Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Professional Debate About How Children are Alienated

There is currently a debate within the professional community regarding just what causes children to become alienated within the context of their parents divorcing or its aftermath. The debate boils down to this question: Is the behavior of the alienating parent sufficient to cause children to become alienated, or does the targeted parent’s behavior also play a role? While this may seem like an interesting question with not much significance, we find that its answer has profound implications regarding what may be recommended as a solution to the problem.

For example, if one believes that the behavior of an alienating parent is sufficient cause to create alienation within a child, and that the targeted parent simply plays little if any role in the creation of the alienation, the recommendations coming out of that understanding will focus much more on eliminating the toxic effects of that alienating parent’s behavior onto that child. The goal here will likely enforce time with the targeted parent, even over the child’s protest in the beginning. This model will tend to see the child’s protests regarding that parent as unrealistic or even irrational. The goal will be to help the child to eliminate these unrealistic or irrational negative feelings about that parent.

If however, one believes that the alienating behaviors of the alienating parent is necessary but not sufficient to create alienation, then the responsibility for the child’s alienation will be also be placed at the feet of the targeted parent as well as the alienating parent. Even though this model will recognize that it is unhealthy for a parent to influence a child to see their other parent critically and negatively, it will tend to see this parental alienating behavior as being simply bad parenting, but not tantamount to child abuse. Under this understanding, recommendations will be more likely to include, among other things, parenting classes for the targeted parent, and will be less likely to enforce access between that targeted parent and that alienated child. These recommendations will probably refer to access between this child and this parent, as resuming when “the child is ready.”

As a greater generalized understanding of Parental Alienation develops, it appears that the latter model, the one that spreads the responsibility between both parents, is gaining more popularity among the professionals who do these evaluations. This is concerning since this latter model tends to see the alienation of children, once sufficiently progressed, as being incurable. The first model however does not agree with this at all. In support of this position, growing evidence is cited, gleaned from once alienated children, that even severely alienated children can and do become no longer alienated, and do and can reconnect to the parent from whom they were once alienated.

What does this mean? It means that it is of paramount importance to know to which model your potential evaluator subscribes. Both groups will boast knowledge of and familiarity with Parental Alienation, and they will do so honestly, but their recommendations will vary dramatically, as will their outcomes.


Anonymous said...

So how does one evaluate the pole position of any professional appointed to deal with the situation? Veronica

J Michael Bone, PhD said...

This is a slippery issue as most will profess expertise regarding alienation. However, the issue to look for is the potential evaluators understanding over the cause of alienation. I would suggest you have a look at an earlier blog post of mine, having to do with the professional debate over the cause of alienation. This will be the subject of much discussion and information in my upcoming seminar about avoiding the most common mistakes made in these cases. Indeed, this is mistake #1.

Anonymous said...

Personally I feel, every situation is very different and not one person can say this way is right or that way is wrong. At first from my observations, I notice some children enjoy the attention; but after awhile especially if it started when they were very young and didn't realize what was happening;they have outburst of anger and become loud; throwing things and even hitting people young or old; as well as alienate themselves. Some facts are one of the parents will make a game out of the alienation factor. When the other parent pulls up in the driveway the game is let's be very still and not let daddy or mommy know we're home. It will be our little secret. We'll trick him/her. The other parent will leave the phone on the fax for an entire week. Then tell the child; your daddy/mommy forgot all about your birthday. They gravel at the fact that they think they got away with something when the car breaks down and they will not bring the child to their other home. All the while making the child believe and in fact telling them the other parent does not care. Reporting this does not do any good and getting an attorney way to expensive for some of these young people. Before they know it their child are old and have grown up hating the world and misunderstanding mom and dad. This is a terribly sad state that society has turned to this and the kids have to suffer due to selfishness. Most of all it's just plain abusive that these children are treated this way.

BeyBlog said...

Several comments:
First, thanks for the blog, it clarifies a lot and helps identifying professional's own internal mechanisms of handling their responsibilities.
From my own experience (a father who have not seen his daughter for 26 months due to severe alienation / de-facto kidnapping by Mom) I found that professionals who are unsure of their own skills will tend to avoid assuming making a decision (in my opinion, for fear of being accused of taking sides). Such professionals will tend to find excuses based on faults of the target parent though the target parent may have done nothing wrong and everything right except, for example, they shrugged their shoulders in front of the judge. This suddenly becomes a center of focus (that a clever and nasty attorney can play well in court). I found myself having to defend loving email messages i sent my child as they became the center of criticism while my ex-spouse used to respond to message i sent my child with false sexual abuse allegations that the child is almost certain to read. The (abominable) Law Guardian of this case, simply ignored such infractions and focused on some interpretation and dissection of a clearly loving email messages' texts criticizing my communication as though it was a Nobel prize candidate, including the frequency of my messages. This tendency to "even things up" trickles all the way up from nasty attorneys all the way up to judges who are hung up on being "fair" and "even" only to propagate unacceptable alienating behavior. The result is that the child's world and reality confirms the "validity" of the alienation reality as though the entire world support alienation and the alienating parent as the focus is shifted from stopping the alienation towards a discussion and dissection of each aspect of it which, in itself, lends alienation an undeserved level of credibility. It is akin to a violent rapist accusing the rape victim of dressing attractively and the court accepting this as a valid consideration in order to seem "thorough" and "fair".
In my case, for example, every therapist who reported to the court expressed extreme concern about the mother's alienation and exposure of the child to court proceedings, recruitment of the child to her harassment campaign against me, etc. But ALL - bar NONE - felt compelled to mention that "Dad also has issues that need to be dealt with" alas without specifying one actual action that is inappropriate.
And this goes on in almost every single alienation case - especially ones where aggressive attorneys defend alienators.