Notes and Excerpts from Several Articles on Parent Alienation Syndrome
Parental Alienation Syndrome
Daniel H. Swerdlow-Freed, Ph.D.
As the frequency of child custody disputes has increased, so has the animosity and antagonism parents bring to these conflicts.
…observe children caught in the middle of parental disputes and to be enlisted by one parent as an ally against the other parent in the campaign of systematic denigration and alienation of affection.
As accusations and counter-complaints fly, it often becomes increasingly difficult to discern truth from exaggeration and reality from imagination.
Experience reveals that all divorcing couples make come negative remarks about one another.
Research indicates that children in divorce situations develop closer alignments with one parent than with the other.
The point here is that children typically hold a mixture of positive and negative feelings about their parents, unless some circumstances intervene to disrupt this balance.
Visitation interference can be conceptualized to exist along a continuum. At the end of no interference, the child's alignment with each parent is roughly equal, or at least is not a significant factor in either parent-child relationship. The custodial parents of these children facilitate a continuing relationship between the child and their ex-spouse and promote, rather than discourage, frequent and meaningful contact.
Rather, the interference episode is most accurately understood as a means of communication from the custodial to the non-custodial parent and is a warning to not repeat the offensive act.
Divorce Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, a disorder he suggests is more severe than PAS. A mother who unjustifiably punishes her divorcing or divorced husband by attempting to alienate the child from the father, involving others in malicious actions against the father, or engaging in excessive litigation.
The child often claims to not have any positive feelings for that individual, despite a history that suggest otherwise. When questioned about their seemingly abrupt change in attitude toward the hated parent, these children will often rationalize the reason for their attitude change or will state vague reasons for the sudden estrangements.
…children do not naturally hate parents, even parents who have serious shortcomings and deficiencies.
Alienated children will claim they alone made the decision to stop talking to or visiting with the hated parent and will insist they were not influenced in this decision by anyone else, particularly the preferred parent. Not surprisingly, the preferred parent will testify to the veracity of this claim and will describe the child as usually independent minded.
Some children will express absolute, unwavering support of the loved parent's position, regardless of the issue. Furthermore, these children are incredibly unyielding, refusing to accept any information that contradicts their negative assertions about the hated person.
Moreover, he uses words and phrases that were uncharacteristic of young children…
Programming parents…, typically evidence a pattern of verbalizing to the child unjustified, excessively derogatory remarks about the ex-spouse. The programming parent externalizes all blame for dissolution of the marital relationship as well as for having played any role in these problems. Another common criticism is to complain about how little money the other parent is paying in child support.
Some programming parents will exaggerate minor psychological problems or other shortcomings possessed by the other parent. These may be discussed at length with the child, particularly just prior to visitation, along with the admonishment to be careful and wary of the non-preferred parent and to contact the loved parent immediately if anything untoward occurs.
Some programming parents will refuse to permit their ex-spouse to baby-sit the child. These parents also tend to be overly rigid with regard to schedules, refusing to make reasonable adjustments or accommodations. Some programming parents may refuse to provide copies of the child's report card or may instruct the school that they are the custodial parent and that the other parent is not to be contacted or dealt with. These parents also refuse to inform the non-preferred parent of school plays, concerts, or other special events…
A more subtle behavior occurs when the programming parent expresses neutrality regarding visitation. A healthy parent understands the importance of the child maintaining contact with both parents and barring extreme circumstances, encourages visitation. When a parent takes a position of “neutrality” this implicitly communicates to the child that contact with the other parent is unimportant…
Extreme hatred is a veiled disguise for strong love and true rejection is characterized by neutrality and indifference, not anger and hate.
However, because these children are caught in a loyalty bind, they are unable to overtly express positive feelings for the non-preferred parent, lest they jeopardize the relationship of the loved parent.
….many allegations of parental alienation contain elements of truth, although not all negative remarks made by one parent against another constitute an attempt to alienate a child.
Specifically, the woman was projecting onto her ex-spouse many of the shortcomings she had experienced at the hands of her own parents.
Legal and Psychotherapeutic Approaches to the Three Types of Parental Alienation Syndrome Families: When psychiatry and law join forces: R.A. Garner, M.D., Court Review, V 28, n1, Spring, 1991
At the same time, the other parent can do no wrong and the nonpreferred parent can do no right.
They are obsessed with hatred of their husbands. In many cases, they are paranoid. These mothers see in their husbands many objectionable characteristics that actually exist within themselves characteristics that they do not wish to recognize.
When a sex-abuse accusation becomes incorporated into the package, such mothers may be projecting their own sexual inclinations onto the father. In the service of this goal they exaggerate and distort any comment the child makes that might justify the allegation.
Such mothers do not respond to logic, confrontations with reality or appeals to reason. Even a court decision that there is absolutely non evidence that the father is guilty of sex abuse does not alter her beliefs nor reduce her commitment to depreciation of the father. Energizing the rage is the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” phenomenon.
Regarding the therapeutic approaches in this category, traditional therapy for the mother is most often not possible. Usually she has absolutely no insight into her deep-seated psychiatric problems and is thereby totally unreceptive to treatment. Often she will consider therapists and other evaluators who believe that her delusions are not warranted to be joining in with her husband.
It is important for judges to appreciate that treatment for the children is most often not possible while the children are still living in the mother's home. There is a pathological psychological bond here between the mother and children that is not going to be changed by therapy as long as the children live with the mother.
Moderate Cases of the PAS:
In these cases, the rage of the rejected woman is more important than paranoid projection. These mothers can differentiate between allegations that are preposterous and those that are not. When a false sex-abuse allegation is incorporated into the parental alienation syndrome, they will be able to differentiate between the child's preposterous claims and those that may have some validity. …the mothers in this category are more likely to have a healthy psychological bond that is being compromised by their rage.
A younger child may often need the support of an older one to keep the campaign going.
With regard to court-ordered therapy for these families, it is important that one therapist be used. We are not dealing with a situation in which the mother should have her therapist, the father his therapist, and the children their own. Such a therapeutic program, although seemingly respectful of each party's individual needs, is not likely to be effective in treating parental alienation syndrome families. Such fractionization reduces communication between family members, sets up antagonistic sub-systems within the family and is thereby likely to intensify the pathological interactions that contribute to the parental alienation syndrome.
However, mothers in the moderate category often seek therapists. However, they typically select one with whom they develop a mutual admiration society in which the therapist becomes the mother's champion in the fight. Most often, the mother chooses a woman as a therapist, especially a woman who is herself antagonistic toward men. Often, the mother's therapist has little, if any contact with the father and do does not hear his side of the story. When they do meet with him, they typically will be hostile and unsympathetic. Sometimes the children will be brought to this therapist, ostensibly to help them deal with the indignities they are suffering at their father's hands.
The court's therapist must have a thick skin and be able to tolerate the children's shrieks and claims of maltreatment. Doing what children profess they want is not always the same ad doing what is best for them. Therapist of the persuasion that they must “respect” their child patients and accede to their wishes will be doing these children a terrible disservice. The therapist should recall that the children were likely to have had a good relationship with the father before the separation and that strong psychological ties must still be present. The therapist should view the children's professed hatred as superficial and as designed to ingratiate themselves with the mother. To take the allegations of maltreatment seriously may help to entrench the parental alienation syndrome and may result in years of, if not lifelong alienation.
Transition periods may be especially difficult for children with parental alienation syndrome. It is then that the loyalty conflicts become most intense and the symptoms most severe.
It is important for judges to appreciate that not all therapists are suited to work with such families. As mentioned, they must have thick skins to tolerate the children's antics as they claim that they are being exposed to terrible traumas and indignities in their fathers' homes. They must be comfortable with taking a somewhat dictatorial position.
When a parental alienation syndrome is present, the therapeutic approach must first involve a significant degree of people manipulation and structure before one can sit down and talk meaningfully with the parities involved. Moreover, therapists who accept as valid the patient's wishes and consider it therapeutically contraindicated to pressure or coerce a patient are also not good candidates to serve such families.
Have usually developed a healthy psychological bond with their children. They believe that gender egalitarianism in custody disputes is a disservice to children but are healthy enough not to involve themselves in courtroom litigation in order to gain primary custody. Others recognize that alienation from the father is not in the children's best interest and are willing to take a more conciliatory approach to the father's requests. There is no paranoia here but there is anger and there may be some desire for vengeance.
A paranoid mother, who has so programmed her son that he, too, has developed paranoid feelings about his father, may have a strong psychological bond with her son, stronger than that which he has with his father, But this is certainly not a healthy bond, and its presence is a strong argument for recommending the father as the primary custodial parent.
Expanding the Parameters of PAS, Glen Cartwright. American Journal of Family Therapy, 21 (3), 205-215.
Eight manifestations indicative of PAS:
Campaign of denigration in which there is the continuing profession of hatred of the absent parent by the child. This litany is easily evoked by teachers, lawyers, judges or social workers and is often most strong in the presence of the “hated” parent. The child begins to withdraw from the lost parent, speaks indirectly, and avoids taking clothes or toys home from the lost parent to avoid “contaminating” the favored parent. Chameleon-like, the child may initially experiment, denigrating each parent while with the other, covering his or her tracks by extracting promises from each not to tell the other.
Second, there are weak, frivolous or absurd rationalizations given by the child for deprecating the lost parent.
PAS children express themselves like perfect little photocopies of the alienating parent Given a list of “good” things the child did with the lost parent, the child will explain a few as being unenjoyable, others as being forces, still others as “all Dad's idea”, and claim no memory of the rest. The process resembles amnesia wherein the child's good memories appear to be completely destroyed
4th, there is the contention that the decisions to reject the parent are the child's. Children are not born with genes that program them to reject a father. Such hatred is environmentally indices.
5th. There is an almost automatic, reflexive support by the child for the loved parent.
6th. Gratitude for gifts, favors and or child support is non-existent
7th, is the presence of borrowed scenarios. The litanies the children produce have a rehearsed, coached quality to them and often include expressions and phrases of the loved parent.
8th, there is an obvious spread of animosity to the hated parent's extended family.
Parental alienation may be precipitated by parental disagreements on matters other than custody. It must be wondered whether virtually any disagreement, serious or frivolous, may be a potential trigger. PAS may be encouraged by third parties.
Allegations of fabricated sexual abuse may be virtual. They refer to those cases in which the abuse is only hinted, its real purpose being to cast aspersions on the character of the Noncustodial parent in a continuing program of denigration.
Time heals all wounds, except alienation. In the case with PAS, the passage of time worsens rather than heals the affliction.
The degree of alienation in the child is directly proportional to the time spent alienating. Alienation does not occur overnight. It is a gradual and consistent process that is directly related to the time spent alienating.
Excessive alienation may trigger mental illness in the child. Unfortunately, alienation can become so powerful as to trigger other forms of mental and emotional illness with resultant maladaptive behavior.
The alienator experiences the sweetness of revenge and the thrill of “victory”.
Ordinary children who have grown up without a parent or grandparent often report “something missing” in their childhood. What is lost, of course , is the day-to-day interaction, the learning, the support and the love that normally flows from parents and grandparents.
The problem of PAS appears to be extremely serious.
The Parental Alienation Syndrome: An analysis of Sixteen Selected Cases: John Dunne, Marsha Hedrick, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, Vol 2(3/4) 1994.
It has been raised in cases involving allegations of domestic violence, parental substance and child sexual abuse, often strongly polarizing various mental health professionals involved in cases. Difficulties arise when a child aligns with a parent.
Child is preoccupied with depreciation and criticism of parent that is unjustified and/or exaggeration
Conscious, subconscious and unconscious factors within the alienating parent contribute to the child's alienation from the other
Denigration of the parent has the quality of a litany, a rehearsed quality. There is phraseology not usually used by the child.
Child justifies the alienation with memories of minor altercations experienced in die relationship with the parent which are trivial and which most children would have forgotten.
The alienating parent will concur with the children and support their belief that these reasons justify the alienation.
Hatred of the parent is most incense when the alienating parent and the child are in the presence of the alienated parent. However, when the child is alone with the alienated parent, the child may exhibit hatred, neutrality or expressions of affection.
If the child begins to enjoy him/herself with the alienated parent, there may be episodes of “stiffening up” and resuming withdrawal and animosity, as though they have done something wrong.
The degree of animosity in the child's behavior and verbalizations may vary with the degree of proximity to the alienating parent.
Hatred of the parent often extends to include die alienated parent's extended family
The alienating parent is generally unconcerned within the psychological effects on the child of the rejection of parent and extended family
The child's hatred of the alienated parent is often impervious to evidence which contradicts his/her position.
The child's position seemingly lacks ambivalence. The alienated parent is “all bad”, the alienating parent is “all good”.
The child is apt to exhibit a guiltless disregard for the feelings of the alienated parent.
The child fears the loss of love of the alienating parent.
Excerpts from cases:
When she returned to her mother, she consistently complained about each visit.
Forbade the therapist to talk with the girlfriend. He described his daughter as having two personalities, one when she was under the influence of her mother, when she acted like an extension of her mother's ego, and another when she was with him, a happy and playful child.
The mother made accusations of physical abuse of herself by the father and on the day prior to the commencement of the divorce trial, the mother made allegations of sexual abuse of the child by the father.
Psychological testing of the mother produced clinical scores elevated beyond the normal range. The clinical pattern suggested that she was immature, narcissistic, self-indulgent as well as passive-dependent. The testing also suggested that she was likely to be suspicious of the motivations of others, avoidant of deep emotional involvement, angry, argumentative, stubborn and prone to externalization. Psychological testing of the father was not elevated beyond the normal range. His normal range profile suggested that he was apt to be naïve, hopeful, optimistic and suggestible with a persistent need to be liked by others and a tendency to avoid confrontation and negativity. There was also evidence of insecurity, feelings of inadequacy and a tendency to anticipate rejection.
The mother's history included a very disturbed relationship with her own parents and considerable parental dysfunction during her childhood.
He viewed his ex-wife as deceitful, unpredictable and emotionally volatile.
Psychological testing and clinical interview suggested a person with strong narcissistic, histrionic and dependent traits. She appeared willing to exploit others without regard to their feelings. She had a long history of avoiding disapproval by deflecting blame on others.
Many of her allegations had some element of truth but always represented the worst possible interpretation of her ex-husband's behavior or character.
She repeatedly referred to her husband's “abandonment of the family” and had conducted a “burial ceremony” during which she and the children symbolically buried the father so that the “new family” which did not include the father, could move forward.
The mother's psychological testing was invalidated by considerable defensiveness characteristic of individuals who deny psychological problems. The testing also suggested that she was apt to be inflexible, unrealistic and very needful of been seen by others in a positive light.
Following several more months of therapy and contact with the father only during the therapy sessions, child asked to stay over night with his father. The mother reacted with rage, as though Child had betrayed her.
Jacobs (1998) and Wallerstein (1985) refer to narcissistic injury as the motivating force for the alienating parent. Jacobs also suggests a form of “sibling rivalry” between the divorcing parents for the control and love of the child and Wallerstein suggests a pathological dependence of a parent on the child to protect against feelings of loss as another underlying dynamic.
This study also suggests that traditional therapies and interventions are not successful in rehabilitating children affected by this syndrome.
Professionals who work with the divorcing population, either as therapists, or evaluators, need to be aware of the symptoms of PAS and the difficulties that these cases present for the families and for the court system. A failure to appropriately identify and intervene in the early stages of these cases may result in the alienating parent being given professional support for his/her position, reinforcing the child's need to maintain or expand complaints about the alienated parent. This has the capacity to more firmly entrench the syndrome and to enhance the severity of the dynamics.
Custody Disputes Fueling “Parental Alienation Syndrome: from Family Practice News, Vol 20, #24, December 15-31, 1990, Page 7.
90 % of the time, the father is the victim.
A hallmark of the syndrome is the child's lack of normal ambivalence toward both parent: he can find nothing he dislikes about his mother and nothing he likes about his father.
In severe cases of parental alienation syndrome - the alienating parent is unamenable to therapy and so filled with rage, paranoia and delusions that a virtual folie a deux has developed with the child. The only hope is court ordered removal of the child to the other parent's home. In this case, the primary psychological bond is strong but “sick”.
Family Therapy of the Moderate Type of PAS - Richard Gardner
When working with PAS families, it is important that only one therapist be used. This is not a situation in which the mother, father and children have their own therapist. Such a program, although seemingly respectful of each party's individual needs, is not likely to work for PAS families. Such fractionalization reduces communication, is likely to set up antagonistic subsystems within the family, and will probably intensify and promulgate the pathological interactions that contribute PAS. Therapists who treat PAS children individually are likely to be “led down the garden path” and seduced into believing that their patients have indeed been subjected to the humiliations that PAS children are so skilled at describing. The same principle holds for therapists who work individually with the programming parent. The therapist needs input from both parents. The therapist needs input from the victimized parent to learn directly how inappropriate and ludicrous the children's complaints are, and the therapist needs direct experience with the alienator to observe that parent's manipulations directly. It is only by treating all family members, individually and in varying combinations, that one can get a full appreciation of a PAS family psychodynamics.
Therapists who work with PAS families must be comfortable with authoritarian approaches. There is no place in such treatment of patiently waiting for patients to gain insight. This is especially true when the therapist is dealing with the alienating parent. The therapist who cannot switch roles and be comfortable with a stringent authoritarian approach should not be treating such families.
It is in the treatment of PAS families that threats are crucial.
The alienating Parent: Alienators in the moderate category of PAS will often find their own individual therapists with whom they develop a mutual admiration society in which the therapist becomes the programmer's champion in the conflict. Parents in this category have a way of selecting therapists who will support their antagonism toward the targeted parent. Typically, the mother's therapist has little, if any contact with the father and so deprives herself of the opportunity to hear his view of the situation. When such therapists do meet with him, they typically will be hostile and unsympathetic. Accordingly, the mother and the therapist often develop a folie-a-deux relationship.
Typically, PAS indoctrinators in the moderate category will either refuse meaningful involvement in the special treatment program described here or, if they profess such interest, will ultimately be uncooperative, obstructionistic and do everything possible to sabotage the therapy. They may profess interest and cooperation, but their behavior attests to just the opposite. PAS-inducing parents “can create a façade of wanting peace and cooperation, while covertly continuing the campaign of aggression and sabotage”.
Most of the alienators in the moderate category of PAS are not receptive to insight therapy in which they delve into the reasons for their exaggerated animosity. At the most superficial level, one tries to get them to appreciate the importance of the other parent's role in the children's upbringing and to recognize that their PAS-inducing manipulations, although causing grief to the victimized parent, are also contributing to the children's psychopathology.
Another factor that often contributes to the PAS campaign of animosity is the alienator's desire to maintain a relationship with the former spouse. Inducing PAS in a child cannot be accomplished in one single maneuver. It requires ongoing monitoring, adjustments and “the injection of booster shots”. The tumult so engendered guarantees ongoing involvement, accusations and counter accusations and attack and counter attack.
Maternal over protectiveness is commonly a factor in producing PAS in the children. Such mothers view the world as a dangerous place and the father may be viewed as a potential source of danger to the children. All sources of anger, both related to and unrelated to the spouse, should be investigated-especially if they result in anger being channeled into vengeance and rage directed toward the victimized parent.
The court's therapist must have a thick skin and be able to tolerate the shrieks and claims of impending maltreatment that PAS children often profess. Therapist who believe that they must “respect” their child patients and accede to their wishes will be doing PAS children a terrible disservice.
The therapist does well to recall that prior to the separation, the children were likely to have had a good, strong relationship with the targeted parent and that strong psychological ties must still be present. Accordingly, the therapist should view PAS children's professed animosity as superficial and designed to ingratiate themselves with the alienator. To take the allegations of maltreatment seriously, is a terrible disservice to PAS children. It may contribute to an entrenchment of the PAS and my result in years of, if not lifelong alienation.
Similarly, when a fabricated (as opposed to bona fide) sex abuse allegation has been introduced, if the therapist is convinced that it is false (especially after thorough evaluation), then he or she does well not to allow the children to dwell on these allegations. Typically over time such false allegations become elaborated on, and new allegations arise when the earlier ones do not result in the targeted parent being totally removed from access to the children. Accordingly, it is antitherapeutic to listen to these. Rather it is therapeutic to say, “That didn't happen” so let's go on and talk about real things, like your next visit with your father”. A false sex abuse allegation may become an intrinsic part of the PAS and may become a formidable additional dimension.
Therapist fail to appreciate that the children actually want to be forced to visit so that they have an excuse to do so and such an excuse necessarily involves complaints about the therapist's coercions and cruel manipulations.
The therapist must also appreciate that older children may promulgate the programming down to younger ones.
As mentioned, a psychological bond, no matter how strong, can tolerate only a certain degree of attenuation, beyond which it becomes destroyed completely.
When working individually with PAS children, the therapist must discourage them from “buttering up” each parent and saying to each what they think that parent wants to hear at the moment. In family sessions the therapist should “smoke out” the lies. This is much more likely to be accomplished in family sessions than in individual meetings. Therapist should express incredulity over the children's vilification of the targeted parent. They should not take seriously the children's allegations, quickly refute and discount allegations that are patently false and should then move on to other subjects.
The alienated parent:
Parents who are the victims of PAS are often quite confused regarding what has happened to their families. It as if one day they had warm and loving children and the next day they were victims of ongoing vilification and denigration. Accordingly, after a detailed inquiry has been conducted and the diagnosis confirmed, the therapist does well to explain the process by which PAS developed.
The victimized parent can be engaged by the therapist as a therapeutic assistant in the deprogramming process.
MMPI-2 Validity Scales and Suspected Parental Alienation Syndrome, Jeffrey Siegel, Ph.D and Joseph S. Langford, Ph.D. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, V 15 n4, 1998, p. 5 - 14.
PAS parents are more likely to complete MMPI-2 questions in a defensive manner, striving to appear as flawless as possible. It was concluded that parents who engage in alienating behaviors are more likely than other parents to use the psychological defenses of denial and projection which are associated with this validity scale pattern.
The alienating parent is likely to make accusations about the other parent in front of the child, describe the other parent as dangerous or harmful, tell the child that the other parent does not love him or her and greatly exaggerate the other parent's faults. More extreme alienating behaviors include making false accusations of sexual or physical abuse and programming the child to believe that the abuse has occurred.
L scale (aka Lie Scale): indicate the extent to which a client is attempting to describe him/her self in an unrealistically positive manner, Thus a high scorer may describe themselves in an overly perfectionistic and idealized manner.
K scale: measurement of defensiveness, faking good, distress, fake bad, plea for help, denial, lack of insight, self-reliant, cynical, poor self concept
F scale: Uncooperative, faking bad, crisis, confusion, risk of acting out, unstable, sincere, psychotic, deviant, conformity
A highly defensive MMPI-2 validity scale pattern, as was found among PAS parents, suggests psychological defenses which are typically used by people with the externalizing personality disorders (histrionic, borderline, narcissistic and paranoid).
The tendency to see oneself as “all good” (high L, K scales and low F scale suggests the use of splitting, projection and denial) as those produced by the parental alienators.
In the context of a divorce and custody dispute, a person who profile like those in this study would appear to be denying any personal responsibility for the divorce or family problems, seeing themselves as flawless, presumably a victim of the ex-spouse. A person with a more mature defensive structure would be likely to see the matter in more reasonable terms, having less need to deny any responsibility and be better able to modulate their emotions and give less extreme, more honest answers.
Parents with narcissistic personality disturbances were less likely than other parents to cooperate with the ex-spouse after the divorce and to be able to focus on their children's needs. It is likely that parents who exhibit PAS cope with their hurt and anger by villainizing the ex-spouse and perhaps, unwittingly, by enlisting their children to help repair their damaged sense of self by having the children join in the splitting and projection of responsibility onto the other parent.
Management of Visitation Interference, Ira Daniel Turkat, Ph.D. The Judges Journal, N 36, pg 17-47. Spring, 1997
Because of the importance of promoting good relations between the child and the Noncustodial parent, particularly when both are victimized by interference efforts, new approaches for court intervention are being considered.
Much effort is expended teaching the child there is something very wrong with the Noncustodial parent.
The methods used to alienate a child from his or her parent are diverse. These may include sarcastic comments (so your wonderful, thoughtful father is going to actually spend time with you); direct criticisms (your mother is too selfish to really love you), implied criticisms (do you really want to talk to `that man' when he calls), serious exaggerations, distorted communications (making the child upset and then erroneously blaming the other parent as the cause of that negative emotions, and paranoid behavior (daily programming of a child that the other person is `evil' when there is no basis for it.
When a full-blown parental alienation syndrome is in effect, the parent and the child share antagonistic beliefs about, and behavior toward the other parent,
Some examples of the more extreme behavior observed in such individuals include the following: making false allegations of sexual abuse, manipulating other people to harass the ex, spreading vicious lies about the ex.
Sometimes their manipulative skills are so well developed that they are able to influence others to provide false testimony against the victimized parent.
The parent who has developed an expertise in visitation interference typically will close every door that the other parent tries to open in regard to seeing the child.
For example, the custodial parent may subvert the visitation by manipulating the child to `act out' at the Noncustodial parent's residence. When the Noncustodial parent tries to visit the child at school, the interfering parent may do whatever is necessary to prevent it. The principal may be told that the Noncustodial parent has no school visitation rights, the guidance counselor may be told there are legal papers restricting access to the child.
A person who will lie on the witness stand is just as likely to lie to a therapist.
The court order should specifically instruct any and all personnel at the school the child attends to provide any and all records and information to either parent upon demand and to permit both parents free access to the child during school hours.
The court order should state clearly that any individual representing any organization that involves the child, be it educational, financial, medical, professional, recreational, religious or otherwise is instructed to provide both parents full and open access to any and all activities, information, schedules, and any other pertinent items or knowledge relevant to their involvement with a child.
The Emerging Problem of Parental Alienation, Willbourne and Cull, Barristers, Family Law, Dec, 1997.
We are all used to the parent who is implacably opposed to contact. The courts are increasingly aware of the control over contact proceedings that may be attempted by an implacably hostile parent (usually the mother).Judges are familiar with the ways in which the mother insists that contact would have such an adverse effect on her heath and mental stability that it would inevitably have a detrimental effect on the child.
Signs of an alienating parent:
Where the views expressed by the child are not in any way borne out by the child's behavior when observed with his father
Where the mother `enmeshes' others (who may become her witness) who then echo the child's fear of allegations and support the mother's view that contact can only begin very gradually. These others may express admiration that the mother is trying to promote contact.
Where the mother is reluctant to allow the child to be seen by independent psychologists although she may have enlisted the support of her general practitioner, health visitor, etc. as part of the enmeshment process
Where the mother agrees to arrangements for contact and at the last moment `pulls the plug' often citing a real or imagined incident whereby the father has upset the child in some way
Where the mother is monitoring or trying to interrupt telephone contact between the child and his father
Where the child checks with his mother (which may merely be by using body language) that it is all right to answer questions asked by social workers or experts in the mother's presence
Where the child used age-inappropriate language which suggests that he has either picked up adult conversation or has been coached by the mother.
Where it is said that, immediately after contact, the mother inquires of the child how he is feeling, implying that contact has been a painful experience for the child
Where the mother alleges that the father has abused the child in some way and she continues to insist on this even in the face of all expert evidence to the contrary.
The damage to a child of a mother adopting a strategy of alienation is both insidious and long term.
Effects of Fatherlessness on Children - Studies and citations
The data support the interpretation that the more time a child spends with the Noncustodial parent, the better the overall adjustment of the child.
Adolescent girls who had experienced parental divorce when they were younger than six or between six and nine years old reported becoming involved with alcohol or drugs in proportions higher than girls form intact families.
Among teenage and adult populations of females, parental divorce has been associated with lower self-esteem, precocious sexual activity, greater delinquent-like behavior and more difficulty establishing gratifying, lasting adult heterosexual relationships.
At the time of the marital separation, when (as is typical) father leaves the family home and becomes progressively less involved with his children over the ensuing years, it appears that young girls experience the emotional loss of father egocentrically as a rejection of them. Many girls attribute this rejection to their not being pretty enough, affectionate enough, athletic enough, or smart enough to please father and engage him in regular, frequent contacts.
The impact of parental divorce and subsequent father absence in the wake of this event has long been thought to affect children quite negatively.
Developmental and relationship theory should have alerted the mental health field to the potential immediate and long range consequences for the child of only seeing a parent four days each month.
Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, Ira Daniel Turket, PhD
Criterion 1: Alienating the children -
Criterion 2: Involving Others in Malicious Actions - the mother attempts to punish the husband. Eg. During the custody battle, a mother lied to a therapist about the father's behavior. The therapist, having never spoken with the father, appeared as an `expert” witness to inform the Judge that the mother should be the primary residential parent and that the father needed to be in therapy.
Denying Participation in Extra-curricular Activities: One mother refused to provide the father with any information about any extra-curricular activities in which the children were engaged.
An additional difficulty is that many therapists are unaware of this pattern of malicious behavior. As such, there are malicious therapists who are `fooled' by such cases and, as noted earlier, will come to court testifying that there is nothing wrong with the mother involved.
In a review of pertinent law literature on bias against men in family law proceedings, it was concluded that there is widespread discrimination. Such bias against men in family law proceedings results in a unique group of fathers who unintentionally become relatively helpless victims of the system.
A Therapist's View of Parental Alienation Syndrome, Mary Lund, Family and Conciliation Review, V33, n3, July, 1995 308-316
Children's statement about rejecting one parent may result from overt or covert manipulation by the other parent. Problems between parent and child should be addressed head on, not avoided by cutting off the relationship.
The loved parent is looked at as emotionally disturbed and keeping the child from a relationship with a potentially healthier parent.
Children in high-conflict divorces will ally with one parent to escape the conflict.
Moderate parental alienation, 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. 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.
Rarely, the loved parent is the father and the hated one is the mother.
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. 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 parenting. The same therapy techniques apply in PAS cases.
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 to reduce situational conflict.
Therapists, especially individual child therapists, can unwittingly become part of the system maintaining PAS because very few therapists know about it. 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. When an evaluator believes that a child is alienated and the child's therapist is unwilling to meet with the hated person, and is unreceptive to feedback about alienation, it may be necessary to discontinue the child's therapy.
Because therapists can become part of the warring factions that contribute to PAS, it 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.
It is important that the hated parent is aware of his or her contributions to the child's rejection. For the loved parent, it is important to allow and encourage a relationship with the other parent.
Parents Who Have Successfully Fought PAS, A. Jayne Major, Ph.D.
When people have their emotions aroused, fear takes over reason, incomplete facts become evidence, gender wars are fueled and lives are destroyed.
A shift has begun as fathers become more involved in the day-to-day care of their children. After the breakup of the family, many fathers want to continue to be involved with the care of their children.
PAS mild alienators are ignorant of what they are doing and willing to be educated to change. Moderate alienators lose control, go ballistic. Obsessed alienators are committed to destroying the other parent's relationship with the child.
When parents first separate there is often parent alienation, however this usually dies down.
PAS parents become stuck in the first stage of child development, To them, having total control over their child is a life and death matter. They don't give, they only know how to take. The parent is narcissistic and enmeshed with the child. Unable to have empathy or compassion for others.
When children spend time with the father and enjoy it, they are put into a double bind. They want to bond with the father, but don't dare. They figure out on which side the bred is buttered and their survival needs tug at them. Therefore , children will tell the mother about everything they didn't enjoy about time spent with the father, which will add to her belief that they don't like to be with him.
Almost always, the alienator has people within the family who support the alienation.
Therapist with master's degrees are unlikely to realize the severity and depth of the problem, because they are not trained in this level of pathology. In fact, they may unwittingly side with the alienating parent and even testify or produce evidence in court that the child is afraid of the father. This can be a serious stumbling block in getting an accurate diagnosis. Indeed, it can tip the scale into the alienating parent's agenda and do real damage.
It takes a sophisticated mental health professional to be able to identify that PAS is occurring. Forensic evaluators such as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists at the Ph.D. level have studied the disorder and are able to recognize it. Forensic evaluators diagnose PAS by having the parents take a battery of psychological tests, doing a detailed case history and by observation.
Preventing Parentectomy Following Divorce, Frank Williams, M.D. 1990.
A parentectomy is the most cruel infringement upon children's rights to be carried out against human children by human adults, Parentectomies are psychologically lethal to children and parents.
The victim parent gives up and walks away from the surgically-minded adults and the victim children. Children misinterpret a parents' giving up the fight as that parent's not caring enough about them. Parents give up the fight because they are emotionally depleted, physically exhausted, worn out, depressed or financially drained; they don't want to continue to subject their children to the relentless warring; they discover they have little chance of success against a prejudiced legal/judicial system, and little chance of success against a prejudices, incompetent or skillful “hired gun” - mental health professional, who has been paid to facilitate a parentectomy.
Consequence of Parentectomy: these children frequently become depressed - especially in later adolescence - at times reaching suicidal proportions. They lack self-esteem, particularly if they believe the erased parent willfully abandoned them, or when the remaining parent behaves as if the erased parent never existed or never loved or cared for the children.
Methods used in parentectomy:
Usually enlist the help of attorneys, relatives, friends and mental health professionals
Find a mental health clinical which will reiterate that the child needs the stability , constancy and consistency of one home and that it is emotionally harmful for the children to be shuttled back and forth between homes. They will reiterate that children need a primary psychological caretakers.
One home provides stability and continuity, however, when parents are divorced, the children cannot enjoy the benefit of both parents living with them in the same home. Therefore shuttling between homes may be inevitable. We most often must choose the least detrimental of several detrimental options. This is especially so when a child has been psychologically bonded to two parents. Of two potential evils for children, the evil of shuttling between the homes of two loving, caring parents versus the evil of losing one such parent, certainly the lesser evil is shuttling between two homes. It is the continued parental bonding, not the number or homes or vehicular travel, that will be the crucial determinant of children's forward psychological development following divorce. In these days, when both parents frequently work, and rely on sharing child-rearing with each other, with other family members and with housekeepers and day care personnel, the concept of one “primary psychological caretaker” is outdated.
Hired-gun Child development expert: will unequivocally and with utmost scientific certainty declare:
That the children mistrust and are afraid of the victim parent
That the victim parent lacks empathy for the children
That the victim parent emotionally abuses the children
That the victim parent is impulsive and prone to potential child physical abuse
That the victim parent suffers with a serious psychiatric disorder.
The parent determined to perform a parentectomy can make an allegation of Child Sexual Abuse. Such allegations need careful expert professional attention. Proper thorough evaluations must be conducted, during which time the child should not be removed from either parent. We have found that most allegations of child sexual abuse during custody wars are false allegations. Some are calculated manipulations, while others result from parents' anxieties, misinterpretations and their clouded perceptions during custody battles.
The claim, “we can't cooperate and therefore cannot share parenting by way of any form of joint custody” is often supported by mental health clinicians - this is an incorrect approach.
Dr. Gardner believes that when there are two highly bonded loving parents, a rigid structured schedule of even 50-50 shared residential overnights for each parent may be appropriate to best serve the children.
Fear of losing one's parental identity is the principal dynamic behind parentectomy efforts.
Psychological “Allergic” reaction to the other parent. Parent feels an urgent compulsion to avoid the other parent as one avoids poison ivy.
Family Wars: The Alienation of Children, Peggie Ward, Ph.D. and J. Campbell Harvey, Esquire. New Hampshire Bar Journal, V 34, n1, 1993.
As a member of the family system, a child is attached legally, emotionally and psychologically to each of his parents. As a member of a divorce impasse system (lawyers, mediators, therapists, judges), a child is often asked to ally himself with one parent to the other, a request which clearly places the child in a loyalty bind..
Mild indicators of alienating behavior:
Little regard for the importance of visitation or contact with the other parent
Lack of value regarding communication between visits
Inability to tolerate the presence of the other parent even at events important to the child
Disregard for the importance of the relationship to the child
Moderate indications of alienating behavior:
Communication of dislike of visitation
Refusal to hear anything about the other Parent
Delight in hearing negative news about the other parent
Refusal to speak directly with the other parent
Refusal to allow the target parent physically near
Doing and undoing statements: negative comments about the other parent made and then denied
Destruction of Memorabilia of the target person
Overt Indications of Alienating behavior:
Statements about the target parent that are delusional or false
Inclusion of the child as victims of the target parent's bad behaviors
Overt criticism of the target parent
The children are required to keep secrets from the target parent
Threat of withdrawal of love
Extreme lack of courtesy to the target parent
Child is enmeshed with alienating parent. No longer a need to be an active alienator, damage done.
The factors that identify families where alienation is less likely are: abundant positive contact between both parents and the children; sibling groups who have good relationship with both parents; good relations of the children with family and friends of both parents; free communication to the child by others of the good qualities of both parents; lack of defensiveness on the part of each parent as to the emotions, statements and criticisms of the other; ability of each parent to discuss schedules and parenting concerns with the other parent; ability of each parent to accommodate the schedules and desires of the other.
At the mild stage, it is imperative that the family be engaged in “family systems” therapy that is focused on changing the behavior of the parties around the child. All therapists engaged with the family must understand family dynamics and parental alienation, have a systems approach and clearly understand that child need two parents.
The Spectrum of Parental Alienation Syndrome, Forensic Psychologist, Deirdre Conway Rand, PhD.
Elaborates on Dr.Richard Garner's approach to PAS
Practitioners who like Garner are seeking to improve the diagnostic skills and intervention strategies of the courts and other professionals who deal with high conflict divorce
Clawar and Rivlin found that parental programming was practiced to varying degrees by 80 percent of divorcing parents.
Changes in society: mandated reporting becomes the law, anonymous reports are accepted, the number of false and unsubstantiated reports doubled. Professionals are encouraged to unquestionably “believe the child” and to reflexively accept all allegations of child abuse as true. Children are being sensitized to abuse in schools.
Symptoms of child abuse include poor self esteem, aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, child behaviors such as sexual curiosity and nightmares. The same symptoms as in other stressors including divorce and father absence.
False allegations of sex abuse are a common spin-off of severe PAS.
Garner warned that children's statements in divorce/custody about rejecting one parent should not be taken at face value and should be evaluated for PAS dynamics. There are disastrous effects if left unrecognized.
In moderate PAS there is a significant degree of parental programming, along with significant struggles around visitation. Difficulties around transition between homes, benevolently involved with a parent he or she is visiting.
Mother and child have a pathological bond, often based on shared paranoid fantasies about the father.
Children may be at increasing risk for developing PAS as they get older.
Based on input from the mother alone, the therapist treated the girl for abuse by her father instead of providing divorce specific therapy aimed at helping the little girl to adjust to her parent's divorce and to establish a post divorce relationship with her father.
Notes the influential role of other people in the child's life, such as relatives and professionals aligned with the alienating parent, whose endorsement of the program advances the brainwashing process.
Alienation is a gradual and consistent process
The psychological effects on the child of being involved in severe PAS - “The child…experiences a great loss, the magnitude of which is akin to the death of a parent, two grandparents, and all the lost parent's relatives and friends…Moreover…the child is un able to acknowledge the loss, much less mourn it.
Parents who induce alienation:
Primarily mothers, may not have ever married, have a new partner, lack a well-established self identity - relying on externalization, denial and projection; Need to conceal parental deficits; vulnerable to separation and loss; Need for revenge; Need for control and domination; delusional, paranoid;
False allegations of abuse in contested custody cases have become the ultimate weapon.
Most children and adolescents of divorce are eager to have an ongoing relationship with both parents.
Children represent certain fantasies as if they were actual occurrences, although there is little or no reality basis for these stories. They do so to defend against the pain of an unbearable, present reality of loss of one or the other parent.
Children can become aligned with one parent even though there is relatively little overt conflict and estrangement between parents. This may happen to take care of an angry, disturbed or otherwise troubled parent with whom the child is aligned. Some PAS children manipulate conflicts between parents for the feeling of power.
Targets - males
Fathers may have an equally strong need to nurture and parent, experiencing profound feelings of loss and frustration when reduced to a post-divorce relationship with their children which is minimal, diminished or nonexistent.
Social network: hearing primarily one side of the story, family, friends and professions may lose their objectivity as they try to protect someone they care about or to bolster a parent's self esteem.
Role of Mental Health Professionals
Mental health experts can become involved in contested custody/visitation disputes in a variety of roles: as evaluators, therapists, advocates, mediators, case managers, educators and/or consultants to parents or their attorneys. Mental health professionals may assist in identifying the needs of the child, assessing strengths and weaknesses of the parents, modifying the specific dynamics of parental conflict and advising the courts. In many jurisdictions, the courts are increasingly relying on the assistance and input of mental health professionals. This entails rising costs for divorcing parents who must pay for these services. Some argue that mental health services which help to reduce the often escalating cycle of action and reaction between the parents saves them money in the long run by reducing litigation costs. On the other hand, mental health services may be protracted and ineffective in high conflict cases. Sometimes they actually cause damage to the parties and to family relationships.
Potentially Harmful Influence of Mental Health Professionals
Written and verbal statements by custody evaluators can have a negative impact on disputing parents, especially when the situation is explained in terms of what is wrong with the parents. Parents are particularly vulnerable during the upheaval of the separation. Comments by mental health professionals in this context, especially when publicized, can escalate parents' needs to vindicate and defend themselves from further exposure and humiliation. Lund pointed out that therapists, especially individual child therapists, can unwittingly become part of the system maintaining PAS. his is more likely to occur when the therapist takes statements by the aligned parent and child at face value, lacks knowledge about PAS and avoids contact with the target parent.
Campbell discussed the pitfalls of triangulated relationships in doing therapy with children of divorce, citing Gardner's first book on PAS in the opening paragraph. One of the problems for therapists seeing children of divorce is that the parent who selects the child's therapist, who brings the child for therapy and who arranges for payment is in a position to influence the therapist regarding the therapist's role, the goals of treatment, and who participates. Therapists who are provided with incomplete, selective data are at risk for reinforcing and endorsing the idea that the child needs to be “saved” from the alienated parent. A variation of the victim-villain-rescuer triangle may then develop. Citing well known family therapist Murray Bowen, Campbell observed, “When clients and therapists organize their relationship around the reciprocity of victim and savior, the identity of each demands that the other persist in their respective role “ (p. 479). When abuse is alleged, advocate therapists may become so over involved as to exhibit what amounts to a shared paranoid disorder with the aligned parent and child.
Campbell observed that professionals can become slowly compromised by the “us versus them “mentality in the context of adversarial family relationships and legal proceedings. As discussed in the section to follow, an advocate therapist for an aligned parent and child may inappropriately use the therapy sessions to “validate “allegations of abuse against the target parent, rather than helping the child adjust to the divorce and maintain affection for both parents. The individual therapist for an alienating parent may agree to recommend to the court that the client have custody, without meeting the other parent. Target parents may also recruit advocate therapists to their side, as demonstrated by the father in Judge Tolbert's case, which is presented below. Mental health professionals who make custody recommendations without interviewing both parents may be in violation of ethical standards. Where professionals compromise themselves in high conflict cases, valuable information about parental dynamics can often be gleaned from analyzing the process by which this occurred.
Influence of Therapist Attitudes
The fundamental beliefs of many therapists about the etiology of psychological problems and what constitutes appropriate treatment can make the therapist an unwitting reinforcer of alienation. Psychotherapy is a potent form of social influence. Campbell conducted a study which revealed that the majority of therapists. make significantly more negative than positive inferences about significant others in their client's lives. In addition, therapists frequently assume that the client's psychological distress has its origins in an interpersonal environment which is “disrespectful psychologically avoidant, unempathic and punitive”. These assumptions can substantially influence the course of treatment and the client's view of their situation. Children of divorce may feel overwhelmed by the chaos and hostility of their parents' conflicts. They may also feel a sense of betrayal when a parent moves out and the parents are focusing more on their conflicts with each other than on their parental responsibilities. Child therapists who are predisposed to making negative inferences about significant others in the child's life may inadvertently reinforce a child's sense of anger and blame toward a target parent, sometimes in very subtle, pernicious ways. Where the therapist's own view of the target/alienated parent is negative, even if only to mild degree, the therapist's view is likely to adversely influence the child. This provides fertile ground for the development and reinforcement of PAS. A detailed example of such a process is presented in The Real World of Child Interrogations which contains an analysis of multiple child therapy sessions in a contested custody case. Transcripts of the sessions illustrate the process by which the therapist helped teach the child to make abuse allegations and reinforced the child's expressions of hatred toward the target parent - in this case the father.
When abuse is alleged, anyone in a position of authority can act as a “validator,” including therapists, police, child protection workers, and medical personnel. Validators are professionals who, when presented with allegations of abuse, assume that abuse occurred. They see their role as validating the alleged abuse rather than conducting an objective investigation. Validators are relatively easy to find, especially when sought out by a parent seeking to strengthen their position in legal proceedings. Validator interviews of the child tend to promote the child's voicing of an abuse scenario, whether or not abuse occurred.
Real World of Child Interrogations
Once the issue of molestation is raised, the child is often subjected to repeated interviews and evaluations, sometimes more than 20, according to a family law judge in California (28). An analysis of 150 tape-recorded abuse interviews with children identified specific adult interviewer behaviors which influence children to alter accounts and to say things that will satisfy or please the interviewer (36). Most adults are unaware of how their ideas and expectations teach children to conform their accounts to the expectations of the adult interviewer. When the child is brought by a parent for an abuse interview, the parent's report of what occurred tends to shape the interviewer's ideas about what occurred and the questions which are asked. These interviewer expectations are communicated to the child through the adult's reactions, leading questions and other suggestive techniques (e.g., drawings or “anatomical dolls”). Such effects occur even among professionals trained not to use suggestive methods.
Suggestibility of Children's Recollections
There has been a growing body of research in recent years which shows the potential for interviews to teach children what adults expect to hear. Ceci and Bruck conducted a comprehensive historical review and synthesis of this research in an article on the suggestibility of witnesses (38). These authors cited Gardner as raising important questions about the ability of powerful authority figures to coach children and about children's ability to differentiate fact from fantasy. Ceci and Bruck's review resulted in several important scientific findings:
1) There appear to be significant age differences in suggestibility, with preschool children more vulnerable to suggestion than either school-age children or adults.
2) Children can be led to make false or inaccurate reports about very crucial, personally experienced, central events.
3) Children sometimes lie when the motivational structure is tilted toward lying.
4) The previous points notwithstanding, children, including preschoolers, are capable of recalling much that is forensically relevant.
Ceci and Bruck concluded that in order to know the reliability of a child's report, the conditions surrounding the report need to be carefully evaluated, including prior access to the child by an adult motivated to distort the child's recollections. Distortions frequently occur as a result of relentless and potent suggestions by adults, sometimes to the point of outright coaching.
Memory Research and its Forensic Implications
Many people subscribe to the incorrect belief that memory is somehow fixed and not malleable. Loftus and her husband surveyed 169 people from a variety of socioeconomic groups (39). The majority of respondents endorsed the belief that everything we learn is permanently stored in the mind and that consciously inaccessible details can be recovered with the use of special techniques such as hypnosis. Psychology graduate students were particularly prone to endorse this view, although it is disproved by three decades of research. It turns out that memory can be altered in a myriad of ways. The implications for law enforcement and the courts are staggering since eyewitness testimony is heavily relied upon in these set tings. The American Psychological Association sought to address these problems where children are concerned, publishing a compilation of articles by psychology's leading authorities on memory entitled The Suggestibility of Children's Recollections: Implications for Eyewitness Testimony (40). Ceci and Loftus were among the contributors.
Parents as Interviewers
Parents who are preoccupied with suspicions of abuse by the other parent often question their children repeatedly. Some false allegations of abuse in divorce begin with a parent questioning the child after visitation about a rash, a bruise, or bathing at the other parent's house. Everson described the case of a six-year-old-boy who produced more and more elaborate accounts of abuse in response to the attention and support he received from his mother as they discussed “his memories” of abuse each night at bedtime (41). Initially, the child provided a consistent, plausible account of a teenage baby-sitter fondling his genitals and anus. The baby-sitter confessed to this. Over the course of several months, however, the child's description of what occurred became more elaborate, bizarre, implausible, and finally impossible. According to Everson, the child may have become confused about the source of his more fantastic “memories” which probably grew out of the conversations with his mother. This is sometimes referred as “source amnesia”. Everson referenced Gardner's work relating to the assessment of child sexual abuse.
PAS in the Legal Arena - see remaining of article