Parental Alienation

Judges often say that while only 10% of their cases are high conflict custody they take up 90% of the court’s time.  High conflict custody cases are emotionally charged and complex proceedings.   My area of expertise are those 10% cases.   My psych education and work gives me an advantage because those high conflict cases generally involve psych issues.  Often one spouse, or both, will have a personality disorder or engage in parental alienation tactics. 

Parental alienation (PA) is a concept developed by Dr. Richard Gardner who coined the term Parental Alienation Syndrome.  It is a combination of parental programming and the child’s own contribution to the vilification of the targeted parent.  If you google parental alienation there’s a plethora of information on the subject too expansive to go into detail here.

 In PA cases, the alienating parent uses denigration, depreciation, and harsh criticism to destroy a child’s affection for the targeted parent.  The parents become polarized and the child is caught in the middle.  This is called “triangulation.”  Oftentimes the child will emotionally detach from the targeted parent and move towards the alienating parent.  The alignment is often out of emotional survival.

Time is the enemy of the targeted parent.  Unfortunately, the courts are bogged down and matters get delayed.  It is important to get an immediate order for a child custody evaluation with a court appointed psychologist.  Every court maintains a list of qualified experts that are appointed by the court to assess the parties and their children and to make recommendations to the court.

The other critical order to get is one for the appointment of a therapist for the child who is trained in and understands parental alienation.  Usually the court approved panel of experts will have the requisite training. 

Most importantly is coaching the targeted parent on how to respond to the child’s brainwashed statements or aggressive behavior.  Children who were once sweet and obedient may become depressed, angry, destructive or refuse to visit.  I advise my clients that under no circumstances can they denigrate or discuss the other parent’s tactics with the child because it only causes the child to defend the alienating parent and to align with him or her further.  There are specific techniques unique to the situation that need to be employed by the targeted parent.  I recommend individual counseling for the parent and reading books that explain the process to coach them through the experience. 

If the parent takes the high road, role models being a great parent and provides unconditional love, the child will be less likely to stay entrenched with the alienator.  Remember, the alienator’s relationship with their child is not founded in love, it’s conditioned on the child’s hatred of the targeted parent.  Over time a child generally will want to be with a loving, authentic parent and not be with an angry, denigrating one.  Denigration of a parent to a child is actually denigration of the child in his or her mind.  It’s emotionally abusive.

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Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 3:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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