The science of supposition (and the dangers it causes when children reject)

This week I was on a late night panel (late for me anyway) via Skype to Toronto University Students for the Canadian Association for Equality. The subject was disappearing dads and parental alienation.  During the Q&A session afterwards, a targeted parent asked me a question relating to the ‘blog war’ as he termed it, between Dr Childress and me, over the article I had written for the Parental Alienation Studies Group, which I am a member of.  Leaving aside the fact that for me, at least, the batting back and forth of disagreement between Dr Childress and I, was less of a war and more of a mildish spat, the question this parent asked me was whether I thought that the scientific model of Pathogenic Parenting devised by Dr Childress, is the answer to the problem of parental alienation.

I felt frustrated by the question because the argument about whether there is one answer or many is not one which can be condensed into one snappy sentence (though I tried) and I left the panel discussion feeling that this man, like so many other targeted parents, deserves, at least an attempt at explaining why I (and many others in this field) do not accept the Pathogenic Parenting model as the answer to parental alienation.

Now before I begin let me say this.  I am a veteran in the field of family separation. In the two decades or more since I began work in this arena, I have been attacked publicly and privately, I have been undermined, abused, shamed and stabbed in the back. I have been complained about, sanctioned, publicly discussed and called many names, not all of them nice.  In a field which is often conflictual (and that is even amongst those who are supposedly working for the best interests of children),  I have been there, done that and worn the T shirts. So before anyone who is a follower of Dr Childress thinks this is a good opportunity to wade in and make his point for him on this blog, let me tell you this. It isn’t going to happen.  This is my blog, my space for thinking and if you don’t like what I have got to say, you are either going to have to stop reading now, or deal with it. I did not invite a war with Dr Childress, I wrote a considered piece in which I discussed the elements of his work which are useful at the Clinic. I am about to expand on that.

I have had some readers write to me recently with discombobulated discourses in which they allege that I only allow comments on here which chime with my own views.  To which I can unflinchingly and unremorsefully state that this is the truth. Here is the place where I get to think through my work and my practice, a place where, without fail, I get to choose who I listen to and who I don’t and in a world like mine, where I spend almost 95% of my working life listening to other people’s experiences, that is how this place is going to stay.

With those caveats in mind here goes.

I have in front of me the diagnostic checklist for Pathogenic Parenting as devised by Dr Childress.

In reading it I can see that it is, as I understand it, a scientifically based model for diagnosis of a parenting pattern which is harmful for children and which can be referenced back to the DSM V.

The supposition being that all parental alienation cases are identical to this parenting pattern.

Supposition means a belief held without proof or certain knowledge; an assumption or hypothesis.

Supposition is what many parents who come to the Clinic have about their own personal case in which their child is rejecting them.

Their supposition is that this is a case of parental alienation and it is our job at the Clinic to work out whether indeed it is, using a wide range of tools which allow us to categorise and differentiate the route to the child’s withdrawal and then devise the treatment route to support change.

Dr Childress wants parental alienation to be reconfigured and diagnosed using a three stage model of diagnosis which defines what he calls Pathogenic Parenting.  As I said to the parent who asked me the question this week, this group of families who fit this model, is one which I recognise as being a very small part of the overall cohort of families I would consider are affected by parental alienation.  Therefore, if the reworking of parental alienation as a spectrum experience is to be recategorised as Pathogenic Parenting, in which ONLY those families which fit this three stage model can be recognised as such, what are we going to do with the rest of the targeted parents and their children whose supposition is that they are suffering from parental alienation but who, on diagnosis, do not fit the model called Pathogenic Parenting?

Could it not be that Pathogenic Parenting could be the term which replaces the word Pure in the differentiation model used by the likes of Bala and Fidler in Canada?  When I look at Dr Childress’s three stage model and I consider the description of the category of Pure alienation and my own experience in working with families where this presents, it  would make a lot of sense to me.

Parental alienation is a wide spectrum experience and it has many manifestations in both children’s lives and those of their parents. Pathogenic Parenting is only one of them and a small one at that.  Though real, it presents itself far less regularly than those cases which involve cross projection of blame or high levels of conflict or sudden and traumatic splitting in a child due to external circumstances surrounding separation.

At the Clinic we treat alienation in many different ways and I am reminded of the work of people like Bessel Van Der Kolk in our approach. Using differentiation routes and matching intervention to need, we liberate children using whatever method most likely to work.  If the family fits the three stage model of Pathogenic Parenting we argue for separation from the unhealthy parent in order to restore normal range functioning relationships, if it doesn’t we offer therapeutic assistance which is a mix of psycho-education, therapeutic work and robust court management. What we know we have to do, right at the very beginning of our work with families, is sort out which category the family is in, because if we don’t, we know we will never get the outcomes that we are looking for, which is that every child is a liberated child and every child has healthy parents with whom they are able to be in relationship with.

The problem with arguing that what the world is missing out on is a new scientific model which is the answer to parental alienation is, in my view, that all Pathogenic Parenting IS parental alienation but not all parental alienation IS Pathogenic Parenting. The dangers to children are in supposing that one equals the other because in application of remedy, which for Dr Childress’s model of Pathogenic Parenting is separation protocols, that remedy does work for all cases of parental alienation.

It seems as clear to me as the nose of my face. I know that for many of you reading this it is not, but in writing this I hope you realise that I am doing so because I left that late night panel this week recognising that this targeted parent is searching for an answer (as you all are), and that feeling that a scientific, possibly revolutionary solution is being overlooked by the PA expert community is frustrating. So much so that in some discussions online I am already seeing the same dynamic which permeates other groups in the field of family separation – if there is an answer and you don’t subscribe to it, it must mean you are happy with the status quo (read – happy to make money out of us).  Which is nonsense, is not the truth and which completely ignores the hours of dedicated work that so many experts put in to help families and to create liberation routes for children.

Parental alienation is a problem with a human face which is caused by many issues arising in post separation family life and which results in children resisting relationships or rejecting them. Helping families requires many different tools and the three stage model of Pathogenic Parenting diagnosis is, for me, a clear outline of pure and severe alienation (and is one which I will use at the Clinic to evidence such cases when we see them).

But the scientific answer to the spectrum problem that is parental alienation it is not. And to suppose that it is will lead too many parents into difficult places where they will not fit the diagnosis and they and their children will lose out as a result.

It has its place at the heart of the problem but it is not the answer to the whole.






  1. As a general rule in the world of physical things – in order to fix something, you MUST first understand how it works.
    As a person who has almost no understanding of physiology, I can only read what Karen & others have to say regarding the causes and effects of PA.
    I, like so many others who have faced this scourge, have found myself at the mercy of a court & legal system, trying to get to grips with the grief.
    All we can do is hope that the work of Karen & others get to the bottom of this problem – so that a beginning may be made on fixing the court & legal system. If that involves disagreement, discussion, debate and even disgust – so be it, because the prize at the end makes it all worth it.


  2. Thank you Karen. I know you are right because both of my parents attempted to alienate my sister and me from each of them, it failed for reasons that are too long to get into, and neither of us have a relationship with either of them, alienation failed so at 10 and 13 we became useless to them and were essentially abandoned. My ex-husband ran a consistent but quiet alienation campaign against me for over a decade, he waited to go full throttle until she was 17 and at 18 she vanished from my life, it’s been nearly four years, he and his current wife feed off of this and enjoy it greatly with no end in sight, if I had realized what would happen I would have gone for full custody when she was young and I suspect I would have gotten it. I thought she would be free of it at 18 and I was terribly wrong. Our case is pure PA. I’ve experienced both and know there ISN’T one answer, I have learned a lot from all the experts and from Ryan Thomas, there’s not much I can do but try and raise awareness in my community and share my story, the dissension that Dr. Childress tries to create serves no one, especially our children. Thanks for all you do., please keep doing it. ❤️


    1. Thank you OM. The issue of children who disappear completely when they are 18 plus interests me because I think it is a very under considered area of alienation and one which I would like to see more research into and consideration of. The issue being of course that at whatever age, if one is in relationship to someone with a personality disorder who is in a position of power and control, one is very very vulnerable, especially if that person is seductive at the same time. I know that it is not much comfort but I do know that if there is enough strength in your daughter to get free of his grasp for long enough, she will experience the challenges that come with being an adult who is alienated – which are to cope with the constant congnitive dissonance of your internal belief versus your external experience. One of those experiences might just provide the spark which triggers the critical thinking which leads her to safety. It is an ever moving landscpe in my experience and you should be always open to her reaching out as I know you are. Very best Karen


  3. Your writing and thinking and articulation is so clarifying . Thanks for that and for taking all that abuse etc and not backing down. I wish I could watch you all work. Lynn Steinberg PhD, Los Angeles, CA

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Thank you for your kind words Lynn, if you are ever in London you would be welcome to come and see what we do. Best wishes Karen


  4. Thank you so much Dr Woodall for this response, I was touched that you took the time to write this, I truly am.
    I am the target parent from Toronto that you spoke with.

    I am not a psychologist and this world is completely foreign to me. I am just a dumb nerd who misses is daughter more than anyone could ever imagine. I practised my question to you all week and when it came out as calm as I tried to stay, I got emotional and overwhelmed. Just when I start to think I am coming out on the other side of grief, it gently reminds me that I am far from being out of its grasp.

    The reality is, none of this technical stuff means anything to me, I read Foundations 3 times before it started to sink in. Dr Childress makes a lot of sense to me, and statements like “if it hasn’t worked for 30 years why would we keep doing it” resonate with me. I also don’t understand why we are still chasing the same path that has led to the APA position starter of 2008. But maybe there is much, much more I don’t understand.

    What I am proud of about raising this with you is it seems to have opened up a scientific discussion, that is all I ever wanted. I did not mean to corner you, and I would have fully accepted an answer promising to respond fully.

    I respect you Ms Goodall, very much. I am just hoping that Doc Childress is right and you are wrong. I look forward to seeing the technical dialogue between you continue.



    1. Hi Phil, thank you for your comment and for raising the issue, I didn’t mind you raising it at all, I was just frustrated not to be able to give it proper and full attention, I am trying to find time to add detail to my thoughts about this issue and will keep on thinking and reading and appraising what I see and read and hear.

      I can only comment on what Dr Childress writes from my own practice perspective, which is based in London in the UK and as such is governed by the protocols of the court system around the families in the UK. Therefore, in order to make what Dr Childress tells us is the answer to PA work in the UK, I have to find a way to fit it into the expectation of the courts and the language of the mental health professionals over here.

      We are a long way from where Dr Childress wants to go with this theory and whilst I can and will use his pathogenic parenting assessment as a guide in our own cases, we are a) not as governed by DSM diagnositics over here and b) not yet ready to accept within the Judicial Process and definitely not within the family services and mental health professionals, that those things which are denoted as damaging in Dr Childress’s diagnostics ARE actually damaging to a child. Thus we have a lot of cultural education work to undertake before we get even close to what he is arguing for.

      That said, I cannot accept that pathogenic parenting covers all of the spectrum problem of parental alienation which in my experience is a wide spectrum problem.

      Therefore the answer to PA has to be many rather than one and the focus on the one will, in my view, damage many of the others who do not fit, who will inevitably, in Dr Childress’s own diagnostic determination, be disregarded or considered to be in a category of justified rejection, which is simply not useful to either child or parent.

      I hope that helps.

      Kind Regards



  5. I am truly touched that you took the time to write this thoughtful response, Dr Woodall, it means a lot that you did not dismiss our discussion.

    I am the target father you spoke with in Toronto.

    The response you have given is well thought out, and I can see that my brief discussion with you resonated in some way. The scientific points you responded with is exactly what I asked you for.

    I rehearsed my question to you for quite some time before speaking with you. I had pictured myself presenting in a calm well spoken manner, and then when presented with the situation directly I became somewhat overwhelmed and even froze momentarily, After 2-1/2 years with no contact with my daughter, I thought I was starting to come out the other side a bit, but our discussion showed my that grief is still just below the surface, ready to emerge at any time.

    I am not a mental health professional, most of what I read from Craig Childress and yourself doesn’t mean that much from someone from outside of your world, if it seems like you know what you are saying I usually go with it. I read Foundations and everything Craig Childress said made sense to me and relates to my own family. His message is what I need to hear and I fight on his behalf.

    I felt bad for cornering you in Toronto, I really did. I would have certainly accepted an answer committing to respond outside of the meeting in a forum like this. However, what I feel very good about is contributing to igniting scientific dialogue between Craig Childress and yourself and others. I hope it continues. This is where I back off and let the dialogue continue in a constructive way between you.

    I am a just a loving father who misses his daughter more than anyone could ever know, I don’t expect her to come back any time soon. I am just tying to live through the second half of my life with some piece of mind and sense of pride. Being an advocate in this area helps me. Please keep up the discussions with Craig Childress, and please don’t be offended when I say I hope he is right and you are wrong.


  6. Dear Karen
    as you know I am a supporter, pretty much wholeheartedly, of the work of both you and Dr Childress. Incidentally I agree with your view that your blog dialogue with Craig wasn’t a war – as you yourself said, and he has also said, he has an agenda to drive through, and in my opinion you were ‘just’ in his sights for a time (not of your doing I know) as a foil for the views he was putting across, and the method by which he was presenting them – not really personal although I know he addressed it directly to you Karen, maybe even manufactured by him for the very reason of highlighting his ‘Gardner must be left behind’ point, but not pleasant for you either.
    I don’t need to speak for him – he’s more than capable of doing that, but I would say, as someone involved in a ‘pure’ alienation scenario for some time now, he has never said his reframing of PA as pathogenic parenting is a one size fits all – far from it – he’s often written of how this view and his presentation of this work is only in relation to cases at the very extreme end of the ‘PA’ spectrum. He’s often written of the many variants of form of ‘PA’ along that scale that he sees, but he does also write how, at this very extreme end, the behaviours that can be evidenced together in the three diagnostic indicators represent definitive CLINICAL evidence for the presence of ‘pathogenic parenting’, and as such are best addressed by removal of the child from the pathogenic parent.
    It’s also a very different system in the US – a point Craig has put across and you’ve addressed too. We are quite a way behind how a small number of US states are robustly addressing this issue, but a lot of US states are just as ill-informed as a lot of courts (and practitioners) in this country.
    Parents in these situations, at any level, don’t arrive at your door, or Craig’s door, understanding what is going on in their own situation, or have any understanding of the variety of nuances there are at play. In my experience the thing that unifies newly PA aware parents is the pain and confusion its already caused in them to get to that point. And there is no shortcut to their understanding of what sort of situation they are in, why they got there, and what can be done to try to start to find a way back out. Losing a child into the darkness of PA (at whatever level) is a living grief, with no closure. To recover and move on from any grief is a cycle that takes time. That’s the most invidious part of our own situation for me, that the time it took us to realise that the craziness was just that, craziness, was also the time it took in which the craziness was enabled to develop and get a stranglehold on the child in our lives. You don’t know what you don’t know, and by the time you do know its starting to be too late, if your situation is at the pure pathogenic end. It takes a lot to realise and recognise that the parent with whom you made a much loved child, could harm that child as coldly and as willingly as they do.
    We need Craig with his beavering away at the finer theoretical and diagnostic points and his will to fight his corner, and we need you Karen with your beavering away at the sharp end of sitting with real children in the widest variety of real situations they unhappily find themselves in.
    Power to you both. I look forward to reading and hearing about your work with the Parental Alienation Study Group. I also look forward to your new website, and to the forums that will be a s[pace for parents to discuss and debate these things, to better understand their own situation in all its varieties.


  7. It strikes me that the argument is more about how parental alienation is defined. From what I understand, Dr Childress says that hybrid alienation isn’t alienation, because it is somehow justified – the targeted parent is contributing to the problem and the aligned parent is reacting to that (a bit chicken/egg of course…). And then others are saying that there are two types of alienation, pure and hybrid. How Joe Bloggs is supposed to really understand all I this I don’t know – I’m a psychotherapist with a good understanding of transference and intergenerational and even I get it wrapped around my neck when it comes to trying to figure out my situation.

    It saddens me really and like another commenter, it makes me feel like a child watching warring parents and just wanting everyone to get along.

    Mostly I feel like I’m desperately screaming into thin air, no-one will listen or understand or help – and then when the People In Charge point the finger back at the targeted parent – unbearable. How do you ever get an aligned parent in a pure case to agree to use such services and how can you move forward when they won’t. I fear we are about to become the next casualty. Some feelings of relief to be hopefully out of The System but beyond that, just sheer grief, fear and powerlessness.


  8. Evolution at work.

    We have progressed from debates on whether parental alienation exists to mild disagreements amongst experts as to how to treat it. This is actually a Great Leap Forwards.

    Real experts will always disagree on something, and it is good so. It is the only way that practice is refined.


  9. There have been changes and results in the past 30 years. There are many professionals, such as yourself, that have helped parents and children in getting their relationship back. There are programs, like Family Bridges, that help. There is more awareness and support fora Target parent. The big obstacles we face are mental health professionals recognizing this and the courts need major reform. They are intertwined. So to say alienation can be fixed with only concentrating on one aspect but not the other, will not result in change.
    Those that help the parents through the court process along with the mental health process are the ones making a difference.
    With that being said, looking at and appreciating all research on this very difficult subject matter is important.


    1. I believe that in this country (the UK) the only way we will get systemic recognition of PA (or whatever phrase turns out to be acceptable to those who come across it), leading to wholescale training for frontline practitioners, and resulting in case law that actually mandates treatment programmes and solutions (backed up by court sanctions for non-participation), is by rigorous academic argument, founded on evaluating longitudinal field practice, disseminated, discussed and validated by the relevant academics and researchers in the field.
      CAFCASS is a top down organisation, with an enormous caseload. Each month stats are published that show the numbers being referred to CAFCASS go up, almost always every month. The numbers of children being referred to CAFCASS for an intervention rises, month on month on month. In October 2015 alone, Cafcass received a total of 3,311 new private law cases (private law refering to applications made following a divorce or separation about the arrangements for children, such as where a child will live or with whom a child will spend time). For the same month Cafcass received a total of 1,079 care applications, being those where a local authority has serious concerns about the safety or welfare of a child, leading to it applying to the court to take the child into care.
      Since LegalAid was ‘reformed’ the numbers of parents self-representing in court in private law cases has also risen, leading to situations where scared emotional parents stand in front of a busy Judge, with no dispassionate representation, so bringing a potentially weaker case, and the Judge also doesn’t get the benefit of counsel’s family case law knowledge to assist their understanding either. It feels like it couldn’t be harder to get a fair hearing. Cases involving a serious level of PA are a small fraction of the cases that CAFCASS are involved with – there are no stats of course as that’s not the sort of thing that CAFCASS count or monitor (it is beyond shameful that no follow-up reviews are undertaken to see let alone measure the effects and/or efficacy of CAFCASS court recommendations).
      So this workload is what we are all up against.
      Until there is enough weight behind formal, rigorous, validated, studies, and enough ‘proof’ of success in practice, underpinned by the theoretical understanding, it will always be a piecemeal approach, one practitioner becoming ‘PA’ aware at a time. I know Karen and the team are making real inroads into this from the bottom up, with some training programmes and information sharing for Judiciary and practitioners, but there will always be blockers and naysayers, within CAFCASS and the Judiciary, who for ignorance, or obtuse professional reasons, or just for sheer volume of work, will not take the time to look, really look, at what is in front of them until the layer above them makes it obligatory, persuasive, and a corporate position of change. Karen is one person and thank god for her; David against the Goliath of ignorance. How do we help bring about systemic change, faced with these odds.
      In our own situation we’re doing what we can, what we feel is our bit, chipping away with Freedom of Information requests, and Ombudsman reports, and so on, doggedly carrying on against patronising ignorance and low level disinterest and staggeringly casual cruelties. Alongside which we try to stay healthy and happy.
      We put up Christmas lights this weekend, outside the house, for the children living with us, but also so the child in our lives (but not in our life) might see them and think about their missing parent, and remember the happy times they shared. We think the child isn’t driven past our door anymore – the other parent choosing a longer twice daily route just to avoid even the smallest chance of an encounter.


  10. Karen, thanks for this posting. I have always read and enjoyed your blogs, as you might have noticed from my comments. And I am very appreciative of your concern for the person who asked the question. I am a big fan of yours and appreciate the help you give to children.

    I agree with almost all of what you say and thank you for it. I think the rest of it is just misunderstanding from all parties.

    On page 37 of Foundations, Dr Childress clarifies that he his talking about the worst of the worst, conceding that “mild and moderate” should continue to be handled as they already are. You pointed out the same thing in BOLD font. It is unfortunate that this is buried on page 37.

    In your jurisdiction, evidently, this is all handled well, so yes, it is probably a distraction in your area. I do however wonder if “pure alienation” is handled by use of DSM 5 V995.51, which I might see as the best way to handle it and am puzzled by why it is necessary to “fight hard for those cases”.

    However, from what I can see, for severe cases, for most people in other jurisdictions, it is not handled well. The therapists and legal system do not recognize it and only make it worse by siding with the alienator in severe cases.

    Perhaps the biggest impediment for all these cases is the reluctance to accept the 8 criteria advanced by Dr Richard Gardner. I see Dr Childress’ work as addressing that reluctance.

    I do believe that if the worst cases become understood, the less severe cases could be helped also. I think this is what people mean by “it is THE solution”. It is indirect, as you have noted. Agreed, it is not a scientific answer to the entire spectrum. But I do see it as an important part of a solution for all children in all jurisdictions, though for probably most children, indirect.

    To the extent that alienated parents are misunderstanding where their case fits, it is quite utterly tragic, and thanks for helping to bring clarity to this.

    As to the exact relationship between pure alienation and pathogenic parenting, I agree that they are probably close, but since I am not aware of a rigorous definition of pure alienation, it is hard for me to be too definitive.

    I am simply unable to say what percent of cases are pathogenic parenting, but from what I can see from my isolated vantage point, there are bunches.

    I am a big fan of yours and of Dr Childress, and if you do not post this, it is a non-issue for me. You have a right to control your blog and decide to whom to listen. No problem there. If you have read this far, my mission is accomplished in trying to assist in promoting understanding.

    And again, I thank you for caring enough about severe cases to comment on them. Much appreciated.


  11. “What we know we have to do, right at the very beginning of our work with families, is sort out which category the family is in, because if we don’t, we know we will never get the outcomes that we are looking for, which is that every child is a liberated child and every child has healthy parents with whom they are able to be in relationship with.”

    Is it really possible for every child to have healthy parents (both?) with whom they are able to be in relationship with? Does this mean there is a possibility that the alienation can be stopped, when the need to alienate is often the result of a personalty disorder?! I’m not so sure alienation can be policed. And I’m not sure any amount of love and integrity from the targeted parent can counteract the alienator parent; such is the nature of a personality disordered parent. No matter what scientific model or categories are identified under a diagnosis, a child/teen/adult child will continue to be affected by the alienation whether they become aware of it or not. Such is the despair of an alienated parent.


  12. I couldn’t agree more with you Karen about the differing levels of alienation and that pathogenic alienation sits at the far end of the spectrum
    I agree also that differing treatment methods are needed for the varying levels of alienation and which stage alienation sits at in the childs display.
    However parental alienation no matter what level or stage it sits at has the risk of progressing into Dr Childress pathogenic model, do you not agree.
    To me, the risk of the far end of alienation needs to be removed for the welfare of the child, its like diagnosing early cancer, we do not allow a cancer to remain just because it is mild or at the early stages.
    We need to treat this ASAP otherwise it can become life threatening.
    Dr Childress model is the life threatening stage and it is needed to show what the risks of allowing a progressive condition as parental alienation can be


    1. I tend to agree. I’m a step-parent married to the target parent and have been watching for three years growing behaviors layered on top of one another from the aligned parent toward a now six-year old. The child’s symptoms have just begun to edge up to the stage that Childress hints at in the full-blown Pathogenic Parenting model, not quite recognizable to an outsider as pathology but obvious from within as a mirror channel from the aligned parent. In other words, on the spectrum.

      Karen, I’m grateful and actually searched pretty hard for your voice. Anytime there is only one loud voice in a field as “new” and important as this, I become skeptical and look for more, in order to get as close to a holographic viewpoint as possible. Thank you for the distinctions you press and advocate and for being so solid and focused in your vision and speech and space.

      We have a psych eval in coming months to answer our request for change in custody. All I hope is that no matter the outcome, something or someone intervenes while our little one is still “on the spectrum”, before she moves into a solid check mark on Dr. Childress’ diagnostic charts.

      Supposition is poison in any situation.

      Quick question, have you checked out Canada’s seeming parallel, Hostile-Aggressive Parenting? The symptom list was helpful and the quiz gave me breadcrumbs back to the relative sanity found in realizing we weren’t alone or crazy. I’d love to hear your reflections on the Canadian angle.


  13. Thank you for all of the work you do. I am so thankful that there are people out there like you who are tirelessly working on this problem. Both the practical and the theoretical parts of it.

    For me, when my wife and I figured out that her daughter (my step-daughter) was being alienated, I was discouraged by reading so many court cases where “parental alienation” was determined only after hundreds of thousands of dollars and years in court. And on top of that, our case was not like those cases. In those cases the alienating behavior was very obvious. In our case, the alienator looked squeeky clean because he had everything channeled through his daughter. He could just sit back and let her do all the work. I scoured the Internet for anything that could be used to describe our case, but everything just described the egregious forms of PA. That’s what sold me on Dr. Childress’ work. He had the subtle case, our case, covered. His explanation of how the alienator “innocently” elicits complaints from the child, and then blows them out of proportion as if they were being supportive was exactly what we were experiencing.

    I agree that pathogenic parenting sounds like it encompasses more than just “parental alienation”. I’ve always felt that way, since reading Dr. Childress’ work.

    I would like to give you my perspective on part of what I believe makes the Attachment-Based Model so useful. Contrary to what you have said, the Attachment-Based Model is extremely versatile. This is because it is modular. Meaning it is composed of individual independent pieces. You can take some pieces of it off and you still have *something* to work with. For example, if you have a case that fits criteria #1 and criteria #3, but the personality disorder (criteria #2) is not there, you still have a child that is suppressing their attachment system and who is delusional. There is still a diagnosis of *something*. This is a good place to start from in order to know how to help the child. Maybe all they meet is criteria #1. It is still a diagnosis of a child who is suppressing their attachment system toward a parent who does not deserve it. Or perhaps in another case the child can still show love for the targeted parent and they are not delusional, but they are showing some of the personality disorder traits. It is *still* a diagnosis of a child who is developing a personality disorder that apparently only displays when they interact with one of their parents.

    Let me be clear, I am *not* saying that meeting any subset of the criteria means that pathogenic parenting or “parental alienation” is taking place. A child that does not meet all of the criteria *might* be in the early stages of PA, or maybe they just have some difficult parent-child issues. In the meantime, you at least know what symptoms the child is showing, and you can track the progress of those symptoms and give treatment accordingly. And it would all be based on mainstream psychology.

    My biggest question to you is, are there cases of “parental alienation” that you are aware of that do not have at least one element covered by “Foundations”? In other words, a case of actual “parental alienation” where none of the three diagnostic indicators were met, nor any of the clinical indicators? If so, then that would represent completely new territory that would either be small enough to require an expansion of the Attachment-Based Model or so large that it would need to have its own model.

    And that would be great! Because at least we are starting to divide and conquer. Clear lines are being drawn so that the right people begin to get the right treatment. And keeping it all within mainstream psychology keeps everything from becoming controversial, which does nothing except give the alienator more time.

    The attachment-based model is meant to be taken apart and dissected so you can see how it ticks. It is meant to be pulled apart, then put back together again. Maybe later down the line a certain subset of the criteria, plus some other pathology’s criteria, will be used to diagnose some other family situation (and just to be clear, in using a subset and/or adding to that subset, it would no longer be “Attachment-Based PA” anymore, but something that can have its own name, like… “Woodall’s Syndrome” 😉 ).

    Thank you for all you have done! You are an amazing person!


  14. Karen it is truly a blessing to read your very powerful articles! I’m extremely thankful. I also, appreciate how you so confidently, eloquently disagree when you must… you stand up for yourself with poise. You model what you teach in many ways.. your articles have aided in creating a shift in my perspective and in my spirit. I’m not so low going on two weeks now after reading the first article I found. There are Major resources on so many levels (psychological, emotional, spiritual, deeeper neurological levels of examination reorientation and change you offer! your studies/ works are a saving grace for many!

    Anastasia ❤️💪🏼🙏🏼


    1. Anastasia, I am very grateful for your comments and I know I owe you a response to an earlier post, please forgive me because I am so steeped in work on a daily basis basis that I lose track sometimes,if you would email me your comment again or direct me to it I will answer it.

      I am so pleased to hear that the blog has created a shift in your perspective because that is exactly out intention when we work with alienated parents, we meet far too many who are so low in their spirits and crushed that finding their way back to a sense of self is our first major concern. The second is to reconnect them back to their parenthood and then to educate them to understand that for now their role in their child’s life is the targeted parent of a toxic family pattern being played out through the child. After that the goal is to map the route into alienation in order to determine the potential routes to save the child all the while building the target parent’s sense of being the health protective parent ready and waiting. When the strategy we develop with the parent is identified we work with the parent to execute it and stay with the parent all the way through. This is our out of court coaching work, it is intensive and we have written our book as a how to guide for anyone who cannot afford to work with our coaches so that we make the help as widely available as possible.

      My blog, which if I am honest is my way of processing all of the work that I do with families, is a rinse through of the daily and weekly work I am doing. As such you will see the themes move and shift depending on what I am actually doing with families. I started the blog as a way of surviving the horror of the injustices done in the face of lack of knowledge by professionals in the UK and soon saw that this is mirrored around the world. The issue is that family separation is and has been too readily dismissed by too many people. I believe that how we have dealt with it over the past forty years will become the next child abuse scandal as the generations affected come to their majority and become parents themselves and understand what was done (or not done) in their childhood. It is my goal, before I shuffle off this mortal coil, to have shone a light into this scandal so brightly that there is nowhere left to hide – alongside providing the evidence of how to do it differently and how to make things work for children.

      Children are my absolute focus and providing them with the safe and unconscious childhood they all should have is my goal. Whilst I work with adults my real passion, understanding and long lasting care is for alienated children. I have worked with so many now and yet every single one of them stays with me.

      Yesterday I went to see one of the children I worked with receive an award. After years of the most horrendous alienation this child was reunited and recovered within a short time and I have continued my work to ensure that recovery is complete. When I watched this child receive the award and thought about the journey it had taken to get there I reaffirmed my internal vow that I will, by all means possible, be the change I want to see in the world regardless of what is done out there in the world to try and stop me.

      In many ways the targeted parent’s journey is my journey too because my work attracts enemies and those people’s actions have harmed what I do in an attempt to alienate others from obtaining the help we can give at the Clinic. You only have to google my name and it will take you straight to the source of that effort to harm our work. Fortunately those efforts have failed but the experience has taught me that even in a field where someone professes to care about children, professional jealousy is a stronger drive. I was appalled by what was done but I survived it and in surviving it I learned more about the target parent’s journey and grew stronger in my ability to assist. All things bring lessons in life and if one is quiet enough within the learning from the lesson emerges.

      Most of all what I want to do is teach and support and reconnect children to the love which is waiting for them and to protect them from the underlying damage which is being done in the awful circumstances I meet so many children in. Every target parent who is strengthened by what we do is another quiet victory over the mess that surrounds the issue of parental alienation, a mess made of professional incompetence and willingness to look the other way instead of see what is right there under their nose.

      I am glad you are feeling stronger, this is so much what I want this blog to do for other people.

      And if I am truly honest with you, a lot of the time when I am writing I don’t really know what it is that I am writing only that it is coming from a deeper place of knowing which comes from the immersion in the work that I do with families. I guess I am not your conventional therapist but I can tell you – other people’s approval has not ever been what motivates or interests me, what works for children is what makes me do what I do and I do it successfully, anyone who doesn’t like that is of no interest to me whatsoever, I don’t waste my time worrying about fools!!

      (But lest you think I never get down, I do. It is a tough old road to walk and work on this one and I get knocked down from time to time. The things is though, being oppositionally defiant by my very nature 🙂 if I get knocked down I get right up again and that is how it has always been and always will be. With love to you – and do remind of the comment I need to respond to x


      1. Karen you are truly a wonder in this world and in domains (non local) not readily seen or felt by most. I feel heard and found within every letter, punctuation, indentation, beginning, middle and never endings to each blog entry, comment, and the like. I’m picking up pieces of my dignity.. self worth again.

        Karen!? Wow.. What a powerful
        Soul you have and one generated by a healthy robust fierce love and protection for the young and care for the alienated and rejected mommies and daddy’s.. what will tomorrow’s reflect as a result of today’s epidemics in this arena(Rhetorical) – you are doing your part- and more than. I love your poetic prose and how it’s interwoven in clinical jargon.. your breadth of lexicon- it is mind stretching, soul nurishing- and refreshing..

        Did you say I must understand my role in my sons life now is of one of the targeted parent in an unhealthy family dynamic? He is so mean to me at only 12.. he ignores me for weeks on end- I know he’s doing what he must do to curry “good” favor of his dad – Your helping me to see how my son sees me. He doesn’t see how kind, strong. Compassionate, LOVING, intelligent, humorous… I’m sure if he did tap into that long enough he’d feel insurmountable guilt. He has told me that he was feeling guilty for how he’ has treated me a few times..I told him I understood why he reacts in the ways that he does. He doesn’t want to agree with each other long enough… I think that’s what I’m understanding.
        What you’ve written to me and for others to read too- itakes time and energy and I feel very fortunate to have been lead straight to you.
        I’ll email you the comment. I truly give thanks 🙏🏼 for YOU!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s