Six Peer Reviewed Studies Show that Parental Alienation is Child Abuse

See also related topics: APA affirms that parental alienation is child abuse and DSM-5 diagnostic code V995.51

A Critical Review of Research Literature

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Overview In surveys of adults, the same people who answered questions about whether they were psychologically abused as child also had a strong tendency to say that a parent used one or more of the 17 methods of parental alienation. This is a fully empirical approach ... the definition of parental alienation is empirical, based on methods formerly alienated children say a parent used to alienate them.


An integrative literature review was done of studies that examined the relationship between Parental Alienation (PA) and Child Psychological Maltreatment by analyzing correlations between two survey block responses:

  1. Parental Alienation, defined as a parent engaging in any of 19 specific behaviors, measured by the Baker Strategy Scale (BSQ)
  2. Child Psychological maltreatment, defined by The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) as 5 parental behaviors, measured by the PMM Questionnaire


are indebted to Dr Baker, whose analysis we have followed closely. [Baker 2014]

Definition of Parental Alienation

An Objective measure: 19 behaviors of a parent.   This definition strategy eliminates all controversy:

  1. Made negative comments
  2. Limited contact
  3. Confided in child
  4. Encouraged reliance on [alienating] parent
  5. Required favoritism of child
  6. Asked child to keep secrets
  7. Made child choose between parents
  8. Hard to be with extended family of other parent
  9. Encouraged disregard for other parent
  10. Upset at child’s affection with other parent
  11. Discomfort at other parent
  12. Fostered anger/hurt at other parent
  13. Said other parent was unsafe
  14. Tried to turn against other parent
  15. Said other parent was unloving
  16. Asked child to spy
  17. Called other parent by first name
  18. Withheld or blocked messages from other parent Referred to new spouse as Mom/Dad

Definition of Psychological Maltreatment

Consensus definition from APSAC as 5 parental behaviors of a parent, measured by the PMM and CAPM-CV scales:

  1. Spurning (In parental alienation, parent withdraws love from child to punish when connecting to other parent)
  2. Terrorizing (In PA, inducing fear of other parent)
  3. Isolating (In PA, child is cut off from other parent)
  4. Corrupting/Exploiting (In PA, child engages in behaviors that are cruel, disrespectful, and immoral)
  5. Denying Emotional Responsiveness (In PA, child is punished for connecting to other parent)
Further Independent Confirmation
Other studies show that the children who fare the worst in divorce are those that become involved with it.   This provides independent confirmation that the 6 studies to the left are on the right track [Baker 2014] :
  1. There are studies that show general negative effects on children’s emotional well-being due to their involvement in their parent’s divorce [Emery 2006]
  2. It is not the dissolution of the marriage per se that is associated with the more lasting negative effects but rather interpersonal conflicts between parents [Buehler et al 1998]
  3. Children who are involved with their parent’s post divorce struggles can suffer from intense feelings of stress and divided loyalties. [Amato & Afifi 2006]
The Impact of Child Psychological Abuse

“Childhood psychological abuse is as harmful as sexual or physical abuse.   Often unrecognized, emotional abuse is a prevalent form of child abuse.” [American Psychological Association 2014] [Spinazzola 2014]

Psychological Symptoms of Parental Alienation

Exposure to the 19 parental behaviors can result in these psychological symptoms [Childress 2014]:

  1. Suppression of the normal range functioning of the child’s attachment system relative to one parent, involving a child initiated “cutoff” of their relationship with a parent
  2. The presence in the child’s symptom display of a specific  set of narcissistic and borderline personality disorder features, such as splitting: one parent is all good, one parent is all bad.
  3. An intransigently held fixed and false believe system about the fundamental inadequacy of the rejected parent

Policy Implications

  1. Mental Health Professionals should be trained to recognize exposure to parental alienation as per the 19 parental behaviors and the psychological symptoms described above
  2. Parental Alienation is a child protection issue
  3. Alienated children, including adult children of alienated children, are a special population, and those who work with them require advanced training in family systems, personality disorders, and attachment systems [Childress 2014]4.It is common for those without intensive training to mis-understand, unwittingly side with the alienator, and bring further harm to children [Miller 2013]

Areas Where Research Could be Improved

  1. More studies are needed in other countries, with international collaboration and sharing of standard data
  2. Parental alienation should be studied for each parent, to show the "protection" given to the child is not justified


Parental alienation constitutes child psychological maltreatment.  “In six independent studies in which PA was measured with a reliable and valid scale (BSQ) and PM was measured using a reliable and valid scale (PMM or CAPM-CV), parental alienation was consistently found to be associated with PM with both a strong degree of statistical significance and moderate effect sizes.”


[Amato & Afifi 2006]  Amato, P. R. & Afifi, T, D., (2006).  Feeling caught between parents .  Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 222-235, doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2006.00243.x

[American Psychological Association 2014] Press Release, October  2014

[Baker 2010] Baker, A. J. L. (2010).  Adult recall of parental alienation in a community sample: Prevalence and associations with psychological maltreatment.   Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 51, 1-20, doi:10.1080/10502550903423206

[Baker2014] Amy J L Baker Ph.D., “Parental Alienation as a form of psychological maltreatment: Review of Theory and Research”, Maltrattamento e abuso all’infanzia, Vol. 16, n. 1, marzo 2014, p. 37-55

[Baker & Ben Ami]  Baker, A. J. L., & Ben Ami, N. (2011) To Turn a Child Against a Parent is to Turn a Child Against Himself .  Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 52, 7, 472-489 doi 10.1080/10502556.2011.609424

[Baker & Brassard 2013]  Baker, A. J. L., & Brassard, M. R. (2013) Adolescents caught in parental loyalty conflicts.   Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 54, 5, 393-413, doi: 10.1080/10502556.2013.800398

[Baker & Eichler 2014] Baker, A. J. L., & Eichler, A. “College student exposure to parental loyalty conflicts”, Families in Society, 2014, Volume 95, No. 1, p. 59-66

[Baker & Verroccio 2013] Baker, A. J. L., & Verroccio, M. C. “Italian College Student-reported exposure to parental alienation: Correlates with well-being.”  Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 54, 8, 609-628, doi:10.1080/105025556.2013.7377.14

[Buehler et al 1998] Buehler, C. (1998).  Interparental conflict styles and youth problem behaviors.  Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 119-132

[Childress 2014] Childress, Craig, PsyD, Parental Alienation: An Attachment Based Model, Master Lecture Series, California Southern  University

[Emery 2006]  Emery, R. E., Interparental conflict and the children of discord and divorce.  Psychological Bulletin, 92, 2, 310-330, doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.92.2.310

[Miller 2013] Miller, Steven, PhD, Harvard University Medical School Staff, “Working with Alienated Children and Families: A Clinical Guidebook”, Chapter 2

[Spinazzola 2014]  Spinazzola, Joseph, In Press, APA Journal: Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, Policy

[Verroccio & Baker 2013] Verroccio, M. C., & Baker,  A. J. L. (2013) “Italian adult’s recall of childhood exposure to parental loyalty conflicts”  Journal of Child and Family Studies, 1-11,doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9816-0