:

B.3. Professional responsibility

Psychologists provide psychological services in a responsible manner.  Having regard to the nature of the psychological services they are providing, psychologists:

(a) act with the care and skill expected of a competent psychologist;

(b) take responsibility for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their conduct;

(c) take reasonable steps to prevent harm occurring as a result of their conduct;

(d) provide a psychological service only for the period when those services are necessary to the client;

(e) are personally responsible for the professional decisions they make; (emphasis added)

When the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” (i.e., of a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent involving the role-reversal use of the child as a regulatory object for the parent’s emotional and psychological state) are present, if the psychologist does not make an accurate diagnosis of the pathology then the “reasonably foreseeable consequences” would be the child’s loss of a developmentally healthy and bonded relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent, and the developmental pathology imposed on the child by the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/borderline parent.  These “reasonably foreseeable consequences” would be harmful for both the child and for the normal-range and affectionally available targeted parent.

Deference

I’m an American psychologist, and I wouldn’t want to presume on the practice of psychologists in other jurisdictions, so I would defer to the judgement of Australian psychologists in the matters I have discussed in this post.  I simply want to illustrate how targeted parents in other countries can locate the professional practice standards for the relevant professional organization (start with google).  And then how to read these professional practice standards for the standards relevant to your children and families. 

I would strongly urge you to discuss these standards with the diagnosing and treating psychologist.  We’re not out to blindside anyone or hurt anyone.  However, you have the right to expect professional competence that does not destroy your children’s lives and your life.  The trauma of “parental alienation” stops.  Today.  Now.  The citadel of establishment mental health cannot expect you to just stand by and do nothing while your children and families are destroyed.

You have a right, defined for you in the standards of practice for mental health professionals, to expect professional competence.  It is NOT up to YOU to educate mental health professionals. The standards of practice for mental health professionals requires that they already be educated and competent BEFORE delivering services.  It is their responsibility, not yours, for them to already be educated.  

What Foundations does for you by defining the construct of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs, is it activates for you these relevant standards of professional practice.

The words “parental alienation” will NOT activate these standards of practice.  Only the professional words-of-power I give you in Foundations will activate these standards.

The pathogen of “parental alienation” is a trauma pathogen (i.e., it was created by trauma and it inflicts trauma) that represents the transmission of attachment trauma across several generations.  This trauma pathogen is contained in the neural networks of the attachment system (the brain system responsible for love) and it is being transmitted from one generation to the next through aberrant and distorted parenting practices.

This trauma pathogen is the same in all countries, just like the related trauma pathogens for domestic violence and child abuse are found across nationalities as well. We are all in this together.  We cannot solve attachment-based “parental alienation” in any specific case until we fix the mental health and legal systems’ response to the pathogen, and when we fix the mental health and legal systems’ response to the pathology, we fix it for ALL parents and ALL families.

We start with mental health.  Then, once the mental health response is fixed we’ll turn to the legal system.

And let’s not forget those families of “parental alienation” with now-adult children.   Lets work to get these now-adult children back into the arms of their loving parents as well.  Because these now-adult children are cut off from their authentic parent and don’t yet have a road back, you will need to generate lots and lots of media focus onto your “insurgency of authentic parents” in order to surround these now-adult children with outreach, The media is not going to be interested in “parental alienation,” but they will be interested in your fight to protect your children.Foundations Banner Green-Blue

We will not abandon a single child to the pathology of “parental alienation” – nor will we abandon a single authentic and loving parent.  We want all of your children back in your arms.  All of them.

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

Puzzles

I received the following question from a targeted parent and I thought my response may be of broader interest:

Dr. Childress, can you give an example of a question that you would put to a child that would indicate any of the narcissistic processes and the splitting dynamic from your 2nd set of diagnostic indicators in a child’s symptom display.


Response:

There isn’t a specific question, per se. Typically the display of the child will evidence narcissistic symptoms in response to my general question:

Dr. C:  “So, tell me. Why do you hate your mom (your dad) so much?”

and my follow-up questions asking for specific incidents to support the child’s general assertions.

As the child responds, the child will display an attitude of judgement of the parent from an elevated position above that of the parent.  As I ask about specifics, a sense of entitlement will become evident.

As I probe for empathy  (“How do you think it makes your mom feel that you don’t want to be with her?”), the child will evidence a complete absence of caring and empathy for the targeted parent’s experience of love and emotional suffering. Oftentimes the child will display a characteristic attitude that the targeted parent “deserves” to be rejected, or that the display of love and suffering by the targeted parent is “fake” or a lie.

When I inquire about the favored parent, on the other hand, the child provides a uniformly positive critique of the allied and supposedly favored parent, free from parent-child troubles.

The Puzzle

Think of it this way, clinical psychology is like putting together a puzzle. The parent tells you what they think the puzzle is, which may or may not be accurate. Sometimes the parent has no idea what the ultimate picture is, and the origins of the child’s behavior and angry outbursts are a total mystery to the parent.

I’ll then open the box and begin putting the puzzle pieces together to see what the picture is. Is this the trains in the mountain puzzle, or is it boats on the lake? I’ll start with the borders because they have straight edges (i.e., the general family context and general complaints). As I’m putting together the general structure, I’ll look for similar color patterns (i.e., emerging themes).

Gradually I’ll begin to recognize shapes in the picture that can help in locating specific pieces to complete a particular pattern. Eventually the picture emerges (typically even before all the pieces are in place). There may be some pieces missing here and there, but it’s clearly a picture of cats in the garden. It’s definitely not a locomotive. Nor is it a picture of boats on the lake.

There are three cats in the picture, one’s black with short hair, one’s grey and white stripes, and one’s black and white. I’m missing the pieces for this one’s ear, and I don’t have the pieces for the black cat’s left paw. They’re in a garden with red and yellow flowers, this portion of the garden is missing, as is this part of the fence. But it’s clearly cats in the garden, and it’s definitely not a locomotive or boats on the lake.

So when I conduct an initial clinical interview, the parent typically tells me what the puzzle is (i.e., they present me with the picture on the box top). The parent will say to me,

“Dr. Childress, can you help me with this problem?  I have a puzzle of a train in the mountains.”

I then open the box and start putting together the pieces to see if that’s true, if it’s really a train in the mountains, and also to determine which train in the mountains puzzle it is. Is it the one with the steam locomotive going across the canyon bridge, or is it the one with the modern locomotive coming out of the tunnel?

Dr. C: “So what does the child do? Can you give me an example? How do you respond when your child does that? How does the child respond to what you do? What’s going on in the surrounding family? How do you and the other parent get along?”

Gradually, I put the puzzle picture together. If it’s actually a train, I can begin asking questions that help me understand if it’s a steam engine or a modern locomotive. Is it traveling through farmlands or across mountains? Is there a bridge over the river, or is this the train with red and yellow boxcars?

The “Alienation” Puzzle

In attachment-based “parental alienation” the allied parent says to me,

Parent:  “Dr. Childress, I have a puzzle of a train in the mountains. See, look here, here’s some pieces from the puzzle. Here’s a piece with the train’s engine and smokestack. Here’s one of the engine’s wheels. This one is a puzzle piece showing one of the boxcars. And look at this picture on the box top. See, it’s of a train going through the mountains.

Sure enough, the picture on the box top is of a train in the mountains. And the puzzle pieces I’m shown are clearly from a locomotive.

So, let’s open the box and start putting the puzzle together. I never just accept the picture on the box top. I always put the puzzle together myself, just to make sure.

So, let’s put this picture together… hmmm that’s odd. The actual puzzle pieces in the box are much smaller than the locomotive pieces I was shown. You know what… those locomotive pieces don’t belong to this puzzle (i.e., the symptom display by the child is inauthentic).

So, let’s start with the edges… and… wait, this isn’t a locomotive puzzle. You know what… This looks like cats in the garden. Well if it’s cats in the garden, then there should be a red and yellow piece that goes right in this spot. Yep. There it is. And there should be another black and red piece that goes right here. Yep. There it is. And then there should be a kitten’s nose that goes right here. Yep. There it is. This isn’t train in the mountains, this is cats in the garden.

Well, I’ve still got some time left, let’s put together more of the puzzle just to make sure. This area should be red and yellow flowers, with this piece here and another one over here. Yep. This is the grey cat’s eye. Yep, it goes right here and fits with this. There’s the bee over here on the flower. Yep. We’re definitely looking at cats in the garden.

I see the picture made by the puzzle pieces, clear as day. We’re looking at three cats in the garden.

As I try to put together the puzzle train in the mountains, I realize that’s not the picture which is being revealed by the actual puzzle pieces,

The initial “presentation” is one of parent-child conflict caused by the targeted-rejected parent. However, as I collect the clinical data, the parent-child conflict is not being initiated by the parent’s problematic behavior, but is being initiated by, dare I say provoked by, the child.

Furthermore, the child’s attachment system display is not authentic. Child protest behavior is an “attachment behavior” designed to increase parental involvement (commonly referred to as seeking “negative attention”). In this situation, the child is showing “detachment behavior,” a motivated desire to sever the parent child bond. An authentic attachment system never shows “detachment behavior” except under an extremely limited set of severely abusive parenting (e.g., incest or chronic and severe parental violence), or in response to a cross-generational coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent (i.e., attachment-based “parental alienation” – cats in the garden).

As I’m putting together the actual puzzle pieces, they form into the picture features of the cats in the garden puzzle. Once I begin to recognize the cats in the garden puzzle (typically because the puzzle piece of “detachment behavior” is so distinctive of cats in the garden), I then begin to look for three specific puzzle pieces in each of three different locations (i.e., the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation”) because no other puzzle has all three of these pieces except cats in the garden.

Cats in the garden has a black and red piece here, a yellow and red piece that goes right here, and a piece with a kitten’s nose that goes right here (i.e., the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation”).

Train in the mountains has a black and red piece here, just like cats in the garden, but train in the mountains doesn’t have the red and yellow piece here. Instead, train in the mountains has a green piece in that location. And train in the mountains definitely doesn’t have a kitten’s nose. So if there is a kitten’s nose in the puzzle, it definitely can’t be train in the mountains.

Boats on a lake has the same black and red piece and the same red and yellow piece (although the shapes of these pieces are different from the shapes of these pieces in cats in the garden), but boats on a lake doesn’t have a kitten’s nose either.

Dogs at play has a kitten’s nose over here, but not in the same location. And dogs at play does not have the black and red piece. And instead of the red and yellow piece, dogs at play has a red and green piece in that location.

Only cats in the garden has all three pieces. And even when there is overlap in the pieces shared by the different puzzles, the actual pieces are slightly different shapes, and in slightly different locations across the different puzzles.

So if you know what the different puzzles are, it’s actually pretty easy to spot train in the mountains, or boats on the lake, or cats in the garden. You just have to know what the pictures are and know what you’re looking for in each picture. That’s called “knowing what you’re doing.”

But even more importantly, I’m not making the diagnosis of cats in the garden based just on the three specific puzzle pieces alone, although I could because they’re so distinctive and definitive of cats in the garden. Instead, I go ahead and put together some more of the puzzle, and sure enough, the actual picture that emerges is of three cats sitting and playing in the garden.

It’s not the three puzzle pieces that make it cats in the garden. It’s the actual picture itself that makes it cats in the garden. The three puzzle pieces (the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation”) are just easily identifiable definitive markers for cats in the garden. It’s the actual picture of three cats sitting among flowers that makes the puzzle cats in the garden.

The Original Question

So then, to answer the question about what specific questions I ask to elicit the child’s narcissistic symptoms, the primary question is to ask the child about the child’s reasons for rejecting the targeted parent. I ask the child to explain it to me.

Puzzle Analogy

If the puzzle picture is of the train in the mountains, then the child’s explanation for the parent-child conflict is going to be some variant of xyz.

If, on the other hand, the puzzle picture is of boats on the lake, then child’s explanation for the parent-child conflict is going to be a variant of abc.

If the puzzle is of cats in the garden, then the child’s explanation for the parent-child conflict is going to be qrs.

I always start with what I’m told the puzzle is. So if I’m told the puzzle is dogs at play, that’s what I start with and I begin to put together the puzzle picture of dogs at play. Sometimes the puzzle turns out to be one of the other dog puzzles, such as dog on the fire engine or hunting dog with duck. But which dog puzzle becomes evident as I put the puzzle pieces together.

Once you know the various puzzles, it’s pretty straightforward determining which exact puzzle it is (i.e., whether it’s an ADHD spectrum issue, or a parenting problem issue, or an autism-spectrum issue, or sensory-motor sensitivities, etc.). Each puzzle has distinctive features.

If the puzzle pieces don’t actually fit the initial presentation of the picture by the parent (this isn’t a dogs puzzle, this is one of the boat series) I then readjust to unravel the actual puzzle picture from of the actual puzzle pieces. As a clinical psychologist, I really don’t care if its dogs at play or boats on the lake, or train in the mountains. I just want to know which puzzle we’re dealing with so that we know how to fix things.

That’s what clinical child and family therapy does. It fixes things. But first we need to know if the puzzle is dogs at play or boats on the lake. If we try to fix dogs at play but the actual puzzle is train in the mountains, our efforts are going to be entirely ineffective. Determining which puzzle were working with is called “diagnosis.”

So, in putting together the puzzle I’ll start by asking the child,

Dr. C:  “So tell me, why don’t you want to be with your mom?” (or dad)?

Child responses to boats on the lake puzzles have one set of characteristics. Child responses from the train in the mountains puzzle have a different set of characteristics. Cats in the garden… holy cow, the child’s responses in cats in the garden are highly distinctive. It’s incredibly easy to spot cats in the garden (i.e., attachment-based “parental alienation”).

Q: So why do so many mental health professions not diagnose cats in the garden?

A: Because they don’t even know this puzzle exists. They think everything is train in the mountains. So when the allied parent and child show them the box top of the train in the mountains picture, and the child displays the three over-sized puzzle pieces of the locomotive, the ignorance of these mental health professionals just accepts that it’s the train in the mountains puzzle.

Q: But don’t they see that it’s not a train, it’s cats?

A: No. Because they don’t put the actual puzzle together. They just accept that the picture on the box top is the actual puzzle. Kinda lazy if you ask me. And it results in a wrong diagnosis, which then results in incorrect and ineffective treatment. They’re treating train in the mountains, when the actual puzzle is cats in the garden. Pointless and ineffective treatment.

Plus, these mental health professionals don’t even know there is such a thing as the cats in the garden puzzle. That’s why I wrote Foundations. This book explains the cats in the garden puzzle. Once mental health professionals read Foundations, they will go “Hey, this isn’t train in the mountains. This is cats in the garden.” Until they read Foundations, however, they’ll just go on diagnosing and treating train in the mountains no matter what the actual puzzle is.

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

Understanding the Child’s Experience

I’ve been asked by several targeted parents to describe the child’s experience. I will try.


Your child loves you. Have no doubt of this. Your child loves you more than anything. You are the world to them. Your child loves you very, very much.

But the world surrounding your child is a crazy upside down world of psychopathology.

Living with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent there is no anchor to reality; up is down, the sky is red, then yellow, then green; truth and reality shift with the whims and pathology of the parent. The child has become lost in an Alice in Wonderland world of swirling confusion.

To understand the child’s experience, we must begin by understanding the pathological core beliefs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent who has captured the child’s psychology.

Narcissistic & Borderline Pathology

While on the surface narcissistic and borderline personality presentations appear different, they are simply variations in the outward manifestation of the same underlying core beliefs within the attachment system. These core beliefs are called “schemas” or “internal working models” of attachment. Both the narcissistic and borderline personality types have their foundational origins in the same core beliefs contained within the attachment system.

The attachment system forms patterns of expectations for self- and other-in-relationship. For both the narcissistic and borderline personalities, the core beliefs regarding self- and other-in-relationship are identical:

Core Belief Regarding Self-in-Relationship: “I am fundamentally inadequate as a person”

Core Belief Regarding the Other-in-Relationship: “I will be rejected and abandoned by the other person because of my fundamental inadequacy as a person.”

Both the narcissistic and borderline personalities share this set of fundamental core beliefs within their “internal working models” of attachment. The only difference between the narcissistic and borderline style personalities is how these internal core attachment schemas are manifested.

The borderline-style personality has no established psychological defense against the continual experience of these core beliefs of primal self-inadequacy and fears of abandonment, so that the borderline-style personality is continually collapsing into irrational hostile-aggressive tirades and tearful episodes of supposed victimization.

The narcissistic-style personality, on the other hand, has been able to develop a fragile psychological defense against the direct experience of these core beliefs through a grandiose self-inflation in which the narcissistic-style personality entirely devalues the importance of others as a means to assert self-superiority and suppress fears of abandonment (i.e., “You’re inadequate, I’m wonderful. And I’m abandoning YOU because of YOUR inadequacy”). If this fragile narcissistic veneer is punctured by criticism, however, the narcissistic personality style will collapse into its borderline core of hostile-aggressive disorganization.

Both personalities have an underlying “borderline” core of primal self-inadequacy and fear of abandonment (i.e., attachment expectations for self- and other-in-relationship), and both have narcissistic features of complete self-absorption.  The difference is just that the narcissistic-style personality has been able to establish a fragile narcissistic defense against the direct experience of these underlying vulnerabilities, whereas the borderline personality-style personality has no inner psychological defense against the continual direct experience of these core attachment beliefs.

With this parental pathology in mind, we turn to the child’s experience.

The Grief Response

When the divorce occurred, your child was anxious and confused.

“What does the divorce mean? What’s going to happen?”

When children are anxious, their brain systems motivate them to “socially reference” their parents regarding the meaning of the situation. 

As a healthy parent, you gave your child an appropriately diffuse and balanced understanding regarding the meaning of the divorce.  Which is the right thing to do. 

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent, on the other hand, gave the child an unbalanced and highly distorted perspective about the meaning of the divorce.

The divorce also made the child tremendously sad about the loss of the intact family. Children love both parents, and no matter how much pain and anger was in the spousal relationship, your child still loves both of you, and still wants both of you to be together. But the divorce ended this. The intact family broke up.  This made the child sad.

When the divorce occurred, the child’s inner experience was one of grief and mournful longing for the intact family structure. This is entirely natural and healthy. The child was also anxious about what the divorce meant. What was going to happen?

In a healthy divorce process, our hope would be that the parents would avoid blame and minimize their spousal hostility toward each other so that the child does not become caught in the middle of the spousal conflict.  We want to allow the child to love both parents.

In a healthy divorce process, parents deflect the child’s questions about the spousal relationship and provide the child with calm reassurances that both parents love the child and that everything is going to be okay.

“Mom and dad can’t get along and we’ve decided to get a divorce, which means that mom and dad will be living in separate houses. But we still both love you very much, and we’re still both going to be involved in every part your life and in everything you do. Mom and dad will just being living in separate houses, that’s all. The divorce is between mom and dad, and it’s not about you, it’s about us. We both love you very much, and everything is going to be okay.”

As a loving parent, you did this.

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent did not.

In divorcing the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, you exposed their core vulnerabilities of primal self-inadequacy and fear of abandonment. By divorcing them, you publicly identified them as being an inadequate spouse and you abandoned (rejected) them because of their inadequacy. That’s a direct spot-on hit to their core vulnerabilities.

As a result, the fragile organization of their personality structure collapsed.

In order to reestablish their structural organization, the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent must externalize onto you their own primal self-inadequacy and fears of abandonment. They must make you the inadequate and abandoned person, and they can accomplish this through the child.

By inducing the child into rejecting you, the child’s rejection of you defines YOU as the inadequate parent (person) who is being rejected (abandoned) for YOUR inadequacy as a parent (person).

The child’s rejection of you allows the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to restore their narcissistic defense against the experience of primal self-inadequacy and fears of abandonment that had collapsed with the divorce. The child’s rejection of you allows them to psychologically expel (project) their core beliefs onto you; you’re the inadequate person (parent), and you are being abandoned for your fundamental inadequacy.

So they draw the child into the spousal conflict on their “side” and induce the child’s rejection of you in order to reestablish their psychological defense against the experience of primal self-inadequacy and to protect themselves from their terrible fears of abandonment (“I’m not the abandoned person – you are. The child belongs to me.  The child is not abandoning me.  The child is abandoning you.”)

From the perspective of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, this is all justified. To them, you are the embodiment of evil and you “deserve” to be rejected because of your fundamental inadequacy as a person (which actually represents their own experience of self-inadequacy which is being expelled from them by projecting it onto you).

You’re to Blame

To initiate the child’s rejection of you, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent first blames you for the divorce.

“Your mom is breaking up our family. She’s selfishly thinking only of what she wants, and she’s not considering our family, or what we may want or need.”

“Your dad doesn’t love us anymore. He’s decided to leave our family to start a new family.”

The child is already sad about the break-up of the family, and under the distorting influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent this authentic sadness is twisted into anger and blame directed at you for causing the divorce.

You are trying to keep the child out of the spousal conflict, whereas the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is actively bringing the child into the spousal conflict, actively manipulating the child into taking the “side” of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. You’re the bad person who is causing the divorce, causing the child’s sadness.

Eliciting Criticism

The second phase is eliciting from the child criticisms of you, however small, that are then inflamed and distorted by the response these elicited criticisms receive from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

By responding as if these minor elicited criticisms actually represent severe parental failures on your part, the child is led into falsely believing that these normal-range interactions between you and the child were actually “evidence” of your “abusive” parenting practices toward the child.

Typically, this is framed as your not being sensitive enough to “the child’s needs” (which contains the implied message that you don’t love the child).  The responses of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to these sought-for and elicited child criticisms of you define you as selfish and insensitive toward the child, and the child comes to believe this.

Believing Falsehood

The child experiences an authentic sadness.

First over the loss of the intact family, then at the loss of an affectionally bonded relationship with you. The child loves you and misses you. Once the child’s affectionally bonded relationship with you is disrupted by the distorting influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the loss of an affectionally bonded relationship with you makes the child extremely sad.

The child’s sadness is real and authentic.

However, under the distorting influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child is induced into misinterpreting this authentic sadness as being caused by something bad you’re doing as a parent.

When people do bad things to us, they hurt us.

Something about being with you hurts (in actuality, it’s that the child wants to bond with you and isn’t. It hurts because they miss loving you).  

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent twists the child’s sadness into blame and anger, and the narcissistic/(borderline) parent convinces the child that the source of the child’s hurt is your bad parenting. You’re a bad person, that’s why the child hurts.

This makes sense to the child. When people do bad things to us, it hurts us. The child hurts, so that means you must be doing something bad that is making the child hurt. Initially, this is framed as blaming you for the divorce. Then this is expanded to your not being sensitive enough to what the child feels and needs (i.e., the implied message is that you don’t love the child).

Under the distorting influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child falls down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, where up is down, the sky is yellow, and truth is whatever anyone asserts it to be.

Your child loves you very much.  The child is simply lost.

The Role-Reversal Relationship

In healthy parent-child relationships, the child uses the parent as a “regulatory other” for the child’s emotional and psychological experience.

In a role-reversal relationship, the parent uses the child as a “regulatory other” for the parent’s emotional and psychological experience.

The emotional and psychological state of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is unstable.  If the child fails to be who the narcissistic/(borderline) parent wants the child to be, the child is exposed to the collapse of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent into hostility, anger, and rejection of the child.

If, on the other hand, the child can read the inner psychological and emotional needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent and respond in ways to meet those needs, then the child can stabilize the emotional and psychological functioning of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent and prevent this parent’s collapse into disorganization, hostility, and rejection of the child.

In addition, truth and reality are not fixed constructs for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  For the narcissistic/(borderline) personality, “truth and reality are what I assert them to be.”

So the child is living in a dangerous world where it is vital to continually meet the ever shifting emotional and psychological needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and in which truth and reality are not fixed concepts but are continually changing, defined by the moment-to-moment needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

This creates a tremendous anxiety for the child being with the unstable and psychologically dangerous narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  The child becomes hyper-vigilant for reading the emotional and psychological state of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent and meeting the needs of the parent to stabilize this parent’s emotional and psychological functioning.  This is the role-reversal relationship.  The child is acting as a “regulatory other” for the emotional and psychological state of the parent.

Surrender

When the child surrenders to the will of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child is freed from the tremendous anxiety.  The child’s surrender into being what the narcissistic/(borderline) wants the child to be stabilizes the emotional and psychological functioning of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. As long as the child is who and what the narcissistic/(borderline) parent wants and needs the child to be, the child is safe from the parent’s collapse into hostility and rejection of the child.

Indulgences

And in return for the child’s psychological surrender to the will and needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child is granted indulgences.  With a more narcissistic-style parent (typically, but not always, the pathological father), the child will be granted material indulgences and adult-like privileges.  With the more borderline-style parent (typically, but not always, the pathological mother), the child will be granted affectionate indulgences surrounding their idealized “perfect love” for each other.

But neither type of indulgence is love.  The narcissistic granting of material indulgences and adult-like privileges is actually a form of emotional and psychological neglect and an expression of parental non-involvement.  The borderline granting of hyper-affectionate bonding is actually to meet the borderline-style parent’s needs to be the idealized and totally adored “beloved,” in order to eliminate the parent’s fears of abandonment. 

The granting of indulgences to the child is not about the child, it’s about the parent.  The narcissistic-style parent doesn’t want to be bothered.  The borderline-style parent wants to be the center of the child’s universe, never to be abandoned by the child.

Fusion

So what does the narcissistic/(borderline) parent want from the child? 

They want the child to be a complete narcissistic reflection of the parent’s own psychological state. 

They want the child to be a totally fused reflection of the parent’s own psychological world.

When the child psychologically surrenders the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child enters a fused psychological state with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  The child surrenders authenticity for psychological fusion. 

This state of psychological fusion actually feels good… somewhat.  It’s like an experience of hyper-intimacy, it’s just that this hyper-intimacy is being purchased at the price of authenticity.  So sometimes the child may actually believe that he or she is sharing a loving relationship of perfect mutual understanding with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent . 

Yet there will always be echoes deep inside the child of loneliness and self-alienation. And there will be the grief and sadness of missing you.  Always there will be the grief and sadness of missing you.

Guilt

But in surrendering to the psychological will and needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, your child has betrayed you, betrayed their beloved.

Your child loves you very much.  Your child has betrayed you.  This produces profound guilt.

The child must defend against this tremendous guilt, and they do so by making you “deserve” to be rejected.  It’s your fault.  You don’t love them enough.  You don’t… You didn’t… You never…  It’s your fault.

You “deserve” to be rejected. 

And the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is fully supportive of this interpretation of the child’s rejection of you.  You deserve to be rejected because you’re the inadequate spouse – person – parent, who is being rejected (abandoned) because of your inadequacy as a spouse – person – parent.

You failed to appreciate the narcissistic glory of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  You rejected and abandoned the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  You “deserve” to be punished, you “deserve” to suffer.

In this shared false belief, the child is able to avoid the guilt of betraying you and the pain of losing you.

Your Child Loves You

Your child loves you with all their heart.  You are the world to them.  They are lost.  They are living in a psychologically dangerous world of ever-changing truth and reality.  They must do what it takes to survive in the dangerous psychological world of living with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

We must be able to protectively separate the child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent before we can restore the child’s authenticity.

I hope this helps in understanding the child’s experience.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologist, PSY 18857

You are all in this together

I often receive phone calls and emails from targeted parents asking for my help. I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to targeted parents regarding your situation.


To targeted parents:

You cannot do this alone. 

Unless we solve “parental alienation” for everyone, we can solve it for no one.  You are all in this together.  There can be no solution to any individual family situation until we achieve a solution for ALL families experiencing parental alienation.

No solution exists under the Gardnerian PAS model.  The Gardnerian paradigm has been available for 30 years and it has given us exactly the current situation we have now.  Until the paradigm shifts from a Gardnerian PAS model to an attachment-based model, no solution to your individual family struggle will be available.  There is nothing you can do.  

Once the paradigm shifts from a Gardnerian PAS model to an attachment-based model, the solution becomes immediately available for all parents and children.  Then, and only then, will there be a solution available for your individual situation.

Unless and until we solve “parental alienation” for all families, there will be no solution available for any individual family.  You are all in this together. 

You must come together to fight for all of your children.

Let me explain.

Do you know any therapists in…?

I regularly receive emails and phone calls from targeted parents who ask,

“Do you know any therapists in <name the location> who treat parental alienation?”

This is fundamentally the wrong question.

The child is in a psychological hostage situation. How can we possibly ask the child to expose his or her authenticity if we cannot first protect the child from the certain retaliation that will be inflicted on the child by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?

The child is in a very dangerous psychological situation with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. You, of all people, should know this.

You know how angry and irrational that other parent is, how controlling and demeaning the other parent can be. You were married to them, and you divorced them.  You understand it because you experienced it.

When you were married to the other parent at least the child had you available to provide some protection for the child when the other parent’s pathology was triggered, and during the marriage most of the other parent’s pathology was directed at you so that the child was spared the intensity of a direct assault by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s pathology.

But now, following the divorce, the child is alone with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. You escaped the pathology of the other parent by divorcing this parent, but the child is still trapped.  And you can’t directly protect the child anymore because you’re no longer there; the child is alone now with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  And the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is directing their spousal anger at you through the child, so the child is now directly in the line of fire.

If the child shows any bonding toward you, any kindness toward you, or is even simply not being rejecting enough of you, not being sufficiently hostile and demeaning toward you, then the child faces the fierce psychological retaliation of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and you know just how crazy and irrational, how angry and hostile, how subtly manipulative and controlling that onslaught can be.

Unless we can first protect the child, how can we ask the child to expose his or her authenticity to the full fury of the pathological onslaught that’s sure to follow from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?

When you ask me if there is a therapist who treats “parental alienation” you are considering only your own needs, your own love for your child, but you are not considering the consequences for the child if we expose the child’s authenticity without being able to protect the child from the searing retaliation that is sure to follow.

I know you love your child.  I know how desperately you miss your child.  But we must first be able to protect the child before we can ask the child to expose his or her authenticity.

The Questions

The appropriate question is,

“Dr. Childress, how can I protect my child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?”

The answer is, you can’t.

Don’t you see that? You cannot protect your child. And if you cannot protect your child then your child has to do whatever is necessary, including rejecting a relationship with you, in order to survive in the psychologically dangerous world in which the child must survive.

In order to protect your child, you must get the court to order a protective separation of the child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery.

Unless you can get the court to order the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the recovery of the child’s authenticity, then there is nothing that can be done, because you cannot protect your child and the child must do what is necessary to survive in the pathology surrounding the child.

“But Dr. Childress, I’ve tried. I’ve spent a fortune in legal bills, all the money I have and more,  I’ve gone into debt, I’ve borrowed from family, all in an effort to get the court to recognize the parental alienation, and the court doesn’t do anything. They write orders that are never enforced, the other parent simply ignores court orders and the court doesn’t do anything about it.  And they’ve reduced my time with the child to almost nothing.  The court won’t order a protective separation of my child from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.”

“Dr. Childress, how do I get the court to order a protective separation of the child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?”

You can’t.

Don’t you see that?  It is so clearly obvious.  Under the current Gardnerian PAS paradigm it is nearly impossible to get the court to order the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The family law system is massively broken. 

Judges don’t understand “parental alienation,” and it is nearly impossible to prove “parental alienation” in court. It takes years and years of legal battling in which the narcissistic/(borderline) parent delays and delays, throwing up roadblocks, allegations of abuse, blatantly disregarding court orders without any consequence, until you’ve spent all your money, you haven’t seen your kids in years, and things have gone from bad to horrible.

You can’t get the court to order a protective separation on your own, you’re not powerful enough. You need an ally. You need mental health to stand by your side and say with decisive clarity to the court that the child is being “alienated” from you by the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and that the child’s healthy development REQUIRES that the child be protectively separated from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the period of treatment as we recover and stabilize the child’s authenticity.

“But Dr. Childress, I’ve tried. I’ve been in therapy for years. We’ve had a child custody evaluation that said the other parent was “alienating” the child but the evaluator still recommended shared custody. We’ve been in reunification therapy and the therapist acts like the distortions the child is saying are true, and the therapist has even asked me to apologize to the child for my past “failures,” when I didn’t do anything wrong. Years of supposed therapy and nothing changes, things actually get worse. And I never get to speak with the child’s individual therapists. No one in mental health is my ally. What can I do?”

“Dr. Childress, how can I convince mental health professionals to be my ally in obtaining the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?”

You can’t. You’re still not understanding. The mental health response to your family is completely ignorant and incompetent, and the current Gardnerian PAS paradigm allows this professional ignorance and incompetence.

The mental health professionals diagnosing and treating your family are entirely and completely incompetent. They’re plastic surgeons diagnosing and treating cancer. They have no idea what’s wrong and they have even less of an understanding for what to do about it.

The custody evaluation is going to take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars, but the conclusion is (almost) pre-written, joint custody to both parents. Split the difference. Middle of the road. It doesn’t matter what’s actually going on, that’s irrelevant. The answer is going to be to recommend the middle, split the difference, joint custody to both parents (or less custody time to you because the child is saying that the child doesn’t want to be with you).

Therapists are pointless. Individual therapists will simply “validate the child’s feelings” which is essentially validating and colluding with the pathology. And the typical justification for this insane collusion with psychopathology is that they’re “giving the child a safe place to talk about their feelings.” Nonsense. Therapy isn’t a safe place for the alienated child.  After every session (if the narcissistic/(borderline) parent even allows therapy sessions to occur), the child is asked by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to report on what occurred during the therapy session.  Therapy just becomes another place for the child to display to the narcissistic/(borderline) parent the child’s allegiance to the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. We might as well have the narcissistic/(borderline) parent sitting in the supposedly “individual” child therapy sessions.

And psychologically the child is entirely captured by the role-reversal relationship. There is no authentic child present. The child is like a ventriloquist’s puppet, mouthing the words placed there by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

(In the scientific literature, this loss of authenticity is called a “role-reversal” relationship in which the child is being used as a “regulatory object” by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to regulate the emotional and psychological state of this parent.)

Joint parent-child “reunification therapy” is equally as pointless, as I’m sure you’re aware. First off, there is no such thing as “reunification therapy.” This term is used by therapists as a cover which allows the therapist to essentially do anything under the guise of “reunification therapy.”  There is no defined model for what “reunification therapy” is.  The therapist does whatever seems to make sense to the therapist at the moment under the pretense that there is some sort of strategy or approach to restoring the parent-child bond. But there is no strategy or approach, because these therapists have no idea what they’re treating, and they have even less understanding for how to treat the pathology that sits before them.

They’re treating cancer with leeches. Not only don’t they understand what they’re treating, their treatment is positively medieval in its approach so that it has no hope of resolving the severity of the pathology.

Mental health isn’t your ally. They are ignorant, and in their ignorance they are only colluding with, and further entrenching, the pathology.

“So Dr. Childress. What can I do?”

Nothing.

Is There a Solution? No. (and yes).

What you’re facing is a manifestation of the childhood trauma pathology that created the narcissistic/(borderline) pathology of the other parent, which is now being reenacted on you.

In the childhood trauma of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a child was being psychologically abused by his or her own parent, and there was nothing the narcissistic/(borderline) parent-as-a-child could do back then to escape the abuse. They were powerless to make their suffering stop.

That was the initial trauma that is now being reenacted on you.

You, as the recipient of the trauma reenactment narrative, are being psychologically abused and there is nothing you can do to escape the abuse.

There is no solution for you.

But, there is a solution.

In order to solve this nightmare of “parental alienation” for you, we must solve it for EVERYONE, for ALL targeted parents. When we solve “parental alienation” for ALL targeted parents, then we will solve it for you.

Your individual solution will be found in the collective solution. Until we solve parental alienation for everyone, we can solve it for no one.

So what’s the solution? Mental health MUST become your ally, so that working together we have enough power to protect your child. We start with mental health.

First, we must demand – not seek – we must demand professional competence. We must banish professional ignorance and incompetence.

Gardner’s PAS model won’t allow us to demand professional competence because he proposed a “new syndrome” which has been rejected by establishment mental health for 30 years as lacking in scientifically established foundation. 

The Gardnerian PAS paradigm allows for exactly the professional incompetence we are witnessing.  After 30 years of the failed Gardnerian PAS paradigm that should be patently obvious.  The Gardnerian PAS paradigm is giving us exactly what we have.  So why are we holding onto the Gardnerian PAS paradigm that allows for such extensive professional incompetence?  I have no idea. 

We need a change.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” provides this change.

It doesn’t propose a “new syndrome” but instead defines what “parental alienation” is entirely using standard and accepted, scientifically sound and supported, psychological constructs and principles. This redefinition of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs then allows us to define “domains of professional competence” required for treating this “special population” of children and families:

  • Attachment theory
  • Personality disorder dynamics
  • Family systems constructs

We can then require that all mental health professionals diagnosing and treating this “special population” possess the necessary knowledge for competent professional practice.

Then, once we banish ignorance and obtain professional competence, the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” in the child’s symptom display will identify the presence of parental alienation in every case.

Finally, you will have a definitive diagnosis from mental health. And this diagnosis will include the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.57 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

And because we have achieved professional competence, gone will be pointless individual child therapy, gone will be un-defined “reunification therapy.”

Therapy for attachment-based “parental alienation” REQUIRES the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of treatment and recovery stabilization from the role-reversal relationship with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in which the child is being used as a “regulatory object” by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent for the psychopathology of this parent.

Because we have achieved profession competence, no therapist, ANYWHERE, will treat a case of attachment-based “parental alienation” without first obtaining the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. Mental health will, at last, be your ally.

THEN, we turn back to the court system. When mental health speaks with a single voice, the legal system will be able to act with the decisive clarity necessary to solve parental alienation.

Judges will be presented with a mental health diagnosis of V995.57 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed from ALL mental health professionals involved with your child and family, and no therapist anywhere will treat the child without the court first ordering the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Before we can ask the child to expose his or her authenticity, we MUST first protect the child.

While it is possible that judges may still not order a protective separation, it will be extremely hard for them not to order a protective separation when ALL mental health professionals are giving the child a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.57 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed, and the entire field of professional psychology is saying that the child’s treatment REQUIRES the child’s protective separation from the psychopathology of the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent. For a judge to simply disregard all of professional mental health regarding the child’s pathology and treatment needs is going to be very hard for the judge to do.

Once we have a protective separation of the child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, then we can restore the child’s authenticity and the child’s loving bond to you.

But we must solve “parental alienation” for ALL families in order to solve it for any one family.

And then, once we have stopped the continual bleeding-out of current “alienation,” we can next turn our focus on the adult-children of “alienation,” the adult survivors of childhood “parental alienation.”

With the media attention we can generate surrounding the solution for current “alienation” we can broaden the focus to include the adult survivors of childhood “parental alienation” so that we can set about healing this nightmare for everyone.  For everyone.

As targeted parents, you are in this together. We cannot solve this for any one family unless we solve it for all families.

We can solve it for all families.

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

Synthesis

I recieved a Comment to my blog that I would like to respond to as a full post.

“Dr Childress, thank you for your generic letters to therapists and the child’s attorney. Have you written a generic correspondence to the judges in these cases?” – Jeff

There’s a problem in writing a generic letter to the Court that I think will be helpful to explain.

My professional background is not as an expert in “parental alienation.” My professional expertise is actually in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, with a secondary specialty in early childhood mental health (ages 0-5) which necessarily includes an expertise in the neuro-development of the brain during childhood.

Before entering private practice I served as the Clinical Director for a children’s assessment and treatment center that primarily served children in the foster care system.  My expertise in the attachment system comes from both my background in early childhood mental health, which is the period of active formative processes in the attachment system (although we use the patterns of the attachment system throughout our lives), and from also applying this attachment-related information directly with children in the foster care system who were the victims of parental abuse and neglect that created a variety of severe distortions with their attachment system.

My foundational expertise in ADHD and angry-defiant children focuses on older age children (school-age) and adolescents, although it also has applicability to preschool age children as well. This overlap was particularly prominent in my work at Children’s Hospital of Orange County where I served as the lead clinical psychologist on a collaborative project with the University of California, Irvine’s Child Development Center on the identification and treatment of ADHD in preschool-age children.

I know the impact of child abuse up close and personal. I’ve seen the results of child physical and sexual abuse and severe neglect. I’m not a “parental alienation” expert. I’m a clinical child and family psychologist.

I only ran across “parental alienation” when I entered private practice to begin writing my book solving ADHD and all aspects of parenting generally

And I’m being honest on that, I’ve got the non-medication solution to ADHD (most forms) and to nearly all.. no, I’d say all… parenting issues. These solutions represent the synthesis of my years of work with ADHD and the neuro-development of brain systems during childhood – look what I’ve done with “parental alienation” in a couple of years of focused effort, imagine what I’ve done with ADHD and parenting from a lifetime of effort. Solved it.

But I just can’t get to writing about it because I’m busy solving “parental alienation” first. But the reason I’ve been able to solve “parental alienation” is because I’ve first solved parenting generally, and oppositional-defiant children, and ADHD children, and healthy child development, and all the stuff related to parenting and childhood. I simply applied this knowledge to “parental alienation.”

I’m currently waiting for “parental alienation” to catch up to an attachment-based model and then I’m going to drop down one level deeper for mental health professionals into an understanding of “parental alienation” at some basic neurological levels, and in particular with a brain system called “intersubjectivity.”

For any mental health professionals who are interested in where this is going, read these two articles by Fonagy,

Fonagy, P., Luyten, P., and Strathearn, L. (2011). Borderline personality disorder, mentalization, and the neurobiology of attachment. Infant Mental Health Journal, 32, 47-69.

Fonagy P. & Target M. (2005). Bridging the transmission gap: An end to an important mystery in attachment research? Attachment and Human Development, 7, 333-343.

Fonagy is one of the leading figures in the field of attachment and intersubjectivity.  His work is brilliant.

The problem in writing a generic letter to the judge is, what happens if it is actually the targeted parent who is the narcissistic parent, who may be inflicting emotional, physical, or psychological abuse on the child, or on the other parent through a history of severe domestic violence?

What if the favored parent is authentically trying to protect the child from an emotionally or physically or sexually abusing narcissistic parent, and the narcissistic targeted parent is manipulatively using the allegation of “parental alienation” against the favored parent to nullify the favored parent’s authentic efforts to protect the child from abuse?

What if the narcissistic targeted parent feels “entitled” to possession of the “narcissistic object” of the child and cannot understand why the child wouldn’t want to be with the magnificence of the ideal and perfect narcissistic parent, so that the narcissistic targeted parent is externalizing blame onto the favored normal-range and healthy parent for the child’s reluctance to be with the chronic empathic failures and nullification of the child’s self-authenticity experienced from the narcissistic targeted parent?

I know child abuse up close and personal. I will NOT participate in or collude with the ability of a narcissistic parent to emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abuse the child and then avoid responsibility and nullify the protective efforts of the normal-range and healthy parent by alleging that the child’s allegations are simply a case of “parental alienation.”

The valid concern is that the narcissistic targeted parent will externalize responsibility by alleging “parental alienation,” thereby continuing the child’s exposure to emotional and psychological abuse from profound parental empathic failure and nullification of the child’s self-authenticity, physical and psychological control and intimidation of the child, or active sexual exploitation of the child, and if the child reports the abuse the narcissistic predator simply alleges that it’s a “false allegation” because of “parental alienation.”

In about 20% of the cases that come to me because of my expertise in “parental alienation” it turns out that the targeted parent who is alleging “parental alienation” actually turns out to be the narcissistic parent who is externalizing blame and responsibility for the child’s reluctance to be with the narcissistic parent onto the other parent by alleging “parental alienation” because the narcissistic targeted parent feels “entitled” to possess the child.

The Critics

This is the argument of the critics of “parental alienation.” They are deeply and rightly concerned that the construct of “parental alienation” defined by Gardner is so poorly formed that it will allow narcissistic predatory parents to continue their abuse, including the incestuous sexual abuse of the child and the psychological domination of the child (and spouse) through threats of violence directed toward the child and spouse.

I know child abuse up close and personal. The concerns expressed by the critics of “parental alienation” are entirely valid. The critics aren’t our enemy. And we should not be theirs.

They are absolutely correct in their heartfelt and authentic concerns for the well-being of children and families. As are we.

We should be joined together in a collaborative effort to accurately identify narcissistic parenting (i.e., psychological and other forms of child abuse) in 100% of the cases. We’re not adversaries, the critics and supporters of “parental alienation,” we are fundamental allies.

So why are we divided? Why do we see them as the enemy to be “overcome” and they see us as radicals that presents a “threat” to children and families?

Staff-splitting.

There is a well-established construct in working with borderline personalities referred to as “staff-splitting.”

It’s called a “parallel process” in which arguments and divisions appear in the treatment team as a parallel process of manifesting the splitting dynamic (see Key Concept: Splitting post) inherent to borderline (and narcissistic) personality dynamics.

Remember, narcissistic and borderline personality organizations are simply external variants of an underlying borderline core. They are not two different types of personalities, they are two different expressions of the same type of underlying process.

Staff-splitting is described by one of the foremost experts on borderline personality processes, Marsha Linehan,

“Staff splitting,” as mentioned earlier, is a much-discussed phenomenon in which professionals treating borderline patients begin arguing and fighting about a patient, the treatment plan, or the behavior of the other professionals with the patient… arguments among staff members and differences in points of view, traditionally associated with staff splitting, are seen as failures in synthesis and interpersonal process among the staff rather than as a patient’s problem… Therapist disagreements over a patient are treated as potentially equally valid poles of a dialectic. Thus, the starting point for dialogue is the recognition that a polarity has arisen, together with an implicit (if not explicit) assumption that resolution will require working toward synthesis.” (p. 432)

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York, NY: Guilford

Notice the date… 1993. This is not a new concept. It is familiar to everyone who works with borderline personality dynamics.

It is not a coincidence that both sides in the “parental alienation” debate adopt an idealized self-attitude that “we” are the wonderful protectors of children, and that “the other side” is comprised of callous and insensitive people who are unconcerned about child abuse.

Splitting, pure and simple. Polarized extremes of perception in which “we” are idealized and “they” are demonized.

There are no sides. We all want exactly the same thing.

The critics of “parental alienation” aren’t our enemies, and we are not theirs.

All the critics want is to ensure that we protect children from child abuse. That’s entirely reasonable. The concerns expressed by the critics are that the Gardnerian PAS model is too poorly defined so that it allows narcissistic targeted parents to continue their abuse of children by evading protection efforts through alleging “parental alienation.”

That’s an entirely reasonable concern.

So let’s look at the diagnostic criteria for Gardnerian PAS, are they specific enough to ensure that narcissistic targeted parents cannot use the construct of “parental alienation” as a manipulative means to evade our child protection efforts?

Uhhhh, no, actually they’re not. The Gardnerian PAS diagnostic criteria, while possibly accurate for identifying cases of “parental alienation” in which the narcissistic parent is the allied and supposedly favored parent, do not sufficiently differentiate cases when the targeted parent is the narcissistic parent.

Diagnostic criteria must meet standards for “sensitivity” (correctly identifying the presence of something) and “specificity” (not misidentifying other things as being the thing we’re looking for).

The Gardnerian criteria may have sufficient “sensitivity” (and I’m conceding some on the “may” here), but they lack sufficient “specificity.” There is too great a risk that the Gardnerian criteria will be used by narcissistic targeted parents to evade our child protection efforts.

I am not a “parental alienation” expert. I am a clinical psychologist. I know child abuse up close and personal. I will not participate in or collude with the pathology of a narcissistic parent, whether that parent is the allied and supposedly favored parent or whether that parent is the targeted parent.

Over the past several years, I have actually withdrawn from cases of “reunification” because I was unwilling to participate in the restoration of the child’s relationship with a narcissistic targeted parent. So far, I’ve withdrawn from three cases for exactly this reason.  In other cases where this has occurred, I’ve continued my work with an understanding that the reason for the child’s “protest behavior” was not “parental alienation” but instead represented valid child concerns.

If you’re a normal-range parent being falsely accused of “parental alienation” your best chance is probably to come see me. I know what “parental alienation” is, so I also know what it’s not.

And not everything is “parental alienation.” Sometimes the narcissistic parent is the targeted parent.

So I will not write a generic letter to a judge, because the risk is too high that a narcissistic targeted parent might use the letter to evade child protection efforts. I will ask therapists to consider the issues. I will ask minor’s counsels to consider the issues.  Judges decide.

If it is helpful, I will offer my professional expertise to the Court when desired.  I respect the Court.  If I can help the Court produce a decision that will be in the child’s best interests in achieving healthy emotional and psychological development, I would be privileged to do so. But only if my expertise can help the Court make a proper decision in the specific case before it.

Diagnosis

Achieving synthesis in this unnecessary professional debate surrounding “parental alienation” requires listening to the constructive criticism of the other position.  

The critics cited that the Gardnerian PAS model was insufficiently grounded in established psychological principles and constructs. So when I set about developing an actualizable solution to “parental alienation” I went back to the very foundations of the construct.

I first had to work out what the psychological structure of the pathology was.  From this foundational understanding for the psychological structure of “parental alienation,” I then identified key diagnostic features of this structure that would,

1.) Identify “parental alienation” in ALL cases (sensitivity)

2,) Not identify anything else that wasn’t “parental alienation” as being “parental alienation” (specificity)

The three diagnostic indicators for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” meet this standard.

That’s why ALL THREE of the diagnostic indicators must be present to make the diagnosis of attachment-based “parental alienation.” Any of the three individual diagnostic indicators may be present from other causes, but not ALL THREE. When all three diagnostic indicators are present, the only possible cause is an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation.”

In my post, Diagnostic Indicators and Associated Clinical Signs, notice how many features didn’t make the cut, i.e., all of the associated clinical signs.  All of these features are characteristic of “parental alienation” but they lack sufficient sensitivity or specificity to make the cut into being a formal diagnostic indicator.

That’s the process, the professional rigor, that Gardner should have adopted,

A) Identify the structure of the pathogenic process

B) Determine diagnostic indicators of sufficient sensitivity and specificity based on a foundational understanding for the pathogenic process

Instead, Gardner adopted what I consider to be an intellectually lazy approach of proposing a “new syndrome” without sufficient analysis, and then a proposed set of anecdotal diagnostic features that are inadequate to the task.

Synthesis

We are mental health professionals. You guys, you mental health professionals on both sides who have been engaged in this unnecessary “parental alienation” debate for 30 years, should be really embarrassed that you fell prey to the parallel process of staff-splitting… for 30 years. Oh my gosh. Thirty years.

When I first looked at the debate, it took me about 30 seconds to recognize the splitting.

“We are the wonderful protectors of children”

Whether this statement is made by the Gardnerians or by the critics.

“They are callous and uncaring about the suffering of children”

Whether this statement is made by the Gardnerians or by the critics.

“We are the righteous and noble. They are the enemy to be defeated.”

Again, whether this statement is made by the Gardnerians or by the critics.

Stop it.  Splitting.  Splitting.  Splitting.

“We” are idealized and “they” are demonized. Stop it.

All of you should be really embarrassed. How can you have succumbed to the parallel process of staff-splitting for so long? The only answer I can come up with is ignorance about working with borderline personality processes. Linehan’s identification of staff-splitting is from 1993. Twenty years ago.

If you don’t know about borderline personality processes, I would gently suggest that you may be practicing beyond the boundaries of professional competence if you are working with borderline personality processes.

But enough with my chastisement. The important thing now is to stop it. We are not idealized and they are not the enemy. On both sides of this unnecessary debate. The critics must also stop it. We are not your enemy. We all have the same goal. Protection of children 100% of the time.

Protection of children 100% of the time when the targeted parent is the narcissistic parent.

Protection of children 100% of the time when the supposedly favored parent is the narcissistic parent.

ALL children need to be protected from all forms of child abuse 100% of the time.  There is absolutely no disagreement.  There are no sides.

We need to start listening to a recognized expert in dealing with borderline personality processes, Marsha Linehan:

1.) “The starting point for dialogue is the recognition that a polarity has arisen”

2.) The disagreement represents a “failure of synthesis”

3.) The disagreement is treated as “equally valid poles” in the dialogue

4.) “Resolution will require working toward synthesis.

The critics are rightly concerned that Gardner’s PAS model is too sloppily put together and will expose some child abuse victims to re-victimization.  I’ve seen child abuse up close and personal  That’s a valid concern.

Our concern is that professional incompetence and ignorance results in the acceptance of superficial appearances that leads to a misdiagnosis of the severely pathogenic parenting involved in the child’s role-reversal relationship with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent as representing an authentic display of the child’s rejection of the targeted parent, and that the pathology involved in attachment-based “parental alienation” rises to the level of a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

From our position advocating for the construct of “parental alienation,” achieving synthesis involves expending the necessary effort to define the construct of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established professional constructs, so that we can develop strong diagnostic indicators that are both sensitive AND specific, and that can be used in 100% of the cases to accurately differentiate when the narcissistic parent is the targeted parent and when the narcissistic parent is the supposedly favored parent, so that we can protect 100% of the children 100% of the time.

From the other side, movement toward synthesis represents the acknowledgement that an attachment-based model for the construct of parental alienation represents an accurate description of the clinical phenomenon and warrants a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed when the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” are present.  Synthesis.  Solution.

There are no sides. We are all on the same side. I invite the Gardnerians to join us in synthesis. I invite the critics to join us in synthesis. You are not our enemy, and we are not yours. We all want exactly the same thing. To protect children from the abuse inflicted on them by a narcissistic parent.

When mental health speaks with a single voice, we can achieve a solution to “parental alienation.” It is time for a solution.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologist, PSY 18857

The Exclusion Demand as Independence

I received a Comment from a targeted parent to my Exclusion Demand post in which the targeted parent indicated that a prior therapist had justified the child’s “exclusion demand” rejection of the targeted parent as representing the child’s desire for independence. 

I want to address this (and any other therapist-offered justifications for the “exclusion demand”) as a separate blog post because I believe professional competence to be so incredibly important as a required expectation for all therapists working with children.

The suggestion by ANY therapist that the child’s “exclusion demand” represents even a remotely normal-range expression of emerging child independence is incredibly ignorant, and just plain stupid. Let me describe why:

Preparatory Foundation

First, there are a number of cultural factors that are involved in a consideration of this therapist suggestion that the “exclusion demand” represents the child’s seeking independence. The construct of independence is culturally defined and tends to be a more prominent construct in Northern European cultural values than in more collectivist cultures, such as Hispanics and Asian cultures. Furthermore, the construct of “independence” reflects a male-dominated value system rather than a more female-oriented value system that emphasizes mutual interdependence.

But let’s put all this entirely relevant information aside so we can get right the heart of the immense stupidity of suggesting that the “exclusion demand” represents the child’s normal-range (or even abnormal-range) seeking of independence.

1. Frequency

All children – 100% – must deal with issues of separation and independence (interdependence) from parents and the family of origin. If the “exclusion demand” was a normal-range expression of the child’s seeking independence, then we would expect to see this symptom in a vast number of normal-range children, since ALL children must deal with this issue. So we would expect to see millions of children expressing the “exclusion demand.”

Go to any park on a Saturday afternoon. How many children are demanding that their parents not attend their soccer or baseball games?  None.  Not a single child. Go to any school music performance by children, how many children are demanding that their parents not attend their school concert performance.  None.  Not a single child. Go to any high school football or basketball game, how many of the adolescent players are demanding that their parents not attend their game.  None.  Not a single adolescent.

And many of these families have significant pathology. Yet we NEVER see the “exclusion demand.”  Never.  Yet if the “exclusion demand” was an expression of the child’s independence and 100% of children need to address this issue, then we would expect to see millions of children expressing the “exclusion demand” but instead the rate of the “exclusion demand” in the normal (and abnormal) range population is 0%.

Furthermore, the developmental challenge of independence occurs in adolescence (Erikson), so we should NEVER see the “exclusion demand” prior to the age of 12.  And developmentally, adolescents do not express their emerging independence by excluding parents from public events. The most common way of establishing adolescent independence is through the increased frequency and intensity of angry exchanges between the adolescent and parent that psychologically highlights boundaries of self-autonomy. Go to any high school football or basketball game. How many players have demanded that their parents NOT attend the game.   None.  Not a single one. Yet all of the players are adolescents, and many of the families have significant pathology.

To suggest that the “exclusion demand” is an expression of the child’s seeking “independence” is just plain stupid.

2.  Healthy Child Development

Healthy children love their parents.  “Independence” – whatever that concept may mean – with regard to children and families is weird.  Children and families are inter-dependent.  Children are separate and independent, and they are involved and integrated into the family.  Healthy child development NEVER means the child’s rejecting a parent.

Normal adolescents express independence by causing conflicts that highlight psychological boundaries.  Normal adolescents express independence by withholding information about friends and activities from parents.  Normal adolescents express independence by socially different clothing or grooming choices, or by holding and expressing different values from their parents.

Children, even adolescent children, do not express independence by not loving a parent.  Not loving a parent is a symptom of extreme clinical concern

3.  Separation-Individuation

Furthermore, the primary model of “individuation” is Margaret Mahler’s from her direct research with children.  Mahler describes three component phases of separation-individuation, 1) the separation phase, 2) the depressive phase, and 3) the rapprochement phase.  In the separation phase the child seeks greater psychological independence by increasing angry exchanges with the parent.  This is followed by the depressive phase in which the child’s emotional expansiveness created by separation collapses in the child’s psychological isolation, which is then followed by the child’s return to the parent to repair the relationship with the parent (the rapprochement phase).

So if the “exclusion demand” represents the child’s seeking of independence, we would also expect to see the rapprochement phase in which the child seeks to repair the bond to the rejected parent.  But we NEVER see the child seeking to restore the parent-child bond following the “exclusion demand” symptom. Never.

4.  Independence from Whom?

If the “exclusion demand” is an expression of the child’s desire for independence, then the child should be expressing the symptom toward BOTH parents, since the child needs to separate and become independent from both parents (assuming the irrational belief in independence rather than the actual construct of healthy inter-dependence).

But wait. The child is already rejecting the targeted parent. So the child has a whole bunch of independence from the targeted parent.  If the child is seeking independence then the child should be displaying the “exclusion demand” symptom toward the bonded-parent not toward the parent the child is ALREADY separated from.

Why would the child need to separate from the parent the child is already separate from, but NOT from the parent the child isn’t separated from?

Why would telling a parent not to come to a music recital attended by every other child’s parent, represent “independence?”  Why would a parent sitting in the bleachers with all the other parents watching the child play sports at a public event reflect the child’s “independence?”

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Stupid Reasons

Just because a therapist offers a “reason” doesn’t make the reason rational.

“Your child is excluding you from attending his baseball games because his horoscope has Jupiter in the house of Sagittarius.”

Is that a reason?  Yep.  Is it a stupid reason?  Yep.

“Your child is excluding you from attending her school Christmas play because she’s seeking independence.

Is that a reason?  No doubt.  Is it a stupid reason.  Absolutely.

The “exclusion demand” is nowhere near normal.  It’s not even close to abnormal.  The “exclusion demand” is a symptom of extreme pathology. When I hear this symptom my clinical concern immediately becomes a 10 on a 10-point scale.

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

 

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