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Parental Alienation: The Blossoming of a Field of Study

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Parental Alienation: The Blossoming of a Field of Study

Abstract

Parental alienation has been an unacknowledged and poorly understood form of family violence. Research on parental alienation and the behaviors that cause it has evolved out of decades of legal and clinical work documenting this phenomenon, leading to what could be considered a “greening,” or growth, of the field. Today, there is consensus among researchers as to what parental alienating behaviors are and how they affect children and the family system. We review the literature to detail what parental alienation is, how it is different from other parent–child problems such as estrangement and loyalty conflicts, and how it is perpetuated within and across different social systems. We conclude by highlighting research areas that need further investigation to develop and test effective solutions for ameliorating the devastating effects of parental alienation that, we posit, should be considered and understood not only as abusive to the child but also as a form of family violence directed toward both the child and the alienated parent.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721419827271
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Since the early 1800s, courts in the United States and
England have documented volumes of family law cases
involving one parent vilifying the other parent and
poisoning the minds of their children against the
rejected parent. By the mid-1940s, clinicians working
with divorced families started publishing their observa-
tions about parents who tried to break down the child’s
love for the other parent and to enlist their children as
“allies” against the rejected parent (Rand, 2013). It was
not until the 1980s that a label was coined for this
phenomenon: parental alienation syndrome (Gardner,
1985). For a variety of reasons (e.g., whether it consti-
tutes a valid syndrome; Warshak, 2001), the term most
commonly used today is simply parental alienation
(Lorandos, Bernet, & Sauber, 2013). Research on this
topic has increased substantially over recent decades;
today, there are over 1,000 books, book chapters, and
articles in professional journals on the topic across 35
countries and six continents (Bernet, 2013).
Despite extensive historical documentation of paren-
tal alienation across legal and clinical arenas, accumu-
lated data on this topic have been largely descriptive
in nature. However, there has been extensive research
on processes that constitute parental alienating behav-
iors (e.g., gatekeeping behaviors; Austin & Rappaport,
2018). We argue that our understanding of parental
alienation has moved from a “greening,” or what is
considered a growth, stage of development into a “blos-
soming” stage, which is characterized by greater devel-
opment and integration of theories and hypothesis
testing (Simpson & Campbell, 2013).
What Parental Alienation Is
Parental alienation refers to a psychological condition
in which a child allies himself or herself strongly with
an alienating (or preferred) parent and rejects a rela-
tionship with the alienated (or targeted) parent without
legitimate justification (Lorandos etal., 2013). Parental
alienation often occurs in families in which a more
powerful parental figure (the alienating parent) engages
in abusive behaviors intended to damage and destroy
the relationship between the other, less powerful parent
(the targeted parent) and the child (Harman, Kruk, &
Hines, 2018). Parental alienation is not typically an
outcome that arises when both parents contribute to
827271CDPXXX10.1177/0963721419827271Harman et al.Parental Alienation
research-article2019
Corresponding Author:
Jennifer J. Harman, Colorado State University, Department of
Psychology, 410 W. Pitkin Ave., Fort Collins, CO, 80523-1876
E-mail: jjharman@colostate.edu
Parental Alienation: The Blossoming
of a Field of Study
Jennifer J. Harman1, William Bernet2, and Joseph Harman3
1Department of Psychology, Colorado State University; 2Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University;
and 3University of Sydney
Abstract
Parental alienation has been an unacknowledged and poorly understood form of family violence. Research on parental
alienation and the behaviors that cause it has evolved out of decades of legal and clinical work documenting this
phenomenon, leading to what could be considered a “greening,” or growth, of the field. Today, there is consensus
among researchers as to what parental alienating behaviors are and how they affect children and the family system. We
review the literature to detail what parental alienation is, how it is different from other parent–child problems such as
estrangement and loyalty conflicts, and how it is perpetuated within and across different social systems. We conclude
by highlighting research areas that need further investigation to develop and test effective solutions for ameliorating
the devastating effects of parental alienation that, we posit, should be considered and understood not only as abusive
to the child but also as a form of family violence directed toward both the child and the alienated parent.
Keywords
parental alienation, divorce, separation, family violence, child abuse
2 Harman et al.
the arguing and fighting (Warshak, 2015b). When parents
reciprocate conflictual behavior, they often have similar
levels of power—in such cases, the outcome for the child
is a loyalty conflict rather than parental alienation
(Bernet, Wamboldt, & Narrow, 2016). Although parental
alienation can occur or begin in intact families, it most
commonly occurs after the parental relationship ends.
The manifestations of parental alienation in the child
consist of (but are not limited to) the following: a cam-
paign of denigration against the targeted parent; weak,
frivolous, or absurd rationalizations for the deprecation;
a lack of ambivalence; an “independent-thinker” phe-
nomenon in which the child denies being influenced
to feel negatively about the targeted parent; an appar-
ent absence of guilt for actions and attitudes toward
the targeted parent; borrowed scenarios about past
events; and the spread of animosity to other people
associated with the rejected parent (e.g., extended fam-
ily members; Gardner, 1992). Of these outcomes, those
most strongly associated with parental alienation are
the first two: the child’s campaign of denigration against
the rejected parent and the child’s frivolous rationaliza-
tions for the denigration. Outcomes that are readily
identified objectively and measured quantitatively are
the child’s rejection of the parent (Huff, Anderson,
Adamsons, & Tambling, 2017) and the child’s lack of
ambivalence toward the parents, namely, one parent is
all good, the other is all bad (otherwise known as split-
ting; Bernet, Gregory, Reay, & Rohner, 2018).
Parental alienation outcomes are classified in the
fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders as a mental condition under the
diagnosis “child affected by parental relationship dis-
tress” (CAPRD; Bernet et al., 2016). This condition
appears in the same chapter as child sexual abuse,
parent–child relational problems, and other forms of
domestic violence (“other conditions that may be a
focus of clinical attention”), and CAPRD can be diag-
nosed independently or as a modifier of a mental dis-
order (e.g., major depressive disorder). Estimating the
prevalence of parental alienation among children is
challenging because a psychological assessment is typi-
cally needed to determine whether and to what extent
a child has been alienated. If we extrapolate from pub-
lished research and use deductive methods, we find
that an estimated 1% of all children in the United States
are alienated from a parent (Bernet, 2010; Warshak,
2015a). Another estimate, albeit one based on a rela-
tively small sample, suggests that around 29% of chil-
dren from divorced homes experience alienating
behaviors from a parent (Hands & Warshak, 2011).
What Parental Alienation Is Not
It is important to distinguish parental alienation from
parental estrangement (Kelly & Johnston, 2001), as the
terminology used in this context is slightly different
than definitions in most dictionaries, in which alien-
ation is described as an emotional detachment and
estrangement adds an element of physical disconnec-
tion (Warshak, 2010). In this article, estrangement refers
to problems with a parent–child relationship that are
due to issues within the relationship itself. For example,
a parent may have poor parenting skills and engage in
physically or emotionally abusive behaviors that make
the quality of the parent–child relationship poor. Hence,
the child is explicably and realistically estranged from
a parent on the basis of and in reaction to the child’s
lived experience. In contrast to estrangement, the cause
of the parent–child problem in cases of parental alien-
ation lies primarily with the alienating parent. Through
words and actions, the alienating parent influences the
child to such a degree that the child begins to reject a
relationship with the targeted parent. The child’s rejec-
tion is not typically due to the actions of the targeted
parent; if it is, then it is grossly exaggerated and out of
proportion to his or her actual experience with the
parent. Indeed, the child’s rejection of the targeted par-
ent can be irreconcilable with and contradicted by the
child’s lived experience of the targeted parent. When
allegations of abuse are raised during custody disputes,
this distinction between estrangement and parental
alienation becomes important. If there is a substantiated
history of domestic violence or child abuse over the
course of the relationship, the accuser’s and child’s
behaviors are explicable; if the accusation is manufac-
tured as a strategy to gain the upper hand in a custody
dispute, then the accusation is a parental alienating
behavior.
How Do Parents Alienate Their Children?
Parental alienating behaviors have recently been con-
sidered a form of family violence, which has generally
been understood as behaviors that coerce, control, and
generate fear in the child. This behavior makes it child
abuse for children as victims and intimate-partner vio-
lence for the targeted parent as the victim. Parental
alienation is the result of an alienating parent’s coer-
cion, control, and generation of fear in the child toward
the targeted parent, making this a very complex form
of family violence (Clawar & Rivlin, 2013; Harman etal.,
2018). Hundreds of parental alienating behaviors have
been documented by researchers, including badmouth-
ing the targeted parent and his or her extended family,
engaging in coercive controlling behaviors to force an
alliance with the child and to reject the targeted parent,
saying the targeted parent does not love the child,
confiding in the child about adult matters, limiting the
child’s contact with the other parent, violating court
orders regarding parenting time and communication,
undermining the targeted parent’s authority with the child,
Parental Alienation 3
letting the child choose whether to visit with the targeted
parent, and making false allegations of abuse (Baker &
Darnall, 2006; Harman, Biringen, Ratajck, Outland, &
Kraus, 2016; Harman etal., 2018).
Obviously, no parent is perfect; an occasional nega-
tive comment or discrete action is not considered a
parental alienating behavior. It is the use of clusters of
behaviors over an extended period of time, commonly
used with the intent to harm the relationship between
the child and the other parental figure (or just the other
parent because of his or her relationship with the child),
that characterizes an action as a parental alienating
behavior (Harman etal., 2018). Whereas the repetition
of one or more behaviors over time is important for
creating or cementing the child’s negative and rejecting
view of a parent, the nature and content of those behav-
iors (e.g., suggestions to the child that he or she has
been sexually abused by the targeted parent or that the
targeted parent has attempted to kill the child) will
impact the rapidity of rejection and alienation.
More than 22 million American adults are estimated
as having experienced alienating behaviors by the
other parent, with over half reporting this experience
as being severe (Harman, Leder-Elder, & Biringen,
2016). Fortunately, parental alienating behaviors do not
always lead to the ultimate alienation of a child from
a parent. Alienating behaviors (the actions of the alien-
ating parent) are very common and can have very
negative consequences for the child; parental alien-
ation (the child’s refusal to have a relationship with
the targeted parent) is much less common. There may
be many reasons for this discrepancy, such as the
amount of parenting time the targeted parent has with
the child; the quality of the parent–child relationship
prior to the initiation of parental alienating behaviors;
the severity and longevity of the alienating behaviors;
the child’s temperament, age, and birth order; the
extent to which other people reinforce or counter
alienating influences; and the social sanctioning of the
parental alienating behaviors.
How Are Parents Who Alienate Their
Children Enabled To Act This Way?
Families exist within communities, societies, and cul-
tures that can promote or deter parental alienation.
Research does not yet provide support for there being
gender differences in who alienates their children;
mothers and fathers appear similarly likely to be per-
petrators (Harman, Leder-Elder, & Biringen, 2016), but
they may use different types of behaviors (e.g., mothers
may use more indirect and fathers more direct forms
of aggression; López, Iglesias, & García, 2014). Gender
differences do arise in how parental alienating behaviors
are perceived and addressed by third parties. For exam-
ple, mothers who use parental alienating behaviors are
not perceived as negatively as when a father or a
gender-neutral “parent” uses them (Harman, Biringen,
etal., 2016). Arguably, gender biases may have influ-
enced how parental alienation has been handled in
social institutions such as family court (Lorandos, 2017),
indicating that perceptions of mental health, legal, and
law-enforcement professionals; financial resources; estab-
lished distribution of custody practices; and other factors
can generate great disparities in terms of who is more
affected by parental alienating behaviors. Therefore, gen-
der biases, outmoded institutional practices, and other
social factors play an important role in the promotion
and deterrance of parental alienation.
What Impact Do Parental Alienating
Behaviors Have?
The impact of parental alienation on children, the tar-
geted parent, and the entire family system is substantial.
Ongoing and unresolved conflict between parents may
be associated with posttraumatic stress symptoms
(Basile-Palleschi, 2002) and other negative conse-
quences in children (Cummings & Davies, 2010). How-
ever, alienated children experience more psychosocial
adjustment disorders (e.g., internalizing and external-
izing problems) than children who have not been alien-
ated (Johnston, Lee, Oleson, & Walters, 2005). Alienated
children are often separated from the targeted parent
for long periods of time; this separation paired with
parental alienating behaviors is associated with poor
psychological adjustment among children (e.g., Seijo,
Farinˇa, Corras, Novo, & Arce, 2016). Adults who were
alienated as children report severe long-term effects of
this abuse (Baker, 2005; Baker & Verrocchio, 2013): low
levels of self-esteem and high levels of self-hatred, inse-
cure attachment, substance abuse disorders, guilt, anxi-
ety, and depression. These individuals also develop
fears and phobias, experience attachment difficulties,
have problems communicating with their children as
adults (Aloia & Strutzenberg, 2019), and develop a lack
of trust in others or themselves (see Harman etal.,
2018).
Perhaps more is known about the impact of parental
alienating behaviors on targeted parents because they
are most easily accessed for research purposes. For tar-
geted parents, the outcomes of parental alienation
appear to be similar to other forms of intimate-partner
violence; targeted parents report experiencing depression
(Taylor-Potter, 2015), anxiety, and high levels of suicid-
ality (Baker & Verrocchio, 2015; Balmer, Matthewson,
& Haines, 2018). In addition, targeted parents live with
unresolved grief and ambiguous loss (Boss, 2016) and
4 Harman et al.
face considerable social isolation caused by either the
behaviors of the alienator (e.g., loss of friends) or poor
emotional coping (Harman etal., 2018).
What Remains To Be Discovered
In order for a science to mature, scientific fields become
action oriented and cumulative, test integrated theories,
and increase our understanding of the etiology and
manifestation of the problems under study (Reis, 2007).
Research on parental alienation has always been action
oriented because it has arisen in response to the work
of legal and mental health professionals with families
affected by this problem. There has been extensive
scholarship on processes that constitute parental alien-
ating behaviors (e.g., gatekeeping, false memories), so
even though it superficially appears that research on
parental alienation is in its greening stage, it is actually
blossoming because greater attention to theoretical
extension and development has been occurring. For
example, attachment theories have been applied to
clinical observations in order to create a better under-
standing of parental rejection (Garber, 2004), and more
recently, the first author has been applying interdepen-
dence theory to understand how imbalanced power
dynamics characterize these family systems.
New directions forward include establishing what
patterns of parental alienating behaviors have the stron-
gest association with parental alienation outcomes,
developing the best methods for assessment and treat-
ment of parental alienation at different stages of sever-
ity, identifying more direct and indirect impacts
associated with this family violence and how it is dif-
ferent from estrangement, assessing the global preva-
lence of the problem, and identifying whether particular
demographic groups are more vulnerable (e.g., military
personnel).
Conclusion
Parental alienation is a serious form of family violence.
Although there is professional consensus about what it
is and what its causes are, the field is ripe for greater
research attention with more extensive theoretical and
integrated methodological inquiries to inform empiri-
cally validated interventions and treatments.
Recommended Reading
Bernet, W., Gregory, N., Reay, K. M., & Rohner, R. P. (2018).
(See References). An article demonstrating splitting of
children’s perception of parents (all good vs. all bad)
that is unique for alienated children in comparison with
children who were not alienated.
Harman, J. J., & Biringen, Z. (2016). Parents acting badly: How
institutions and societies promote the alienation of chil-
dren from their loving families. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado
Parental Alienation Project. A book written for a general
audience that provides an overview of the literature on
parental alienation and how it has come to be such a seri-
ous problem.
Harman, J. J., Kruk, E., & Hines, D. A. (2018). (See References).
A review of research on parental alienation and how the
behaviors that cause it are considered both child abuse
and domestic violence.
Lorandos, D., Bernet, W., & Sauber, S. R. (Eds.). (2013). (See
References). A book with chapters explaining the differ-
ent levels of outcome severity in children, legal cases in
which parental alienation has been at issue, and practical
advice for legal and mental health professionals working
with clients who are coping with this problem.
Warshak, R. A. (2010). Divorce poison: How to protect your
family from bad-mouthing and brainwashing. New York,
NY: HarperCollins. One of the most widely read books
on the topic of parental alienation and a classic guide for
how to prevent and overcome the problem.
Action Editor
Randall W. Engle served as action editor for this article.
Acknowledgments
The authors would like to recognize all the families who have
been affected by parental alienation. It is our hope that tar-
geted parents will no longer be blamed for their child’s rejec-
tion of them and that the scientific field can devote more
attention to this problem in order to find solutions to protect
children from this form of family violence.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared that there were no conflicts of interest
with respect to the authorship or the publication of this
article.
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... Although parental alienation is not a psychiatric diagnosis per se, and neither is parental estrangement, separating them is vital for the child, in order to adequately approach the situation in the best interest of the child's welfare during the moment of establishing custody. If distancing the child is based on a real history of abuse within the relationship between child and parent, the attitude of the child is justifiable [36]. The national legal framework imposes legal medicine expertise in such cases to avoid detecting false-positive cases of parental alienation [7,37] and to acknowledge the risk of maladaptation and the mental development of the child. ...
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Full-text available
Parental alienation, an entity situated at the limit of psychiatry, sociology, and justice, still represents a controversial concept despite the legal dispositions that take it into account. The scope of this paper is to consider the relationship between parent and child, and child abuse from a psychosocial perspective, as well as to depict parental alienation, considered a form of child abuse, without omitting contradictory arguments which are also based on prudence in the minor’s interest, turning the attention to parental estrangement. Although parental alienation is not a psychiatric diagnosis per se and neither is parental estrangement, recognizing the difference between them is vital to adequately manage the situation at the time of establishing custody.
... Dla alienowanych rodziców skutki wydają się podobne do innych form przemocy w związku (Harman, Bernet, Harman, 2019). Rodzice ci skarżą się, że doświadczają depresji (Taylor-Potter, 2015) i lęku, odsetek samobójstw jest wśród nich wysoki (Baker, Verrocchio, 2015;Balmer, Matthewson, Haines, 2018), stoją oni także w obliczu znacznej izolacji społecznej spowodowanej zachowaniami alienatora (np. ...
Article
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Artykuł jest analizą alienacji rodzicielskiej z perspektywy diagnozy psychologicznej umożliwiającej jej odróżnienie od reakcji dziecka na rodzica faktycznie krzywdzące-go. W pierwszej kolejności należy wskazać, że wywieranie na dziecko wpływu prowa-dzącego do alienacji jest formą emocjonalnej przemocy i powoduje skutki podobne do innych form jego krzywdzenia. Opiniowanie i wyciąganie wniosków wyłącznie na podstawie diagnozy dziecka nie jest wystarczające. Opierając się na współcze-snych modelach alienacji rodzicielskiej, proponujemy systemowe podejście do jej dia-gnozowania, w którym konieczne jest uwzględnienie psychologicznej charakterystyki funkcjonowania dziecka, cech funkcjonowania rodziców oraz interakcji między nimi, podłoża motywacyjnego towarzyszącego alienacji, a także relacji każdego z rodziców z dzieckiem. Artykuł kończą wskazówki mogące służyć diagnozie alienacji rodziciel-skiej i różnicowaniu tej sytuacji z innymi formami przemocy oraz sygnalizujące sytu-acje złożone, w których dziecko doświadcza wielu form krzywdzenia. Słowa kluczowe: alienacja rodzicielSka, przemoc, rodzina jako SyStem, diagnoza różnicowa
... PA is a poorly understood form of violence [24]. The behavioural strategies used by the AP during alienation constitute emotional abuse of the child and may include tactics such as ignoring (e.g., denying effective response to the child's emotional requests), rejecting (e.g., spurning, constant criticism), isolating (e.g., preventing the child from spending time with family and friends), terrorising (e.g., threatening the child with abandonment or harm), exploiting (e.g., making the child responsible for the care of the parent or other children), and corrupting (e.g., involving the child in immoral or illegal activities) the child [15,[25][26][27][28][29]. ...
Chapter
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Parental alienation (PA) is a form of childhood emotional abuse in which one parent instrumentally uses the child to inflict psychological harm on the other parent for revenge. The consequences of parental alienating behaviours range from mild (e.g., the child shows a certain resistance towards visiting the targeted parent but warm parenting is still possible) to severe, where the positive affective parent–child bond is severed and extremely difficult to reinstate under family therapy. In PA processes, parenting is disrupted with the targeted parent and dysfunctional with the alienating parent. Consequently, the child is at a high risk of developing internalising (e.g., depression, anxiety) and externalising (e.g., use of drugs/alcohol, violence) problems during later developmental stages and through the lifespan. Although the prevalence and severity of PA cases in our societies are largely unknown, in part because the construct is still an ongoing debate among academics, practitioners and family justice professionals, different authors defend that it should be treated as a public health problem. Early prevention should be the primary objective and family justice, child protection and mental health services must coordinate efforts to support the families and promote the best conditions for the development of affected children.
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Objectives. The effectiveness of a therapeutic approach for the divorced parents (on an individual level as well as on the couple) was studied; the therapeutic process was aimed at improving the connection between parents and, subsequently, the child-parent relationship. Material and methods. The study includes five divorced couples that have been submitted to psychological evaluation at the request of the legal system of Romania, between 2019-2020. Both the children and the parental dyad have been evaluated in relation with awarding custody, in cases with moderate to high level of parental conflict – the cases had in common the child’s rejection of one of the parents. For the parents’ evaluation, Parenting History Survey, Parental Stress Index, Parental Competency Questionnaire and Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire have been used, together with a checklist of child’s rejecting behaviors towards one of the parents. Following evaluation, the parents have been included in a psychological intervention program, consisting of individual sessions and sessions for the parental dyad. The inclusion criteria have been: conflictual parental relation, no psychiatric pathology of parents and absence of pre-divorce parental abuse history. Results. The results have shown that the couples tended to improve their capacity to respect the children’s program of personal interaction with the other parent and that the frequency of rejecting behaviors toward the other parent diminished. Conclusions. Children’s post-divorce adjustment is strongly impacted by the quality of the parental relationship and this, in turn, can be improved by specialized therapeutic intervention. Developing an intervention program adapted to the post-divorce needs of the family helps children in integrating the divorce and preserving their emotional balance.
Article
Objective: This study employs the life course perspective to explore the lived experience of grandparents who have no contact with their grandchildren following parental alienation. Background: Parental alienation (PA) represents situations in which a child becomes estranged from one parent because of the manipulation of another parent. The estrangement from the alienated parent leads to and manifests inter alia in denial of contact with the grandparents from the alienated side of the family. It is critical to examine the experiences of grandparents who were denied contact with their grandchildren due to PA to identify these grandparents’ unique needs and facilitate assistance and support. Method: Thirteen grandparents aged 63–83 years (Mean=72 years, S.D.=6.52) were interviewed, using an interpretive phenomenological analysis approach to analyze their narratives. Findings: Participant interviews revealed four superordinate themes: (1) The race against time; (2) Disregard of grandparents' victim status; (3) Health and functioning implications of alienation from grandchildren, and (4) Reflections on being a grandparent suffering from PA and insights at this stage of life. Conclusions: PA-related estrangement from grandchildren leads to negative outcomes regarding grandparents' daily functioning, perception, and well-being. Aging characteristics collide with these outcomes to form an experience unique to grandparents in these vulnerable situations. Implications: Practitioners treating older adults require awareness of parental alienation's adverse impact on grandparents to address their specific needs and hardships. Additionally, it is incumbent on the legal system and practitioners involved in PA cases to consider grandparent victimization, allow them to voice their pain, and take their interests into account.
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Antecedentes: Son diversos las/os investigadoras/es que se han interesado por el fenómeno de la alienación parental. No obstante, esta compleja dinámica relacional no ha estado exenta de controversias. Objetivo: Realizar una revisión sistemática de las perspectivas y tendencias actuales del concepto de alienación parental, sus características y efectos en la población que experimentan estas circunstancias. Método: Se utilizó la metodología PRISMA-P para llevar a cabo una búsqueda bibliográfica exhaustiva de artículos publicados entre el año 2016 y junio de 2020 en revistas indexadas Scopus y/o WOS. Se contemplaron 95 estudios, de los cuales 11 fueron considerados para la revisión, de acuerdo con los criterios de inclusión y exclusión preestablecidos. Se identificó un amplio campo investigativo en el cual se circunscribe la alienación parental, como dinámica relacional. Resultados: Los 11 estudios seleccionados establecían relaciones entre la experiencia de alienación parental e indicadores de salud mental, tanto en niños, niñas, adolescentes, como adultos que experimentan o experimentaron estas dinámicas. Así también, se relacionó con maltrato psicológico. Conclusiones: La alienación parental es un fenómeno con una importante prevalencia en la población y se ha vinculado con un deterioro en la salud mental de las personas que la experimentan o la han experimentado.
Article
The denigration of one parent by the other would be one of the most damaging effects for the child in situations of family breakdown, although the so-called parental alienation syndrome (Gardner) as a supposed childhood mental disorder, has not obtained acceptance in psychiatric classifications nor the necessary validity and scientific support, so its use by mental health professionals, experts and lawyers should be avoided. Instead, one can use the diagnostic criteria contemplated by the international diagnostic psychiatric classifications that we describe. It is essential to establish the differential diagnosis based on the symptom of rejection of a parent, an issue that involves difficulty and may require the assistance of a multidisciplinary team to adequately evaluate all the evaluable aspects. Professionals must act with knowledge of the limits of their science, providing those data and conclusions that are legitimate and valid according to this premise.
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A systematic literature review about parental alienation published in Spanish language was conducted, in order to provide a state of art of this phenomenon and suggest further recommendations for future research. Following the PRISMA-P protocol, the academic data bases Web of Science, PubMed, ProQuest, EBSCOHost, Science Direct, PsylNFO, Scopus, Scielo, Latindex y Redalyc were systematically searched for a three months period. Four articles were included in this review reporting evidence-based studies on parental alienation in Spanish speaking countries. Despite the scarce number of articles, valuable information published in Spanish language about parental alienation was obtained, which is similar to that published in English. This review showed that research published in Spanish is sparse and more studies are needed in order to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon in Spanish speaking countries.
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Despite affecting millions of families around the world, parental alienation has been largely unacknowledged or denied by legal and health professionals as a form of family violence. This complex form of aggression entails a parental figure engaging in the long-term use of a variety of aggressive behaviors to harm the relationship between their child and another parental figure, and/or to hurt the other parental figure directly because of their relationship with their child. Like other forms of family violence, parental alienation has serious and negative consequences for family members, yet victims are often blamed for their experience. In order to be recognized as a form of family violence and to secure protection for victims under law and social policies, a formal review and comparison of parental alienating behaviors and outcomes to child abuse and intimate partner violence has been sorely needed. The result of this review highlights how the societal denial of parental alienation has been like the historical social and political denial or other forms of abuse in many parts of the world (e.g., child abuse a century ago). Reframing parental alienating behaviors as a form of family violence also serves as a desperate call to action for social scientists to focus more theoretical and empirical attention to this topic. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).
Book
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Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Professionals is the essential “how to” manual in this important and ever increasing area of behavioral science and law. Busy mental health professionals need a reference guide to aid them in developing data sources to support their positions in reports and testimony. They also need to know where to go to find the latest material on a topic. Having this material within arm’s reach will avoid lengthy and time-consuming online research. For legal professionals who must ground their arguments in well thought out motions and repeated citations to case precedent, ready access to state or province specific legal citations spanning thirty-five years of parental alienation cases is provided here for the first time in one place.
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Both clinicians and forensic practitioners should distinguish parental alienation (rejection of a parent without legitimate justification) from other reasons for contact refusal. Alienated children-who were not abused-often engage in splitting and lack ambivalence with respect to the rejected parent; children who were maltreated usually perceive the abusive parent in an ambivalent manner. The purpose of this study was to assess the usefulness of the Parental Acceptance-Rejection Questionnaire (PARQ) in identifying and quantifying the degree of splitting, which may assist in diagnosing parental alienation. Results showed that severely alienated children engaged in a high level of splitting, by perceiving the preferred parent in extremely positive terms and the rejected parent in extremely negative terms. Splitting was not manifested by the children in other family groups. The PARQ may be useful for both clinicians and forensic practitioners in evaluating children of divorced parents when there is a concern about the possible diagnosis of parental alienation.
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The aims of the study were to determine targeted parent experiences of parental alienation post-separation from the alienating parent, and to investigate common targeted parent characteristics. A total of 225 targeted parents completed an online survey. Targeted parents reported experiencing high severity of exposure to parental alienation tactics. Targeted parent sex and targeted child age significantly predicted variance in exposure to parental alienation. Targeted mothers experienced significantly higher severity of exposure to parental alienation than targeted fathers. Severity of exposure to parental alienation tactics significantly predicted increases in the appraisal of the parental alienation situation as threatening. The findings offered new insights into targeted parent appraisals of their parental alienation experience. The results signified the seriousness of the impact of exposure to parental alienation for targeted parents, and highlighted a need for empirical research into the effectiveness of interventions and support services to assist targeted parents.
Chapter
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This chapter begins with a discussion of precursors of PA in historic legal cases and in the psychiatric literature. The evolution of Dr. Gardner's work is discussed next, followed by the work of authors who elaborated and refined the concept of PAS in the 1990s and 2000s. The development of the Family Bridges Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships is explained. Early research on PA and PAS is summarized. Autobiographical accounts by alienated parents in the popular literature provide a unique perspective.
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This article describes the development of a self-report measure to assess children refusing contact with their parents following divorce or separation. Two samples of young adults were collected to conduct an exploratory factor analysis (N = 96) and a confirmatory factor analysis (N = 332). The fit of the CFA was found to be adequate. Comparison to qualitative descriptions of participants’ families indicated good validity. The Contact Refusal Scale also correlated appropriately with related measures. The results suggest that the Contact Refusal Scale may be a useful measure in better understanding the complex relationships and actions that follow parental divorce or separation.
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This study examined communication apprehension within parent–child relationships as a function of parental alienation and self-esteem. We posited that parental alienation in childhood was positively associated with parent–child communication apprehension in adulthood, and that self-esteem in adulthood mediated the association. Results from 211 college-aged students indicated that parental alienation from male and female caregivers in childhood was positively associated with communication apprehension with female caregivers in adulthood. In addition, parental alienation from male caregivers in childhood was positively associated with communication apprehension with male caregivers in adulthood. The findings also indicated a stronger positive relationship between parental alienation and parent–child communication apprehension when self-esteem was low rather than high.
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The parental gatekeeping, forensic evaluation model for child custody evaluators and other family court practitioners is presented. Gatekeeping refers to the ability of each parent to support the other parent–child relationships. The gatekeeping concept represents a common best interest statutory factor. Patterns or subtypes of gatekeeping are defined: facilitative, restrictive, and protective. A justification analysis is required when a parent is not supportive and/or restrictive on the other parent’s access to the child. The restrictive parent needs to identify the reasons for being restrictive/protective and show the nature of the harm. Relevant research is reviewed on joint parental involvement and gatekeeping. The gatekeeping model is applied to the context of relocation disputes. Relocation is framed as restrictive gatekeeping and the child custody relocation analysis is presented as a justification analysis in terms of the facts, context, reasons for moving, advantages/disadvantages, and legal factors that need to be assessed and considered.