As I’m organizing a rally for Parental Alienation Awareness Day, I have begun to realize that not everyone is an activist like I am.
However, as much as we want Parental Alienation to stop, as well as the divisive processes that are encouraging and even causing this phenomenon to occur to stop, we don’t want to stand up and take action. Hey, don’t take offense. It’s just natural. To be an activist means to stand up for a cause in a way that is putting yourself out there in the public eye to be criticized, bullied, misquoted, and in some cases, beaten or arrested. Who the heck wants to be treated like that? Nobody, of course. Nonetheless, we need a few good activists to stand up for our cause.
Well, I’m willing to do it. Criticize me. Attack me. I will bear the brunt. Why? Because I have nothing else to lose. Unlike families that are going through hell: Targeted Parents attempting to appease their ex-spouses so they won’t turn the children against them; Divorcing/Divorced Couples who are currently going through the dysfunctional court process of divorce; Alienated Parents attempting to Reunify with their Children; Moms and Dads being investigated by Child Protection Agencies with false allegations; Parents who are under the scrutiny of overwhelmed Parent Coordinators; Judges; Money-hungry Lawyers- these parents can not afford to be in the spot light. The price to pay of standing up publicly just might be the relationship with their children.
Well, I’ve already lost my dad. As a child who was alienated from my Dad’s love for many years, I was able to spend the last six years of his life with him. I was able to be his little girl (he never did come to terms with the fact that I was an adult, not the child he still saw me as before our relationship was severed). He’s passed on now.
I don’t have a relationship with my dear Bonus-Daughter (I used to use that term when I spoke to other people about her and when I introduced her to people, as it is much more positive, loving, and welcoming than the distant word: step-daughter), although my awesome husband is working to reunify with her after a three year separation. Even if my husband’s family and I did have a relationship with her, and I desperately hope that her Mom allows and encourages that one day, I would still continue to advocate on behalf of every parent and child out there who is hurting.
So, with said. Do you know of any good activists in NJ?
Peace and love to you all.
Today I had a lengthy conversation with Catherine MacWillie from Custody Calculations. Ms MacWillie is a woman dedicated to helping people navigate their divorce and helping them to understand how to obtain an agreement that they both can feel good about. She has a deep understanding about the behaviors that are Parental Alienation. I will write more later about this phenomenal woman. In the meantime, if you are in NJ, don’t fret because she works with people all across the country. Her fees are $99/hour, or $250 monthly for up to 10 hours. Can you imagine that? I highly recommend her services.
Anger, Child Abuse, children's rights, Conflict Resolution, Family Law Reform, father's rights, mother's rights, National Organization for Women, Parental Alienation Support and Advocacy NJ, women's rights
Hi Friends, (as any good organization or politician says when they need your help)
I need your help. Yes, YOU! Here is my dilemma:
1. I come from a peacemaking-activist background.
2. I care about women’s rights and had been actively involved with NOW over the past 5 years, only recently focusing more on Parental Alienation Awareness, as NOW denounced it back in 2006.
3. I care about father’s rights: a) because I have/had a father and a step-father, and b) I am married to a father.
4. I care about both women’s rights and father’s rights, which leads to my main dilemma: these two sides mostly oppose each other when it comes to Parental Alienation/ PAS and Equality Among Parenting.
5. Along my travels over the past few months I have met many types people: A) Women and Men who are being alienated or who have been alienated. B) Women and Men who have been the alienator. C) Men who say ALL these Women are evil and they are “being raped by the system”. D) Men who actually have been through hell and back with false accusations and the like, or simply the victim of an ex-spouse who may have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or else unaware of the damage that Parental Alienation can do to a child. E) Women who say ALL these Men are abusive and they are being “victimized over and over again”. F) Women who actually have been abused, and with their children fear for their safety, whether physically and/ or mentally, or simply the victim of an ex-spouse who may have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or else unaware of the damage that Parental Alienation can do to a child. G) Organizations that denounces PAS. H) Experts who are researching and educating the public about Parental Alienation (OR WHATEVER TERM YOU WISH TO CALL, I don’t care what it’s called). I) People who believe the Family Court System works like the MAFIA. Finally, mostly I’ve met J) Everyday, ordinary, caring, loving, hurting and courageous people who are just trying to get by and deal with their pain and confusion of divorce, hurt feelings, and conflict with an ex-spouse who is controlling their children to turn against them.
6. I need to find others who sincerely care for EQUALITY among PARENTS. I need to find others who are willing to listen to the other side. I need to find others who are passionate about bringing change to our current dysfunctional family court system, and money-hungry family lawyers who thrive on bleeding and confused parents.
ALL ARE WELCOME! PLEASE CONTACT ME! E-mail me your thoughts at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Help Parental Alienation Support & Advocacy-NJ get at least 100 likes by April 1st: www.pasanj.org
Child Abuse, Differenciating betwen parental alienation syndrome and bona fide abuse neglect, family alienation, Parental Alienation Support and Advocacy NJ, Parental Alienation Syndrome, Richard A. Gardner, The Alienated Child
Criteria for Differentiating Between PAS and Bona-Fide Abuse-Neglect in Children
Inducing a PAS in a child is a form of abuse. After all, it can result in the attentuation and even permanent destruction of the psychological bond between loving parents and their children. It is a form of emotional abuse, however, that is different from physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. Here the term abuse will generally refer to physical abuse and, to a lesser degree, sexual abuse. Included also in such abuse would be such behaviors as frequent menacing, threatening, hovering, and other forms of child intimidation. These often serve as precursors to physical and sometimes sexual abuse. All these abuses, and neglect as well, will be encompassed under the terms abuse-neglect. This group will be compared to PAS, which is basically a form of emotional abuse. This is the distinction that will serve the purposes of this article.
When attempting to differentiate between PAS and bona fide abuse, examiners would do well to refer first to the eight basic PAS symptoms as guidelines. In general, PAS children are likely to exhibit these symptoms, whereas children who have been genuinely abused-neglected are not likely to. Listed below are the eight primary manifestations of PAS.
- Campaign of denigration
- Weak, frivolous, or absurd rationalizations for the deprecation
- Lack of ambivalence
- The “independent thinker” phenomenon
- Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental conflict
- Absence of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the alienated parent
- Presence of borrowed scenarios
- Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent
Listed below are the primary symptoms seen in post-traumatic stress disorder (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV]; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Many abused children (but certainly not all) will exhibit such symptoms. This is especially the case if the abuse has been chronic. PAS children rarely exhibit these symptoms. Accordingly, reference to these symptoms, as well as the aforementioned primary manifestations of PAS, can be useful for differentiating between bona fide abuse-neglect and the PAS in children.
- Preoccupation with the trauma
- Episodic reliving and flashbacks
- Derealization and psychic numbing
- Recreational desensitization and fantasy play
- Trauma-specific dreams
- Fear of people who resemble the alleged abuser
- Hypervigilance and/or frequent startle reactions
- Running away from home or the site of the abuse
- Pessimism about the future
Breakthrough Parenting, Catherine MacWillie, Custody Calculations, Dr. Jayne Major, Dr. Jayne Major passed away, Grief, Parental Alienation, Parental Alienation Research, Parental Alienation Support and Advocacy NJ
An Amazing Woman, Dr. Jayne Major, pioneer in research of Parental Alienation passed away on March 14, 2012, due to complications from a battle with cancer. A huge loss for our community and the world. An Amazing Woman is never forgotten. Your research and work will go on. Our Love and Prayers go out to her family. Below is from the blog of Catherine MacWillie of Custody Calculations:
On March 14, 2012, my colleague and dear friend, Dr. Jayne Major, died of complications from cancer. Her passing is a great loss to all of us who knew her, to the Family Law Court System and to the many families and children who benefited by her work.
Her research dealing with children of divorce, custody proceedings and parenting both during and after divorce was ahead of it’s time. A simple woman whose reputation is world wide dealing with these issues is well known.
She was in demand as a speaker, author, consultant and instructor. Approximately two years ago Jayne traveled abroad to Spain to lecture on the subject along with Dr. Michael Bone another expert in the area of custody disputes/child manipulation during divorce. She use to speak fondly of the trip and sharing her experiences and educating families in Europe who were also dealing with the same issues during high conflict divorces.
An advocate for parenting education. She often said that parenting was one of the most difficult professions we would ever undertake as adults and that parents did too little to educate themselves. Jayne also felt that being the best possible parent was also significant in helping families stay together so that families didn’t fall apart and could better cope with the complexities that are found in today’s society.
That commitment to education, families and children would later lead Jayne to begin her research into the field of dealing with divorce, custody and child manipulation as more parents raised related issues during parent education programs.
While the argument on Parental Alienation, Parental Alienation Syndrome and Hostile and Aggressive Parenting as a diagnosis and it’s inclusion into the DSM, continues today, Jayne’s research may ultimately prove a tipping point along with many others in this field.
Regardless of the outcome, Jayne will be remembered for her commitment to help children and families through the divorce process and in dealing with high conflict divorce. She will also be remembered for her parent education classes and research in general on the issues of parenting.
Jayne could be tough too. Impatient with her peers, the judicial system and those who made decisions regarding the custody of children, she was frustrated by the lack of action in correcting the problems related to violation of court orders, withholding of custody and in turning a child against the other parent all in an effort to win an advantage in court/custody for financial reasons for retribution, for revenge.
But Jayne was more than an educator, author, and instructor. She mentored and supported girls from difficult backgrounds some who came from tough or poor neighborhoods. Jayne encouraged girls to finish junior and senior high school and to believe in themselves. Jayne later was given an award for her efforts in mentoring. Jayne was very proud of that award. But she was more proud of the impact she made on the lives of the girls she worked with. Jayne was also an active member of the Rotary Club and regularly traveled to bring books, wheelchairs and other needed items to impoverished areas of the world through the Rotary Club.
Jayne loved life. She loved her family. She loved traveling and she continued that same zest for life to make it count until the very end. She just recently sent what will be her last book to her publisher. Given more time she had plans to produce several more books including one on toxic relationships and things you should know/consider when evaluating your partner before marriage.
Jayne gave her last presentation on the issues of high conflict divorce and custody at a conference a few months back. I spoke to her the night prior to the conference. She felt weak and was unsure if she could go through with the presentation. But she didn’t want to let anyone down. Jayne was like that. Promoters had gone to significant effort to sell out the event, Dr. Amy Baker another colleague and friend was flying out from the East Coast and Jayne wanted to hear Dr. Baker’s presentation as well as greet her old friend.
Jayne and I supported each others work. Providing information from different perspectives to the other. My background as a law enforcement officer influenced her paper on Costs, Causes and Controversies of Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome. Her review of my work supported the development of my company. We also did several seminars together over the years and critiqued each others work.
We never did see eye to eye on everything especially politics. I was conservative Republican and she was a liberal Democrat. We finally decided for the sake of the friendship not to discuss politics. It was something we both said to each other again, in one of our last conversations we when I stopped by to see her recently.
Jayne was the founder and president of Stop Parental Alienation of Children, SPAC. Unable to continue as president as she struggled to deal with her cancer, she turned over the position to me. Together we continued to work towards the development of a documentary that we had originally filmed during a conference in Washington DC area several yeas ago on the issues. I promised Jayne I would finish that documentary and would somehow get the rest of the money needed to make it a reality.
Jayne and I did several interviews together on the Gregory Mantell Show along with other experts, parents, and victims of the divorce process on high conflict divorces. The shows were ultimately downloaded world wide. Gregory Mantell continued to forward emails years after the show was initially taped and over the proceeding episodes on the subject matter. Emails came from as far away as Australia, England others from Canada and across the country. Individuals seeking additional information and resources on the subject.
Jayne’s impact on everyone was such that you couldn’t help but become a friend which was also the case with Gregory Mantell. He too became a friend over the coarse of doing the shows and will likely present a tribute to her at her Memorial Service. He feels that he has in some small way contributed to her legacy as the shows will continue to be made available for downloading over the internet.
In the time leading up to her death, Jayne made arrangements for her work and research. She was committed to leaving a legacy for future generations to build on. She ensured that her work could be published and eliminated any possibility that lawsuits that interfere with the release of her work or could occur as a result of her death. She put her affairs in order and tried to go on her life as best she could and for as long as she could. Ultimately Jayne died the same way she had lived. With dignity surrounded by friends and those that loved her at her bedside.
I understand that the Los Angeles Times will be doing an article on Jayne’s life, her work and her research. I think that Jayne would like that. She would also be embarrassed by all of the attention. I can hear her now. “This is really silly. I don’t deserve all this fuss. ”
For my part, I will continue to cherish the opportunity that I had as a colleague and friend to this amazing woman. Thank you Jayne for everything. I will miss you.
Rest in peace. Dr. Jayne Major, July 22, 1937 – March 14, 2012.
You may email your request to post comments/testimonies for her Memorial Service by emailing her assistant email@example.com
The following video can be found on youtube, from the man who founded the organization, http://www.keepingfamiliesconnected.org – A must see parental alienation video for anyone involved with parental alienation – by Rick Nischalke
Today I attended an educational seminar for couples counseling. This seminar just happened to be in the same town that my father’s family is from, and where I spent a lot of time in my early childhood. This course itself focused on helping couples to understand and improve love relationships, and how conflicts or arguments with one’s significant other is 90% related to old wounds and only 10% related to new wounds.
After the seminar was over I decided to take a drive by the home where my dear aunt, who is now deceased, and her family lived. Because of what I learned today in the seminar it helped to dig up some strong emotions in me. For about an hour, I allowed myself to be overcome with emotion in order relive some sweet childhood memories, from the times before I was alienated from my father and his family.
So here, a thirty-something year old woman can be brought to tears from happy thoughts of what was, and what could have been, but what was prevented. Parental Alienation hurts. Here my inner-child expresses herself in order to increase awareness of the long lasting damage that of Parental Alienation does.
I remembered the love, affection, kindness, and security I felt as a child being with my aunts. My dad ran his own business he worked many hours, therefore I spent a lot of time my aunts’ care. So, now, although one has passed on, and the other is elderly and ill, I thank them for loving me. Parental Alienation isn’t only about the parent…
Aunt Jeanette, Thank you for singing to me You Are My Sunshine over and over and over again.
Thank you for bathing me with warm water, and dove soap, in your pink-tiled tub.
Thank you for walking me in that 70’s stroller to the town carnival.
Thank you for taking me to the mall and buying me clothes, and me dressing me like a doll.
Thank you for allowing me to beat on my cousins drums.
Thank you for calling me “Pumpkin”.
Thank you for taking me to the town parade.
Aunt Gay, Thank you for cooking delicious meals and making me feel at home.
Thank you for allowing me to roller skate in your basement.
Thank you for pressing my dolls clothes.
Thank you for making me Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes.
Thank you for hugging me, and reading me bedtime stories.
Thank you for taking me on vacation to your lake house.
Thank you both for taking care of me when my dad was working.
Thank you both for treating me like a special little girl who was loved and adored, like any child deserves to be treated.
I look back on those precious times and I allow myself to feel sadness for having it ripped away at such a young age.
This is the passion that keeps me wanting to help other people.
A Therapists View of Parental Alieantion Syndrome, Child Abuse, Conflict Resolution, Family Law Reform, Mary Lund, mother's rights, Parental Alienation, Parental Alienation Support and Advocacy NJ, Reunification
Although I did not agree with every point made in this following article, I did find it very interesting. I wonder if the author, seventeen years later, has continued her works on Parental Alienation. Despite there not being enough emphasis placed on how many women are alienated from their children, the article is well thought out. Maybe seventeen years of women’s progress has changed the authors mind. A good read.
Cases in which a child is resisting contact with a parent may or may not fit Gardner’s theory of
parental Alienation Syndrome, which emphasizes the psychopathology of the “alienating”
parent. Explanations may also include the child’s coping with intense conflict and the “rejected”
parent’s skill with the child. Whatever the cause, improvement usually involves legal and
Richard Gardner made a very important contribution to the field of family law with the theory of
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).1 He alerted the legal system that children’s statements
about rejecting one parent may result from overt or covert manipulation by the other parent. He
gave clear and specific recommendations about a combination of legal and therapeutic
interventions, the most important of which was the need for a court order for continued contact
between parent and child. The underlying message is that problems between parent and child
should be addressed head on, not avoided by cutting off the relationship. Despite the important
contribution of PAS, there are still questions about how much it applies in cases when a child
rejects a parent and how to help these families who are difficult to treat in psychotherapy and
repeatedly show up in the courts because of their relationship problems.
Perhaps one of the problems with the usefulness of PAS, as described by Gardner, is that few
cases fit neatly into this syndrome. As it is described by Gardner, the “loved parent” is unable to
tolerate separation from the child, programs the child, and uses the child to meet the loved
parent’s own emotional needs. The loved parent is looked at as emotionally disturbed and
keeping the child from a relationship with a potentially healthier parent. This framework of
looking for a disturbed versus healthier parent fits the win-lose situation of the court contest.
Often there are charges of abuse by one side and counter-charges of parental alienation by the
other side, which then must be looked at in an evaluation. Parents who have suffered the terrible
hurt of having a child grow distant from them seize upon the theory of PAS and feel vindicated
if an evaluator can determine that the child has been alienated.
The PAS cases that end up in therapists’ offices after a court hearing usually do not have one
parent who is much more psychologically healthy than the other. Judge Kenneth Black, a former
presiding judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court Family Law Department, has stated, “Mother
Theresa does not marry Hitler.” These are usually families that would have ended up in
treatment because of children’s disturbances, whether or not the parents were divorced. From a
“Family Systems” perspective, the blame for PAS lies less with psychopathology of one parent
than it does with the usually very high conflict between both parents and both parents’
psychopathology. These are not easy families to help, and they very likely will end up back in
court, with or Without therapeutic intervention.
It maybe helpful for judges, attorneys, and therapists to broaden the framework for
understanding these families, to get away from a blame-based formulation, and to realize that the
treatment requires commitment over time for results. The purpose of this article is to explore
different reasons that a child might reject one parent in a divorced family and ways of helping
those families. PAS, as described by Gardner, does fit many cases. The methods that he
advocates, especially court orders for continued contact, are the cornerstone for treatment of
these cases. However, there are also many cases in which there are other reasons for
estrangement between patent and child that cannot strictly be called Parental Alienation
Syndrome and need different interventions to help the family.
POSSIBLE REASONS FOR PARENT REJECTION
One of the most frequent questions from judges to “experts” in custody matters is whether other
problems can account for children’s rejection of one parent. The answer is that, of course, many
other problems contribute to estrangement between a parent and child. However, the solution
will probably still be some kind of agreement or court order for continued contact between
parent and child so the problem can be worked out, either through natural interaction or with the
help of some therapy. If contact between a parent and child stops, all of the problems listed
below can develop into an almost phobic reaction to having contact with the “hated parent.”
1. Developmentally normal separation problems. Preschool children will usually go through
some kind of separation anxiety when leaving their “primary parent.” The extent of the
separation problem is determined both by the temperament of the child and by how the parents
respond to the problem. Visitation problems with preschool children are analogous to problems
that children have when going to school for the first time and require similar techniques. They
are to reassure the child and try to lower the child’s anxiety, but also to make it clear that this
transition will take place. Usually, court orders enforcing the visitation time and therapy aimed
at reassuring the mother and calming her anxiety will solve these problems.
2. Deficits in the noncustodial parent’s skills. Quite often the father who is beginning to take care
of children on his own for the first time does not have the understanding of their needs or the
experience in how to parent directly. Advice by the mother on how to deal with the children is
usually not received well after divorce. Generally, parent training alone will solve these
problems. Sometimes, it is important to have the father and children in therapy to help the father
understand the children’s feelings and needs. One judge reported that a visitation problem in his
court was resolved when he ordered the father to buy a computer and a piano so that the child
had something to do when visiting him.
3. Oppositional behavior. Particularly in preadolescence and adolescence, it is common for
children to go through a stage of rejecting one or both parents. This rejection is not threatening
in an intact family. Although such behavior is developmentally normal, in a divorced family it
will usually require some form of brief therapy to help find appropriate limit setting and
negotiate the child’s increased independence without cutting off the relationship.
4. High-conflict divorced families. As discussed in later sections, it is an unfortunate but normal
adjustment by children in high-conflict divorces to escape the conflict by allying with one
parent. Legal and therapeutic intervention should be aimed at keeping some kind of contact
going so that the child can mature enough to stand outside of the conflict and form relationships
with both parents.
5. Serious problems, not necessarily abuse. There are situations in which there are serious
problems in the noncustodial parent’s relationship with the children, which are abusive, although
not always constituting technically reportable abuse. For example, an alcoholic parent, an
extremely rigid and controlling parent, or a parent with other severe psychiatric disturbance maybe rejected by a child. In these cases, it may be that the only way the child can tolerate seeing the parent is in psychotherapy with a therapist who can buffer the impact of the parent’s emotional problems on the child. However, it is still thought to be important that the child have some contact with the parent in order to form a realistic understanding of the parent.
6. Child abuse. As in intact families, both physical and sexual child abuse occurs in divorced
families. The steps in therapy for families in which abuse has occurred usually involve
protecting the child from the patent until the patent takes some responsibility and has
demonstrated change through a therapy program. These cases usually involve very difficult
questions about when to begin monitored visits and the length of monitoring. However, some
form of contact between parent and child is still usually thought to benefit the child after the
parent shows readiness for appropriate interaction with the child.
VARIATIONS OF PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME
The presence of PAS is determined mainly by the extent to which a child is consciously or
unconsciously being programmed by the loved parent to reject the hated parent. Richard Gardner suggests that there may be other reasons, such as those listed above, which also affect the child’s feelings about the hated parent, but the extent of the child’s reaction is out of keeping with the problems present in that relationship.
Gardner recommends legal and therapeutic interventions based on whether the case is assessed to be mild, moderate, or extreme parental alienation. The categorization depends mainly on the
evaluation of psychopathology of the loved parent. For mild parental alienation cases, he suggests that court orders for visitation are the only intervention necessary. These orders are assumed to reassure the primary caretaker and the child that their bond will not be threatened, that the order for visitation will alleviate the child’s guilt, and that clear court orders will lower the conflict between the parents. The loved parent is not assumed to have any severe emotional problems.
The vast majority of cases fall in the moderate parental alienation category. In these cases, it is
assumed that the loved parent gives verbal and nonverbal cues to the child that encourage the
child to act out angrily against the hated parent or to be afraid of that parent. In these cases,
Gardner recommends a combination of orders for visitation plus therapy. Therapy is not
designed to increase parents’ insight, but rather to structure the visitation. Therapy aims at
helping the noncustodial parent become tough-skinned about the child’s rejection,
deprogramming the child, and confronting the alienation tactics of the primary caregiver.
In cases of severe parental alienation, which are very rare, Gardner recommends a change in
custody. Although this appears to be a drastic recommendation given the child’s professed
attachment to the loved parent and fear of the hated parent, there are probably other reasons to
warrant a change in custody besides PAS. Typically, in these cases the primary caretaker has
severe psychopathology, which also affects other aspects of parenting. For example, the loved
parent may be chronically suicidal such that the child is skipping school to stay home to be with
that parent, or has rigid, paranoid thinking that severely limits the child’s ability to differentiate
and mature in other aspects of life. The change in custody recommendation also assumes that the
other parent is more emotionally healthy.
PAS usually involves a hated father and a loved mother. In the classic scenario, a father has left
a depressed, low functioning mother who over-identifies with the mother role. For the child to be
susceptible to alienation, the child usually feels abandoned by the father, who may have departed
precipitously, or is made to feel abandoned because of the mother’s statements, such as “he left
us.” The child clings to the low functioning mother and may be caught in a “folly a deux” against
the father as a way of bolstering her so she can continue to care for the child.
Rarely, the loved parent is the father and the hated one the mother. In this scenario, the child,
usually a boy, identifies with the father who is contemptuous of the mother’s weakness. The
father is narcissistic, successful, and looks down on those not as successful or as righteous as he
is. The mother has usually done something abandoning, subjecting the child to emotional stress
by feeling overburdened in taking care of her, or has behaved in a way that the child labels as
morally wrong (usually with help in labeling by the father).
A SYSTEMS VIEW OF PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME
The vast majority of cases that come to therapy because of PAS fall into the broad middle
category, as defined by Gardner. One of the difficulties of therapy is that the hated parent
usually contributes directly to the problems in the parent-child relationship and also to the
ongoing conflict with the mother. Very often, the hated parent, usually the father, has a distant,
rigid style, and is seen by the child as authoritarian. The style of the hated parent contrasts with
the indulgent, clinging style of the loved parent with the child. This combination of parenting
styles is often seen in intact families in clinics and hospitals when children have severe
emotional problems. Family therapy with these cases in intact families is usually aimed at
bringing the father into a closer relationship with the child and increasing their affection. It is
also aimed at helping the mother find an identity outside of the parent role and helping her with
her patenting. The same therapy techniques apply in PAS cases. Both parents usually need help
with their parenting.
Conflict between the parents is probably the main contributor to moderate PAS. Johnson and
Campbell in their book, Impasses of Divorce,2 notes that children around the age of 9 usually
ally with one parent in high conflict cases. This is a common survival strategy in conflict
because it takes great ego strength to remain neutral. Divorced couples usually force friends to
choose, and even therapists find it difficult to maintain emotional ties to both divorced parents.
In family therapy for PAS cases, the neutral family therapist assists the child in keeping contact
with both sides. The therapist also does conjoint work with the parents in order to reduce
situational conflict. Many times there is also financial conflict such that the father uses money as
his power and the mother answers with her power over the children.
Conflict often escalates outside of the immediate family to include the system of attorneys and
therapists. Johnson and Campbell write about this phenomenon also in Impasses of Divorce.
Therapists, especially individual child therapists, can unwittingly become part of the system
maintaining PAS because very few therapists know about it. Most therapists originally trained in
individual models of psychotherapy in which understanding and venting feelings are the main
therapeutic techniques. Often therapists only see the child with the loved parent and avoid
contact with the other parent because of their own fear of conflict. These therapists take
children’s statements at face value and do not realize that the children of divorce will say
different things depending upon which parent they are with. Even sophisticated therapists who
know about PAS can be drawn into the warring systems. When an evaluator believes that a child
is alienated and the child’s therapist is unwilling to meet with the hated parent, and is unreceptive
to feedback about alienation, it may be necessary to discontinue the child’s therapy. However,
changing the child’s therapist should be done only as a last resort if the child is very attached to
Because therapists can become part of the warring factions that contribute to PAS, it is important
that there be communication and collaboration among therapists in the family. Often parents will
try to block communication between therapists as part of the conflict. Court orders allowing
communication will facilitate treatment.
INNOVATIONS IN LEGAL AND THERAPEUTIC INTERVENTIONS
In a previous article, I explored the role of mediation in PAS.3 The premise is that help for PAS
almost always involves a combination of legal and therapeutic intervention, but the delays
caused by the formal court proceedings may contribute to the problem. Early negotiation or
mediation in these cases can be a powerful tool for attorneys in providing a rapid solution to
child estrangement that can evolve into total rejection of one parent by a child. ‘Time is of the
essence in dealing with problems that may lead to PAS. If contact is stopped between a parent
and a child, a pattern is likely to develop such that it will be difficult to mend the relationship.
Even without the help of an “alienating parent,” the child can develop phobic-type symptoms,
showing anxiety about contact with a parent. Phobias are strengthened and maintained by
avoidance. The solution to developing a phobia about riding a horse after a fall is to get back on
the horse, and the same is true of experiencing trauma in relationships.
Mediation and negotiation between attorneys can be used to keep some kind of contact going
between parent and child, to help select a mutually acceptable therapist who may be able to solve
the problems with early intervention, or to select quickly a neutral evaluator who is in the best
position to evaluate whether there are substantive reasons for the child’s rejection of one parent
or if the child is responding to the needs of the other parent to have an ally.
I have also written about a “case management” approach to PAS.4 Case management follows
after the court has made clear orders about custody and visitation based on a prior evaluation of
the family. The case manager is in charge of overseeing and coordinating the therapy. Treatment
may involve one or more of the following components:
1. Parent-child sessions. Sessions with the hated parent are designed to bring the parent and
child together in a less emotionally intense and more pleasant way and to help the parent learn
better parenting skills. Sessions with the loved parent are designed to ensure that there is at least
overt verbal permission given for the child to have a relationship with the other parent.
2. Individual therapy for parents. Therapy for the parents is designed to help them recover from
the divorce such that they can disengage from the conflict and find new roles for themselves. For
the hated parent, it is important that that parent is aware of his or her contributions to the child’s
rejection. For the loved parent, it is important to reinforce the message from the court that it is
important to allow and encourage a relationship with the other parent and the child and that
sabotaging behavior will not be tolerated. It is also usually very important to help find ways of
bolstering ego strength in a role outside of patenting in order that this parent may allow the child
to separate more easily.
3. Mediation between the parents. Finding a way to lower the overt conflict in these cases and
keeping the child from being “triangulated” into those conflicts is a crucial aspect of therapy.
Parents in these cases are usually unable to respond flexibly to changes in schedule or the other
inevitable crises that occur with children. In a sense, the mediator becomes the person
triangulated instead of the child.
4. Communication between therapists. Communication between therapists helps them overcome
their “advocacy” bias. It is especially important that the therapist for the child, if there is one, has
some kind of communication with the father or the father’s therapist so there is some reality
testing about the child’s complaints.
It is obviously costly if the case manager oversees and coordinates a multitherapist approach,
because it involves the time of several mental-health professionals. In this regard, it would be a
technique that might be reserved for highly conflicted cases that are likely to return repeatedly tocourt. The cost of the case management technique then must be weighed against the cost of
repeated litigation both in financial costs and the emotional consequences to the child.
OUTCOMES OF TREATMENT
There have been no research studies on the success of legal and therapeutic interventions for
PAS. However, reports from therapists who are working in the field suggest that there are few
quick and miraculous cures. Success in PAS cases should be defined as the maintenance of some
contact between parent and child.
It is often frustrating for parents and therapists when the parents improve in their behavior and
the child remains stuck in a rejecting attitude. The analogy would be when the leaders of two
warring nations sign a peace treaty but the guerrilla soldiers keep fighting. Sometimes the
children who have gone through the wars of divorce must reach a higher level of maturity before
they are able to give up their rejecting attitude. The biggest tragedy is that sometimes the
rejected parent loses patience and gives up before that change occurs.
On a positive note, in many cases speedy intervention by therapists, attorneys, and the courts,
can keep smaller problems from escalating into a cutoff in the relationship between parents and
child. The mote that judges, attorneys, and therapists understand PAS, and how they may
unwittingly contribute to it through the escalation of conflict, the more it can be prevented.
1. See Richard A. Gardner’s, “The Parental Alienation Syndrome” and “Psychotherapeutic and Legal Approaches
to Three Types of Parental Alienation Syndrome Families.” in his Family Evaluation in Child Custody Mediation,
Arbitration. and Litigation, chaps. 6, 9 (Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics, 1989).
2. Janet R. Johnston and Linda E. G. Campbell, Impasses of Divorce: The Dynamics and Resolution of Family
Conflict (New York: Free Press, 1988).
3. Mary Lund, “Mediation and Parental Alienation Syndrome.” Family Law Newsletter 15(1):17 (Spring, 1992).
4. Lionel Margolin and Mary Lund, “Post-Divorce Counseling Does Have A Place in Family Law.” Family Law
Newsletter 9(1):20-6 (Winter, 1993).
Mary Lund Ph.D., is a private practice mediator and evaluator in Santa Monica, California. She
is also a consultant with the Psychiatric Office of the L.A. Superior Court Family Law
Author’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Child Custody Compendium, 16th Annual
Child Custody Colloquium. February 5, 1994. Sponsored by Family Law Section – Los Angeles
County Bar Association, and Los Angeles Superior Court.
This morning, I’ve been reading an interesting article, THE ALIENATED CHILD: A Reformulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome, Joan B. Kelly and Janet R. Johnston, that attempts to shift the focus on to Child Alienation rather than Parental Alienation, as a way of reformulation. Personally, I do not yet know the correct answer to have Parental Alienation/Hostile Aggressive Parental/Child Alienation included in the diagnostic manual for mental disorders, or what the correct terminology should be. I don’t believe placing the focus on the outcome – the children’s alienating behaviors – will prevail in preventing future cases, as it is the result of the problem. On the other hand, focusing on the one parent as “alienator” and the other parent as “targeted parent” is not going to hold up either as there are many times when both parents contribute, or when the “so-called targeted” parent is actually abusive, or otherwise unfit.
Precisely for this reason, this issue needs to be studied from all possible angles. One day there we will have a better understanding. One day, divorcing parents in the United States will be required, or at the very least it will be strongly suggested that they be educated on these and other issues that are the outcome of separating a family.
When separating a family, i.e., divorce, issues are bound to arise. There is no perfect solution, and there never will be. All that we can hope for and work towards is a better understanding of what we do, why we do it, and what happens to the children, and for going forward how to either avoid our damaging behaviors, lessen our damaging behaviors, or empowering the victim/s to navigate the alienator’s damaging behaviors.
In this article, controversies and problems with parental alienation syndrome are discussed. A reformulation focusingon the alienated child is proposed, and these children are clearly distinguished from other children who resist or refuse contact with a parent following separation or divorce for a variety of normal, expectable reasons, including estrangement. A systemic array of contributing factors are described that can create andlor consolidate alienation in children, including intense marital conflict, a humiliating separation, parental personalities and behaviors, protracted litigation, and professional mismanagement. These factors are understood in the context of the child‘s capacities and vulnerabilities. The angry alienation of a child from a parent following separation and divorce has drawn considerable attention in custody disputes for more than two decades and, more recently, has generated considerable legal, psychological, and media-based controversy. The clinical phenomenon of the child’s strident rejection of a parent, generally accompanied by strong resistance or refusal to visit, was originally described as a pathological alignment between an angry parent and an older child or adolescent that arose from the dynamics of the separation, including the child’s reaction to the divorce (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1976, 1980). Gardner (1987, 1992) later coined the label parental alienation syndrome (PAS) to describe a diagnosable disorder in the child occurring in the context of a custody dispute, and it is this entity that has generated both enthusiastic acceptance and strong negative response. Gardner (1998) described PAS as a child’s campaign of denigration against a parent that has no justification and that results from the combination of two contributing factors: the programming or brainwashing by one parent and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target
parent. He notes that the indoctrinating parent is usually the mother and that false allegations
of sexual abuse are common.
The controversy regarding PAS has focused on a number of criticisms, only some of
which will be discussed here (see also Faller, 1998; Williams, 2001 [this issue]). First and foremost, PAS focuses almost exclusively on the alienating parent as the etiological agent of the child’s alienation. This is not supported by considerable clinical research that shows that in high-conflict divorce, many parents engage in indoctrinating behaviors, but only a small proportion of children become alienated (Johnston, 1993). In other cases, it can be shown that some children (especially adolescents) develop unjustified animosity, negative beliefs, and fears of a parent in the absence of alienating behaviors by a parent (Johnston, 1993). Hence, alienating behavior by a parent is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for a child to become alienated.
Second, Gardner has formulated a definition of PAS that includes its hypothesized etiological agents (i.e., an alienating parent and a receptive child). This renders his theory of the cause of PAS unfalsifiable because it is tautological (i.e., true by definition). Third, because there is no “commonly recognized, or empirically verified pathogenesis, course, familial pattern, or treatment selection’’ of the problem of PAS, it cannot properly be considered a diagnostic syndrome as defined by the American Psychiatric Association (1994). If PAS is considered a “grouping of signs and symptoms, based on their frequent co-occurrence,” it could be considered a nondiagnostic syndrome, but this sheds no light on cause, prognosis, and treatment of these behaviors. Hence, the term PAS does not add any information that would enlighten the court, the clinician, or their clients, all of whom would be better served by a more specific description of the child’s behavior in the context of his or her family. Fourth, using the terminology of a medical syndrome to explain the behavior of family social systems engenders controversy among mental health professionals of different philosophical orientation and training, ensuring that the validity of PAS will continue to be debated. Finally, there is a relative absence of any empirical or research support for the reliable identification of PAS, other than Gardner’s (and other proponents’) clinical experience and “expert testimony.” It is unfortunate that many of Gardner’s publications have been self-published and, therefore, have not benefited from the scrutiny of the larger community of peer reviewers.
Allegations of PAS have become a fashionable legal strategy in numerous divorce cases in which children are resisting contact with a parent, without due regard for possible historic reasons for such resistance within the marital home nor for the children’s relationship with both parents (Rand, 1997a, 1997b; Walsh & Bone, 1997). Most controversial are the radical recommendations that follow from Gardner’s view that an alienating parent is the principal if not the sole cause of the problem. In severe cases of PAS, he recommends changing custody (placing the child with the “hated” parent) as well as other punitive measures that have resulted, for instance, in the child’s detention in juvenile hall or inpatient psychiatric facility,
and/or the jailing and fining of the offending parent.
The indiscriminate use of PAS terminology has led to widespread confusion and misunderstanding in judicial, legal, and psychological circles. In the United States, some jurisdictions are now rejecting expert witness testimony on PAS based on the higher standards for admissibility of evidence contained in Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals (1993), which have largely replaced the Fxye (1923) standards in most states (Nelson & Downing, 1999; Williams, 2001; Wood, 1994). In thelarger community, theconcept of PAS has created its own gender politics, as father’s rights groups and women’s advocates have respectively exalted, used, and scathingly rejected Gardner’s formulation. Several Web sites devoted to PAS are frequently visited. The media too has entered the debate with extensive stories and
investigations, some well-balanced journalistic reporting and others sensationalized and one-sided (Carpenter & Kopas, 1998a, 1998b, 1998c; Farragher & Rodebaugh, 1989; Goldsmith, 1999; Stevens, 1996a, 1996b; Tanner, 1996). A more extensive review of the support for, and rejection of, PAS is beyond the scope of this article but can be found elsewhere (Clawar& Rivlin, 1991; Faller, 1998; Gardner, 1992,1998; Nelson & Downing, 1999; Rand, 1997a, 1997b; Turkat, 1994; Waldron & Joanis, 1996; Williams, 2001).
Given the lack of empirical support for PAS as a diagnostic entity, the barring of testimony about PAS in some courtrooms, the overly simplistic focus on the brainwashing parent as the primary etiologic agent, and the frequent misapplication of Gardner’s PAS theory to many diverse phenomena occurring in child custody disputes, there is a critical need to reformulate a more useful conceptualization than PAS. Indeed, there are many custody situations in which questions about alienation arise that need to be examined and understood to recommend effective legal and psychological interventions for the family.
This article presents a family systems formulation regarding the alienated child, and those that follow focus on legal and psychological case management, assessment where child alienation is suspected, therapeutic work with alienated children and their families, and a view of parental alienation from the bench (Johnston, Walters, & Friedlande, 2001 [this issue]; Lee & Olesen, 2001 [this issue]; Sullivan & Kelly, 2001 [this issue]; Williams, 2001).
THE ALIENATED CHILD: A NEW FORMULATION
This formulation proposes to focus on the alienated child rather than on parental alienation. An alienated child is defined here as one who expresses, freely and persistently, unreasonable negative feelings and beliefs (such as anger, hatred, rejection, and/or fear) toward a parent that are significantly disproportionate to the child’s actual experience with that parent. From this viewpoint, the pernicious behaviors of a “programming” parent are no longer the starting point. Rather, the problem of the alienated child begins with a primary focus on the child, his or her observable behaviors, and parent-child relationships. This objective and neutral focus enables the professionals involved in the custody dispute to consider whether
the child fits the definition of an alienated child and, if so, to use a more inclusive framework for assessing why the child is now rejecting a parent and refusing contact.
DISTINGUISHING ALIENATED CHILDREN
FROM OTHER CHILDREN WHO RESIST VISITATION
It is critical to differentiate the alienated child (who persistently refuses and rejects visitation because of unreasonable negative views and feelings) from other children who also resist contact with a parent after separation but for a variety of normal, realistic, and or developmentally expectable reasons. Too often in divorce situations, all youngsters resisting visits with a parent are improperly labeled alienated. And frequently, parents who question the value of visitation in these situations are quickly labeled alienating parents. There are multiple reasons that children resist visitation, and only in very specific circumstances does this behavior qualify as alienation. These reasons include resistance rooted in normal developmental processes (e.g., normal separation anxieties in the very young child), resistance rooted primarily in the high-conflict marriage and divorce (e.g., fear or inability to cope with the high-conflict transition), resistance in response to a parent’s parenting style (e.g., rigidity, anger, or insensitivity to the child), resistance arising from the child’s concern about an emotionally fragile custodial parent (e.g., fear of leaving this parent alone), and resistance arising from the remarriage of a parent (e.g., behaviors of the parent or stepparent that alter willingness to visit). (See Johnston, 1993; Johnston & Roseby, 1997; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980.)
A CONTINUUM OF CHILD-PARENT RELATIONSHIPS
AFTER SEPARATION AND DIVORCE
Children’s relationships to each parent after separation and divorce can be conceptualized along a continuum of positive to negative (with the most negative being alienation) as shown in Figure 1. Positive relationships with both parents. At the most healthy and benign end of this continuum are the majority of separated children who have positive relationships with both parents, value both parents, and clearly wish to spend significant (and sometimes equal) amounts of time with each parent. As an example, 13-year-old John railed angrily against his mother who was insisting that she become the primary caretaker in the custody dispute and
then said plaintively, “She doesn’t understand that a kid needs both his mother and
father. . . . I get different things from my mom and my dad.”
Afinity with one parent. Also at the positive and healthy end of the continuum are some children who have an affinity for one parent (see Figure 1) but desire continuity and contact with both parents. By reason of temperament, gender, age, shared interests, sibling preferences of parents, and parenting practices, these children feel much closer to one parent than the other. It is important to note that such affinities may shift over time with changing developmental needs and situations. Although these children may occasionally express an overt
preference for a parent, they still want substantial contact with and love from both parents. Beth, an 1 1-year-old, explained that she loved both her parents but really liked doing “girl things” with her mom like shopping and talking. So, she said, “I want to live with my mom a bit more than my dad, but I really want to see him, too.”
Allied children. Further along the continuum are children who have developed an alliance with one parent (see Figure 1). These are children who demonstrate or express a consistent preference for a parent during marriage or separation and often want limited contact with the nonpreferred parent after separation. Unlike the alienated child, children allied with one parent generally do not completely reject the other parent or seek to terminate all contact. Most often, they express some ambivalence toward this parent, including anger, sadness, and love, as well as resistance to contact.
Such alliances between children and parents might arise from intense marital conflict and flawed marital dynamics in which the children were encouraged to take sides or carry hostile messages and might intensify following separation. More often, alliances arise in older school-age children in response to the dynamics of the separation, involving children’s moral assessment and judgment about which parent caused the divorce, who is most hurt and vulnerable, and who needs or deserves the child’s allegiance and support. Maria expressed her rage at her mother for “ruining my dad’s life and my life! She’s thinking only of herself. . . . She’s so selfish!” The anger and sadness of this 13-year-old about the divorce conjoined with her father’s freely expressed anger at his wife and pain. Maria’s moral outrage, including her initially expressed wish to live with her father, was quite supportive of
and gratifying to him. In talking further with the mediator, Maria acknowledged quietly that she loved her mother, had been close to her during the marriage. and later conceded that maybe she would want to spend time with both parents. READ MORE….