About Parental Alienation
The most extreme parent-contact problem is parental alienation, which is one parent successfully manipulates the children to turn against the other parent. In extreme forms of parental alienation children report that they dislike or are frightened of the other parent and refuse to have any relationship with the targeted parent. When children are placed in the middle of co-parent conflict, they align with one parent or the other. When this happens without a rational, legitimate cause such as neglect or abuse, parental alienation may have occurred.
There is no clinical diagnosis for Parental Alienation; an experienced professional well qualified in family systems must prove pathogenic parenting has occurred. In parental alienation cases, the experienced family systems professional will use specific ways to assess the family systems pathology, the level of which a personality disorders contributes to the pathology, and the attachment system within the family dynamic.
How we treat Parental Alienation
We have developed a program that has been successfully helping the affected children and parents with parent-child contact problems, parental alienation, high conflict families and high conflict co-parents.
Our Parental Alienation Program uses coordinated team approach similar to our Reunification Therapy Program where we tailor the Intervention to the Nature and Severity of the Parent-Child Contact Problem to your family. Our interventions can take place in your home, our office or in public parks.
We assign 2 therapists, a parent coach and at times a behavior specialist to each family; our professionals have specialized training in parent-child contact problems and parental alienation.
In some moderate and all severe parental alienation cases, the alienating behaviors are emotionally abusive and typically they result from personality disorders or severe mental illness in the favored (alienating) parent.
In moderate to severe parental alienation cases, education, skill building, or therapy alone is unlikely to protect the child from the emotionally abusive behavior. Which means that the favored parent’s personality disorder or mental illness needs to be addressed and repaired before the alienating behaviors can be remedied. Ineffective treatment of the personality disorder or mental health disorder can make remediation of the alienating behaviors worse. Severe cases may require temporary and, in some cases, permanent change in custody arrangements which is called a protective separation period. The purpose of a protective separation period of the child from the psychologically abusive alienating parent is to protect the child from ongoing abusive parenting. Limiting contact with the alienating parent while the child is living with the rejected parent allows for more effective treatment and recovery for all family members.
If the alienating parent refuses to treat the personality disorder or severe mental health disorder than changing the temporary separation period to a more permanent arrangement may be the preferred outcome in most but not necessarily all cases.
The process of our Program after Parental Alienation has been determined
Brief Focused Family Consultation
Clinical Intake for each individual
Assessment of the family
Aftercare follow up therapy and continued skill building refresher sessions
Goal for Severe Parental Alienation Cases
In the most severe cases, this ultimate goal is likely to require a sequential approach to intervention: first with the child and the rejected parent who has been awarded custody, followed by legal and clinical interventions to reunite the child with the previously favored parent.
High Conflict Parenting, Parental Alienation and Parent-Child Contact Problems
All parent-child cases include high conflict co-parents, but not all high-conflict co-parents create parent-child contact problems and not all turn into parental alienation.
Separating parents typically exhibit situational and unintentional parental alienating behaviors to some extent, situational undermining, or bad-mouthing a co-parent does not always result in the child resisting or rejecting a parent.
Types of Parent-Child Contact Problems that Create to Parental Alienation
All of the parent-child contact problems can range from mild to severe and affect the child differently.
AFFINITY: is when a child prefers or feels more comfortable with one parent, but still seeks to maintain a relationship with the other. Children may feel closer to one parent than the other because they spend more time with one parent than the other, or because of typical developmental reasons such as age, gender which can affect separation anxiety, shared interests, sibling preferences, parenting practices.
Examples of Affinity are a 2-year old exhibiting signs of separation anxiety that is normal for that age even in non-separated parents, but the less favored parent blames the other parent for alienating. Another example might be a teenage girl wanting to spend more time with the same gender parent, this is also age appropriate in non-separated parents but can make the non-favored parent feel alienated in separated parents.
ALIGNMENT: When the child may take the same position or viewpoint as one parent and resist spending time with the other parent. This alliance can begin before, during, or after parent separation, in response to the other parent’s absence or minimal involvement in parenting, inexperience, insensitivity, treating the favored parent poorly, or poor parenting. These behaviors do not need to be severe as in abuse or neglect. Sometime a child takes these positions because they are upset at a parent for leaving, causing a separation, starts a new relationship or for making the favored parent feel sad or mad.
JUSTIFIED REJECTION: The child’s resistance or rejection is justified primarily by the rejected parent’s behaviors or actions. The favored parent may overly protect the child because they truly believe the child having contact with the other parent can be detrimental to the child. In these cases, the concerns of the favored parent may be justified but their protective behaviors undermine the parent-child relationship with the other parent. Although the favored parent’s behaviors do undermine the rejected parent, the child maintains resistance because of the hurtful behaviors or actions that the rejected parent has inflicted on the child.
UNJUSTIFIED REJECTION (alienation): A child who resists or rejects a parent because of alienation has had in the past a normal range relationship with the rejected parent that has turned into hatred, anger, rejection, lack of empathy towards the parent but does not have any real, justifiable reasons to feel the negativity, resist or reject a parent other than sharing the favored parent’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Types of Parental Alienation
Definitions of Parent Behaviors that can Contribute to Parental Alienation
Naïve: The most common form of parenting is naïve parenting; these parents make negative comments about the other parent for example “your dad better help you with your homework when you are with him, he doesn’t have a clue how bad it is for you when he doesn’t help you”. Naïve parental alienator are usually in support of the child’s relationship with the other parent and doesn’t understand the significance of the undermining comments against the other parent.
Active: Parents who are aware that they should support the child’s relationship with their co-parent but cannot control their own negative feelings toward their co-parent which affects communications, interactions. When a parent can’t keep negative comments away from children’s ears it unintentionally affects the child’s relationship with their co-parent. Sometimes, the active parental alienator feels guilty about alienating the co-parent but cannot stop themselves from contributing to parental alienation.
Obsessed: The intent is to successfully alienate the other parent and destroy that parent child relationship. These parents are not even aware that their own feelings toward the other parent are uncontrollable or are even negative. The obsessed parental alienator cannot separate their feelings of their co-parent from the child’s feelings of the co-parent. In cases like this, the obsessed parent truly believes their delusion that the co-parent is dangerous, and they must protect the child from the dangerous co-parent.
Common statements from an obsessed parental alienator are:
“my child does not want to see the targeted parent and I will not make him”
“the child is afraid of the targeted parent”
These statements are made even if there has been no evidence of wrong doing or poor parenting by the targeted parent. The goal of the obsessed parental alienator is to align the child, which is to make the child think and feel the same about the targeted parent.
Naïve parenting can unintentionally create a more detrimental form of parental alienation.
Active and obsessed parent alienation are significantly more detrimental to children.
How do I Know if my Co-Parent is an Obsessed Parental Alienator?
Is your co-parent attempting to destroy the child’s relationship with you?
Is your co-parent intertwining or forcing their beliefs, thoughts and feelings about you with their child?
Is your attachment or bond with your child deteriorating?
Does your child display specific characteristics of splitting which means that you are parent all good or all bad?
Does your child have a false belief that you are an abusive parent or that your parenting is detrimental to them?
Is your child’s rejection of you based on skewed communication, false beliefs, and in an entangled relationship with your co-parent parent?
Does your child believe that he is a victim of your poor parenting or abuse and must be protected?
Do you feel that your emotional bond with your child has been replaced with a step parent?
Seven factors that create a “perfect storm” for parent-child contact problems as identified by Joan Kelly and Janet Johnston (2001):
- The alienating behavior and motivation of the aligned parent.
- The rejected parent’s inept parenting and counter-rejecting behavior (before or after the rejection).
- Domestic violence or abuse and child abuse or neglect.
- Chronic litigation, which typically includes “tribal warfare” involving aligned personal sources (extended family, friends, new partners, and educational, mental health, or legal professionals).
- Sibling dynamics and pressures.
- A vulnerable child (temperament style, dependent, anxious, fearful, emotionally troubled, and with poor coping and reality testing).
- Developmental factors (e.g., age-appropriate separation anxiety or response to conflict consistent with the cognitive development of children aged 8- 15 years).
Is my Child being Coached by my Co-Parent?
Just as with various parent-child contact problems, children can be afraid to enjoy themselves with the rejected parent; children who are being coached can also be afraid of enjoying themselves with the rejected parent. Parents can coach in different ways, Overt coaching is when the parent tells a child to behave, interact or communicate in certain negative ways towards the rejected parent. An example of this would be “I have to cry when I have to see my dad”. Covert Coaching is when a parent coaches in ways that are manipulating but outward verbal ways to create an irrational fear of a parent. An example of this would be not letting a child accept a gift from a parent.
Signs that my child is being coached
Hatred towards non-favored parent
Copy imitate the favored parent
Resist or refuse spending time with the non-favored parent
Have beliefs that are not about the non-favored parent
They are not intimidated by the court process
Their feelings appear to be straightforward and distinct
They take the same position or viewpoint as the favored parent
They show no outward signs of guilt, compassion or empathy towards the non-favored parent
They can behave normally towards everyone else or until asked about non-favored parent