The APA and the Mental Health Child Abuse Scandal
The APA and the Mental Health Child Abuse Scandal
Mental Health is Commonly Complicit in Child Abuse
The American Psychological Association (APA) Should Revise Its Policy
Twelfth Edition, June 25, 2017
Dedicated to all children who have been abused
Parental alienation is the unwarranted rejection of a parent by a manipulated child.
Severe parental alienation, more accurately known as pathogenic parenting, is an advanced topic in psychology and is a manifestation of standard and well-established pathologies, as detailed in Appendix One.
Severe parental alienation is child psychological abuse. Although psychological abuse is as harmful as sexual abuse, because it is not taboo and because severe parental alienation is counter intuitive, parental alienation is commonly missed by mental health professionals, so they unwittingly participate in the child abuse. The consequences are horrific.
The APA should take a stand against parental alienation because:
1. APA documents reveal the parental alienation is child abuse
4. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a clinical report in one of its journals that confirms that parental alienation exists
6. The American Professional Society on Child Abuse (APSAC) has included parental alienation in their 2017 Practice Guidelines for the Investigation and Determination of Suspected Child Psychological Maltreatment of Children and Adolescents
7. The ICD-11 Beta Draft includes the words “parental alienation”
8. It is at best unethical for mental health professionals to continue to prescribe treatments for psychological child abuse that rarely work, rather than peer reviewed treatments that have a very high chance of working.
No abused child should be left behind!
Table of Contents
APA Documents Reveal that Parental Alienation is Child Abuse
APA documents reveal the parental alienation is child abuse, but the APA has not taken a stand against it:
1. a 2015 scientific paper entitled “Ten parental alienation fallacies,” published in an APA Journal, provides two citations for parental alienation being child abuse, Clawar & Rivlin 2013 and Kelly & Johnston 2001:
a. It should have been news that reverberated throughout our galaxy, except that it didn’t.
b. The paper notes that the two cited studies described parental alienation aas “psychologically abusive” and “emotional abuse,” and then went on to use those findings to make a related important point that is central to the paper.
c. Furthermore, the “Ten Fallacies” paper notes that “Harboring irrational alienation from a parent, as with most significant irrational aversions, is a sign of a psychological problem in itself. Unreasonable anxieties or obsessive hatred and fixed negative stereotypes justify intervention.” The APA has “no official position” on psychological problems? No position on unreasonable anxieties, obsessive hatred, and fixed negative stereotypes?
d. This was not just any journal; it was a namesake APA journal. The APA holds the copyright to the paper.
e. There does not appear to be any public evidence that this 2015 publication triggered anyone to revise the APA 2008 policy on parental alienation that says the APA has no official position, which is a widely influential document.
2. the 2015 APA Handbook of Forensic Psychology, for which the APA charges $395, heavily endorses one of these underlying references cited by the paper:
a. The endorsed reference states that parental alienation “constituted emotional abuse of the child.”
b. There does not appear to be any public evidence that this triggered anyone to revise the APA 2008 “no official position” policy. After all, the people being abused were only kids!
3. the APA 2012 parent coordinator guidelines, approved by the APA council, advises parenting coordinators to be experts on the very fabric of parental alienation: children resisting contact with a parent after separation, along with personality disorders and psychological abuse:
a. In 2012, the Parenting Coordinator Guidelines published by the APA recommend that parenting coordinators should ”maintain specialized knowledge and training in psychological domains that are relevant” …“include[ing] the dynamics of post-separation situations, such as refusal to visit a parent, parental undermining of the child’s relationships with the other parent … inappropriate involvement of the child in parental disputes” … “including how personality disorders, mental illness …. Contribute”. “Of greatest concern is the pattern of violence characterized by coercion and control, psychological abuse, intimidations and threats of harm, [and] economic control.”
b. These items are the very fabric of parental alienation. And these guidelines were officially approved by the APA council, tying together several elements of parental alienation as psychological abuse.
c. This begs the question, why is it that only parenting coordinators need to understand how personality disorders affect the refusal to visit a parent? And why do only parenting coordinators need to understand psychological abuse?
d. But again, in 2012, the APA did not appear to initiate a change its 2008 policy.
e. Child abuse must be stopped long before it gets to the parenting coordinator!
4. a press release issued by the APA noted that child psychological abuse is as harmful as sexual abuse
5. another scientific paper published by the APA in 2006 paper entitled "Tearing the child apart: The contribution of narcissism, envy, and perverse modes of thought to child custody wars" notes the “Pathological narcissism” involved in never ending custody disputes. It discusses the role of “narcissistically vulnerable” parents using “interminable custody battles” to “ward off psychic collapse.”
An APA Document and Related Documents Reveal that Mental Health Professionals Are Commonly Complicit in Child Abuse
1. The technical paper cited by both the APA “Ten Fallacies” scientific paper and the APA Psychology handbook notes that: “One of the most unfortunate of alienating processes are the witting and unwitting contributions of family law attorneys, minor’s counsel, custody evaluators, and individual therapists for parents and children.”
2. The APA “Ten Fallacies” scientific paper also notes that “Evaluators who hold an ideological position against the concept of pathological parental alienation reflexively dismiss the possibility that a child’s negative behavior toward a parent is unwarranted or is influenced by the favored parent. Such evaluators fail to adequately explore plausible rival explanations for case facts and data that relate to children’s alienation and instead they prejudge the children’s alienation as justified by mistreatment from the rejected parent.”
3. The APA “Ten Fallacies” scientific paper establishes the existence of “Consulting and testifying experts who … attribute children’s rejection …. solely to the rejected parent’s behavior.”
4. The APA “Ten Fallacies” scientific paper establishes the existence of "mental health … professionals who reject the concept of pathological parental alienation" who "should rethink their position in the light of the extensive literature on the topic."
5. The APA “Ten Fallacies” scientific paper notes the clinical judgement problems of anchoring bias and confirmation bias.
6. The APA “Ten Fallacies” scientific paper uses the words “common” and “prevalent” …. “Common false beliefs about parental alienation that lead therapists and lawyers to give bad advice to their clients, evaluators to give inadequate recommendations to courts … these [mistaken] assumptions fail to hold up in light of research … 10 prevalent and strongly held assumptions and myths about parental alienation found in reports by therapists, custody evaluators, and child representatives (such as guardians ad litem).”
7. Furthermore, the APA “Ten Fallacies” scientific paper notes that “these [mistaken] assumptions fail to hold up in light of research.” In January 2014, Steven Miller, MD, an expert in clinical reasoning and a specialist in alienation and estrangement, testified in front of a legislative task force that was investigating the family court system. Among other things, he pointed out that "this field is highly counter-intuitive to anyone who does not have extensive training and experience dealing with it . . . most people will usually get it wrong."
8. Dr. Childress notes that mental health is complicit in child abuse.
9. See also Dr. Kruk’s Psychology Today article on “Professional Misunderstanding of Parental Alienation.”
10. The role of the bystander, in the parental alienation false re-enactment narrative, is to confirm the delusion of the aligned parent
11. According to Dr. Childress, a clinical psychologist, pathogenic parenting (aka severe parental alienation) is simply a manifestation of standard and well-established pathologies, as detailed in Appendix On and in this discussion of common diagnostic errors.
The APA Should Revise Its 2008 Policy Statement
Accordingly, the APA should officially acknowledge the underlying pathology using whatever terminology it chooses, and designate these children as a special population, deserving their own highly trained and experienced mental health professionals:
1. The APA should revise its influential “no official position” policy that it buries under a pile of negative sentiments. For this reason, we ask the APA to hold a technical conference with experts.
2. Some therapists cite this policy as a reason for ignoring what turns out to be child abuse.
3. Although the APA says it is trying to figure out what to do, after more than a year of raising the child abuse issue to the APA, there have been no tangible actions to stem the abuse, and worse, there have been no results since the first APA policy in 1996.
4. Over 7000 people signed a petition asking for a change to the APA policy. The petition contains periodic updates for parents on ways to become involved in raising parental alienation awareness.
5. Over 100 people have shared their story with the relevant people at the APA by sending letters.
6. On August 4th, 2016, parents protested at the Headquarters of the American Psychological Association.
7. On September 18th, 2016, parents marched on the White House.
8. A protest is planned for the 2017 APA Annual Convention in Washington DC.
9. As noted by Dr. Amy J L Baker during court testimony, “parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse. To do nothing is to participate in the continued abuse of children.”
10. Dr. Craig Childress, a clinical psychologist, said, “The mental health response to the family pathology of created by Narcissistic and Borderline personality parents is marked by rampant and clear professional incompetence, yet the APA remains silent to the pleas of loving parents for professional competence.”
11. According to a recent study of 610 parents, 13.4% of the parents say they have been alienated from a child, with half saying it is severe.
The Torture Scandal at the APA
In 2014, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist James Risen uncovered the fact that APA mental health professionals were complicit in torture of enemy combatants, causing APA heads to roll and APA policies to change.
What has received much less attention is that mental health has been complicit in the abuse of our very own children. The problem is widely known but no one has cared very much.
Narrow technical definitions aside, it is difficult to find differences between mental health being complicit in the psychological torture of enemy combatants and mental health being complicit in the psychological abuse of our children, except perhaps that psychological abuse of children is not taboo.
Psychological Abuse as Harmful as Sexual Abuse, per APA Press Release
In 2014, Dr. Spinazzola et al. published the landmark Unseen Wounds paper that indisputably proves that the outcomes of child psychological abuse are at least as bad as the outcomes of child sexual abuse, though it is “rarely the focus of intervention,” which are code words for “no one cares.”
To its credit, the APA announced the results with a press release that noted that psychological abuse is the most prevalent form of abuse, that it is not taboo, that it is under-recognized because there are no visible wounds to see, and that additional training for mental health should be paramount.
However, it is not clear that any APA training ever took place on how to recognize abuse or what leading categories might be. Updating the 2008 policy statement would be a good start.
The Top US Hospital Weighs In
In 2015, the Massachusetts General Hospital published the second edition of its Comprehensive Psychiatry Guide, and which clearly notes that psychological child abuse includes “withholding of interactions with other caregiver” and “refusing to acknowledge or allow inclusions in activities with family.”
This is not just any random hospital. In 2016-2017, US News and World Report ranked it as the third best hospital in the United States, only behind the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. In Psychiatry, it is ranked as number one. In short, these are the top head doctors.
The key here is that this is completely independent of whether one simply refuses to allow a child to see their other caregiver or whether one psychologically manipulates a child to accomplish the same thing. The withholding is prima facie child abuse: discussion over, spare the theatrics, and drop the microphone. This statement is independent of parental alienation. Then when one includes all the psychological pathology related to the manipulation of parental alienation, the manipulation variant can only be worse for the child.
Yes, if the child never sees the other parent, they are not included in the other parent’s family activities. Certainly, the grandparents they don’t see count as family. And any siblings that have gone over to the light that they don’t see when they are with the other side, are family. The entire extended family that they don’t see counts also.
These statements from the Massachusetts General Hospital come in the context of a review of entire history and evolving definition of child psychological abuse, including DSM-5.
The American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a 2016 clinical report in one of its journals entitled “Helping Children and Families Deal with Divorce and Separation.” In brief, it confirms that parental alienation exists. It mentions alienation 5 times, notes that “alienation can cause distress in a child” and that “Alienation of a child and the targeted parent is a frequent problem that needs practical professional input to correct the negative effects on all parties.”
What is an AAP clinical report and how does it differ from an AAP policy? “AAP recommendations form the basis of pediatric preventive health care. The AAP issues policy statements, clinical reports, technical reports and practice guidelines on a broad range of topics.” “Policy Statements Organizational principles to guide and define the child health care system and/or improve the health of all children. Clinical Reports provide guidance for the clinician in rendering pediatric care.”
The stand taken by the American Academy of Pediatrics, acknowledging the problem and providing clinical guidance, compels the APA to take action.
Historical Context of Child Sexual and Psychological Abuse
Dr. Amy Baker does a superb job of providing context for the concern about child psychological abuse:
Following the “discovery” of physical abuse, physical neglect, and sexual abuse in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, mental health professionals began to shine a light on the phenomenon of psychological maltreatment, sometimes referred to as emotional abuse.
This is central to the present scandal of child abuse. Not long ago, no one cared about child sexual abuse either.
Live, from “New York,” It’s Parental Alienation!
For those left trying to imagine what parental alienation is, here is a two-minute video clip on youtube. This child has NO chance in her environment.
Here is a picture of the suburban variant.
Parental Alienation is Gender Neutral
The studies are done. The numbers are in. Parental alienation is gender neutral.
The Brave Victims Who Have Spoken Out
Here is how one teen put it (where the references to father or mother are interchangeable, since studies show that parental alienation is gender neutral):
“We accuse you adults! Where were you when our parents tore us children apart, in their mad divorce war, which lasted for 12 years and really was a war? Where were the judges and social workers, and the experts, who interviewed us a dozen times, but never made any changes, although our father always had the right of custody!
And then the child therapists. What did they do? Nothing! What therapy can you give to children who are suffering because they’re not allowed to see their father? What complete rubbish. They should’ve enforced it, and I was taken to see three of them. They should’ve given therapy to my mother, so she’d let us go, without terror …
Many similar stories scroll by each day on the 25,000+ member Facebook page of the Parental Alienation Worldwide Support Group. There about 291 Facebook walls devoted to parental alienation, and about 385 Facebook groups devoted to it.
Problems with the 2008 APA Statement on Parental Alienation: No Official Position
The 2008 APA Statement on Parental Alienation only discuses PAS, and simply says the APA has no official position. Pathogenic parenting is not discussed. The same net effect could have been accomplished by simply not having any policy. Instead, the policy drones on with about 80 words of innuendo that the APA's Dr. Farberman acknowledged gets misinterpreted.
It goes without saying that all abused children must be accurately diagnosed 100% of the time. No abused child should be left behind.
In 2010, the APA's Dr. Silva criticized the study upon which it is based, saying it is “outdated” and “in need of review” , while declining to make it available. However, no change to the policy was ever initiated.
In April 2016, the APA removed the 2008 policy from their web site , without explanation. A few weeks later, they put it back up, also without explanation. This suggests that someone had a problem with it. Our guess is that only the APA Council can approve the removal of a policy.
The 1996 APA Statement on Parental Alienation
The original 1996 APA policy statement was originally quite negative about parental alienation.
In 2008, the APA Council Representative from Pennsylvania asked for a change to the existing policy, saying that "Now 12 years later ... most psychotherapists have certainly encountered this in their practices.” So the APA ended up taking the prior negative policy on parental alienation and more or less inserting the words “no official position”. As noted above, this resulted in perhaps the world’s most puzzling “no official position” policy statement, filled with innuendo, that could be stated more clearly with zero words.
The Generational Talent of Craig Childress, PsyD
Parental alienation has a long history of controversy, with some wanting it to be a new syndrome, while others saying it is “not a disorder within one individual … it’s a relationship problem.” Admittedly, yes, child sexual abuse happens within a bad “relationship,” and child psychological abuse happens within a bad “relationship.” It is significant that these DSM-5 folks never said that parental alienation does not exist or is not a problem, but rather, that it is not a “mental disorder” (i.e., an ailment located INSIDE the mind of the patient), but it is a “mental condition” (i.e., a relational problem, something located BETWEEN the patient and another person).
Rising out of the ashes of stalemate is the genius of Dr. Childress, who provides rigorous scientific criteria for determining when there is DSM-5 V995.51 child psychological abuse, so that when those criteria are met, it is impossible to deny that child abuse has occurred. Further, he offers deep psychological insight, a theoretical formulation, about why a parent would abuse a child and how the criteria are induced. See Appendix One.
The key is that he identifies it as a manifestation of standard and well-established pathologies. Instead of failing to properly identify the underlying pathology and then resorting to new “innovative” descriptions for what’s the paper cited by the APA calls a clinical phenomenon, he simply defines and characterizes it in terms of existing, established pathology and criteria, with tremendous diagnostic insight, citing approximately 60 insightful references within the accepted literature of professional psychology. This return to existing, standard psychology provides tremendous precision, rigor, clarity, and explanatory power, while circumventing all criticism.
If after separation, a child who had a fine relationship with a parent before the separation then shows developmental pathology (attachment pathology), personality disorder pathology, and psychiatric delusional pathology, where the aligned parent also shows corresponding symptoms that are intensified during the humiliation of divorce, then that is undisputed psychological harm to the child caused by a caregiver, which is the DSM-5 definition of child psychological abuse (V995.51). Please take a moment to examine his diagnostic checklist. He then refers to this abuse by a scientific name: pathogenic parenting, or the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma, or worst case, attachment-based parental alienation.
The approach is elegant, a sort of new old fashioned way. People have cited these same underlying pathologies and criteria for decades (for example with Linda Gottlieb tracing things back to Minuchin), but by exercising discipline to avoid adding new descriptions, by instead operating completely within accepted psychology, and by accurately referring to an overwhelming amount of professional psychological literature, it becomes impossible to criticize the approach. The existing, underlying pathologies are fully supported by their own empirical studies and many decades of research. All that remains is for therapists to actually identify what they are seeing, though the last time they saw it may have been when vu-graphs flashed by in college. They need a working knowledge of the 60 references, including expertise in family systems, personality disorders, and attachment theory, which is why these children are a special population. The remarkable power of the new old fashioned way is lost on many people (the elegance of less being more).
Moreover, by virtue of their state licensing, all mental health professionals are responsible for operating within their boundaries of competence. In one deft move, the tables are flipped, and those who “don’t want to understand” or who cannot understand are now exposed as incompetent and subject to licensing board complaint. They become complicit in child abuse.
Many of the favorite arguments of the skeptics evaporate: 1.) “51 studies are insufficient; my minimum is 52” 2.) “20 years is not enough time to think about this (from the 1996 APA policy until now)”, 3.) there are not enough studies but I will not say which ones I read and which I am still looking for, 4.) “I don’t care if anyone is getting abused; labelling is evil,” and 5.) “What if the child rejects a parent who is sexually or physically abusing them.” The response becomes, “I am sorry that you have insufficient training and clinical experience in personality disorders (with decompensation into encapsulated persecutory delusions), attachment, and family systems, but by the ethic of boundaries of competence, you will need to refer this case to someone who does.”
There is a large contingent of experts in parental alienation, the eye witnesses to these pathologies, the erased parents, who say Dr. Childress’ criteria and theoretical formulation are uncannily correct. Others who are not erased parents have to learn by being competent in diverse areas of psychology, while avoiding counter transference, instead of seeing it unfold in real life.
To avoid confusion, refer to page 37 of Dr. Childress’ book Foundations notes that existing family systems therapy is fine for what is sometimes called “mild” or “moderate” cases. Pathogenic parenting only involves clinical pathology and undisputable child abuse criteria.
The APA and the Donner Party
In a 2006 paper published by the APA entitled "Tearing the child apart: The contribution of narcissism, envy, and perverse modes of thought to child custody wars", Dr. Donner notes the “Pathological narcissism” involved in never ending custody disputes. He discusses the role of “narcissistically vulnerable” parents using “interminable custody battles” to “ward off psychic collapse.” Bullseye.
The False Narrative in which Bystanders Unwittingly Participate
Read about the role of the bystander in the false re-enactment narrative, where the alienator invites the child to criticize their other parent, moving the child into the role of the “victim” in the false narrative, allowing the alienator to ostensibly move into the role of the “all wonderful” parent, casting the erased parent into the villain role, setting the therapist up to tell the child “since both you and your alienator both say your other parent is horrible, I am sorry your other parent is horrible.”
The child’s role and the bystander’s role is to confirm the delusion of the alienator. Due to childhood attachment trauma, the alienator is reliving that trauma.
As Dr. Van der Kolk noted in 1987:
“When the trauma fails to be integrated into the totality of a person’s life experiences, the victim remains fixated on the trauma. Despite avoidance of emotional involvement, traumatic memories cannot be avoided: even when pushed out of waking consciousness, they come back in the form of reenactments, nightmares, or feelings related to the trauma… Recurrences may continue throughout life during periods of stress.”
Dr. Childress expands upon this in the summary section of his book Foundations.
The Empirical Studies of Amy J L Baker, PhD
There are at least six peer-reviewed, fully empirical studies that show that parental alienation is child abuse. The definition of parental alienation is empirical, because formerly alienated adult children of parental alienation listed the methods (strategies) used by their alienating parent. Then a standard psychological abuse questionnaire was given to a group of study participants, along with a questionnaire about the use of strategies (methods). The same people who said that they were psychologically abused were generally the same ones that said one of more strategies of parental alienation were used.
The Parental Alienation Murders
The jury speaks; the jury is always right. They are right all the way until the unanimous jury verdict is overturned by DNA evidence, at which time, the jury becomes unanimously wrong. The Innocence Project looks at the systemic underlying problems that caused the incorrect conviction and works for reform.
In parental alienation, the corresponding “DNA” evidence is the murders where the alienator has everyone convinced about false allegations, until the allegations finally are determined to be false in the court of law. When the alienator loses sole custody, they shoot the kids to death, enter into a suicide pact with them, or burn them alive. This reveals a certain lack of empathy for the child that is characteristic of personality disorders. They had only been “acting” as “all wonderful” parents.
As one parent of murdered child said:
“They all were convinced I was wrong right up until our kids were shot. Sole custody of our son was awarded to me, and she was stripped of her parental rights. And after that, she was allowed to go home, and she shot my son, and then shot herself. Only then did CPS begin to believe that maybe she, not I, might have been the problem. I ask, no I beg, that CPS is looking to re-evaluate how they are taught.”
The set of parental alienation murders points out that there is a systemic problem, namely, the 2008 APA policy and lack of related education for its members and all of mental health.
Where is the training that the APA believes is its role to provide?
The Doctoral Dissertation of Sue Whitcombe: False Allegations
In her doctoral dissertation, Sue Whitcombe studied the false allegations involved in parental alienation. Out of a pool of 54 erased parents:
"Thirty six participants reported that they had been subject to false allegations of domestic violence against their ex-partner and 44 reported false allegations of physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect against their child. In private family law proceedings in England and Wales, a child’s welfare is paramount. Allegations of abuse or neglect usually result in the immediate cessation of direct contact while fact finding, safeguarding and assessments are undertaken. Unable to see their child, parents experience a presumption of guilt and a need to prove their innocence."
This is confirmed by Dr. Harmon’s research.
Problems with Other Studies of Intentional False Allegations
The most recent study of false allegations is the 2005 paper “False allegations of abuse and neglect when parents separate,” by Trocme. The first problem here is that the paper relies on a “child protection investigators” as truth determiners, to decide if an unsubstantiated report is “intentionally fabricated”. These investigators are unlikely to have expertise treating clients who decompensate into persecutory delusions and may not be aware of the how convincing a borderline or narcissistic parent may be. This greatly muddies the waters in definition and determination of “intentionally fabricated,” creating a semantic cesspool, so that false allegations by an alienator probably don’t count in the study as “intentionally fabricated.”
The notion of “intentionally fabricated” is complex, and even former presidents would say that “it all depends on the meaning of the word is. As Dr. Childress notes “For the narcissistic-borderline personality structure, truth and reality are fluid constructs that are subject to the ever changing emotional needs of the moment.” Dr. Millon notes that “Narcissists are neither disposed to stick to objective facts or to restrict their actions within the boundaries of social custom or cooperative living… Free to wander in their private world of fiction, narcissists may lose touch with reality, lose their sense of proportion, and begin to think along peculiar and deviant lines.” Is that “intentionally fabricated?”
The perspective of the erased parent about whom the allegation is made is that they are obviously intentionally false, because they know they didn’t do it and they know the other parent knows it did not happen, at least before they decompensated into persecutory delusion. The erased parent is aware that the alienator is splitting and sees them as all bad, and there is almost nothing that the alienator can see of value in them and receive usually are false or exaggerated allegations from A to Z.
The second problem with the study is that the authors incorrectly believe that parental alienation is a “discredited” concept, so it is not a surprising set up their study to find that only 15% of custody cases involve “intentionally fabricated” allegations and then create a third problem by rounding “intentionally fabricated” vocabulary up into the vocabulary “false allegation.”
They key is that the number of unsubstantiated cases is on the rise, according to Dean Tong:
“NCANDS compiled data for all of the states and published Child Maltreatment 2005 (child abuse statistics are always two years behind) recently. Over 60% of all child abuse investigation dispositions in 2005 were unsubstantiated. According to Dr. David Finkelhor, head of the crimes against children laboratory in Durham, New Hampshire, in a 2006 study he authored that was published in The Journal of Social Issues, he found that sexual child abuse substantiations between 1990 and 2004 decreased by 49%. And between 1992 and 2004 physical child abuse substantiations decreased by 43%.”
When this chaos all swims together, people drift into calculating that only 0.3% of custody cases involve intentionally false allegations of sexual abuse, creating truly fuzzy thinking that alienators must be believed. It is in this complex vacuum that alienators abuse children, and harm them, with the assistance of mental health professionals.
Treatments that Work
Severe parental alienation is quick and easy to treat via psycho-social education.
In a news article, elite Attorney Brian Ludmer reports that conventional therapy rarely works and explains why, but “structured invention” works well. In the article, he explains why.
Two of these structured intervention programs have very high, published, peer reviewed success rates: Family bridges has a very high, peer reviewed success rate as does Dr. Reay's Family Reflections. Refer also to Dr. Joan Kelly’s review of Family Bridges.
Dr. Childress expands on why conventional therapy has problems, in Bring Me the Leeches and On Unicorns, The Tooth Fairy, and Reunification Therapy.
The ubiquitous use of treatment that rarely works must stop, since effective treatment is available. Leeches would probably be more effective.
The APA “Ten Fallacies” scientific paper determines that it is incorrect that “Severely Alienated Children Are Best Treated with Traditional Therapy Techniques While Living Primarily With Their Favored Parent.”
The APA should have a position on treatments that work and treatments that do not work. Why would the APA not care when ineffective treatment is used?
The Blue Ribbon Panel
As the result of the torture scandal, the APA established a blue-ribbon panel to examine ways people can file complaints and ways for the APA to be accountable. Although complaints about child abuse have been filed, there has been no response. If the blue ribbon panel is successful, it might help a little, because it took months of contacting the APA to figure out who was responsible for the parental alienation policy, though even now, there is no observable accountability.
The Department of Justice
The US Department of Justice provides significant confirmation by noting on its website that parental alienation is domestic violence because:
· and "destruction of pets and property" is "psychological abuse" This one doesn't appear in the psychological literature but there are many anecdotal examples of children also rejecting Fido, when Fido is associated more closely with the erased parent. Granted, that is not destruction of pets per se, but at a conceptual level, the net effect is the same: the pet is gone, erased from existence. Again we ask, what did Fido do to deserve rejection? And when Fido goes to reunification counseling, what will Fido learn to do better? What was Fido's contribution?
· in parental alienation, children are isolated from a parent (which is family) and usually half of the extended family
· because the DoJ confirms that parental alienation is domestic violence, then these comments from their web site also apply: “Children, who grow up witnessing domestic violence, are among those seriously affected by this crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life - therefore, increasing their risk of becoming society's next generation of victims and abusers.” This is consistent with Dr. Childress referring to it as the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma
The FBI published a training manual for police for use when investigating child sexual abuse and made a very interesting point:
"Regardless of intelligence and education and often despite common sense and evidence to the contrary, adults tend to believe what they need to believe. The greater the need, the greater the belief". "Many individuals do not prevent, recognize, or accept sexual victimization of a child by a respected member of society because they cannot believe a man who is good and spiritual and who seems to truly care for children could be a child molester. Such offenders can be Big Brother of the Year, most popular teacher, coach".
Again, the only parallel intended here is only the emotional, irrational view people usually have of someone who harms children, and no other insinuation is appropriate of intended. In brief, Ken Lanning's observations can be seen in recent scandals in the Catholic Church and at Penn State.
The manual was written by highly respected special agent Ken Lanning, the leading expert at the FBI on child sexual abuse. Part of the respect he receives comes his investigating the hysteria around occult child abuse, but ultimately finding that the hysteria surrounded a myth.
According to our recollection of reading reports about the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, initially, no one wanted to hear or understand about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. It took an entire investigative journalism team to generate interest. Of course, once it reached a critical mass, the public is generally indignant. This is as the FBI predicts.
The same is true for the of the Penn State scandal. Initially, no one was interested in the reports coming out, preferring weekends unencumbered by dealing with child abuse. Eventually, it hit critical mass, and the public became indignant.
That an organization of mental health professionals can collectively yawn over the appearance in their journal of reports of widespread child abuse simply fits the pattern identified by the FBI (above) and the Unseen Wounds team. Psychological abuse is not taboo.
13.4% of Surveyed Adults Say They Are Alienated from a Child
Jennifer Harman, PhD, arranged for a survey of 610 adults in North Carolina. 13.4% said they are alienated from a child. Half said the alienation is severe.
It’s clear that this is a significant social issue.
Another important finding is that “the [gender] difference [of alienators] was only marginally significant.”
In 2013, DSM-5 came out with (at least) two official diagnosis codes for psychological abuse, either V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse or V61.29 Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress, depending on the focus of clinical attention. As explained by the authors of the relevant sections of DSM-5:
"Children who experience parental alienation almost always fulfill the definition for CAPRD; that is, the child is affected by conflict between the parents, with the result of forming an enmeshed relationship with one parent and rejecting a relationship with the other parent. Depending on the focus of clinical attention, other DSM-5 conditions may be assigned in cases of parental alienation. If the focus of clinical attention is on the impaired relationship between the child and the target parent, the term 'parent–child relational problem' may be used. If the focus of clinical attention is on the parent who caused the child’s parental alienation through manipulation and indoctrination, the term 'child psychological abuse' may be used."
DSM-5 also acknowledged “Cognitive problems [that] may include negative attributions of the other's intentions, hostility toward or scapegoating of the other, and unwarranted feelings of estrangement”, which is V61.20.
Responses of Therapists to DSM-5 V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse
When it comes right down to diagnosing V995.51, mental health professionals may chicken out, saying things like “I am only a social worker, so I need a PhD Psychologist to back me up” or “I only have a master’s degree, no one would believe me” or “testifying in court is extremely unpleasant” or “this is beyond my capabilities” or “one really has to have their ducks lined up for that.”
The APA’s policies and information must be strong and clear: just run the checklist of 3 criteria provided by Dr. Childress, and then sit back and ask people if attachment pathology, personality disorder pathology, and delusional psychiatric pathology constitute significant psychological harm? QED.
Furthermore, a therapist must overcome barriers such as counter transference, lack of experience in each of attachment, personality disorders, and family systems, the natural human desire to rush to the aid of a “victimized child”, the tendency toward common errors in clinical judgement, and that it is threatening to conclude that an ostensibly “all wonderful” parent is harming their child.
Parental alienation is quite harmful. Child victims of severe parental alienation (e.g. victims of pathogenic parenting) are at high risk for many medical problems later in life, according to a landmark study from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES).
Severely alienated children (e.g. victims of pathogenic parenting) have an astronomical ACES score of at least 5 out of 10, possibly going as high as 6 out of 10, by scoring one point for each the following: 1) divorce, 2) emotional abuse, 3) mental illness in the family (e.g. borderline or narcissist) 4) emotional neglect (role reversal relationship), 5) domestic violence (the DoJ says DV includes "damaging one's relation with his or her children" .... and "forcing isolation from family/friends" ) and 6) there may be false allegations of something that could put someone in prison, which arguably counts for at least another point, especially if they are in jail after being arrested on a false allegation. These problems are also somewhat consistent with observations from the American Psychiatric Association on disordered parenting.
Children Are Resilient (Not)
In the ultimate of ironies, some opponents of parental alienation advance an argument that:
However, it is difficult to categorize psychological abuse that is as harmful as sexual abuse as mere “bad parenting.”
The opposite argument is used by alienators who vilify the parenting of erased parents, complaining that they are wasting oxygen by breathing and wasting skin by being alive, while falsely alleging all manner of abuse.
Laws against Mental Injury
Many states have laws against “mental injury” (e.g. psychological abuse).
In Ohio, mental injury is defined as “any behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorder in a child caused by an act or omission”. The three criteria established by Dr. Childress appear to meet that definition. (This is not legal advice.)
In Illinois, 325 ILCS 5/1 defines child abuse as “Inflicting or causing, allowing, or creating a substantial risk of physical injury, other than by accident, that causes death, disfigurement, impairment of physical or emotional health, or loss or impairment of any bodily function." They pertinent phrase is “emotional abuse.”
In Texas, "Abuse" includes the following acts or omissions by a person: “mental or emotional injury to a child that results in an observable and material impairment in the child's growth, development, or psychological functioning.” The key phrase here is psychological functioning.
60 Minutes, 20/20, CNN, the BBC, and Canada TV Have All Exposed Parental Alienation
You know it is going to be a bad day when you get to your office and find a 60 Minutes news crew waiting for you. ABC 20/20 exposed parental alienation, as did 60 minutes, as did CNN, as did the BBC, as did Canadian TV. Hollywood stars corroborate.
About the APA
According to Wikipedia, “the American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists in the United States, with around 117,500 members including scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students.”
Recommendation for the APA to use Scientific Terminology
The APA 2015 Handbook of Forensic Psychology has an extensive description of parental alienation. However, the APA could do better to return to existing, scientific psychological constructs and language.
For example, instead of saying that alienated children act like a “Greek Chorus”, why not call it what it is, an enmeshed, perverse triangle? The APA has around 100K members with a PhD in psychology, not theater.
For the description of the child, here are some mappings from the APA description to a more scientific description advanced by Dr. Childress’ description:
1. “The child’s complaints and allegations about the rejected parenting may reflect some true incident that has been grossly distorted and exaggerated, resulting in the child holding highly negative views and feelings without a reality-based foundation that makes this a pathological response.” “This corresponds to Dr. Childress’ diagnostic criterion of fixed false belief (delusion), more specifically, an “Intransigently held, fixed and false belief regarding the fundamental parental inadequacy or abusiveness of the erased parent."
2. Children act as a “Greek chorus,” as identified by the citation of Kelly & Johnston 2001. This corresponds to the shared delusion of the child, which the parent needs to support their delusion. According to Wikipedia, a Greek chorus "is a homogeneous, non-individualized group of performers", so this hints of enmeshment.
3. “Rejection of that parent stridently and without apparent guilt or ambivalence. They also may strongly resist or completely refuse any contact with the rejected parent.” This shows attachment system suppression and lack of empathy. The brevity of the term “stridently,” which is defined as "presenting a point of view, especially a controversial one, in an excessively and unpleasantly forceful way," permits the more rigorous criteria: haughty arrogance, grandiosity, and entitlement, which are criteria cited by Dr. Childress, that are a subset of NPD/BPD criteria. Further, the Kelly & Johnston 2001 reference describes the “ferocity” of the resistance.
For the description of the alienating parent, here are some mappings:
1. “Harbors a deep distrust and fear of the other parent.” This is consistent with Millon’s decompensation into persecutory delusion of someone with NPD/BPD under the setback and humiliation of the divorce. The citation of Kelly & Johnston 2001 confirms the “humiliation” and “narcissistic injury” that trigger the decompensation.
2. “Is absolutely convinced that the other parent is irrelevant and/or an evil influence on the child.” So we know where the child got their intransigently held, fixed and false belief regarding the fundamental parental inadequacy or abusiveness of the erased parent. It came from the aligned parent's delusion. Note the splitting also, which is another Dr. Childress’ criterion. According to the APA, shared delusional disorder did not make it into DSM-5 simply because it is no different than delusional disorder.
3. "May use virtual allegations.” Again, this suggests the absence of supporting facts, which is commensurate with delusion.
4. “Views the rejected parent’s attempts to visit the child as harassment.” This is Dr. Childress’ Associated Clinical Sign 8: Use of the word “abused” (or variants).
5. “Does not pass along letters or phone messages from the other parent.” The other parent has no value, according to the delusion, and as per the splitting, where the "ex-spouse must become the ex-parent."
6. “Strongly supports the child’s rights to make his or her own decisions about visiting the other parent.” This is Dr. Childress’ Associated Clinical Sign 2 (child empowerment) and Associated Clinical Sign 10 (role reversal use of the child).
7. “Confirms for the child that the other parent is not worthy of the child’s attention.” This is Dr. Childress’ diagnostic criteria 3 – we now know where the child got the fixed false belief regarding the fundamental parental inadequacy of the erased parent.
8. “Denigrates the erased parent in the child’s presence and the child is encouraged to point out the other parent’s faults.” This elevates the child to an incorrect place in the family hierarchy and forms a cross-generational coalition. It moves the child into the "victim" role in the false narrative, allowing the aligned parent to move into the protective all wonderful parent role, allowing naive bystanders such as clinicians to move into the "let's help this victimized child" role, where the child is indeed a victim, but not of what they naively presume. And it shows splitting, part of diagnostic criterion 2, personality disorder pathology. Further, encouraging a child to point out the other parent's faults sends them in the general direction of haughty arrogance, entitlement, and grandiosity, which are also part of diagnostic criterion 2.
9. “Convinces the child that the other parent does not and has never loved or cared for the child.” They are not exercising charity in sharing the delusion, but rather, using the child to confirm the delusion.
10. “Joins with the child to tell stories about the other parent’s lack of care and love, demonstrating the other parent’s presumed lack of concern.” Here we see a role reversal relationship, enmeshment, shared delusion, an enmeshed perverse triangle, and cross-generational coalition. This is ACS11, "erased parent deserves to be rejected", and ACS7, "typical themes for rejection."
For the description of the erased parent:
It’s citation of Kelly & Johnston 2001 notes that “For the most part, these rejected parents fall within the broad range of ‘marginal’ to ‘good enough,’ and sometimes ‘better’ parents, who have no history of physical or emotional abuse of the child.” This corresponds to Dr. Childress criteria that they need be “broadly normal range”. It confirms that forensic evaluators should be making decisions about emotional abuse, which confirms that the APA should say whether it thinks attachment pathology, personality pathology, and delusional. psychiatric pathology are a problem (significant psychological harm or the potential to cause it).
The Harms of Child Psychological Abuse
The “Neuroimaging of child abuse: a critical review” paper, from the National Institutes of Health about general childhood maltreatment is particularly ghastly.
Antiquated Child Protection Guidelines
The 1999 Child for Psychological Evaluations in Child Protection Matters are still on the APA website and come up in our searches before the 2013 guidelines, perhaps making it hard to realize that they were updated in 2013.
Even the 2013 guidelines:
1. have neither kept up with DSM-5 V995.51 nor the Unseen Wounds Paper
2. Are out of sync with DSM-5 on the definition emotional abuse
3. cite the 2008 Children’s Bureau paper, but not the APA’s own 2014 press release about Unseen Wounds, and the child psychological abuse is not even taboo
4. do not address the APA’s own plea for more training for psychological abuse
5. include the question “If maltreatment has occurred, how seriously has the child's psychological well-being been affected?” which implies that there is no such thing as psychological abuse, since the DSM-5 definition of psychological abuse centers on psychological harm itself
6. fail to consider that it might not be both parents who are abusing the child, but rather, one of them, since the question of “child if returned on the parent(s)?” completely ignores situations where one parent engages in psychological abuse to erase the other parent. The discussion of “a finding by the court that the parents have maltreated the child or have otherwise failed to care for or protect the child adequately” completely ignores that only one parent may be abusing the child and has used psychologists and the court to perform an “in-place” abduction or parentectomy, so the question is not simply the State versus the parents but rather the State versus a parent
7. do not address the Duty to Protect
8. ignore the fact a child protection matter may be masquerading as a benign “custody evaluation,” and custody evaluations may become a child protection examination. Parental alienation is a child protect issue, not a custody issue. These guidelines imply that parental alienation is only a custody issue, since the context addresses only actions in response to CPS, not, how CPS is supposed to understand child psychological abuse to begin with (e.g. the Duty of the custody evaluator to Protect the child in cases of child psychological abuse).
Forensic Child Custody Evaluators Believe They Are Exempt from the Standards of Practice Required of Clinical Psychology
Forensic child custody evaluators believe they are exempt from the standards of practice required of clinical psychology. In their book, Forensic Psychology Consultation and Child Custody Litigation: A Handbook for Work Product Review, Case Preparation, and Expert Testimony, Stahl and Simon (2013) indicate that “clinical thinking and the clinical mindset are no longer felt to be an appropriate approach to forensic psychological work”(p. 18), they “strongly disagree with the clinical approach” (p. 18) and they offer the opinion that, “while there is certainly some overlap between forensic thinking and clinical thinking, we view these modalities as distinct” (p. 20).
Unfortunately, their subsequent analysis of the supposed distinctions in “clinical” thinking and “forensic” thinking substantially mischaracterizes clinical psychology to the point of creating a straw-man argument.
Freed from the confines of the established professional practices and the scientifically established information base of clinical psychology, child custody evaluators believe themselves free to simply make up assessment procedures. The Standards offered by the American Psychological Association …. Provide only general guidelines but do not specifically address the structure of the clinical interview process and the specific application of established constructs from professional psychology to the collected data …
The Suggestibility of Children
“During the past several decades, hundreds of studies have tested children's eyewitness memory capabilities and suggestibility. Results demonstrate that children can be manipulated into making all sorts of errors, including claiming that entirely false events occurred"
No Help from the Little APA Either
Maybe the American Psychiatric Association, the “little APA,” would help out? No luck there either. In a news article where it appears no one was arguing that there was a mental disorder, the little APA rolled in over the flank with innuendo: “There is insufficient scientific evidence that parental alienation is a real mental disorder.”
This appears to be a “copy and paste” from a statement made by Dr. Regier in 2010 that "there is not sufficient scientific evidence to warrant its inclusion in the DSM.” However, that was in the context of a statement that the arbitrary definition used for syndrome is that it involves just one person. Much more significantly, the relevant authors of DSM-5 have clarified in a scientific paper that parental alienation is indeed in DSM-5 as Child Psychological abuse and as Child affected by Parental Relationship Distress, and they cite a personal communication from Dr. Regier and said the DSM-5 task force “never said they doubted the reality or the importance of parental alienation.”
So let’s break this down. DSM-5 child psychological abuse (V995.51) is in the same section of DSM-5 as child sexual abuse (V995.53). Yes, for child sexual abuse, there has to be a child and an abuser. Yes, for child psychological abuse, there has to be a child and an abuser. Agreed, there is no scientific evidence that a child has ever sexually abused themselves. Agreed, there is no scientific evidence that a child has ever psychologically abused themselves. Do we really need a former president of the American Psychiatric Association to tell us that? Is that even newsworthy? Has anyone ever implied that there is insufficient scientific evidence that child sexual abuse happens?
So the “it’s not a syndrome” argument is dead, as well as the related “insufficient scientific evidence.” The arbitrary definition of a syndrome is that it involves only one person. Parental Alienation is indeed in the DSM-5. The actual DSM-5 chapter number is irrelevant. The “it’s not a syndrome argument” is a non sequitur, a red herring. It is neither here nor there.
Fortunately, the prosecutor in the Grazzini-Rucki case discussed in the news article didn’t need “help” from the little APA, or the school of thought that says children have been surviving “imperfect” parenting.” He won his case and then was able to speak about the harm to the children, far beyond mere badmouthing:
“It is simply inappropriate and unacceptable for any parent to hide their children and keep them from the custodial parent in violation of a court order for any amount of time," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. "The almost two and a half years that these children were hidden led to significant trauma to her daughters and caused significant adverse impacts to the rest of her family. We are pleased with the jury’s decision in this matter."
Yes, this is all about trying to keep children from being traumatized.
Ironically, the American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Personality Disorders , published by the Little APA, creeps right up to the precipice of identifying parental alienation by describing parenting from someone afflicted with borderline personality disorder, or more generally, narcissistic personality disorder:
Further, we wonder how a child breaks free without running away? Perhaps they are forced to give in, and surrender their authenticity and become susceptible to parental alienation? In any case, this all sounds pathological, not mere “imperfect” parenting.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children
Article 7 of the UN CRC states that "The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents." The word “parents” is plural.
Clinicians frequently violate these self-evident, inalienable rights, since as previously noted, "one of the most unfortunate of alienating processes are the witting and unwitting contributions of family law attorneys, minor’s counsel, custody evaluators, and individual therapists for parents and children."
Those studying the ironies of insecure attachment may wish to read “Bonded to the Abuser: How Victims Make Sense of Childhood Abuse”.
In her book “Terror, Love, and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems,” Dr. Stein explains where the coercive control can be found in the classic literature of psychology. Unsurprisingly, it involves disorganized attachment in Cult leaders and attachment theory in cult members, and isolation. Although her book is not specifically about parental alienation, it includes parental alienation. Her research is enormously relevant to the field of child psychological abuse.
The Long History of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation is real and has been around for a very long time. One can trace it back to the legendary family court case put before Solomon, and to Queen Mary, Dickens, Hugo, Einstein, Hollywood, the entire history of court cases and newspaper articles, and (spoiler alert) the $2 billion Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Trauma reenactment shows up in Job, Homer, Herodotus, and Shakespeare.
Dr. J Michael Bone notes that:
“Rightly or wrongly, we humans do tend to be herd animals. Due to our wiring and our evolution, when the herd is exposed to some message that is potentially dangerous or at least negative, we do tend to give it extra weight, and then pass it on. This is a self protective reflex that is easily exploited by the alienating parent in their mission to obliterate the targeted parent. #parentalalienation”
For the welfare of our children, we need to do better than that.
Appendix One: Summary of Pathogenic Parenting (aka the trans- generational transmission of attachment trauma)
Summary: Pathogenic Parenting is not a new syndrome, but rather, a manifestation of standard and well established pathologies. A parent suffering from a narcissistic or borderline personality disorder can, under unrelenting stress or pressure from divorce, decompensate into persecutory delusions that the other parent is inadequate or abusive. These parents then expel their feelings of inadequacy or abandonment onto their former partner by using the defense mechanisms of projection and splitting. Because of splitting, the ex-spouse must become the ex-parent of the child. Through triangulation, psychological enmeshment with their children, and the formation of a cross generational alliance with their children, they influence their children to share their delusion. This can be done by eliciting criticism from the child about the other parent and then enthusiastically validating it, and by mixing in partially true lies. These parents then use their children as a narcissistic supply (or regulatory-other), creating a role reversal relationship that shows a lack of empathy for their children’s own developmental needs.
It is a standard reenactment of childhood trauma with a standard false narrative related to their own childhood, where the child's other parent symbolizes an inadequate or abusive parent, the child symbolizes a victim of the other parent, and the parent using harmful parenting practices symbolizes a good parent ostensibly trying to protect their child. However, in reality, the other parent is neither inadequate nor abusive; but rather, the parent using the harmful parenting practices is abusive. In effect, the parent who fears inadequacy or abandonment is able to project their fears onto the other parent because all can "plainly see" that it is the other parent who is rejected and abandoned by the child.
This results in 3 diagnostic criteria in the child: attachment system suppression, personality disorder traits, and delusional belief. This rises to the level of DSM 5 Child Psychological Abuse, V995.51. The psychological fingerprints of the parent with the personality disorder are on the child.
Ø frequently asked questions about pathogenic parenting
Ø For a compare/contrast between Gardner’s symptom of “Absence of Guilt about Treatment of the Targeted Parent” and the attached-based criteria of lack of empathy, arrogant haughtiness, and entitlement, see here.
Ø Associated Clinical Sign 1: Use of the word “forced”