The solution to “parental alienation” requires a paradigm shift away from the failed Gardnerian paradigm of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), over to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” that describes the nature of the pathology from entirely within standard and established psychological constructs and principles.
Until we are able to achieve this paradigm shift, however, we are stuck working with the systems that we have, and these systems are broken. The mental health response is inept and too often colludes with the pathology, and the response of the legal system is glacial at best, prohibitively expensive, and entirely inadequate. So how are we to cope with these failed systems when we need the support of the mental health and legal systems to achieve a solution to “parental alienation?”
Until we are able to achieve a paradigm shift that will allow us to solve all cases of attachment-based “parental alienation” quickly and effectively as they arise, we must find ways of resolving the ignorance and incompetence in mental health and the inadequacy of the legal response.
The Single-Subject Design remedy that I wrote about in my recent blog post and on my website (Single Subject Design Remedy) may (or may not) offer a remedy acceptable to the Court.
My professional recommendation, however, is that the appropriate treatment response to the presence of the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” in the child’s symptom display (see Diagnostic Indicators post) would be an immediate 9-month protective separation of the child from the pathogenic psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent; followed by an initial intervention with the intensive “High Road” protocol of Pruter to quickly restore the child’s normal-range authenticity; followed by ongoing recovery stabilization therapy with a capable and competent therapist.
In developing and offering the Single-Subject Design remedy I am trying to find a compromise solution that may be acceptable to the Court and functional in the current context of dysfunctional systems. If you are familiar with the rationale of the SBS Intervention available on my website, you may also recognize the strategic family systems component of the Single-Subject Design remedy that seeks to alter the power dynamics conferred by the child’s symptoms.
The SBS Intervention and the Signal-Subject Design remedy are efforts to address the inadequate response of the legal system which is reluctant to take the necessary treatment related step of ordering the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery stabilization.
In my view, we desperately need to end the unproductive and unnecessary debate in mental health surrounding whether or not “parental alienation” exists. The pathology of narcissistic and borderline personalities definitely exists, as does the attachment system, attachment trauma, and the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma. All of these things definitely exist. And all of these things comprise the core foundation for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”
Instead of being frozen in endless unproductive and unnecessary debate, we should be moving forward in actively conducting systematic research on different models for resolving the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.” The SBS Intervention and the Single-Subject Design remedy are two offers for compromise solutions that may be acceptable to the Court and that could serve as beginning options for additional treatment research (once we end the unproductive and unnecessary debate in mental health as to whether “parental alienation” exists).
Broken Mental Health Response
But until we can achieve the needed paradigm shift, we must work within the broken systems that we have. In this blog post I will be turning my attention to the broken mental health response. We need to address the ignorance and incompetence which is prevalent in the mental health response to attachment-based “parental alienation.” In this blog post I describe a possible “psychologist consultant” model for the role of an expert professional in assisting the targeted parent in obtaining an appropriate mental health response to the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.”
The concept of a psychologist consultant model is not new. Michael Bone and Richard Sauber (2013) have proposed a similar professional consultation role for an expert mental health professional. But in this blog I will be extending the specificity of describing the role of the “psychologist consultant” in helping the targeted parent obtain an appropriate and competent mental health response to the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.”
This increased specificity in describing the role of the psychologist as a consultant to the targeted parent is made possible by the shift from the Gardnerian PAS model employed by Drs. Bone and Sauber to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” that’s based entirely within standard and established psychological constructs and principles. One of the primary advantages offered by a paradigm shift is that an attachment-based model establishes clearly defined boundaries of professional competence within standard and established constructs of professional psychology.
Once we establish domains and boundaries of professional knowledge and competence necessary to diagnose and treat this special population of children and families, we can then begin to hold ALL mental health professionals accountable to a defined standard of practice in diagnosis and treatment.
The attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” defines the pathology being evidenced in the family, and in the child’s symptom display, within the established professional constructs of parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology, the role-reversal relationship, the triangulation of the child into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent against the targeted parent, and the severe distortion to the child’s expression of attachment bonding motivations toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent.
The nature of the pathology requires that diagnosing and treating mental health professionals possess an advanced level of professional expertise in the following domains of professional knowledge:
1. The Attachment System
The child’s rejection of a normal-range and affectionally available parent represents a severely pathological distortion to the formation and expression of the child’s attachment system.
As a consequence of the attachment system foundations to the child’s expressed pathology, mental health professionals who are diagnosing and treating the severely pathological distortions to the child’s attachment system must possess an advanced level of professional knowledge and expertise regarding the developmental formation and expression of the attachment system during childhood, including the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma, in order to competently diagnose and treat this type of child and family pathology.
An advanced professional understanding for the reenactment of attachment trauma patterns that are contained within the “internal working models” of the attachment system is crucial to professional expertise and competence in working with this special population of children and families.
2. Personality Disorder Pathology
The pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” represents the expression of pathogenic parenting practices by a narcissistic and/or borderline personality parent who is inducing severe psychopathology in the child. The term “pathogenic parenting” is a construct in clinical psychology and child development referring to the creation of severe psychopathology in the child as a result of highly distorted and aberrant parenting practices (patho=pathology; genic=genesis, creation).
The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is engaging the child in a pathogenic role-reversal relationship in which the parent is using the child as a “regulatory object” to regulate the emotional and psychological state of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. While a role-reversal relationship will superficially appear to be a hyper-bonded parent-child relationship, it is actually an expression of extreme psychopathology which is highly destructive for the child’s healthy development.
Because narcissistic and borderline personality psychopathology plays such a central role in the formation and expression of the child’s symptoms, mental health professionals involved in diagnosing and treating this type of child and family pathology must possess an advanced level of professional knowledge and expertise in narcissistic and borderline personality processes. This includes an advanced professional expertise in recognizing the presentation of narcissistic and borderline psychopathology in clinical interviews, and in recognizing the expression of narcissistic and borderline psychopathology through a role-reversal relationship with the child, in which the child is used as an external “regulatory object” for the parent’s own pathology.
3. Delusional Processes
The narcissistic/(borderline) personality structure is extremely fragile and will readily collapse into distorted, and often delusional, perceptions of others.
Since the fragile narcissistic/(borderline) personality structure is prone to collapse into delusional thinking, mental health professionals working with this type of psychopathology within the family must possess a professional expertise in recognizing the characteristic delusional processes surrounding the collapse of the narcissistic and borderline personality structure. This professional expertise also includes the means by which parental delusional beliefs can be transferred to the child through the child’s role-reversal relationship with the parent.
In a role-reversal relationship, the child is used by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a “regulatory object” for the parent’s emotional and psychological state. This requires that the child surrenders self-authenticity in order to adopt the regulating role for the parent as a continual narcissistic reflection for the parent’s emotional and psychological needs. The child’s role as a “regulatory object” for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is to prevent the collapse of the parent into chaotic displays of emotional and psychological disorganization by stabilizing the fragile self-structure of the parent.
Through the child’s role as the “regulatory object” for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child acquires the delusional perceptions of the narcissistic/(borderline). The child’s role as the “regulatory object” for the parent’s psychopathology requires that the child surrenders self-authenticity to the parent in order to become a regulating narcissistic reflection for the emotional and psychological needs of the parent.
Defining the processes of attachment-based “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs establishes a set of clearly defined professional domains of knowledge required for professional competence in the diagnosis and treatment of this special population of children and families.
Evaluation of the Child
The evaluation of the child’s pathology occurs in two professional contexts:
1. Treatment: When the child enters either individual or family therapy, the treating mental health professional must evaluate the nature, extent, and the cause of the child’s symptom display in order to develop a treatment plan.
This initial treatment evaluation can be either skillful or inadequate based on the professional expertise and competence of the treating therapist.
If the treating therapist lacks professional expertise in the necessary domains of professional knowledge needed to competently diagnose and treat the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation,” then the evaluation of the child will be inadequate, incomplete, and faulty.
Physicians who do not understand cancer should not be diagnosing and treating cancer.
Mental health professionals who do not understand the attachment system and personality disorder pathology should not be treating distortions to the attachment system of the child that are caused by the personality disorder pathology of a parent.
Most therapists treating attachment-based “parental alienation” lack the professional knowledge and expertise necessary to appropriately diagnose and treat the pathology involved. As a result, most therapy provided for the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is inadequate, misguided, and entirely ineffective.
2. Custody Evaluation: The Court sometimes seeks the input of professional psychology regarding matters of family conflict and child custody. The input of professional psychology is typically structured into a child custody evaluation regarding family processes and parental capacity.
The quality and conclusions of the child custody evaluation can be either sound or faulty based on the professional expertise and competence of the mental health professional conducting the evaluation.
Typical child custody evaluations involving attachment-based “parental alienation” do a fairly thorough job of gathering and reporting on the clinical data, but the clinical interpretations and conclusions based on the clinical data are frequently faulty and incorrect, and the recommendations offered by the child custody evaluation are often inadequate and fundamentally wrong from a treatment perspective.
The reason that so many child custody evaluations get it wrong regarding the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is that the mental health professionals conducting these evaluations often lack the advanced level of professional expertise regarding the attachment system and personality disorder processes that is needed to recognize and understand the nature of the pathology being expressed in attachment-based “parental alienation.”
The absence of professional expertise in mental health professionals conducting child custody evaluations is in three primary areas:
Role-Reversal Relationship. Many child custody evaluators lack the advanced level of professional expertise needed to recognize and understand the severe pathology of the role-reversal relationship, in which the child is used as an external “regulatory object” to regulate the emotional and psychological state of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.
Narcissistic & Borderline Pathology: Many child custody evaluators avoid assessing for diagnostic labels in the belief that diagnosis is beyond their role as a custody evaluator. They often see their role as assessing “parental capacity,” not parental pathology. However, diagnostic labels provide an extremely useful function in organizing and interpreting the meaning of clinical data. Diagnostic categories can bring together disparate clinical information into organized constellations of integrated meaning, which then contain important implications for the treatment and resolution of the pathology.
While some diagnostic categories may not affect parenting capacity, prominent indicators of parental narcissistic and borderline personality traits have extremely important implications regarding the potential for creating child psychopathology. As a consequence of the central and primary role of parental narcissistic and borderline personality processes in the subsequent creation of child psychopathology, a focused evaluation for the presence of parental narcissistic and borderline personality traits should be one of the central and primary functions of a child custody evaluation.
So centrally important is the role of parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology to the creation of subsequent child psychopathology, that an entire section of EVERY child custody report should be dedicated to specifically addressing an analysis of the clinical data surrounding the potential for parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology.
The Attachment System: The evaluation of a primary disruption to the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward a parent requires that the evaluator possess an advanced level of professional expertise and understanding for the role and functioning of the child’s attachment system, which includes the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma through the reenactment of parental attachment patterns (especially attachment trauma patterns) from the childhood of the parent into the current family relationships.
This includes processes of parental projective identification with the child and the role-reversal use of the child as a “regulatory object” for the parent.
Projective identification involves the parent’s loss of psychological boundaries with the child. In projective identification, the child becomes a psychological extension of the parent, and the parent will subtly induce emotions in the child that actually belong to the parent. For example, an over-anxious parent may induce the child into becoming overly anxious in order to allow the parent to then nurture the child’s anxiety. In nurturing the child’s (subtly induced) anxiety, the parent is actually nurturing his or her own anxiety that is being “held” or contained by the child.
In projective identification, the parent is projecting the parent’s own experience into the child, and in responding to the child’s symptoms the parent is identifying with the child; i.e., projective identification.
Role-reversal relationships are characteristic of a particular pattern of attachment called “disorganized attachment,” and role-reversal relationship are transmitted across generations. Children who experienced a role-reversal relationship with their parents will subsequently grow up to use their own children in role-reversal relationships when they become parents.
Currently, most therapists and child custody evaluators lack the specialized professional knowledge and expertise necessary to adequately and accurately evaluate the pathology surrounding attachment-based “parental alienation.” As a result, the response of mental health professionals to the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is often flawed.
Professional ignorance leads to professional incompetence. The psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality is highly manipulative and exploitative. Naive mental heath professionals can easily be drawn in by the highly manipulative and exploitative pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. The subtly manipulative and exploitative pathology characteristic of narcissistic and borderline personality dynamics seduces naive and ignorant mental health professionals into becoming allies of the psychopathology.
From professional ignorance and practice beyond the boundaries of their professional competence, many mental health professionals begin to collude with the psychopathology, to the extreme detriment of the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development.
So what do we do…
The solution is to mandate that ONLY those professionals who have the advanced level of professional knowledge and expertise necessary for professionally competent practice with this special population of children and families be allowed to diagnose and treat this special population of children and families.
Professionals who lack the advanced knowledge and expertise in the attachment system, personality pathology (including delusional processes of narcissistic and borderline personality pathology), and the nature of role-reversal relationships, would be prevented by established standards of professional practice from practicing beyond the boundaries of their professional competence.
Actually, this is currently the case. Professionals who lack the specialized professional knowledge and expertise to competently diagnose and treat the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” already ARE prevented by professional practice standards from diagnosing and treating the attachment system and personality disorder processes associated with attachment-based “parental alienation.” They just don’t know it yet because the field of professional mental health is still using the old Gardnerian PAS model to define the construct of “parental alienation.”
However, until we are able to achieve a paradigm shift, what do we do in the meantime… before we achieve the solution?
The Consultant Model
Because of my expertise in attachment-based “parental alienation” I am increasingly being asked by targeted parents to provide consultation regarding what they can do. Until we achieve a paradigm shift, there is very little we can do in any specific situation to solve the situation.
We cannot ask the child to expose his or her authenticity until and unless we can first protect the child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. The pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue.
As a result of my consultations with targeted parents I am sometimes asked to serve as an expert witness to the Court regarding the “pathogenic parenting” evidenced in their particular case. In this capacity I usually work for the attorney in reviewing documents, particularly reports from therapists and child custody evaluations. Based on the information provided to me by the attorney, I will write a report and provide testimony regarding my professional opinions regarding the material I reviewed.
Sometimes the Court appears to be influenced by my report and testimony, other times not.
This model of professional consultation is directed toward the legal system. In order to effectively treat and resolve the child’s symptoms we must first obtain the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. Obtaining the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent requires the cooperation of the Court.
More recently, however, I have also been exploring an alternative consultant model that is focused on the currently dysfunctional mental health response to the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.” In this “psychologist consultant” model (as opposed to the expert witness model), I serve as a consultant for the targeted parent in trying to achieve an appropriate and professionally competent response from the therapist who is involved in treating the family’s pathology, either individually with the child or in “reunification therapy” (there’s no such thing) with the parent and the child.
An analogy to my role would be to purchasing a home where both the home seller AND the home buyer are represented by their own real estate agents. I’m like the psychology “agent” for the targeted parent in negotiating psychotherapy with the treating therapist.
Targeted parents don’t understand psychopathology, or psychological theories and terminology, or the variety of approaches to psychotherapy that are available. I do. I’m a clinical psychologist; psychopathology and psychotherapy are the areas of my professional expertise.
My role as a psychologist consultant to the targeted parent is to interface with the treatment provider to provide information about “areas of clinical concern” that the targeted parent and I are asking the therapist to consider and further evaluate for us.
This consultation role, however, can become sensitive. Many therapists may be put off by the implication that they don’t know what they’re doing. These therapists may become even more closed and unwilling to listen. Other therapists may feel intimidated by having their work monitored. These therapists may withdraw from the case.
There is also a phenomenon called “resistance.” When we push one way the other person pushes back in the opposite direction. If we say “parental alienation” then we will automatically produce a counter-response of “no its not.” That’s just the nature of resistance.
There’s an interesting explanation of this “backfire effect” on Youtube at
Video on Backfire Effect
An additional video of interest is on negotiation and anchoring. This video is at
Video on Anchoring
In negotiation, we anchor our frame of reference to the first information we receive. In attachment based “parental alienation” the first information therapists often receive is from the child, so the therapist’s later interpretation of information is anchored to the child’s characterization of the targeted parent as “abusive.”
What I’m currently exploring as a psychologist consultant for the targeted parent is whether we can anchor the treating therapist to an attachment-based definition of the family processes before the therapist becomes anchored to the trauma reenactment narrative of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent” that is being presented to the therapist by the child and narcissistic/(borderline) parent.
But we need to accomplish this without producing the “backfire effect” explained in the first Youtube video. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. I’ll keep you posted.
If nothing else, it will place the therapist on notice that the actions of the therapist are being monitored by a clinical psychologist. It’s possible that when the therapist learns that I’m monitoring them they may seek out information from my blog and website to lower their anxiety caused by the unknown of me. This would be a good thing. As they become more educated, they become more competent.
The Treatment Plan
Key to achieving competent treatment in the current no-solution environment is to obtain a written treatment plan from the therapist. Most therapists do not develop a treatment plan, written or otherwise. But they should. One of the courses I teach at the graduate level is how to develop a treatment plan. When I was the Clinical Director for a children’s assessment and treatment center working with foster care children, I always asked the therapists working for me to develop a treatment plan following their initial assessment.
The treatment plan should define:
- The Case Conceptualization: What does the therapist view as being the cause of the issues?
- The Treatment Plan: How does the therapist intend to solve the problems identified as the cause of the issues in the case conceptualization?
- Prognosis & Timeline: How optimistic is the therapist that the issues can be resolved, and how long will it take? Expectation benchmarks for symptom change should be identified at 3-months, 6-months, and 9-months intervals (if therapy is expected to take that long).
As a side-note; therapy for parent-child conflict should achieve a significant resolution of the issues within 6-9 months (without complications from things like autism-spectrum issues that make the problems more treatment resistant and intractable).
A year for severe problems might be necessary. But if therapy is taking longer than a year then the case conceptualization needs to be closely examined and serious consideration needs to be given to possibly redefining the case conceptualization and treatment plan.
Naturally, the prognosis and timeline are subject to revision as things proceed, but the treatment plan sets forth a set of expectations and guidelines to which everyone can agree. If things change and the treatment plan needs to be adjusted, then the new factors and the needed alterations to the treatment plan can be discussed.
This is actually an important part of the process for “Informed Consent” to treatment. How can clients give informed consent to treatment if they don’t know what treatment entails?
When someone has a medical disease, the physician describes for the patient what the disease is and what the various treatment implications are.
The physician would also provide a clear description of what treatment would entail. For example, would the cancer require six cycles of chemotherapy over two years? Or surgery? Or radiation? If there are alternative forms of treatment, these would also be explained to the patient, along with the physician’s estimates for prognosis and recovery.
This is called the “Informed Consent” process, and is a requirement of professional practice. According to Standard 10.01 of the Ethics Code for the American Psychological Association:
Informed Consent to Therapy
“(a) When obtaining informed consent to therapy as required in Standard 3.10, Informed Consent, psychologists inform clients/patients as early as is feasible in the therapeutic relationship about the nature and anticipated course of therapy”
The general informal guidelines within professional standards of practice are that people have a right to all the relevant information that they need in order to make an informed decision regarding their participation in therapy.
Medical physicians describe the disease and its treatment to their patients as part of the informed consent process, why shouldn’t psychotherapists do the same? Actually, they should. But most don’t.
Why don’t they? The primary reason is that many therapists have no idea what they’re doing. How can they explain to you what they’re going to be doing if they don’t know what they’re doing themselves?
This is where the advice in the first Youtube video on avoiding resistance can be helpful. Draw out the therapist to increasingly explain what his or her therapy is going to entail. Cultivate the appearance of oh-so-pleasant ignorance. Don’t assert what truth is, that will just provoke resistance. Instead ask the therapist what their truth is… and keep asking from your oh-so-pleasant ignorance until things make sense to you.
Ask the therapist for the treatment plan.
- What does the therapist see as being the cause of the problem?
- What’s going to happen in therapy to fix the problem? How is talking in therapy sessions going to fix the problem? Find out specifically what the linkage is between what is going to happen in therapy and fixing the problem.
- Do you, as the parent, need to do something specific to fix the problem? And if you do this, whatever the therapist says you need to do to fix the problem, then the problem will be fixed?
- What will the treatment entail? What’s going to happen in the treatment sessions? So if treatment sessions do this, whatever the therapist says will happen, then the problem will fixed?
- How long will it take before the child’s symptoms go away?
We’re not asking for certainty. Of course things will depend on circumstances. But what circumstances? And what is the general expectation?
The incompetent therapist may start to give you voodoo gobblygook about the “need to develop a therapeutic relationship,” and because they’re the professional and you’re not you may accept this gobblygook as if it somehow makes sense.
However, the clinical psychologist who is working as a psychologist consultant for the targeted parent would seek a more complete and coherent description.
Why is a therapeutic relationship important to addressing the cause of the child’s symptoms? How is that exactly going to work, in terms of a “therapeutic relationship” somehow fixing the problem? So the child is going to come to trust the therapist more… and then what? Explain it to me.
Is the therapist talking about a Kohutian therapeutic relationship of mirroring, idealizing, and twinship self-object functions? Or perhaps the therapist is talking about a Rogerian therapeutic relationship of self-actualization of the child’s authenticity? Or perhaps the therapist is talking about a psychoanalytic therapeutic relationship called the transference relationship? What does the therapist mean by building the “therapeutic relationship” and how specifically is this going to fix the problem?
Of note is that the therapeutic relationship is also sometimes called the “therapeutic alliance.” If the child is in a cross-generational coalition with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent against the targeted parent, then in proposing to build a “therapeutic alliance” (i.e., the “therapeutic relationship”) with the child, the therapist is essentially proposing to join the alliance of the child and narcissistic/borderline parent against you.
That doesn’t sound like a good treatment plan.
Or perhaps the therapist doesn’t ’t have a clue as to what they’re doing and they’re simply throwing up a smokescreen of gobblygook “therapy-speak” to hide that they have no idea what they’re doing.
The danger, however, is that my working as a psychologist consultant for the targeted parent may simply annoy the therapist into further entrenching into his or her ignorance (the “backfire effect”), or the therapist may become so annoyed with me that they’ll simply quit as the therapist (possibly when they are asked to provide a written treatment plan).
I’m not quite sure yet whether either of those responses are actually bad things though. If the therapist is going to entrench further into his or her ignorance, it’s likely best to know that early rather than after six months or a year of ineffective and pointless therapy. And if the therapist quits when asked to provide a written treatment plan, that too is probably something good to know and deal with early. If the therapist doesn’t want to be held accountable to a treatment plan then it is highly likely the therapist has no clue as to what they’re doing – and that’s why they don’t want to develop a treatment plan.
Your physician will tell you what the disease is and what the treatment entails because your physician knows what they’re doing. Your therapist should do the same… if they know what they’re doing.
If the therapist cannot explain what the treatment plan is in a way that is understandable and makes sense to you, it’s most likely because the therapist has no idea what they’re doing.
When the Therapist Finally “Gets It”
Still, even if the therapist understands the pathology the question still remains, so what do we do about it?
As long as the child remains under the severely distorting pathogenic influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent there is little we can do in terms of treatment.
If we try to treat the child while the child is still under the continuing pathogenic influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, then we will simply rip the child apart psychologically from the conflict created between the goal of effective therapy to restore the child’s healthy authenticity and the continuing obsessive and relentless efforts of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to keep the child pathological.
Turning the child into a psychological battleground because of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s relentless efforts to maintain the child’s psychopathology while therapy seeks to restore the child’s healthy functioning will psychologically destroy the child.
The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is essentially playing “chicken” with us. The pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is completely willing to destroy the child. Are we? I’m not. So then the narcissistic/(borderline) parent wins and can continue to create the child’s psychopathology.
The narcissistic/(borderline) parent will do everything in his or her power to maintain the child’s pathology. For the narcissistic/(borderline) parent it is a psychological imperative that the child reject the other parent. The narcissistic/(borderline) parent actually believes that the parenting practices of the targeted parent are “abusive” and place the child in danger. The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is delusional (i.e., an intransigently held, fixed and false belief that is non-responsive to contrary evidence) and will stop at nothing to keep the child pathological.
On a scale of 1-10, the psychopathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is 15. It’s off the charts. Attachment-based “parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue. We must first protect the child. Only then can we treat the pathology.
So even if I am able to alert the therapist to the nature and severity of the pathology, so what. There’s still nothing we can do.
Except perhaps we can avoid six months, a year, or even two years of unproductive and pointless therapy. And perhaps the therapist will write a treatment letter to the judge saying that for the child’s protection the therapist is declining to do therapy until the child is protectively separated from the pathogenic parenting of the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery stabilization.
Maybe that would help obtain the necessary period of protective separation… or maybe not. I don’t know, I just don’t know.
Maybe having a psychologist consultant will just result in treating therapists withdrawing from the case. If no therapy is taking place then nothing changes. But nothing changes with ineffective therapy either, so what’s the difference?
The solution is a shift in paradigms. All of these interim half-measures are not likely to produce a solution.
Still, we do what we can until we achieve a paradigm shift in which ALL therapists who work with this special population of children and families are exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable. At that point; no therapist – anywhere – will treat the child unless the child is first protectively separated from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. When mental health speaks with a single voice, the Court will be able to act with the decisive clarity needed to solve “parental alienation.”
It’s Not Me
I’m just one person. I cannot solve everything. I’m in California. I’m busy with my client caseload. I’m expensive.
I am not sharing this information to seek business. For a variety of reasons I am limiting my professional treatment-related consultation to families in the Los Angeles area. I’m sharing this model simply to frame what a psychologist treatment-related consultation model might look like.
I’m 60 years old. I’m coming to the end of my professional career. I’ll be wrapping things up soon. It will be up to the next generation of psychologists and therapists to put into place the procedures needed to solve attachment-based “parental alienation.” I’m providing this possible consultant model to them.
Targeted parents need you, as competent mental health therapists, to educate our professional brethren in mental health, therapist-to-therapist… and we need to hold our brethren therapists accountable. Their ignorance should not be allowed to destroy the lives and development of children. That’s not allowed.
Until we achieve a paradigm shift away from a Gardnerian PAS model over to an attachment-based model for “parental alienation” that will solve “parental alienation” for all targeted parents and all children everywhere, we must find a way to make do with the broken mental health and legal systems as they exist.
From where I sit, the current state of the broken mental health and legal systems won’t allow a solution. But I’m trying to find something anyway.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
Bone, M.J. and Sauber, R. (2013). The essential role of the mental health consultant in parental alienation cases. In A.J.L. Baker & S.R. Sauber (Eds.) Working with Alienated Children and Families: A Clinical Guidebook (71-89). New York: Routledge