Time to notice, time to intervene…parental alienation

PARENTAL ALIENATION carries pretty much the same symptoms as kidnapping does… except maybe worse- this kidnapper hates the other parent. They are often jealous of the parents’ latter successes. For whatever their reasons they are using children to destroy, and the first and primary destruction is Daddy (in some cases Mommy).

Linda Gottlieb Quote Parental Alienation - 2015

Organization and civil liberties protection spirited creative to help motivate activism, solution ism and efforts to “squash the alienation!”

Why do mental health professionals and attorneys who evaluate or work with alienated children frequently mistake alienation for estrangement?persuasive-rhetoric-parental-alienation1

The main reason is that cases of parental alienation are counter intuitive.  That is, the brain is hardwired to misinterpret and misunderstand the family dynamics in these situations.  That leads to a number of common cognitive errors (thinking errors) that, in turn, lead to serious errors in professional reasoning and decision-making. In other words, the brain is tricked by alienation cases just as it is tricked by an optical illusion.

Consequently, many professionals, including mental health professionals and attorneys, get these cases backwards. Often, the targeted parent is unfairly criticized for having allegedly contributed to his or her rejection, and the alienating parent is either absolved or believed to have made only a minor contribution. Thus, unless the professional has an in-depth understanding of alienation and estrangement, cases of severe alienation are frequently mistaken for estrangement.Dysfunctional Family Courts 2 - 2015

This phenomenon has been described in some detail by Steven Miller, M.D., a physician who studies clinical reasoning and clinical decision-making. For an excellent summary, readers might wish to refer to a chapter that Dr. Miller wrote entitled, “Clinical Reasoning and Decision-Making in Cases of Child Alignment: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Issues,” in the book, Working with Alienated Children and Families, edited by Amy J. L. Baker, Ph.D. and Richard Sauber, Ph.D.  Dr. Miller examines the complexity of alienation cases, explains why such cases are so counter intuitive, even to professionals, and describes how even the most experienced mental health practitioner can succumb to a variety of cognitive and clinical errors.

I will subsequently specify some of the more common counter intuitive mistakes and biases that occur in alienation cases. But I wish first to discuss how an experienced mental health professional can be fooled in these cases and may be no better at diagnosing alienation than a layperson.saddest-thing-in-the-world-20161

Why is that so?  For one thing, professionals who are assigned to conduct custody evaluations provide reunification therapy, or represent a child in court are usually not experts in alienation and estrangement.  Parental alienation is a highly specialized area, a sub-specialty within the field of family dynamics and family systems therapy.  It requires special knowledge and special skills. But most mental health professionals have received little or no specialized training in these areas.

For instance, most custody evaluations are performed by clinical psychologists. And yet, the usual doctoral degree in clinical psychology does not include even a single course in family dynamics. Although I collaborate with many knowledgeable PAS-aware psychologists — many of whom are excellent, superb clinicians — they have usually gained their expertise in parental alienation through extensive practice experience, not as part of their formal training.

http://iloveandneedmydaughter.blogspot.com/2011/10/who-is-she.html
Stand Up For Zoraya

A similar situation exists within the discipline of child psychiatry, which generally provides little or no specialized training in family dynamics. Although some degree programs in clinical social work offer the option of specializing in family dynamics and family therapy, that is only an option, and many clinical social workers have little or no background in this area. Among mental health professionals, one of the few degrees that actually require formal training in family dynamics is a degree in marriage and family systems therapy, and even those who hold that degree are not necessarily experts in alienation and estrangement.

The bottom line is that not all mental health practitioners have the required expertise to handle cases of parental alienation, and not all therapists are bona fide specialists, let alone sub-specialists, in alienation and estrangement.

Thus, parental alienation is a complex sub-specialty that requires special expertise.  To make this point, I sometimes use the following analogy: both a tax attorney and a divorce lawyer have gone to law school, and are presumably familiar with basic legal principles.  Nevertheless, each would probably be over his or her head — like a fish out of water — if he or she attempted to practice the other specialty.

The situation is even more problematic for attorneys who deal with parental alienation. As previously noted, such cases are highly-counter intuitive, and attorneys who do not have special expertise in this area can make a multitude of cognitive, legal and strategic errors — including serious errors when trying these cases in court. Although Dr. Miller has described more than 30 such errors, some are particularly important and are highlighted here.

Most professionals believe that if a child has rejected a parent, the parent must have done something to warrant it. Few people would even think of another explanation: namely that the child had been programmed or brainwashed, just like what occurs in a cult or in the well-known Stockholm syndrome. But if one were to compare alienated children to foster children — specifically, children who had been removed from their parents due to actual abuse and neglect — the difference would be obvious.

Children who have truly been abused crave a relationship with their parents.  Paradoxically — and this is what makes it so counter intuitive — with few exceptions, abused children protect their abusive parents.  They do not disparage attack or reject them. I myself saw this consistently during my 24 years of working in New York State’s Child Welfare System.

Most professionals believe that it is unlikely that a child would align with an abusive, alienating parent. What is missed here is that the child is vulnerable to the manipulations of the alienating parent, such as bribery, abuse of authority and power, and permissiveness.  We know how it is generally the targeted/alienated parent who enforces the appropriate discipline to fill the parental vacuum vacated by the alienating parent.  By doing so, targeted/alienated parents are incredibly misunderstood and doubly victimized by the inexperienced professional, who then labels them as too harsh and not respectful of their children’s feelings and wishes.

Most professionals confuse pathological enmeshment with healthy bonding. To the naive observer, the closeness and clinging seen with enmeshed parent-child relationships seems normal, even healthy. But it is not. As a result of this dysfunctional relationship, alienated children lose their individuality; must suppress their natural feelings of love and need for a parent; and are manipulated to do the bidding of the alienating parent. That is extremely dangerous and damaging to the child.

Having fallen prey to these and other cognitive errors, mental health professionals who lack expertise in alienation then succumb to other biases that lead them to conclude that the alienating parent is competent and the targeted parent is not — in other words, those professionals get it backwards.

For example, the targeted parent frequently presents with symptoms of anxiety, depression and fear. What PAS-unaware professionals fail to understand is that these symptoms are situational and maintained by the alienation and are not dispositional. As noted by Dr. Miller, this is called the fundamental attribution error. It is one of the most common and pernicious cognitive errors. Likewise, it is common for PAS-unaware professionals to conclude that a targeted parent’s anger is the result of a character flaw instead of the result of trauma caused by the alienation.

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Parental Alienation

I thought I knew children and young people quite well. After all, I had three of my own and I had worked with them for 10 years; I understood child and adolescent behaviour didn’t I? So challenged was I by the behaviours I had observed, that I sought to gain an informed understanding. This was when I came across ‘parental alienation’ (PA). The more I read, the more I understood, the greater my shame, guilt and sadness. Shame that I had usually taken what I saw before me at face value and not sought to look deeper; guilt that my ignorance had probably contributed to the alienation; sadness at the growing realisation that there was very little I could do to rectify the situation for this young girl and her dad. Witnessing the devastating repercussions on the lives of people I loved and cared about, motivated me to ‘do’ something…

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