Thursday, December 27, 2012

False Allegations of Abuse: The Second Ingredient of Parental Alienation

This is the second in a series of four posts devoted to the four criteria that are found in parental alienation cases. As a reference point to this, I would remind the reader that this series of posts is related to an article authored by myself and a Florida Attorney, Michael Walsh. The original purpose of the article was to provide Family Law attorneys with a kind of template as to what to look for in these cases. It was written in such a way that one could potentially review the file and make a fairly good speculative guess as to the presence or absence of parental alienation. I made the point in that article that some or even three of these criteria could be found in high conflict cases of divorce and post divorce, and still not be parental alienation. My point was that, in my opinion, all four must be present for there to be parental alienation. Even though this article was written from a qualitative point of view rather than from a quantitative perspective, I still believe that it is accurate. I have yet to see a parental alienation case without all four being present. That is the back story. The subject of this post is the second of these criteria, which is False Allegations of Abuse. As with the first criterion, this one also has a wide range of expressions. On the most extreme and unsubtle end is the frank but false accusation that a parent has abused a child physically, emotionally and even sexually, when no such abuse occurred. This is perhaps the most heinous expression of this criterion. In these cases, various agencies will typically become involved wherein an “investigation” will occur. I put this word in quotations due to the fact that these investigations also have a very wide range of quality and expression. I have seen very good and thorough investigations having been completed where the agency charged with protecting the child from danger actually becomes a voice to expose the alienation. In these cases, the investigator actively accesses the accusing party in terms of their credibility, obviously recognizing that false child abuse accusations do occur within the divorce context. Any seasoned agency investigator will quickly point this out, and as a result, will be open to the possibility that the accusation might be false and motivated by the hope of a tactical advantage in the divorce process. That said, the investigator actively and thoroughly considers as an equal possibility, that the abuse did in fact occur. In pursuit of this, the investigator will question the alleged victim, the alleged perpetrator and as many collateral sources as the fact pattern might warrant. As with any investigation or evaluative process, the goal is to develop multiple hypotheses about whatever is being investigated and then to apply the data to these various hypotheses and see which comes closest to matching. To properly investigate any allegation of harm to a child (or to an adult) requires thorough and painstaking work, which cannot be accomplished with a single visit or videotaped interview. Here is where we come to the problem. The above model of a competent and thorough evaluation, while vitally important, is an extreme rarity. More often than not, the alleged victim, the child is interviewed perhaps once, often at a school, or perhaps at the parent’s home, and some sort of report is filed based primarily, if not exclusively on the comments of the alleged victim and his or her reporting parent. Very often, the alleged perpetrator, in the case of parental alienation, the other parent, is not even contacted. I have heard countless descriptions by parents who learn after the fact that such an investigation even occurred. Equally, when this is somehow stumbled upon, I have heard countless descriptions of that parent trying to meet with the investigating agency, to learn about what they are being accused of, only to be turned away. The sad state of affairs, in many of our state run agencies charged with the protection children, is that if a child even suggested that some adverse event occurred that it simply must be true. This perspective is perhaps three decades old and the belief that children do not lie about such things is no longer subscribed to by any researcher in the field. Just to be clear: a child making an accusation may be telling the truth, or they may not be. The possibility that the accusation might be false is supported by a great deal of research. This does not mean that, especially in the context of divorce and post divorce, that all such accusations should be considered as being false, only that this should be considered. In 1995, a research psychologist at Cornell University, Steven, Ceci, PhD published a book entitled Jeopard in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children’s Testimony. If any of you are not familiar with this book and have an interest in such things, I would highly recommend it. In it Ceci describes all of the many an myriad ways that children’s statements, testimony and such like are so easily influenced. They are very easily influenced, and therefore any interview that can be used as evidence must be done in a painstaking and delicate manner. I am sure that it comes as no surprise to this readership that these interviews, even nearly two decades after the publication of this book, are not done carefully at all. I have reviewed countless such videotaped interviews and have been shocked by their tone-deaf quality and their unsubtle violation of the rules of such interviews. Sadly however, this is the state of things. This extreme end of the spectrum of this criterion is well known to this readership and makes up many of the nightmarish tragedies of wrongly accused parents being removed from their children. There is a great deal of information and countless examples of this, and I fear that I cannot add much further to an understanding of this in this post. Suffice it to say, the injustice of such tragedies is immense and beyond words, and parents and children who have suffered this deserve our unending support and compassion. These are true tragedies. However, as we move down the spectrum of the expression of this criterion however, we find more subtle but still potent examples of it. These examples are the broad category where a parent is portrayed as anything from incompetent, to disinterested, to selfish, to unstable, to potentially dangerous, to “not to be trusted”. These messages, we should be reminded are messages that the alienating parent sends out to virtually anyone who will listen, in their effort to vilify the targeted parent to the world at large. While we know that this is the target audience of these alienating parents, the most significant subset of the audience is, of course the children, who are absorbing the poison regarding their now largely marginalized or absent other parent, with whom they once had a loving relationship. When one considers the role of this criteria, coupled with the first one - Access and Visitation Blocking - it is clear that this second criterion operates as a justification for the first one. As has been noted, given the court’s sensitivity towards the protection of children, it should not be surprising to see that the function of this criterion is to provide a reason for the court to err of the side of caution. Put simply, it is not at all difficult to get a Family Law Judge to pause “out of an abundance of caution” in re-uniting a child and a parent who has, in all likelihood, been falsely accused of some form of abuse. The bar is simply not set that high. Put another way, the deck is stacked against the falsely accused parent. This is perhaps unavoidable, but such bias should be met with active investigation, which it very often is not. Such accusations should be equally tested for legitimacy just as the real danger to a child should be judged. Very often, only the second half of that equation is accomplished. This is, of course, a tragedy of our times, but one that can be gradually remedied through education. My hope is that these discussions can help in that process. As always, I invite your comments, and hope that this is helpful to your situation.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Access and Visitation Blocking: The First Ingredient of Parental Alienation

This is the first of four weekly posts regarding the four criteria which are present in cases were Parental Alienation is present. These posts are derived from an article that was published in the Florida Bar Journal in 1999. Since that time, we have learned quite a bit, and it seemed fitting to update those original thoughts. The first criterion that inhabits virtually all parental alienation cases is Access and Visitation Blocking. I believe the most important thing to understand about this criterion is that it occupies a vast continuum os possibilities. On the most extreme end would be the overt and purposeful blocking of access to one’s children by what will end up being the alienating parent. This extreme and unsubtle version of this criterion would be that alienating parent refusing to deliver or produce the children when the allotted access time occurs. Perhaps surprisingly, this extreme expression of this kind of access blocking is more the exception than the rule, since it is easy to spot and confront. If a court order states that child A will be delivered to the non-custodial parent on say Friday at 3:00 PM, and the child is not delivered and no warning or reason is given, that alienating and offending parent is placing them self in a position to be chastised by the court. While this does occur on occasion, it is my experience that it is rather rare. Most alienating parents are more savvy than this. We must be reminded that the Family Law system throughout the land is biased towards the protection of children, which it should be. Children should and must be shielded from abuse and danger. It is important to understand that this default setting of protection does in fact constitute a bias. What this means is that even the most subtle suggestion that a child would be better off not seeing that (targeted) parent tends to be absorbed by this bias. The legal phrase “out of an abundance of caution” is often heard during these moments. In other words, out of caution for making certain that the child in question is not in danger, the access time might well be at least postponed, if not cancelled all together, due to this bias. However, as we know in the case of parental alienation, it is precisely this bias that is manipulated and exploited. In other words, even when there is no articulated (false) allegation as to why a child should not see that other parent, the bias to protect that child from danger very often jumps into the thinking of the court, which causes the court to rarely act quickly and decisively to confront a violation of its own order. Therefore we more often than not find that the access and visitation blocking represented by this criterion - implicitly clothed in some suggestion that the child is better off not having their contact time with that parent - passes muster with the court. “There must be some reason this child did not want to see that parent” is a phrase that hovers over these incidents, which causes the court to “lean back” out of caution, rather than “lean forward” in a confrontational posture. This caution and hesitation is the very ghost of this bias to protect. It simply is the default setting, so much so that little reason must be given as to why the court’s order was not followed. I stress this point so much here because I believe that the bias to protect - again, legitimate and necessary as it is - constitutes a powerful undertow that can easily wash a parent’s time with their child out to sea, so to speak. Therefore, the alienating parents task is easy. Even the hint or suggestion of displeasure or danger tips the bias over the edge. And it is this pietre dish of bias to protect, where the bacterium of alienation can grow both quickly and easily. The alienating parent’s task is easy. The playing field is not level. It is slanted in favor of the alienating parent when alienation is present. We must simply recognize this if it is to be overcome. So what forms of this access and visitation blocking might we see? The most extreme and unsubtle is noted above, but the more subtle yet still impacting must also be identified. In today’s hyper communicative environment, replete with social media, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, email and telephone, all of these media are subject to the expression of this criterion. When it comes to social media, we might find that a parent is “unfriended” or perhaps an alternate identify is created for purposes of cutting off communication with that parent. In the case of the other digital media, we see alternate email addresses being created, and alternate cell phone accounts being opened. In the case of telephonic communication, we might see telephone calls not being returned or voicemail messages not being played. Ironically perhaps, since we now have so many more communicative media available, they all represent opportunities to show to the court the presence of this criterion. I therefore make the strong recommendation that logs of calls, messages and all other data exposing this criterion be created and maintained. While it is unrealistic to expect that any trier of fact (Judge) is going to listen to many or any of these messages, the effect of having abundant documentation that carries the theme of access and visitation blocking, is significant. Moving down the scale of subtly, one of the more common expressions of this criterion is that of the alienating parent scheduling a child for activities that occupy the time that the child is to see the targeted parent. This has the familiar theme of thereby causing the targeted parent to be in a quandary as to what to do. Should he or she insist on disallowing the child to participate in the activity in favor of contact, or should he or she alter their activities to attend the activity with the child, or should he or she simply allow the activity to occur and forgo contact? There are no pat answers to these questions as each set of circumstances must be assessed and weighed individually. However what is clear is that this quandary as to what to do may be presented to the court as having been created by the actions of the alienating parent. The alienating parent must be shown to be the puppeteer who manipulates the child to be in the middle, and to act as their agent, and examples of using activities to block access can be a fertile ground to make this argument. In my experience, when the court begins to understand the pattern of one (alienating) parent setting up circumstance after circumstance wherein this quandary occurs, the court begins to rule in a more productive direction. Until that is made clear however, the court most often fails to act in a curative direction, if it acts at all. As with my other posts, I invite comment and suggestion. I hope that this discussion helps.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Parental Alienation and the DSM

By now I would assume that most of you have been made aware that the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force on the DSM 5, which is due to be published in May of next year, has announced that parental alienation will not be included as a mental disorder. What does this actually mean? Specifically, they are saying that when a child becomes alienated from a parent primarily due to actions of the other parent, that what happens within that child is not a uniform syndrome or disorder. Rather, they are proposing that it be listed in a new category of disorders referred to as Relational or Relationship disorders. While I personally disagree with their decision, I believe that it is important to understand that the DSM committee is not saying that the phenomenon of alienation does not exist. All authorities - both friendly to PAS as well as those hostile to it - agree that the phenomenon of parental alienation exists. Some prefer to call it Child Alienation, but all in the field agree that it exists. Last year’s annual meeting of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) devoted their entire meeting to the phenomenon of parental or child alienation. If it did not exist, such a meeting would not have occurred. The DSM committee is simply saying that alienation is not a uniform and predictable disorder that follows a predictable path within the child. Again, while I disagree with this conclusion, I believe at this point it is most important for all concerned to understand that no one is saying that parental alienation does not exist. It is well known that it does and this is not disputed. But why would the DSM Task Force come up with this conclusion? If you scan the recent news articles about this, it is often framed that the DSM committee did not bend to the influence of pressure of those saying that it did. In actuality, I believe that they did in fact bend to such pressure, except from the other direction. Why? I believe that the answer lies in just what the American Psychiatric Association, the group behind the writing of the DSM, is all about. First and foremost, it is in every sense a trade association. It is the association that represents Psychiatrist’s interests and profession, pure and simple. Granted it is steeped in science and evidence based research, but we must not loose sight of the fact that at its core, it is there to protect the interests of Psychiatrists. It is a trade association. The first and most important founding principle of trade associations is to have members. Without members, trade associations simply wither, become irrelevant, and eventually die. If one looks into other types of trade associations, one will find that, in their interest of attracting and maintaing members, they tend to never take controversial positions. Controversial positions become lightening rods that can potentially loose members. Therefore they are avoided. Take for example the American Psychological Association, the professional trade association for Psychologists in this country. If one scours the various positions of the APA (American Psychological Association) one finds that its position regarding parental alienation, and parental alienation syndrome are actually hard to find. There are no official statements supporting it or denying it. The closest thing one will find is the statement that it is still being researched. The APA knows that if it endorses the reality of parental alienation that it stands to lose members who take opposing views of this. Conversely, if the APA says that parental alienation does not exist, that it will loose members and credibility. So what does the APA do? This is interesting. If one examines the APA’s Guidelines for the performance of Custody Evaluations, one finds that attached to it is a reading list of endorsed references that are to be used as references in the performance of such Custody Evaluations. These are the “gold standard” documents and references to be used by custody evaluators. This elite reading list contains just over thirty resources and the only author that is listed three times is Richard Gardner, MD. Among the references listed is his seminal volume entitled The Parental Alienation Syndrome. In other words, in a effort to maintain its credibility with its members, it passively and quietly endorses the works of Gardner that are the cornerstone of what we understand parental alienation to be. I believe that while the American Psychiatric Association, being the trade association for Psychiatrists, attempts to base their findings and conclusions in empirically based research, that it is very much subject to political pressures that can effect its credibility and existence. It simply cannot make a heroic stand. It will become a target. I am sure you all can relate to that. While I do not present this as an excuse, i believe that it is important to understand it as a reason. When I was in graduate school the DSM II was in place. The DSM II was a slim volume of 134 pages, published in 1968. I still have my copy. In it homosexuality was considered a psychopathology. It fell within the category of “Personality Disorders and Certain Other Non-Psychotic Mental Disorders”. Its diagnostic code was 302.0. It was considered a mental illness. When the DSM III came out, about a decade later, homosexuality was only considered a mental illness if that person effected by it did not wish to be homosexual. It was termed “Ego-dystonic Homosexuality”. In other words, it one was comfortable being homosexual, then it was not longer a mental illness. If we consider American culture and its attitude regarding homosexuality from the mid 1960’s through the 1970’ and 1980’s in fact we find that the cultural attitude about homosexuality evolved and changed. Still however, we must be reminded that the DSM II and DSM III were science based and beyond bias. Right. While they were science based, it is clear that cultural bias is present. So why the big controversy concerning parental alienation? I believe that there is an answer for this. What happens when, typically in the context of divorce, a child becomes rather suddenly alienated from a once loved parent, who is then typically falsely accused of inappropriate behavior? Since this is most likely to happen within the context of the Family Court system, the court would often appoint someone to evaluate what was happening with this family and them make recommendations to the court as to what should be done about it. If that evaluator understood the dynamics of parental alienation (and had read the list of references endorsed by the APA), then that evaluator would likely determine that one parent, often termed the alienating parent, was improperly influencing the child to vilify what we might term the targeted parent. If that evaluator was candid and direct in its recommendations to the court, that alienating parent would be cast in a very negative light to the court, and the court might do all sorts of things that this alienating parent would not like. If all of this occurred, then that evaluator would then become the target of that alienating parent. It is important to understand that the concern of becoming the target of an angry alienating parent is very real to custody evaluators. Such angry parents tend to file complaints and lawsuits. As a consequence, many such evaluators would tend to produce a rather “vanilla” report that fails to clearly identify the actions of the alienating parent. In other words, if you are operating with a concept of parental alienation that “calls out” the alienating parent, the messenger, the custody evaluator is also “called out”. Therefore, if the American Psychiatric Association included Parental Alienation Disorder in its list of individual disorders, then the person making this diagnosis would also find themselves in the cross hairs of that alienating parent. This may seem far fetched, but I believe that it is not at all. But there are other reasons as well. Many powerful organization have taken a position regarding parental alienation. The National Organization for Women (NOW) has taken a very adversarial position regarding this issue. The NOW chapter of California was responsible for attempting to pass legislation that would have made it a felony to use the term “parental alienation” in evaluations. This did not pass, but is not political, then please give me a better example. So if the American Psychiatric Association included parental alienation in its list of disorders, the they too would have been attacked by NOW. No question about it. To return to my main point: Do not let this news disturb you if you are battling parental alienation. This is not a disaster, it is only a slight bump in the road, if even that.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Symptoms of PAS: The Spread of the Animosity to the Friends and/or Extended Family of the Alienated Parent

This is the eighth in a series of eight posts devoted to discussion of the eight symptoms originally described by Richard Gardner, MD in 1985. As a quick sidebar, I would like to also point out that while Gardner’s model has drawn some fire regarding the use of the word “syndrome”, much of such objection is smoke and mirrors, in my opinion. Before Amy Baker’s important book Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome, I had an opportunity to read the pre-publication manuscript. When I did so, I called Amy and said something like, “are you saying that your research is confirming much of what Dr. Gardner was saying?” Her response was that her research confirmed all of what Dr. Gardner was saying. In fact, in Johnson and Kelly’s “reformulation” of PAS, their descriptions of the symptom pattern of alienation mirrors much if not all of what Gardner described. Regardless if you call it Parental Alienation Syndrome or Child Alienation a la Johnson and Kelly, the phenomenon is basically the same. The behaviors that alienated children engage in and its progressive course is tightly patterned and therefore predictable. There is little controversy about this. But on to this last symptom. The eighth symptom is The Spread of the Animosity to the Friends and/or Extended Family of the Alienated Parent. With this symptom, we see once loved grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins being rejected by the alienated child. I recently had the honor and opportunity to speak to a group of Alienated Grandparents in Naples, FL, who have organized into a kind of movement to address the heartbreak of this eighth symptom. Although I was the official speaker at their meeting in Naples, I am quite sure that I learned more from them than they did from me. Their comments and questions revealed that they had mapped the severing of relationships with grandchildren, and often also with their own children. This is something that has not been studied, and such study is certainly warranted. Suffice it say, this last symptom is responsible for much of the heartbreak and tragedy of parental alienation. While it is obviously heartbreaking for the now rejected grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, it is devastating for the alienated child. Such a rejection, which they have been programed to execute, cuts them off from the many and unique lessons and gifts that can come from a loving extended family. In short, the lives of these alienated children become much smaller and more one dimensional. They lose the benefit of watching multiple adults living their lives and negotiating issues. Since the most basic form of learning engaged in by children is imitation, such a loss is tragic and damaging. As with the prior discussions, I would appreciate any feedback regarding your experience with this.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Symptoms of PAS: The Presence of Borrowed Scenarios

This is the seventh in a series of eight posts on the eight symptoms of the Parental Alienation Syndrome, as first described by Richard Gardner, MD. This seventh symptom is The Presence of Borrowed Scenarios. This refers to to the false and distorted stories and things “absorbed” by alienated children about the targeted parent. One of the most common examples of this is when an alienated child announces that the targeted parent did not want for them to be born, and that they wanted the mother to have an abortion. This obviously could have only come from the alienating parent or her minions. This symptom may also be identified by the age inappropriate use of language by children. For example, I had a 4 year old child tell me that she had nightmares when she was at her father’s house (the targeted parent in this particular case). When I asked her about her nightmares, she said that she did not know, and that I should ask her mother because this is who told her that she was having nightmares at her dad’s. Borrowed scenarios may also be thought of as being the result of coaching. The notion of coaching, that is the alienating parent, either directly or indirectly saying things to the child for the purpose of negatively influencing their perception of the targeted parent, is a hallmark of the alienation process. In terms of the research performed by Amy Baker, PhD regarding the strategies for creating PAS, the concept of coaching may be found in some of the more common and frequent ones, such as Badmouthing, which is statistically the most common strategy employed. Since such badmouthing often involves negative and distorted (or manufactured) stories about the targeted parent, the result would be what Gardner referred to as the Presence of Borrowed Scenarios. It has been my experience that this symptom is easiest to clearly convey to the court when the children in question are very young since the content of the allegations are often clearly age inappropriate, which may be strongly conveyed. However, when children become, say teenagers, this symptom can be more easily hidden. That said, the evidence of this symptom can often be found in the now ubiquitous digital communications of texting, email and social media, which are so strongly engaged in by teenagers. These messages, if obtainable, can be powerful pieces of evidence that can tell the story of alienation in very compelling ways to the court. i have seen this be the case in many such instances. Psychologically however, the presence of the distorted reality found in this symptom, can become a serious obstacle to the reunification process. If, for example, a young girl comes to believe that she was somehow assaulted by her father, when she in fact was not, this persistent false perception can become a serious issue for this young girl. Not only can it make her reunification with her father more problematic, but it can also effect her view of relationships with the opposite sex as well as with authority figures, as well as with her ability to trust in a more global way. So while the symptom of borrowed scenarios may begin as a tactic to gain advantage in a custody dispute, it can also burrow itself deeply into a child’s psyche, where it can inflict more long term harm to the child. Believing one was the victim of abuse tends to have the same psychological impact as if the abuse had actually occurred. I believe that if judges understood this, that they would react more swiftly to intercede into the alienation. As with my earlier posts, I would appreciate any thoughts any of you may have on this topic. Thank you.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Symptoms of PAS: Absence of Guilt over Cruelty to and/or Exploitation of the Alienated Parent

This is the sixth in a series of posts about the eight symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome, first described by the late Richard Gardner, MD. The sixth symptom, and the subject of this post is Absence of Guilt over Cruelty to and/or Exploitation of the Alienated Parent. This symptom is typically found in the more severe end of the spectrum of parental alienation. It is manifested through the alienated child’s angry and critical tirades against the targeted parent. Under these circumstances, the severely alienated child will hurl hateful and demeaning comments directly to the targeted parent and will express or experience no guilt or remorse for doing so. One vivid example I recall from many years ago was a young man who, through the manipulation of the Family Court system, was allowed to testify as to why he did not wish to see his father, who was sitting some 10 feel away from him with his lawyer. The young man stated that he hated his father, that he never loved him, that his father disgusted him and that if his father died suddenly, that he would not attend his funeral and would be happy about his demise. The father, who had spent untold money, time and energy in the attempt to maintain a relationship with his son, was understandably crushed at hearing these cruel messages, all delivered in a cold and hateful tone. The judge commented on how this young man’s delivery and overall demeanor during this exchange was actually chilling. Interestingly, some months later, I learned that this young man had reached the age of majority, had moved out of his mother’s home and was now living with and working for his father. Obviously, in spite of the cruel and chilling speech in the courtroom, once the environment changed, this young man was able to essentially become himself again. I frequently tell parents who have received such cruel treatment, that underneath all of this is most likely an entirely different child. Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of this symptom is that appears so very convincing. In many respects, severely alienated children operate in a kind of trance state where they too may believe the things they are saying, when they are saying them. However, as with trance states in general, once the trance has passed the person returns to their normal state of being. Obviously, in the case of parental alienation, this return to themselves becomes less likely the longer the alienated environment which produces this trance state is maintained. This is one reason why reunification therapy should not be gradually and slowly engaged. This gradual and slow engagement actually helps to maintain the alienating environment and the trance like state that it produces. Some years ago, there was professional discussion about the importance of the alienated child recanting the horrible things that may have been said via this symptom. The general consensus now is that such recantation is not to be sought, as this will most likely re-engage the alienation. Perhaps one way of thinking of this is that the horrible things said via this symptom should be treated more as a bad dream. It should simply be released. As before, I would appreciate any feedback and comments about this most disturbing symptom of the PAS.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Symptoms of PAS: The Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict

This is the fifth in a series of post devoted to the symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome as originally described by Richard Gardner, MD. This fifth symptom is Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict. Within the context of parental dispute, be it divorce or post divorce, unless there as been actual abuse and or neglect in the extreme, children will typically contort themselves to not takes sides in the parental dispute. If a child feels one parent is being ganged up on in some way, they will often go to their aid and support their position. This reaction is certainly common but not universal. In cases where abuse has been present, one may see the child taking the side against the abuser, however this is still more the exception than the rule. However when abuse is not present, this reflex to take one parent’s side will simply not be absent. Suffice it to say, children like to stay out of the middle of their parents disputes. They want nothing to do with it, and will typical head for their rooms or some other exit to get away from it. One of the reasons for this reflex of avoidance of parental conflict is the possibility that they may get drawn into it. If, for example, during an argument between two parents, one parent looks at the child and asks for confirmation of their position, any such confirmation will typically represent a betrayal of the other parent. Again, this is something that children will contort themselves to avoid. It is from this backdrop then, that this symptom of Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict finds its greatest resonance. When an alienated child actively and even aggressively takes whatever position that the alienating parent takes, we can see how unnatural this is. When this symptom is present, the alienated child will support even the most absurd position if it is offered by the alienating parent. In group settings or family counseling settings, even when the child is offered indisputable proof that the position of the alienating parent is impossible, they will continue to support it. It is under these extreme circumstances that the depth of the pathology of alienation is exposed. As Gardner originally described, the parental alienation dynamic is a fear driven phenomenon. That is the alienated child is fearful of displeasing the alienating parent, and this fear is at the core of alienation. As this process takes root and grows, this fear of the alienating parent operates something like the fear of reprisal that a gang member would feel if he or she disobeyed the group. When we are speaking about children and the “gang” is a parent with whom they spend most if not all of their time, the fear is palpable. It is this level of fear and its consequent “identification with the aggressor” or alienating parent, that drives the pathological behavior and distorted thinking of the alienated child. This symptom is one very clear expression of this. This symptom can be baffling and dangerously distorting to the naive custody evaluator who is not familiar with parental alienation. Under this circumstance, they are likely to take what the alienated child says at face value. This symptom is therefore very important for the evaluator, the guardian or whomever else the court should appoint to help determine the best interest of the child to understand. As with the previous posts, I would appreciate any feedback regarding this symptom. Thank you.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Eight PAS Symptoms: Independent Thinker Phenomenon

This is the fourth post in a series of eight centered on the eight symptoms identified by Richard Gardner, MD in 1984, which he coined as being the Parental Alienation Syndrome. The fourth symptom is referred to as the Independent Thinker Phenomenon. Again, we should be reminded that as Gardner saw case after case of divorcing families where a once loving child would suddenly profess antipathy for their once loved parent, patterns were noticed. The pattern became the eight symptoms of the Parental Alienation Syndrome, or PAS, for short. As a clinician, I can verify that after one sees hundreds and hundreds of patients, in a given context, that the effect of this sort of experience is that one begins to notice repetitive patterns of symptoms and behaviors. When one sees these repetitive patterns, clinical insight begins to develop about what the patient is experiencing. I know that this is exactly the experience that Gardner began to have in the 1970’s, ultimately leading to his first publication regarding PAS in 1984. I mention this because the symptom of this post, the Independent Thinker Phenomenon, is a symptom that can be easily missed, or perhaps given less significance than it deserves. The Independent Thinker Phenomenon refers to the consistent behavior seen in alienated children where they claim that their resistance to seeing the unfavored or targeted parent derives from their own independent thought and is not the result of the other parent’s influence. Very often, this symptoms appears as the child - very much out of the blue - announces that no one told them to say this, and that this is his or her own thought. The significance of this “out of context” expression is that it reveals an agenda, on the part of the child, to carry out their assignment of: (1) arguing that their resistance to seeing the unfavored parent is their independent thought, and (2) that this thought is not result of the influence of the other parent. While these two components are in many ways overlapping, their separate expression is consistent with the kind of urgency that only alienated children experience. The purpose of this symptom is to convince the audience - very often court appointees - that they should not have to see their once loved parent. The urgency that is the fuel for this symptom is simply unseen in other contexts of divorce. When parents divorce and parental alienation is not present, this phenomenon is inconceivable. When parental alienation is not present, and divorce is in process, children make every effort to stay out of the middle, never taking a position in the parental conflict. This symptom is the opposite of this. In so being, it is a quiet hallmark of parental alienation. In this context, the custody evaluator, that is those evaluators who have an understanding of parental alienation, often see this symptom as the spontaneous statement, “you know, no one told me to say this” or perhaps, “my (mother or father - alienating parent) did not influence me”. Again, we see the completely unnatural favoring of one parent and the commensurate rejecting of the other, in one simple statement. I would be appreciative of any feedback about the appearance of this symptom in your experience. Thank you.

The Eight PAS Symptoms: Lack of Ambivalence

This is the third in a series of eight posts which correspond to the eight symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome, as originally described by Richard Gardner. In spite of the fact that the use of the word “syndrome” has fallen out of favor in some camps, it is important to realize that even Gardner’s critics describe alienation in much the same terms as does Gardner. The difference lies primarily in the competing theories as to what causes children to become alienated, but that is perhaps for another post. Suffice it to say that these eight symptoms described by Gardner are substantively similar if not identical to those described in the literature by the so-called reformulation theory psychologists. But this too is perhaps the subject of another post. Back to the eight symptoms. The third one is referred to as Lack of Ambivalence. This symptom refers to the child having no emotional connection to the targeted or unfavored parent. In some respects, this symptom can be a little misleading since severely alienated children can express hatred for the target parent, which is a connection, albeit not a loving one. The term “ambivalence” has a special meaning within the world of psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy. It refers to a remaining emotional positive connection between a person and what is referred to as a “love object” which is a psychoanalytic way of saying, the other person, even in moments of anger and conflict. When human relationships develop and evolve and deep emotional connections are made, the maintenance of an ambivalent connection, even in moments when one is angry with that person, is perfectly normal and healthy. Most have experienced being in a conflict with a loved one, feeling angry or even worse with the other person, but yet still not wanting an end to the relationship. Most parents have experienced their angry teen exclaim anger, disdain or even hatred, yet still remain connected to them. This is all normal. As a contrast to what Gardner was saying about this symptom, we might consider the abusive relationship, where one person is frankly abusive to the other person. In the abusive relationship, the ambivalent connection often actually strengthens, however in a very unhealthy way, such that the abuse victim begins to feel unworthy and somehow responsible for the way they are treated. Such adult abuse victims will go out of their way to avoid triggering the disapproval of the abusive person. In so doing, they essentially give up pieces of themselves and take on the self critical messages they have been receiving. They typically only leave these relationship after considerable abuse, if they leave at all. When children are abused by a parent, they tend to contort themselves into whatever they think the abusive parent wants them to be. When abused children do finally reject an abusive parent, it is typically only after a great deal of real and intense abuse over a very long period of time. Therefore, when we consider that in the context of parental alienation, the deep ambivalent connection between a child and a once loved parent is gone, it simply does not make sense, according to what we know about deep human relationships. In my view, the alienated child’s lack of ambivalent connection to the once loved parent is essentially unnatural. It simply cannot be the result of occurrences only between that child and that parent. Parent-child relationship are simply not that fragile. The deterioration must come from another source. Obviously that source is the alienating parent. When this symptom is present, the child can find no positive thing to say about the targeted parent, past or present. They can offer no positive or endearing quality regarding that parent, nor can they describe any positive or even “light” experience with them. This is one of the most severe symptoms of parental alienation, and I have found it only in severe cases. When these children are questioned about their once loved, now reviled parent, they will go on incessantly and will do their best to convince their audience of how much they should never have to see that parent. One can see that when this child sits before a therapist who is naive about parental alienation, that they can be easily swayed into believing the legitimacy of the child’s feelings. These naive therapists often become then, part of the problem and therefore part of the alienation. I believe that it is often the urgency contained in the Lack of Ambivalence that is so convincing. Anything you can share in your experience with this symptom or this overall dynamic is appreciated.

The eight PAS Syptoms: Weak or Frivolous Rationalizations for the Deprecation

In describing the eight symptoms associated with parental alienation, it occurred to me that this might be a good time to pause for a moment and to describe how Richard Gardner, MD came up with these patterned symptoms. As you all probably know, Richard Gardner was a physician who practiced psychiatry primarily in New York and New Jersey. What some of you may not know is that he enjoyed an international reputation for his original work with children before he ever wrote anything about what he later termed Parental Alienation Syndrome. Prior to all of this he pioneered many of the principles now absolutely fundamental to child psychiatry and created many of its tools such as Play Therapy, and myriad interactive games with children designed for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes. Prior to his contribution in these areas, these techniques and tools simply did not exist. Gardner was their creator. He was esteemed throughout the world for these contributions. Then, in 1984 as Richard Warshak wrote in his Introduction to the International Handbook of Parental Alienation Syndrome, he wrote that children can lie about what happened to them, especially in the context of their parents’ divorce, and he became a target. From that point on, he became a target for many groundless and distorted attacks from many sources. It is important to note that Gardner recognized that children can certainly be the victims of abuse and that this is always a serious travesty. He regularly wrote about the deep psychopathology of the Pedophile and was clearly saying that tragically, some children are the victims of these unspeakable acts. He however was the first to say that children, under the right pressures and influences of an alienating parent, can allege things that simply did not happen. He recognized that this was a possibility. Since that time, there has been much research verifying the truth of this. Children can lie rather easily when put in the right environment, such as a contested custody battle. This is not to say that they must, only that it is a possibility. While this is largely recognized now via much research, such was not the case when Gardner published his first article on PAS in a 1984. I was fortunate enough to know and to work with Dr. Gardner and was even privileged to do an evaluation with him as a co-evaluator, so I got to observe his technique and his sharp clinical perceptiveness up very closely. What was plainly clear to anyone who worked with him was that he had an extraordinarily keen clinical eye which was seasoned by a great many years of experience and training. It was through this clinical eye that he began to keep tabs on the things he saw over and over again in cases where parental alienation was present. It is from this clinical perception and extensive experience, that the pattern of the eight symptoms began to take shape. He began to see that the alienation was progressive and that as it progressed, more symptoms were increasingly in evidence to the point of its full blown severe form, where all would be in evidence. In other words, he saw that this was a progressive phenomenon whose course could be charted, and whose future could be predicted. These eight symptoms therefore, became the touchstones of what he eventually labeled as Parental Alienation Syndrome. But enough background. On to the main discussion. The second symptom described by Richard Gardner, MD in 1984 is Weak or Frivolous Rationalizations for the Deprecation. This typically refers to a child offering up trivial reasons for not wanting to be in a relationship with what is now known as the targeted or unfavored parent. During the evaluative process in the context of divorce when parental alienation is present, the alienated child is invariably asked why they do not wish to see the once loved, now unfavored parent. What Gardner began to notice was that when that question is put to them, that there was an obvious searching for some reason to substantiate their position. Since the primary true reason is the influence and wishes of the other parent (which was not to be shared), the child would often come up with reasons which were incongruous with their insistence that they not see the unfavored or targeted parent. In other words, rather silly reasons would be given to substantiate such a serious position. Such reasons might be that they do not like that parent’s cooking, or perhaps they do not like that parent’s home or housekeeping, or perhaps that they thought that the unfavored parent “talked like a hick” too much, or only wanted to take them to theme parks, and not spend time with them, or perhaps they did not like the way that they dressed or did not like the music they preferred. You get the idea. When we look ahead to more serious and evolved forms of parental alienation, we often see more serious false accusations being leveled against the targeted parent. Under this scenario the targeted parent might be falsely accused of abuse or molestation, which would then be given as the reason for that parent not seeing that child. However, even when this is the case, one will typically find that these weak, trivial and frivolous reasons to not see that parent preceded the much more serious ones. As with all patterned things, there can be exceptions to this, but from my experience, even in cases where these more serious accusations begin to appear, one can still find what I think of as a quiet “sound track” of these trivial reasons playing in the background. For example, when evaluating a child who as accused a parent of having abused them in some way, if one asks the right questions, there will be evidence of these trivial reasons being present. This symptom then appears to have greater prominence in the earlier stages of the alienation process. As the alienation becomes more severe, so do - typically - the accusations. When the allegations become serious to the point where law enforcement may become involved, it is these more serious allegations that receive the lion’s share of the attention. However this symptom, the weak and frivolous reasons for the deprecation of the parent remain, albeit more quietly. They are simply less relied and focused on, as the more serious accusations draw most if not all of the attention. As with the prior discussion, I would be interested in your experiences with this symptom.

The Eight PAS Symptoms: The Campaign of Denigration

This post is the first of eight weekly posts focusing on each of the eight symptoms first identified by Richard Gardner, MD. Hopefully, this eight week process can help clarify any confusion about them. I hope that this helps. The first symptom is the “Campaign of Denigration”. This refers to the child’s view of the “hated” parent. It is important to understand that this is composed of two components. First, the campaign of denigration refers to the one being waged by the accusing parent in his or her indoctrination to the child. The other component is the child’s own contribution towards this denigration. This second part is critical and is the actual symptom seen within the child. Without it, the child is not truly alienated, and with it the indoctrinating parent can “sit back” and let the child be the voice of criticism of the Target Parent. This second component - its expression from the child - is what makes this process so baffling and intimidating to those trying to help. Often the child is the primary voice of the criticism, and the indoctrinating parent often appears surprised at what the child is saying, obviously disavowing any contribution to it. But how is such a thing possible? How is it that a loving child could suddenly begin to accuse a once loved parent in such compelling and hated terms? In order to answer this, one must consider what happens psychologically to a child when their parents separate and divorce. Assuming both parents had a loving relationship with the child, and assuming that neither parent was abusive, what happens when divorce occurs is that the child is forced into a situation where he or she is with one parent or the other, but no longer with both at the same time. Consequently, when they are with parent A, they are in some way dealing with the loss of parent B. When each parent promotes and encourages the child’s relationship with the other parent, the parentally responsible position, then the grief over the loss of the absent parent is mitigated significantly. If however, when the child is with parent A, and when with this parent, expresses negative and critical things about the absent parent, the child is placed in a serious divided loyalty conflict wherein if he or she must choose. If the child openly expresses love for the absent and targeted parent, this child’s expression of that love flies in the face of what they are being told by the parent with whom they reside. In other words, if they express love for the absent parent they are betraying the parent with whom they live. After this condition persists for a time, the child’s confusion and turmoil increases to the point where they “cross over” to the side of the Alienating Parent. It is at this point that the child, in the absence of the Target Parent, tends to repress his or loving feelings for that absent parent in order to resolve the inner turmoil. This is what I refer to as the “threshold point “when the child begins to become alienated and begins to actually contribute to the campaign of denigration. The Alienating Parent then typically takes a more protective stance and points to the child's fears as his or her only concern. The campaign of denigration then refers to the child’s criticisms of the targeted parent. It is the result of the influence of the other parent’s coaching, and disapproval of the targeted parent. We must recall than with alienation is not present, it is very difficult to get a child to be critical of either parent. In the normal course of divorce when parental alienation is not present, the child will do anything to stay out of the middle. Therefore, this campaign of denigration is fundamentally unnatural. With all of this in mind, I would be interested in comments about your experiences with this phenomenon.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Working with Lawyers

I am typically contacted by parents who find themselves in the throes of parental alienation. Occasionally, I am contacted by a Family Lawyer, but primarily it is parents who reach out to me. After I have some sort of consultation with a new parent and we both decide that my help is indicated, that parent will contact their lawyer, if they have one. It is at this point that my involvement can become derailed. The reasons for this are understandable or at least explainable, and worthy of mention here. First of all, not all lawyers are resistant to help from a consultant such as myself. I have had a number of lawyers eagerly interested in my help. In spite of this however, there are those who are not so inclined. I believe that the first reason for this is that they simply and honestly do not understand my role, which is no failing on their part. Most mental health types with doctoral degrees operate as expert witnesses for most Family Lawyers, so it is understandable how they would immediately assume that this is the role that I would fulfill. As a testifying expert, most competent Family Lawyers see it as their responsibility to find and contact any potential expert. There are good and sound reasons for this, so a Family Lawyer, hearing from their client that they have contacted what the lawyer assumes will be a testifying expert, will react negatively to this and advise the client to let them do their job, and for the client to simply relay on them. After however the Family Lawyer learns that my role would not be as an expert, but rather as a “behind the scenes” consultant, the lawyer should begin to react more openly. After all, the role that I occupy serves as a resource to the lawyer, essentially making his or her job easier and more effective. I have found that the best of the Family Lawyers do react this way and are glad to have another member on the team. But all lawyers do not react this way, even when my role is clarified. Why is this? I believe that there are a few consistent reasons for this and none of them are terribly good news. In no particular order, I believe that one reason they react this way has to do with fees. Simply put, any monies paid to me or to someone like me are monies that will not be spent on the lawyer. Since these cases can be expensive, this reason makes logical sense, even if it is ethically flawed. Secondly, I believe that another reason has to do with accountability. When someone hires a Family Lawyer, the new client essentially puts their family crisis in the hands of the lawyer, who most often is a perfect stranger. For those not familiar with the legal mumbo jumbo of the rules of civil procedure and evidence, this entrĂ©e into the legal environment is intimidating and confusing. The new client puts their faith in the judgement, education and skill sets of the lawyer, who essentially becomes their sole authority on Family Law. I have found that when I have become incorporated in the case as a consultant, my mere presence acts as another pair of eyes watching what is going on, serving sometimes as a referee, sometimes as a translator, and sometimes as an apologist. In spite of the fact that I am not a lawyer, the fact is that I have been involved in hundreds of cases involving parental alienation, whereas the lawyer may have been involved in many many fewer, if any at all. Therefore, I can immediately impact suggestions that might be perfectly sound if parental alienation was not present, but which would predictably create a negative outcome in a parental alienation case, before it is executed. Again, I have seen the best lawyers see this as a resource that can help prevent them from making a well intended tactical errors. The good lawyers begin to then rely on the judgement and experience of the consultant, presumably being comfortable with what they know as well as with what they do not know, making them open to input. The other ones however tend to feel threatened and resistant. I often get the feeling that they fear being found out somehow. The fact of the matter is that parental alienation cases are different than cases where parental alienation is not present. Whereas all divorce cases may involve some negative portrayal of the other parent and some distortion, the level of vilification typical to parental alienation cases requires different interventions. Failure to implement these alternate strategies and tactics will predict failure of outcome, nearly every time. What I refer to as the “good lawyer” will be open to this and become a collaborative team leader, whereas the others will not. I find this reaction to be symptomatic.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Convincing your Lawyer to Expose the Alienating Parent

Consistently, when the Family Court gets in right in parental alienation cases, it is due to the fact that the alienating parent is exposed as being who they really are - the alienating parent - as opposed to how they try (and often succeed) to present themselves, as being the victim of the other parent's wrath. Prior to this "light bulb" going on for the Court, the lion's share of the focus is typically on the falsely accused targeted parent, who has very often spent all of their energy and resources of defending them self against things that they never did. Very often, when it is suggested that litigation strategy be focused on exposing the alienating parent's actual behavior as opposed to only defending the targeted parent, the attorney will be resistant to this, arguing that they want their client - the targeted parent - to be perceived as the "reasonable one" and that to go after the alienating parent would damage this "reasonable" image. In cases where parental alienation is not present, I could not agree more. However, when it is present, the goal of exposing the alienating parent for who they really are, is the only strategy that will ultimately result in success. Take for example the case of Dwayne Wade, the NBA basketball star. He had been accused of every kind of abuse and misjudgment imaginable. The case, however turned on a dime when the mother of their two little boys was exposed as being an obsessive alienating parent. In that particular case, Mr. Wade's lawyer, Jim Pritikin had Mrs. Wade on the stand testifying for over eight days in a row! This is unheard of, however the correctly reasoned strategy was that she would be unable to maintain her image as the concerned mother, for such a long period of time testifying on the stand. In discussing and creating this strategy, we reasoned that she would be unable to contain herself if she was asked open ended questions, which ended up being the case. When one keeps in mind that cross examination questions are allowed to be leading and directive (as opposed to direct examination), such a strategy is legally counterintuitive. It may have been counterintuitive, but it worked. The Judge could clearly see that she was consumed with anger and hatred for the children's father, that she was capable and willing to accuse him of things that he did not do, and that she was willing to draw their minor children into this campaign. I believe that this insight and the courts consequent ruling for the boys to live with their father, was only due to the fact that she was successfully exposed as being the alienating parent via her own testimony. Again,the purpose of all of this this was to make sure the court had a clear understanding of who she is and has been. Very often, the identity of each parent is the result of a careful presentation to the court, so that the Judge has a certain specific reaction to that parent. In the case of alienating parents, they need to be exposed! They are the one's who have much to hide, and if the litigation strategy does not seek to "smoke them out", it is my view that the case has little chance of success. The attorney must often be convinced that this is a viable and useful strategy, but this is the only strategy I have seen work.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dealing with Judicial Anxiety

Increasingly, even as we become better and being clearer and more precise as to what will help remedy a parental alienation case, it appears to be the case that Judge's often hesitate to follow such recommendations. Very often, the targeted parent will have been accused falsely of being in some way dangerous, unstable or otherwise suspect as a parent. Since the court should always carefully examine any potential danger that such a parent might represent, it should then also recognize that the fact remains that parents are falsely accused of tendencies and acts that are not them. In cases such as these, where such possibility of danger has been carefully vetted and found to be absent, the court should then act accordingly. Sadly, we find that not to be the case very frequently. I believe that a key reason for this is that the second part of the equation involving false allegations is seldom executed.

What needs to happen - and this is the frequently missing piece - is for the case presentation to say essentially, "not only is this parent not guilty of what they have been accused of being, but what is true is that the other parent has affirmatively attempted to defraud the court" by accusing them as being so. When this argument is effectively and strongly made, the court's attention shifts from the targeted parent onto the alienating parent. It is at this point that the lightbulb of insight goes on for the judge and they begin to rule in a more corrective fashion. Absent this step, it appears to me that the judge is left with a lingering suspicion regarding the targeted parent. Therefore, the case presentation must bring the attention back to the alienating parent in a robust fashion. For reasons that I cannot clearly delineate, many attorney's appear to be uncomfortable with this last step, often citing that they want to remain as the "reasonable one". I believe that this is very often a serious error.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Is It Lack of Understanding or lack of Backbone?

Recently, I had the ambivalent experience of reading a Court Order in a case with clear cut Parental Alienation. The Court ordered a Custody Evaluation by a forensic evaluator with deep experience with parental alienation. The report was very thorough and the recommendations were very clear. Given the severity of the circumstances (which had been allowed to simmer for years due to procedural delays), it was recommended by the evaluator that custody be given from the alienating parent - who was clearly identified as such - to the targeted parent, in order to effect a remedy and to get the minor children out of the middle. It was clear from the language of the Order that the Judge understood alienation and its presence in this case. The Judge's ruling contained the awarding of various fees to be paid by the alienating parent to the targeted, which seemed very reasonable as the alienating parent's behavior was clearly what caused the matter to have to go to court.

Then I think the Judge blinked, or stumbled, or something. The court ordered that the parents essentially share equally in the time with the minor children. In spite of all of the other details provided by the evaluation, which supported the need for the children to be almost exclusively with the targeted parent, the Judge decided to split the time equally between the parents, which keeps them in the middle. Only now, fueled by anger and resentment over having to pay attorney's fees, this alienating parent will be even more so.

So what was it? Did the judge not really understand and only give lip service to the notion of parental alienation, or did the Judge loose his nerve? I really do not know, however I do know that what the court did order will not remedy the situation.