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Recommended treatments for “parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) may cause children foreseeable and lasting psychological harm

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Abstract

The coercive and punitive “therapies” recommended for children diagnosed with parental alienation constitute an ethical minefield and are especially inappropriate when used on children who have already been traumatized. Forced reunification against a child’s will and without taking into consideration the child’s point of view and emotional well-being, can be expected to reinforce a sense of helplessness and powerlessness in an already vulnerable child. Such “treatment” can be expected to do more harm than good, and rather than helping their well-being, could cause lasting psychological harm, particularly when imposed upon children who claim the parent they are being forced to reunify with is abusive.
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Recommended treatments for “parental alienation
syndrome” (PAS) may cause children foreseeable
and lasting psychological harm
Stephanie Dallam & Joyanna L. Silberg
To cite this article: Stephanie Dallam & Joyanna L. Silberg (2016) Recommended
treatments for “parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) may cause children foreseeable
and lasting psychological harm, Journal of Child Custody, 13:2-3, 134-143, DOI:
10.1080/15379418.2016.1219974
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15379418.2016.1219974
Published online: 11 Oct 2016.
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JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY
2016, VOL. 13, NOS. 2–3, 134–143
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15379418.2016.1219974
Recommended treatments for “parental alienation
syndrome” (PAS) may cause children foreseeable
and lasting psychological harm
Stephanie Dallama and Joyanna L. Silberga,b
aLeadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, Baltimore, Maryland, USA; bSheppard
Pratt Health System, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
ABSTRACT
The coercive and punitive therapies recommended for
children diagnosed with parental alienation constitute an
ethical minefield and are especially inappropriate when used
on children who have already been traumatized. Forced
reunification against a childs will and without taking into
consideration the childs point of view and emotional well-
being, can be expected to reinforce a sense of helplessness and
powerlessness in an already vulnerable child. Such treatment
can be expected to do more harm than good, and rather than
helping their well-being, could cause lasting psychological
harm, particularly when imposed upon children who claim the
parent they are being forced to reunify with is abusive.
KEYWORDS
Child abuse; parental
alienation; reunification;
treatment
We are in agreement with the broad critiques of parental alienation theory as
offered by O’Donohue, Benuto, and Bennett (2016) and Clemente and
Padilla-Racero (2016) in this issue, and many of the researchers that they cite.
“Parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) criteria are vague and subjective,
nondiagnostic, and inconsistent with good child-centered evaluation. As a
result, PAS proponents frequently draw conclusions based on pure specu-
lation, correlation without demonstrated causation, and inference without
any foundation other than their own beliefs about how children should think
and behave during a stressful divorce. Current proponents of parental
alienation, including Bernet (2008) and Warshak (2015), have attempted to
circumvent widespread condemnation of PAS by replacing it with parental
alienation disorder (PAD) or simply parental alienation. While they have
attempted to imbue their viewpoints with the mantle of science, the criteria
used to determine alienation are the same ones offered by Gardner and thus
the same criticisms of Gardner’s theory of PAS are applicable as noted in the
Commentaries in this issue noted above as well as by others (e.g., Houchin,
Ranseen, Hash, & Bartnicki, 2012; Meier, 2013; Saini, Johnston, Fidler, & Bala,
2016). In rejecting PAD for inclusion in the latest revision of the Diagnostic
CONTACT Stephanie Dallam sjscout@gmail.com Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal
Violence, P.O. Box 6815, 6501 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21204.
© 2016 Taylor & Francis
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Dr. Darrel Regier, vice
chair of the DSM task force, stated, “It’s a relationship problem—parent–child
or parent–parent. Relationship problems per se are not mental disorders.” The
Board of Trustees would not even consider putting it in a section for disorders
needing further research (Thomas & Richardson, 2015, p. 33). Our view is
that the ongoing harm to children that this faulty concept has engendered
is significant. In this Comment, we examine some of the diagnostic and treat-
ment implications derived from PAS that can harm children and families.
The potential for PAS diagnoses to harm children is not surprising given the
concept’s origin. As noted in the Commentaries, PAS was invented by Richard
Gardner based on his clinical impressions of cases he believed involved false
allegations of child sexual abuse (Gardner, 1985). At the time, Gardner was
a frequent expert witness, most often on behalf of fathers accused of molesting
their children (Sherman, 1993). Thus, PAS was first described to counter sex-
ual abuse allegations in custody litigation. Without citing any evidence,
Gardner (1987) claimed that PAS is responsible for most accusations of child
sexual abuse that are raised during custody disputes, and that in his experience
“in custody litigation the vast majority of children who profess sexual abuse
are fabricators” (p. 274). As a result, PAS has frequently been introduced into
custody cases by parents whose child has rejected them in order to discredit
allegations of family violence or abuse (Bruch, 2001). Actual research, on
the other hand, has consistently shown that sexual abuse allegations are not
common during custody litigation and when thoroughly investigated, are
often no more likely to be false than allegations raised at other points in time
(see Dallam & Silberg, 2006 for a review). Yet, even when abuse claims were
valid, Gardner appeared to believe that PAS was more detrimental than sexu-
ally abusing a child. For example, Gardner (2000) considered PAS to be a form
of emotional abuse that can lead to lifelong psychiatric disturbance in the
child. Conversely, Gardner claimed that the determinant as to whether the sex-
ual abuse will be traumatic for a child “is the social attitude toward these
encounters” (1992a, pp. 670–671) and that special care should be taken by
the therapist to not alienate the child from the molesting parent (p. 537).
Gardner’s theory of parental alienation was based on the assumption that if
a child rejects their parent (usually the father) after allegations of abuse, the
other parent (i.e., the mother) must have brainwashed the child. As Gardner
(1992b) stated, “Children are not born with genes that program them to reject
a father. Such hatred is environmentally induced, and the most likely person
to have brought about the alienation is the mother” (p. 75). Thus, problems in
the child’s relationship with the father were simply blamed on brainwashing
by the mother. The recommended solution to remedy PAS involves coercive
and punitive treatments for both the mother and the child along with switch-
ing custody to the rejected parent as noted by Clemente and Padilla-Racero
(2016) in this issue. Although Gardner (2001) said that children may then
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 135
add their own contributions to the vilification of a parent, there is minimal
indication in Gardner’s perspective that children can react to a parent based
on their own experiences, feelings, and beliefs. Thus, the mental life of the
child who is being diagnosed with PAS is largely ignored in Gardner’s
theoretical analysis.
Gardner’s theory of PAS has been difficult to overcome because he relied
on popular gender and cultural myths (see Dallam & Silberg, 2006 for a
review) and offered courts a simple explanation for very complex cases.
One judge wrote that when she first read Gardner’s (1987) book The Parental
Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated and Genuine
Child Sex Abuse, she believed that “Dr. Gardner had just handed me the key to
the mysteries of all my high-conflict family law custody cases the magic of
the theory was intoxicating” (Slabach, 2014, p. 8). One reason the theory
seemed so comprehensible was that the definition of PAS includes its
hypothesized etiological agents (i.e., a manipulative/alienating parent and a
receptive child) (Kelly & Johnston, 2001). This renders Gardner’s theory of
PAS unfalsifiable because it is tautological (i.e., true by definition). The child’s
denial that such brainwashing has taken place and the mother’s attempts to
obtain professional assistance in diagnosing, treating, and protecting the child,
are then used by Gardner and proponents of his views as evidence of alien-
ation. Thus, Gardner’s theory works backward using circular reasoning to
assume causation from an observation. As a result, Rotgers and Barrett
(1996) cite PAS theory as a prime example of a nonscientific theory that
engages in reverse logic.
The rejected parent’s role in contact refusal
As a theory, PAS is black and white with minimal attention given to family
dynamics or child development. The alienating parent was painted by
Gardner as pathological and completely to blame for the child’s position.
The rejected parent in Gardner’s theory was totally blameless and the “true
victim” (Gardner, 2002, p. 26). In actuality, when a child rejects a parent there
is a wide range of possible explanations including normal developmental
conflicts with a parent, separation anxiety with the preferred parent, abuse,
or neglect, etc. (e.g., Faller, 1998; Garber, 1996). Moreover, research on the
topic has found that rejected parents often have contributed to their situation.
Huff (2015) surveyed 292 young adults (18–35 years old) who were between
8 and 17 at the time their parents separated. He found that that violence and a
perceived lack of warmth were significant predictors of contact refusal with a
parent. The largest effect size for predicting contact refusal was for the degree
to which participants reported being aligned with the other parent. At the
same time, co-parental conflict and parents’ alienating behaviors had little
to no direct contribution to contact refusal after controlling for the other
136 S. DALLAM AND J. L. SILBERG
variables in the model. Huff’s study is of particular importance since alienat-
ing behaviors are the primary variable that alienation proponents claim causes
contact refusal. His study found that participants were not influenced to reject
a parent due to manipulation by the other parent; instead, they tended to align
with the parent who exhibited the most caring behavior toward them.
These findings are supported by prior studies looking at children’s rejection
of a parent after divorce. Lampel (1996) studied 24 consecutively referred chil-
dren of parents in custody litigation. She found that the rejected parent’s
demonstration of empathy was a better predictor of a child’s rejection than
manipulation by the preferred parent. She concluded, “The complex family
dynamics suggested by these studies are that a closed parent system, in which
both parents are defensive and remain in conflict, led the child to align with
the more problem solving, capable, and outgoing of the two parents” (p. 239).
Johnston, Walters, and Olesen (2005) found that substantiated accounts of
abuse significantly predicted parental rejection when controlling for a variety
of other factors, including alienating behaviors by the other parent.
Acceptance of PAS can result in failure to adequately investigate
reports of abuse
One of the biggest pitfalls of having children evaluated by someone trained
in parental alienation theory is that the assumption of manipulation by the
preferred parent means that the rejected parent is deemed by evaluators to
be the only source of “credible” information; the preferred parent and child
are not viewed as credible and thus their concerns are often ignored. This
parent and the child often quickly realize that the evaluator does not believe
them, is biased, and has their mind made up. This can lead to them shutting
down and not providing information, or even exaggerating actual abuse to be
more extreme in an attempt to get the evaluator to pay attention.
Although proponents of parental alienation agree that substantiated abuse
rules out a diagnosis of PAS, many custody evaluators appear predisposed to
attribute abuse allegations to vindictiveness, rather than exploring whether
there is a factual basis for the child’s disclosure or the protective parent’s con-
cerns (e.g., Saunders, Faller, & Tolman, 2011). In addition, as Johnston,
Roseby, and Kuehnle (2009) pointed out, parental violence, abuse, and neglect
range on a continuum from blatant acts to more subtle forms of emotional
abuse, neglect, and a lack of empathy and concern for the child that may
not be acknowledged, difficult to document, and unreported or dismissed
by authorities. Even when abuse is formally investigated, it is frequently not
substantiated as allegations of interpersonal violence can be very difficult to
independently confirm, especially if the law enforcement or child protective
services personnel also believe in the myth of PAS and, therefore, do not
conduct their normal comprehensive investigations.
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 137
Parental alienation proponents, on the other hand, often assert that they
can easily determine whether abuse has occurred, often with no formal evalu-
ation of the child or family (e.g., Childress, 2015). Once they make their deter-
mination, custody evaluators schooled in PAS theory were instructed by
Gardner to ignore and aggressively contradict any abuse disclosures by a child
they believe to be alienated. For example, Gardner (1999) wrote, “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. To take the
allegations of maltreatment seriously, is a terrible disservice to PAS children”
(pp. 201–202). Similarly, Warshak (2015) noted that children can be very
convincing in their accounts of poor treatment at the hands of the rejected
parent and, as a result, “[n]aive therapists who lack specialized knowledge
and experience with alienation cases may inadvertently reinforce the
children’s alienation by accepting their patients’ representations as accurate”
(p. 246). Gardner (1999) even directed therapists to actively counter
allegations of abuse if they believed them to be false. He stated, “[I]t is thera-
peutic to say, ‘That didn’t happen! So let’s go on and talk about real things,
like your next visit with your father’” (p. 202).
We find this position to be inherently dangerous, not only because it is dis-
respectful to children, but also because of the very real possibility of abused
children being misdiagnosed as alienated and placed with their abuser. The
ability for PAS and its offshoots to harm children was recognized by the
National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, a leading judicial body,
in its published guidelines noting that PAS may divert attention away from
the behaviors of an abusive parent by assuming that child’s attitudes toward
that parent have no basis in reality (Dalton, Drozd, & Wong, 2006).
Because of the difficulty in substantiating allegations of interpersonal
violence in custody cases, the American Professional Society on the Abuse
of Children (2013) recommends a comprehensive family evaluation by mental
health professionals with expertise in interpersonal violence. Evaluators
should conduct more than a single interview with children, rely upon multiple
methods of data collection and, whenever feasible, a team approach should be
used to mitigate individual bias. Even with such a careful investigation,
finding insufficient evidence for a finding of abuse does not mean that
“brainwashing” is the most likely alternative. It is very difficult to substantiate
abuse particularly in young children and, as noted previously, parental
rejection has many causes.
Experimental and punitive treatments for PAS
Both PAS and PAD are built on the assumption the relationship of an
alienated child with the rejected parent will be irreparably damaged, unless
drastic measures (custody transfer, isolation from the loved parent, and
138 S. DALLAM AND J. L. SILBERG
deprogramming) are taken. These theories further assume that the child will
suffer permanent psychological harm if they are not forced to see the rejected
parent. Consequently, the recommendations of PAS advocates can endanger
children by separating them from the parent with whom they are most
bonded and attempting to force the child to accept the rejected, and possibly
abusive, parent.
Gardner (2001) claimed that children with PAS require an authoritarian
and confrontational approach. As a result, treatment of children who diag-
nosed with parental alienation involves incarceration, threats, and/or special
reunification “camps” where children are held against their will to be indoc-
trinated into rejecting the influence of the parent with whom the child is most
bonded (see Gardner, 1999, 2000, 2001). Current treatments for alienation
have not been empirically studied for efficacy and Johnston and Kelly
(2004) described Gardner’s prescriptions for treating PAS “a license for
tyranny” (p. 85).
Recently a number of reunification “camps” to treat PAS have emerged (see
Slabach, 2014; Warshak, 2010b). The operators of reunification “camps” often
emphasize that these are not treatment programs but instead are “edu-
cational” in nature, thus avoiding scrutiny of regulating bodies (Houchin
et al., 2012). Houchin et al. noted that these “educational” programs are a bur-
geoning industry that are making some professionals and lay people quite
wealthy, but which have no empirical support other than the claims of those
who run the programs. Many of these programs are run out of hotel rooms.
Before agreeing to take the child, most of these “camps” require that the court
sign special orders to prevent the preferred parent and child from having any
contact (including phone, texts, e-mail or Facebook) for a period of at least
90 days. These no contact orders require that the rejected parent be given
sole legal custody, and that the preferred parent, along with the child’s other
family and friends, are not allowed to know where the child is being held.
The child’s cell phone is taken and all communications are restricted and
monitored. The child may be threatened that if they make any attempt to
contact their preferred parent, they both will be in trouble with the court, and
that the 90-day period of no contact will start over again (e.g., Warshak, 2014).
Isolating a child from everyone they are familiar with and attempting to
force them to adopt a different view of a parent, especially by strangers
who know little about the child’s actual experiences, can in and of itself be
traumatic. Warshak (2010b) who runs Family Bridges, a reunification
program for “alienated” children, wrote that that when children are court-
ordered into Family Bridges and told they can have no further contact with
their preferred parent, “It is not uncommon for children to react by scream-
ing, refusing to go, threatening to run away, sobbing hysterically, and, in one
case, hyperventilating” (p. 61). At the same time, Warshak (2010a) claimed,
“Despite their vehement protests, children and teens welcome the sense of
JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 139
protection and control that comes when adults exert appropriate authority to
keep children on the right track” (as cited by Warshak & Otis, 2010, p. 93)
However, no peer reviewed research to support such claims has been published.
Research refutes forced treatment for PAS
Research refutes the assumption that a child’s bond with a preferred parent
must be disrupted to safeguard the child’s relationship with the rejected
parent. Instead, researchers have found that if a child’s rejection of parent
is unwarranted, the child will usually reconcile with the parent on their
own without any intervention (e.g, Johnston & Goldman, 2010; Johnston
et al., 2009). Johnston et al. found that alignments with a preferred parent
are usually time-limited. However, they noted if these cases are mishandled
through attempting to force the child to change allegiances, they can contrib-
ute to the entrenched position in the child. Research by Johnston and Gold-
man found that adults who were forced into reunification with a rejected
parent when they were a child had strong negative views and feelings about
the experience. Based on their research, Johnston and Goldman suggested a
“strategy of voluntary supportive counseling and/or backing off and allowing
the youth to mature and time to heal the breach” (p. 113) instead of forcing
adolescents to participate in counseling. They concluded that teenagers who
feel empowered and have their autonomy respected are better able to distance
themselves from the parental and family conflicts and consequently more
likely to initiate meaningful contact with the rejected parent. Other writers
who have looked at the issue argue that enforced treatment and custody rever-
sal are counterproductive, in that they will only serve to reinforce the child’s
hatred for the rejected parent, and add stress to the already vulnerable child
(e.g., Jaffe, Ashbourne, & Mamo, 2010; Johnston et al., 2009).
Silberg, Dallam, and Samson (2013) documented the harm that can come
when children are court ordered into custody of abusive parents. They ana-
lyzed the court records of 27 custody cases in which courts initially placed
children in the custody of an allegedly abusive parent and later reversed itself
and protected the child. Silberg et al. reported that family courts were highly
suspicious of a mother’s motive for being concerned with abuse and custody
evaluators and guardian ad litems (GALs) frequently accused mothers of
alienating their children from fathers and coaching them to report abuse.
In the majority of the cases (59%), the alleged perpetrator was granted sole
custody. Some mothers were not allowed any contact with their children,
and several others were ordered not to speak to their children about abuse
or report any further concerns about abuse or risk losing any further contact.
The children spent an average of three years in the abusive parent’s custody
before the case was reversed. Court records showed evidence of the children’s
deteriorating mental and physical condition including anxiety, depression,
140 S. DALLAM AND J. L. SILBERG
dissociation, PTSD, self-harm, and suicidality. Thirty-three percent of the
children became suicidal, some repeatedly ran away, and others ended up
in psychiatric hospitals.
Conclusion
Hopefully, the tide is beginning to turn on this issue. The lack of empirical
support for PAS theory has been repeatedly documented, as has the potential
for harm when children are diagnosed and treated for this pseudoscientific
condition. In addition, the confinement of children, who have no mental
disorder and who have committed no wrong doing, away from parents and
friends in unfamiliar surroundings in order to force them to adopt a new
belief system would appear to violate these children’s basic civil rights
(Kleinman & Kaplan, 2016). As a result, in our view, diagnosing children with
PAS (or following the same principles without using the label) and
recommending coercive and untested treatments for child who refuse contact
constitute a form of professional malpractice.
In summary, parental alienation as defined by PAS advocates is a popular,
but faulty, concept which has been disproven by research and is not accepted
by any professional mental health organization. Coercive and punitive “thera-
pies” recommended for children diagnosed with parental alienation constitute
an ethical minefield and are especially inappropriate when used on children
who have already been traumatized. Forced reunification against a child’s will
and without taking into consideration the child’s point of view and emotional
well-being, can be expected to reinforce a sense of helplessness and powerless-
ness in an already vulnerable child. Such “treatment” can be expected to do
more harm than good, and rather than helping their well-being, could cause
lasting psychological harm, particularly when imposed upon children who
claim the parent they are being forced to reunify with is abusive.
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JOURNAL OF CHILD CUSTODY 143
... This puts the burden of proof on the estranged parent to resume access, not on the abuse survivors. A problem-solving court that can hold cases until real changes are measured would eliminate the problems that currently exist with short-term supervised visitation that moves too quickly for the child into unsupervised contact, which can place the child at risk of never healing from the original trauma or developing new psychological problems even if physical or sexual abuse is not present (Dallam & Silberg, 2016;Drozd et al., 2013;Felitti, 2001;Newberger, 2012;Parker et al., 2008;Silberg & Dallam, 2019;Walker, 2017). Mothers often are held to a higher standard than fathers when a child is abused. ...
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The role of nonjudicial officers occupies a hidden space in the U.S. judicial system. Statutorily sanctioned in many jurisdictions, such officers have a wide range of duties and responsibilities, including hearing certain pretrial motions in criminal cases and making decisions as to conditions of probation for sex offenders. These latter officers are frequently not lawyers, and there is significant evidence that many of the basic rudiments of the criminal trial process are often not honored. There has been virtually no consideration of this phenomenon in the scholarly literature, and absolutely no consideration from the perspective of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ). An investigation into TJ’s basic inquiry into whether legal rules, procedures, and lawyer roles need to be reshaped suggests that TJ is not practiced in the systems under discussion here.
... This puts the burden of proof on the estranged parent to resume access, not on the abuse survivors. A problem-solving court that can hold cases until real changes are measured would eliminate the problems that currently exist with short-term supervised visitation that moves too quickly for the child into unsupervised contact, which can place the child at risk of never healing from the original trauma or developing new psychological problems even if physical or sexual abuse is not present (Dallam & Silberg, 2016;Drozd et al., 2013;Felitti, 2001;Newberger, 2012;Parker et al., 2008;Silberg & Dallam, 2019;Walker, 2017). Mothers often are held to a higher standard than fathers when a child is abused. ...
... This puts the burden of proof on the estranged parent to resume access, not on the abuse survivors. A problem-solving court that can hold cases until real changes are measured would eliminate the problems that currently exist with short-term supervised visitation that moves too quickly for the child into unsupervised contact, which can place the child at risk of never healing from the original trauma or developing new psychological problems even if physical or sexual abuse is not present (Dallam & Silberg, 2016;Drozd et al., 2013;Felitti, 2001;Newberger, 2012;Parker et al., 2008;Silberg & Dallam, 2019;Walker, 2017). Mothers often are held to a higher standard than fathers when a child is abused. ...
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Family courts have rarely considered how their decisions are perpetuating domestic violence and child abuse in the many cases where custody disputes are before them. Rather than judges playing King Solomon themselves, they frequently leave the decision making to mental health professionals and lawyers whose credentials rarely include an understanding of what is needed to recognize, stop current abuse and prevent future violence. This article employs a literature review to examine the consequences of this decision making. Research shows that both male and female judges are skeptical of mothers’ claims of abuse and that their opinions contain negative stereotypes of women on which theories of parental alienation are based. More frighteningly, when guardians-ad-Litem or Custody Evaluators were entrusted with these decisions, research shows an intensification of the courts’ skepticism toward mothers’—but not fathers’—claims of abuse. Traditional family court procedures continue the serious risk of harm to women and children by minimizing domestic violence and child abuse, often using unproven and unscientific alienation theories as an excuse not to protect them. The article concludes with a discussion of the role specialty courts that employ therapeutic jurisprudence can play in improving this process for children.
... During the last 10 years there has been a proliferation of publications-books, peer and non-peer reviewed journal articles, chapters in edited books-and conference presentations and other trainings, discussing and critiquing various therapeutic models, interventions and educational programs, and to a lesser extent research on intervention outcomes (see for example, Baker & Sauber, 2013;Bailey, Dana, Bailey, & Davis, 2020;Dallam & Silberg, 2016;Drozd, Saini, & Vellucci-Cook, 2019;Polak, 2020;Fidler, Ward, & Deutsch, 2017;Faust, 2018;Greenberg, Schnider, & Jackson, 2019;Judge & Deutsch, 2017;Mercer, 2019aMercer, , 2019bPolak & Moran, 2017;Polak et al., 2020;Saini et al., 2012Saini et al., , 2016Saini, 2019;Templer, Matthewson, Haines, & Cox, 2017;Walters & Friedlander, 2016;Warshak, 2010Warshak, , 2015Warshak, , 2020b. ...
... During the last 10 years there has been a proliferation of publications-books, peer and non-peer reviewed journal articles, chapters in edited books-and conference presentations and other trainings, discussing and critiquing various therapeutic models, interventions and educational programs, and to a lesser extent research on intervention outcomes (see for example, Baker & Sauber, 2013;Bailey, Dana, Bailey, & Davis, 2020;Dallam & Silberg, 2016;Drozd, Saini, & Vellucci-Cook, 2019;Polak, 2020;Fidler, Ward, & Deutsch, 2017;Faust, 2018;Greenberg, Schnider, & Jackson, 2019;Judge & Deutsch, 2017;Mercer, 2019aMercer, , 2019bPolak & Moran, 2017;Polak et al., 2020;Saini et al., 2012Saini et al., , 2016Saini, 2019;Templer, Matthewson, Haines, & Cox, 2017;Walters & Friedlander, 2016;Warshak, 2010Warshak, , 2015Warshak, , 2020b. ...
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There have been significant advances in understandings and practice related parent–child contact problems (PCCPs), with a growing consensus about some issues and continuing controversy about others. It is widely acknowledged that PCCP cases are most fruitfully understood from a multi‐factorial perspective. While some cases may be totally the “fault” of one parent (a parent perpetrating violence or abuse, or a parent exhibiting alienating behavior), in many situations both parents bear some responsibility: focusing on a single cause is rarely helpful. Most professionals and researchers agree that the challenge in practice is to distinguish between false positives and false negatives for both alienation (or unjustified rejection) and realistic estrangement (justified rejection). There is continuing controversy over whether the concept of “alienation” should be used, especially in court proceedings, and a related disagreement about the extent to which family courts are now failing to respond adequately to cases of intimate partner violence (IPV) or child abuse when alienation is also raised. Continuing education, intentional exploration of alternative hypotheses, and active perspective‐taking will contribute to effective professional involvement. Increased parent education and prevention can play an important role, although for the more severe PCCP cases the family courts system will continue to play a critical role. While more research must be done, given the complexity of issues, conclusive findings are unlikely in the near future. Legislators and family justice professionals must make decisions based on a thorough analysis of each family's circumstances in the context of our present knowledge, taking account of the limits of the law. They will often face the conundrum of making decisions in the face of uncertainty.
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In this second edition of Joyanna Silberg's classic The Child Survivor, practitioners who treat dissociative children will find practical tools that are backed up by recent advances in clinical research. Chapters are filled with examples of clinical dilemmas that can challenge even the most expert child trauma clinicians, and Silberg shows how to handle these dilemmas with creativity, attunement, and sensitivity to the adaptive nature of even the most complex dissociative symptoms. The new edition addresses the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children and provides tips for working with traumatized children in telehealth. A new chapter on organized abuse explains how children victimized by even the most sadistic crimes can respond well to therapy. Clinicians on the front lines of treatment will come away from the book with an arsenal of therapeutic techniques that they can put into practice right away, limiting the need for restrictive hospitalizations or out-of-home placements for their young clients.
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Lubit’s article (2019) critiqued forensic child custody evaluators who interpreted the facts of the custody case through the lens of 'parental alienation' and then concluded that ‘parental alienation’ was the reason for the child's rejection of contact with a parent. By contrast, Lubit showed that children reject contact for many different and legitimate reasons. Drawing on this author's experience as a child's attorney in family court, this commentary endorses Lubit's argument and expands it to conclude that the appointment of a child’s attorney charged with listening to what children have to say is key to understanding, and addressing, the actual reasons why children resist or reject contact with a parent.
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Chapter
Most people who divorce with children are able to decide what is in the best interests of their child without having to go to court to have the judge make the decision for them. In fact, it is usually a whole industry of health care and legal professionals who make the decisions and most family court judges merely ratify their recommendations, which more likely than not will be to share custody and access. Each parent is required to support themselves and their children which is presumed to be 50/50 unless there has been a disparity in income levels. In custody cases there are several presumptions that are believed to be in the best interests of the child although research in this chapter challenges most of the presumptions that are not supported by scientific research. We give examples of how shared parental custody and responsibility may not be in the best interests in families where there is domestic violence and child abuse or when one parent is not as available or competent as the other. Nor is the friendly parent in front of the judge or the child custody evaluators necessarily the best parent as many who abuse their power and control can manipulate and harass to get what they demand. Keeping siblings together may be harmful in families where sibling rivalry or mental illness in one of the children will compromise the development of the others. Forcing a parent to remain in the same geographic location even when better opportunities are elsewhere may also not be in the best interests of the child. The chapter is critical of the current child custody process and makes suggestions on other types of access to children. Research shows judges have bias against women when they allege abuse to themselves or their children by the fathers. The bias is shown to be worse when the father claims the mother is alienating him from the children and negates the reports of abuse placing both the mother and child in danger (Meier, 2019). Unfortunately child custody evaluators are recommending dangerous custodial arrangements attempting to conform with the law even though most laws have room for modification of the presumptions. Assessment of competent parenting skills and a thorough model custody and parental fitness evaluation is included. Resolving the Hague International Convention cases where children reside in two countries is also discussed.
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“Parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) is unscientific and is an affront to children, women who hold the custody of children of separated couples, science, human rights, and the justice system itself. Justice, to be just, should be based on scientifically proven theories and evidence. This article describes investigations carried out to show that two of the principles that underpin PAS are false: That children lie when pressed (alienated in the terminology of PAS), and that the principle that should guide judges’ actions for the good of the child should be that for the child to always be in contact with both parents. The results of these investigations show that these two principles are false and advocates the use of truly scientific proceedings for judges to grant custody in case of dispute between parents, as well as for determining the visitation for the noncustodial parent.
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This article examines the impact of the current role of evaluators in divorce and child custody cases where there are allegations of domestic violence and/or child abuse and what the courts permit as testimony by experts. The authors explore the courts’ permissive rules in family courts, and the influence evaluators have on the resulting decisions in those court cases as well as how personal beliefs, knowledge, experiences, and biases of the evaluators can affect evaluators’ recommendations to family court judges. The rules which permit less use of traditional normative tools, such as tests and assessments, in the specialized environment of a divorce proceeding or allegations of abuse are examined by the authors. This exploration takes place in the context of the scientific and professional associations that govern the psychology community. Finally, the article examines how a child’s report of abuse can negatively impact the court when in the hands of an evaluator who lacks sufficient training in domestic violence and child abuse and/or lacks the tools necessary to properly assess the issues before the court.
Technical Report
Full-text available
The purpose of this study was to further our understanding of what child custody evaluators and other professionals believe regarding allegations of domestic abuse made by parents going through a divorce. The study had several major goals: to investigate the extent to which child custody evaluators and other professionals who make court recommendations believe allegations of domestic violence are false; to explore the relationship between these beliefs and (a) knowledge of domestic violence and (b) recommendations about custody, supervised visitation, and mediation; to examine whether beliefs about false allegations of domestic violence are related to beliefs that false allegations of child abuse are common; abuse of parents should not be a criterion in custody and visitation decisions; and that parents often alienate their children from the other parent; to examine the relationships between beliefs about false allegations and beliefs about patriarchal norms, social dominance, and justice in the world. We also conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 24 domestic abuse survivors who experienced negative custody-visitation outcomes, such as losing custody of their children.
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“Parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) is a phrase first coined by Dr. Richard Gardner. Since its inception several scholars have reviewed and criticized this construct, and it has never been accepted by the scientific community as a legitimate scientific construct, as a syndrome or as a mental disorder. Despite its general rejection as unscientific, the construct of PAS at times continues to be used in legal settings as if it has an adequate foundation within science, clinical, or forensic practice. This commentary briefly reviews past critiques of PAS and describes several additional problems that have occurred with the use of this construct.
Article
Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises in children in the context of child-custody disputes. It is the result of the combination of the programming (brainwashing) of children by the alienating parent and the children's own contributions to a campaign of denigration against the alienated parent. A central factor operative in the children's contributions is their empowerment, most often by the indoctrinators, but occasionally by the passivity of the targeted parent. In addition to these intrafamilial factors, extrafamilial factors are also operative, especially the legal system and mental health professionals. This article focuses on the ways in which all of these empowerment factors operate in the etiology, development and perpetuation of parental alienation syndrome.
Article
Over the past three decades, parental alienation syndrome (PAS) has been proposed to explain behaviors by a child who refuses to spend time with a parent and actually denigrates that parent within the context of a child custody dispute. Although some mental health professionals and child custody evaluators, attorneys, and judges have been quick to accept and admit PAS as evidence in these disputes, there has been no consistent empirical or clinical evidence that PAS exists or that the alienator's behavior is the actual cause of the alienated child's behavior towards the target parent. This article attempts to help those working with custody issues understand how the PAS construct fails to meet scientific standards and should not be admissible in courts.