As the two biggest network of organizations promoting and protecting the rights of women and children, we have observed with grave concern that the safety and wellbeing of women and children are increasingly compromised. The legitimization of “parental alienation” discourses deflect attention from the importance of assessing and reducing the risks of further abuse children and their mothers are exposed to in family violence cases. This is happening despite extensive evidence about the lack of scientific credibility of the concept of “parental alienation” and the harm the associated so-called ‘remedies’ cause to children.
In light of this evidence, outlined in detail in the Collective Memo, we fully support the recommendation to remove all references to “parental alienation” and related concepts in ICD-11.
(Statement from WAVE -Women Against Violence Europe – to World Health Organisation on inclusion of Parental Alienation in ICD-11)
This week I have continued to observe the efforts of the women’s rights lobby groups to push parental alienation out of ICD-11 the World Health Organisation’s classification of diseases. Parental alienation is currently proposed as an index term for child- caregiver problem and in my view this is the right place for it because it is properly recognised as a mental health problem.
False news about parental alienation abounds everywhere and correcting this wherever we see it is vital. Because it is in the crucible of the belief that parental alienation is ‘pseudo science’, that the risks to children who suffer the problem of psychological splitting after family separation are maintained.
A child’s unjustified rejection of a parent after family separation is settled science now and is evidenced by the vast amount of peer reviewed evidence, much of which can be accessed by anyone in the world here.
Contrary to claims made recently in the UK by a senior member of CAFCASS that there are no obvious emotional and psychological markers of alienation (at 11minutes 30 seconds into the Philippa Perry Programme on Radio 4 accessible here) these are well known and obvious to the experienced practitioner.
Whilst I accept that to the untrained eye and those who are of the belief that the child’s voice should always be listened to, the clinical markers may NOT be obvious, the reality is that with careful differentiation, justified and unjustified rejection is starkly defined by the behaviours seen in the child and the parent to whom they are aligned.
If we begin with the eight signs of alienation which are set out below, (which now seem almost old fashioned given the work that has been done to develop understanding in the field of children’s rejecting behaviours recently), and work through recent research to the concept of psychological splitting, we see that all evidence points to the reality that a child who is unjustifiably rejecting a parent will use psychological splitting as a defence mechanism and will demonstrate a lack of empathy for the parent they are rejecting as a result of that.
The 8 Clinical Markers Of Parental Alienation are
- Denigration. The campaign of denigration is when the child repeatedly complains about the parent over and over again. …
- Frivolous rationalization for the complaint. …
- Lack of ambivalence. …
- Independent thinker phenomenon. …
- Automatic support/Reflexive support. …
- Absence of guilt. …
- Borrowed scenarios. …
- Spread of animosity.
Steve Miller MD reduces those to two
- Psychological splitting
- Lack of empathy
William Bernet et al,examined the use of the Parental Acceptance and Rejection Questionnaire (PARQ) as an objective measure of psychological splitting in their article here.
For those who are interested, here is a conservative list of the literature which covers the concept of the emotional and psychological markers of parental alienation.
Andritzky, W. (2002). Behavioural patterns and personality structure of alienating parents. In W. v Boch-Galhau, U. Kodjoe, W. Andritzky & P. Koeppel (Eds.), The parental alienation syndrome (PAS): An interdisciplinary challenge for professionals involved in divorce (pp. 283-314). Berlin: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung.
Baker, A. J. L. (2005). The long-term effects of parental alienation on adult children: A qualitative research study. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 33, 289-302.
Baker, A. J. L. (2006). Patterns of Parental Alienation Syndrome: A qualitative study of adults who were alienated from a parent as a child. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 34(1), 63-78.
Baker, A. J. L. (2010). Adult recall of Parental Alienation in a community sample: Prevalence and associations with psychological maltreatment. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 51(1), 16-35.
Baker, A. J. L., & Sauber, S. R. (Eds.). (2013). Working with alienated children and families: A clinical guidebook. New York: Routledge.
Baker, A. J. L., & Verrocchio, M. C. (2013). Italian college student-reported childhood exposure to parental alienation: correlates with well-being. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 54(8), 609-628.
Baker, A. J. L., & Verrocchio, M. C. (2016). Exposure to parental alienation and subsequent anxiety and depression in Italian adults. American Journal of Family Therapy, 44(5), 255-271.
Bala, N. M. C.,Mitnick, M., Trocme, N. & Houston, C. (2007). Sexual abuse allegations and parental separation: Smokescreen or fire? Journal of Family Studies, 13 (1), 26-56.
Balmer, S., Matthewson,M. & Haines, J. (2018). Parental alienation: Targeted parent perspective. Australian Journal of Psychology, 70, 91–99.
Ben-Ami, N., & Baker, A. J. L. (2012). The long-term correlates of childhood exposure to parental alienation on adult self-sufficiency and well-being. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 40(2), 169-183.
Bernet, W. (1993).False statements and the differential diagnosis of abuse allegations.Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 32(5), 903-910.
Bernet, W., Gregory,N., Reay, K. M. & Rohner, R. P. (2017), An Objective Measure of Splitting in Parental Alienation: The Parental Acceptance–Rejection Questionnaire. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 63 (3), 776-783.
Bernet, W., Wamboldt, M. Z. & Narrow, W. E. (2016). Child affected by parental relationship distress. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 55(7), 571–579.
Blush, G. J. & Ross, K. L. (1987). Sexual allegations in divorce: The SAID syndrome. Conciliation Courts Review, 25 (1), 1–11.
v Boch-Galhau, W. (2013). Parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome/disorder: A serious form of psychological child abuse. Berlin: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung.
Campbell, T. W. (2013). Sexual abuse allegations in the context of custody and visitation disputes. In D. Lorandos, W. Bernet & S. R. Sauber (Eds.), Parental alienation: The handbook for mental health and legal professionals (pp. 163–189). Springfield IL: Charles C Thomas.
Celani, D. P. (2010).Fairbairn’s object relations theory in the clinical setting. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Fidler, B. J., Bala, N. & Saini, M. A. (2013). Children who resist postseparation parental contact: A differential approach for legal and mental health professionals. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Friedlander, S. & Walters, M. J. (2010). When a child rejects a parent: Tailoring the intervention to fit the problem. Family Court Review, 48 (1), 98-111.
Garber, B. D. (2004).Parental alienation in light of attachment theory, Journal of Child Custody, 1 (4), 49-76.
Garber, B. D. (2011).Parental alienation and the dynamics of the enmeshed parent–child dyad: Adultification, parentification, and infantilization. Family Court Review, 49(2), 322-335.
Gardner, R. A. (1985).Recent trends in divorce and custody litigation. Academy Forum, 29(2), 3–7.
Gardner, R. A. (1991). Legal and psychotherapeutic approaches to the three types of parental alienation syndrome families: When psychiatry and the law join forces. Court Review, 28 (1), 14-21.
Gardner, R. A. (1992). The parental alienation syndrome: A guide for mental health and legal professionals. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.
Gardner, R. A. (2002).The empowerment of children in the development of parental alienation syndrome. The American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 20(2), 5–29.
Gordon, R.M., Stoffey,R. & Bottinelli, J. (2008). MMPI-2 findings of primitive defenses in alienating parents. American Journal of Family Therapy, 36: 211-228.
Gottlieb, L. J. (2012).The parental alienation syndrome: A family therapy and collaborative systems approach to amelioration. Springfield IL: Charles C Thomas.
Harman, J. J. & Biringen, Z. (2016). Parents acting badly: How institutions and societies promote the alienation of children from their loving families. Fort Collins, CO: The Colorado Parental Alienation Project.
Harman, J. J., Leder-Elder, S. & Biringen, Z. (2016). Prevalence of parental alienation drawn from a representative poll. Children and YouthServices Review, 66, 62-66.
Jaffe, A. M., Thakkar,M. J. & Piron, P. (2017). Denial of ambivalence as a hallmark of parental alienation. Cogent Psychology, 4(1), 1-15, https://doi.org/10.1080/23311908.2017.1327144
Kelly, J. B., & Johnston, J. R. (2001). The alienated child: A reformulation of parental alienation syndrome. Family Court Review, 39, 249–266.
Lowenstein, L. F.(2010). Attachment theory and parental alienation. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage 51(3):157-168.
MacKay, T. (2014).False allegations of child abuse in contested family law cases: The implications for psychological practice. Educational & Child Psychology, 31 (3), 85-96.
O’Donohue, W., Benuto, L. T. & Bennett, N (2016) Examining the validity of parental alienation syndrome, Journal of Child Custody, 13:2-3, 113-125.
Poustie, C., Matthewson, M. & Balmer, S. (2018). The forgotten parent: The targeted parent perspective of parental alienation. Journal of Family Issues, 39(12), 3298-3323.
Sher, L. (2015). Parental alienation: The impact on men’s mental health. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 29(3), online. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijamh-2015-0083.
Vassiliou, D. & Cartwright, G. F. (2001) The Lost Parents’ Perspective on Parental Alienation Syndrome, American Journal of Family Therapy, 29:3, 181-191.
Wiley, F. (2016). Serious parental alienation: The approach of the courts and practitioners in 2016. Family Law Week. Retrieved from http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed161124
Woodall, K. & Woodall, N. (2017). Understanding parental alienation: Learning to cope, helping to heal. Springfield IL: Charles C Thomas.
Despite the evidence, the women’s rights lobby groups argue that parental alienation is ‘pseudo or junk science’ which is being legitimised and present the issue as one which puts women and children at risk of harm. This is based upon the denial of parental alienation as a concept and the propagation of the idea that children only reject parents when there is a good reason to do so. But as Philippa Perry said in her interview with Paul, a parent who had been subjected the most appalling false allegations – she had always believed that there was no smoke without fire and now she understands that sometimes – there is!
The argument therefore, that parental alienation is being legitimised, is based on reality and the reality is that this is settled science. The science is concerned with the way a child is induced to use the psychological defence of splitting in the post separation landscape and that to cause that to happen through parental behaviours which trigger it, is child abuse.
That is not to deny that sometimes there are allegations made that a child is being alienated when they are not. Just as sometimes there are false allegations of abuse against a parent who is being rejected as part of a campaign of denigration to eject that parent from a child’s life.
In this minefield of allegation and counter allegation, the truth of how children come to unjustifiably reject a parent lies not in the claims made by the parental lobby groups but in the evidence of what parental alienation is and is not and the signs which tell us that it is causing rejection in a child.
The problem with the denial that parental alienation exists and the claims that it is ‘pseudo science’ which are spread widely around the internet by the women’s rights lobby groups, is that if those things are true, how do the women’s groups explain the rejection of mothers by their children after family separation? What do we say to those mothers whose children make powerful claims of abuse which are unsubstantiated alongside complete rejection of them?
Are we to say that those children are also telling the truth and that those mothers are the cause of their child’s rejecting behaviours, or are we to say that this is domestic violence by proxy? And if we are to accept the notion of domestic violence by proxy, how come those children who make those claims, are displaying the exact clinical markers shown in the research to be signs of induced psychological splitting, aka parental alienation?
We can’t have it all ways round. Parental alienation cannot not exist when it comes to mothers alienating children but exist when fathers alienate. Either it exists or it doesn’t, either children can be psychologically manipulated after family separation or they can’t and the overwhelming evidence around the world demonstrates that they can and are being manipulated by both mothers and fathers.
Parental alienation, induced psychological splitting, attachment disruptions caused by pathological alignment and rejection, all are different ways of describing the same thing. A child’s unjustified rejection of a parent in divorce or separation which is caused by intolerable psychological and emotional pressure upon the child which comes from somewhere in the family system.
In cases of parental alienation where allegations are tested and found to be untrue and the child is showing the signs of psychological splitting which are also accompanied by a range of other identifiable clinical markers, alienation is the diagnosis.
Previously abusive behaviours in a parent are one of the core signs that a child is not unjustifiably rejecting a parent and when that evidence is coupled with the lack of psychological splitting in a child, alienation is simply not the diagnosis.
It is the proper differentiation of a case which determines whether a child is or is not alienated and those who argue that the subject is controversial or ignore the reality of the vast amount of peer reviewed literature and evidence from practice which exists, are simply attempting to take the subject back in time to the parental rights fight where it does not belong.
Denying it exists, on the basis of acceptance would put women and children at risk, just does not hold up to scrutiny, because the reality is that properly differentiated cases of parental alienation simply do not place children with parents who are known abusers. Tangling up the evidence, as Victoria Derbyshire has recently, with cases of actual abusers of children being given access to children who in the most tragic of circumstances, they go on to kill, helps no-one. Not the families of children who have been killed by abusive parents and especially not those mothers who are alienated from their children, who are also women who have experienced domestic violence and thus are in desperate need of the support the women’s rights lobby purport to give to abused women and children.
Because whilst the women’s rights lobby fogs the reality of PA, alienated mothers, those very women who should be recognised and supported by those groups, are blamed, shamed and their experience is denied.
It is a ghastly consequence of an orchestrated campaign to slow up progress being made in identification, response and recovery support for all families affected by a child’s use of psychological splitting, which causes immense suffering around the world to mothers as well as fathers and their children.
Parental alienation is a mental health issue which has long lasting impact on children and families and that is why it belongs in the ICD-11.
Denying the established evidence base doesn’t make it go away.