As counselors, we come in contact with clients who are angry or heartbroken and oftentimes feel defeated. This sense of pain and loss is frequently realized in the forensic setting in which I work with parents who are desperate to rebuild a parent-child relationship that is severely damaged or estranged. I also work with children who assert that they never want to see or speak with one of their parents again.
These are not parents who have abused or neglected their children. They are parents who previously had what would be characterized as a good relationship with their children — until the time of a separation or divorce. I have worked with families in which the conflict has continued for longer than 10 years prior to therapy.
It should be noted that many people in the helping professions refer to this troubled parent-child relationship as “parental alienation.” Through the years, various nomenclatures have been applied in an attempt to give this pathological post-divorce phenomenon a name. But even as we settle on what to call it, we must help these children and the counselors who work with them.
Most counselors working with children or families have witnessed this dynamic to varying degrees. There are ample articles on child alienation, yet many counselors remain conflicted about how to effectively treat these troubled parent-child relationships.
I’ll provide a case example. “Sarah” contacted me and said she had been divorced for 15 years. She told me she had been happily remarried for five years, held a doctorate degree in mathematics and was employed as a full-time professor. But she indicated she had a damaged relationship with her 15-year-old daughter, “Julie.”
In chronicling her story in my office, Sarah vacillated between sobbing and seething with anger. She said that when Julie spent time with her biological father, “Michael,” that he undermined Sarah’s parenting boundaries, spoiled Julie and used every opportunity to denigrate Sarah. Sarah went on to say that she was worried because Julie was disregarding curfews and skipping classes, had been in trouble with the juvenile court system and had recently been caught smoking marijuana.
When I contacted Michael, he presented with a jovial disposition. He stated he was engaged to be married and was employed as a plumber. He initially appeared supportive of his daughter. Although he said he didn’t see any reason that Julie might need therapy, he indicated that he wasn’t opposed.
When Julie’s therapy sessions began, she insisted that she loathed her mother because Sarah was unreasonable. Julie stated that her mother grounded her for “trivial” reasons such as skipping school and smoking marijuana. When discussing her father’s approach to parenting, Julie described Michael as a superb parent because he did not stoop to “ruining” her life. In addition, Julie mentioned that her father was planning on buying her a car. She stated that her father would talk with her and not carry out “ridiculous, over-the-top consequences for trivial, normal teenage mishaps.”
Step one: The first step is to ask yourself if you possess the skills and advanced training to work with families engaged in transition and ongoing conflict. If not, that is OK. This is a good time to seek referrals from colleagues who are comfortable with court-connected work.
Step two: When working with parents who are separated, divorced or are in the middle of a child-custody evaluation, counselors should request a copy of the court orders prior to starting treatment with their children. Counselors should be aware that some parents “therapist shop” and are actively looking for a counselor who will tell them what they want to hear, not necessarily what is helpful. Some potential clients are searching for a counselor to align with them and join in with them about how awful their ex-spouse is. Counselors should keep in mind that failure to contact the child’s other parent may introduce a host of issues (for example, board complaints), especially if the parent seeking treatment for the child does not have the right to do so per court order. Also make certain to obtain all necessary releases before conversing with any previous counselors who have worked with the family members.
Step three: Counselors working with parents who are irrationally rejected by their children need to be well-versed in the literature. Failing to recognize and treat alienated children and their parents prolongs emotional damage for the child and can harm the entire family system.
Step four: As a counselor, you must know who the client is. Are you working with the child, the child and the parent(s), or one/both of the parents? It is vital to understand how the client ended up in your office. Additionally, your role must be clear. Are you working as a court-appointed counselor or a court-involved counselor? Recognize that in cases of child alienation, other parties — such as other counselors, attorneys or parenting coordinators — are often involved.
Step five: Know your definitions, but do not diminish your clients by labeling them. When conversing with other professionals, it is acceptable to refer to the parent to whom the child aligns as the “favored” parent. The “rejected” parent (or “target” parent) is the parent whom the child rejects or refuses to spend time with. When working with the courts, and depending on their jurisdiction, counselors may want to use behavioral descriptions, not diagnostic labels.
Counselors should remember to focus on behaviors that can be described. Although it is acceptable to discuss the concept of triangulation, gatekeeping, pathological alignment or irrational alienation with your colleagues, it is not helpful to use these terms with clients.
Step six: Do not diagnose if you have not actually met the client or witnessed the parent-child interactions. For instance, if one parent seeks your services and reports that the other parent is alienating the child and is a narcissist and/or borderline, you cannot diagnose that other parent as borderline because you have not met with or witnessed that parent.
Richard Warshak is a world-renowned expert on parental alienation. He has written countless peer-reviewed publications on custody disputes, divorce, alienated children and stepfamilies, and has developed educational materials. Warshak recently provided strategies that can guide counselors in working with this difficult parent-child dynamic. According to a study he published earlier this year (see http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2015-27699-001/), several fallacies can compromise the therapeutic process.
- Children never unreasonably reject the parent with whom they spend the most time. The first fallacy counselors should recognize is that more time does not necessarily equal quality time. Using rapid clinical judgment, it is easy to conclude that a child identifies with the parent whom he or she sees the most. If counselors do not recognize this fallacy, they may determine that the parent must have done something that warranted poor treatment by the child. This line of thinking contributes to additional emotional distress. In turn, under this assumption, counselors can go on the lookout for flaws within the rejected parent to substantiate their beliefs. Counselors should be aware that when a child spends time with the nonresidential parent, that parent could be using that limited time to teach the child to disrespect and disobey the custodial parent. To offset this fallacy, counselors must stop thinking in unidimensional terms.
- Children never unreasonably reject mothers. According to Warshak’s study, “Those who believe mothers cannot be the victims of their children’s irrational rejection are predisposed to believe that children who reject their mothers have good reason for doing so.” He advises that counselors should keep an open mind about both parents and consider that mothers may be rejected without good reason.
- Each parent contributes equally to a child’s alienation. Counselors should not generalize that both parents are always equally at fault for a child’s alienation. Counselors would not place equal blame for intimate partner violence on the victim. Likewise, it is not helpful to equally blame both parents for a child’s unwarranted rejection when one parent may be instigating the child’s actions and attitudes.
One bias that comes into play is repetition bias. Those working in the field are permeated with the term “high conflict” and may deem that parental alienation is synonymous with that term. As described by Warshak, the term high conflict “implies joint responsibility for generating conflict.”
In my practice, I developed a nuanced view. There are times when both parents contribute to and could benefit from parenting education or family therapy. However, in the case of Sarah and Michael, Michael openly defied the court’s orders, ultimately refusing to let Sarah spend time with their daughter. He also denigrated Sarah in front of the child. I would not be practicing the concept of “non-maleficence” when working with Sarah if I were to suggest that she was at fault. Demanding more of Sarah and blaming her only adds insult to injury.
As Warshak points out, “When the rejected parent’s behavior is inaccurately assumed to be a major factor in the children’s alienation, therapy proceeds in unproductive directions.” At this point, counselors may wonder, “What am I to do?” A counselor should remain neutral and avoid making unwarranted assumptions.
- Alienation is a child’s transient, short-lived response to the parents’ separation. This fallacy is damaging because child alienation may be deemed to be a normal byproduct of divorce that will resolve on its own. Prior to going into private practice, I co-led a support group for adults who had lost all contact with their children. These cases were not due to a background of abuse or neglect; instead, many involved a contentious divorce.
Unfortunately, some counselors espouse the notion that the child should decide when to see the rejected parent and suggest that over time, the child will come around. In some cases, the child may re-establish a relationship with the parent. However, not all children reconnect. And even if they do, parents cannot reclaim lost time.
Counselors understand that they should practice within the scope of their license. In many states, counselors are prohibited from making access or possession determinations. Counselors do not have the right to supersede a court order and tell an alienated child that he or she does not have to spend time with the rejected parent. Again, it is necessary to obtain a copy of the client’s current court orders prior to starting counseling.
Another practice tip is that counselors should encourage the parent who is the target of unwarranted rejection to remain in constant contact with his or her children. Counselors can also aid parents in knowing and understanding the stages of development and helping parents to formulate proper responses to a child’s verbal insults.
- Rejecting a parent is a healthy short-term coping mechanism. Counselors can identify this fallacy by reflecting on common biases, many which are covered in counseling programs. Counselors must be cautious about the bias of wishful thinking because it provides a false hope to clients. As Warshak (2015) explains, “Counselors who believe that rejection of a parent is a healthy adaptation encourage parents to accept the children’s negativity until the children feel ready to discard it.” He goes on to say that “this is especially true when therapists assume that the alienation is destined to be short-lived.” Although we have specialized training as counselors, it is important to remember that we cannot predict future outcomes.
Another way to think about parental rejection is to consider whether the parents would ignore their child refusing to speak to one of the parents if the whole family still resided together. Understandably, most would find this unacceptable.
- Alienated adolescents’ stated preferences should dominate decisions. This fallacy can be offset by using analytical thinking and a basic understanding of brain development. Many adolescents know more about adult matters than we would want them to know. Regardless, adolescents are not adults and should not make adult decisions. Adolescents are prone to peer pressure and are in the process of discovering their identity. Most adults cannot imagine asking if an adolescent would like to attend school. As Warshak writes, “Adolescents’ vulnerability to external influence is why parents are wise to worry about the company their teenagers keep.”
Counselors can help rejected parents to not personalize it when a teenager has a soccer game and prefers to forego parent-child time. Or when working with a favored parent who claims the child does not enjoy time with the target parent, counselors can point out that some adolescents do not enjoy their homework, but they are expected to do it anyway.
Treatment goals and tips
When working with the child:
- Promote a healthy relationship with both parents.
- Help the child to correct cognitive distortions.
- Work with the child to maintain a balanced view of both parents.
- Improve the child’s critical thinking skills.
- Recognize when a child’s behavior is incongruent from one setting to the next.
- Augment the child’s coping skills.
When working with the rejected parent:
- Recognize that the parent may feel misunderstood.
- Work with the parent not to counter-reject the child.
- Be aware of avoidance and passivity; the parent may want to escape the poor treatment of the ex-spouse and the child by avoiding the problem altogether.
When working with the favored parent:
- Recognize there may be a role reversal. The child may be meeting the emotional needs of the parent. Help the parent recognize his or her role as a parent and encourage the parent to engage in adult relationships to find emotional support.
- Keep an eye open for enmeshment. What might initially appear as a healthy parent-child relationship could be extremely unhealthy. For instance, there may be a lack of community or family support.
- Recognize that children generally benefit from the involvement of parents, absence abuse or neglect. Realize that some rejected parents may have personality disorders and continue to instigate court hearings or defy court orders.
The do’s and don’ts
• Do not recommend a change in custody if one parent is behaving badly. Custody reversal may be necessary in some cases, but it is not the role of the counselor to make that determination.
• Do not align with one parent over the other.
• Do cooperate with parenting coordinators and the courts.
• Do recognize that parents in litigation are likely to be working toward an adult-oriented outcome — namely to prevail in court.
• Do consider a variety of explanations when working with a child or teenager who irrationally rejects a parent.
• Do not discard information that is inconsistent with the counselor’s viewpoint.
Monika Logan is a licensed professional counselor living in Dallas who specializes in troubled parent-child relationships and sexual behavior problems. In addition to maintaining a private practice and doing court-connected work, she recently developed a program to help youth in the criminal justice system maintain boundaries both offline and online and stay connected with their families. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you so very much for your article regards parental alienation. My ex-spouse retained my 16 year old daughter after court ordered prescribed contact in another country. Myself and her siblings have not seen or heart from her for 60 days now. It is heart breaking. there was never any altercation and we had a good mother-daughter relationship.
This had a lot of important issues that a lot if families deal with. I’m so thankful for your step by step guide. This will definitely come in use to me over the next few months.
I have posted several time but I doubt that I got to the core of what has happen in my life. Yes the father of my children was and still is an alcoholic at this time he is not working a AA program actually he was asked to leave the program because all the news he learnt was told to the whole town. At this point it is 24 years since I left him and he has not let go at all. If am in this community which is a 8 hours drive for me so it is rare that I go there he either follow me by car or he walks up the driveway where I was watching my grandson’s shoot pucks — he knew I was in town — the extreme down side of this alcohol is he does not dialogue but only asks questions and most of us give an answer to the questions . then he knows if am in his town or where I travel. he is a extremely snoopy person in addition he is a narcissistic type of personality which is a person that does not fill shame or remorse he has the oldest and youngest children by a tight rope its so deep that they do not think I gave birth. ‘The child in the middle lives in the same town and is sent to ask questions of like where do I travel how big is my house etc. I am going to send now and go to the gym best therapy there is have a good day.
When dealing with a controller, Narcissistic type, things are a lot more difficult as they feel they or the child do not need help , therapy or guidance.
Repairing a parent child relationship can be a difficult process, no matter what the issues involved are. Thank you for sharing the tips.
Thank you for your comments.
Monika Logan, Texas Premier Counseling Services, PLLC
I wish that some form of evaluation even nearly this thoughtful would take place here, in the local halls of justice. It’s all I’ve asked for is for the courts & their appointees to look a little closer. I’m confident the evidence speaks for itself.
There is no desire to uncover the truth in CA courts at least. Due process & judicial procedure weren’t followed in my case. It’s a common occurrence for judges to act with such disregard people. In my case there was always something postponing the hearing, until one day it was vacated. Of course I filed a motion, I wanted to present my case, but the same game persisted, years went by & my son turned 18.
For many people who get alienated it’s not just the lack training people about alienation so that the court process might act but that family law & probate law judges conduct cases unlawful fully without fear of any consequence. Due process, fair hearings for contesting motions or even accusations are not always held. Let alone any sort of thorough inquires regarding evidence let alone the state of people emotionally. These ideas only help if people get a fair day in court. 1st: if you have an attorney then you usually get treated with respect 2nd: the system is designed keep even the smartest people in the dark about following the rules so any misstep is an excuse to toss out your case.
Most people can’t afford legal help s there can be no appeal for these people either, once their crushed trying to understand the appellate process is impossible & there is no one to complain to that will act for ethological reasons to ensure the legal system serves all people.
Fair hearings, by the standards of The Constitution designed to uncover truth would put an end to a lot of this alienating garbage.
I’m working with someone on their case currently. The keyword: Evidence. As alienation escalated, I had him respond to emails, You are/this is in violation of the divorce decree parenting plan, and we captured the responses, for his court case. It’s not enough to put judges in the position of he said/she said. It took a while to document just how much of his parenting time he was losing, the plethora of email excuses from her for that, and the rise in the alienation from his kids (their emails and texts), but capture it we did.
Document, document, document, include it in a legal Contempt of Court Motion.
Best of Luck,
Amy In New Hampshire
I’m looking to get counseling for me and my daughter to understand what’s bothering her , she is adhd, and this my first time dealing with this, I just want some understanding to help my daughter
Here are some links to help you find a counselor in your local area: https://www.counseling.org/aca-community/learn-about-counseling/what-is-counseling/find-a-counselor
You are your daughter’s best counselor, her Mother. Be loving, patient, understanding, speak from your heart, tell her how you are feeling, get your daughter’s natal Astrology chart done and read all about her. . . . In this report, I promise, you’ll surely find some extremely valuable and helpful information! God also wants you to remember that you have the innate power of a capable parent who can and will take the best care of this situation for yourself, your child, and for your relationship together. It is your responsibility, a precious one which you created and gave to yourself, and what a wonderful privilege!
I have a question about a severed parent child relationship and how I should handle it because I have emotion so pro lens with it. My stepson, who calls me mommy, who I have been a part in raising since 2 years old , and been full time mom to since the age of 5. We had a very difficult time with his biological mother who was and is highly addicted to heroine and emotionally mentally physically and sexually abused him as well as medically neglected him when he was in her care. So much so that at the age of 4 , when she up and left to mo e out of state he refused to talk to her for months. We tried to be supportive and encouraged him to forgive. He did. Then she returned and the abuse began. She was so bad to him that he begged not to go back. It took years but the courts finally saw something and have my husband primary custody. She still had every weekend and some evenings. This mad her so angry she disappeared. The only times he ever saw her was when he visited his maternal grandparents and the abuse was so traumatizing that the meetings were awkward and harmful. He got old enough to understand that his grandparents were gaslighting him and he made thw choice to no longer visit them, cutting her out too. Not that the visits were that often, every few months, to twice a year . He is 12 Now. He is great in school. We have a great parent child bond. He doesn’t remember a time without me as his mother. But he does bring up the things she put him through often and I don’t know how to react to the heartbreaking accounts. Also, is there a point in time in which I should be facilitating any type of communication between him and the bioparent. I don’t want to. She destroyed his self esteem and ability to trust himself and he was so afraid to hurt someone’s feelings constantly apologizing. He is all better and mostly normal, if there is such a thing as normal. But I can’t help but feeling like even though she is toxic, she does not love him, and she hurt him to the point of no return that I am doing something wrong. She has never tried to contact us or him. We have lived in thw same place since he was born. I wouldn’t even know how to get a hold of her, if she isn’t still in jail. But I have a horrible time coping with the fact that some woman lost her child, that i feel is by all rights my child. I have birthed children too, and I can’t imagine that she doesn’t ever think of him. Please tell me how I am supposed to feel and why I can’t stop thinking that one day she will be better and try to come back sometime and how I should deal with that . I mean, she has been MIA for 7years now. But I still worry and feel sorry for her evwn if she is a horrible unfeeling person.
Be patient and take each day and it’s circumstances as they arise. Remember that this young boy’s mother was also once just a child and who knows what may have happened to her for her to be acting the way she is. Be compassionate towards the boy’s mother first, and since he is doing well with your love and care already, and then go from there. God bless his birth mother, hope and pray for her to receive some healing of her own inner child. Do not worry so when you are with this young man, listen to his stories and simply offer your listening ears and stable, ongoing presence. Please remember what is important in the present, think with your heart, and always place the child’s welfare above all else, yet do not neglect to take good care of yourself. Most parents also do not realize that their children have their own individual souls, separate selves from any family members, independent in mind and emotionally mature, around age 11 to 13 years old, and they are capable of handling their own life’s affairs. Help him feel more confident, in regards to dealing with his own personal relationships, especially any future meetings with his birth mother. Wherever love is truly present between people, so too there is God’s Loving Presence.
This may help you locate a counselor in your area: https://www.counseling.org/aca-community/learn-about-counseling/what-is-counseling/find-a-counselor
Also, you may find resources on http://www.warshak.com and http://www.afccnet.org/
I too have lost my children to this “parental alienation.” I knew their father was telling them bad things about me because my boys have told me, over the years, that they were not allowed to acknowledge me or speak about me. They also told me their father punched them, threatened to kill them, and threatened to break their bones. So, i went to child protection services to report what my children had told me and was told nothing could be done about it because I did not see any bruises or marks. Time and time again I tried to get help from police and other legal authorities and was turned away. Finally, in 2015, my boys’ father finally got my boys to go to court and testify all sorts of things against me. None of the rules of family law were followed, none of the Arizona revised statutes were followed, and the judge went against his own judicial code of conduct in this case because it seems that if there are no lawyers, the judge can believe anything he wants without proof. Anyway, I requested that no matter who my kids ended up with, that they be required to go to counseling for at least 6 months. After all, if I was such a horrible parent that my rights needed to be taken away, they need help to heal and if they were, in fact, victims of alienation then they need help as well. No matter what the truth was, my boys needed help before they become adults. The judge, claiming to have made his decision “in the best interests of the children” and their father claiming I was this “horrible, negative, abusive parent who only hurt my own children” refused to mandate counseling for my boys. This is curious to me as if they were both truly concerned with my boys’ mental and physical health and their well-being, why would they not want to help them heal and be prepared for their future? Anyway, I am now a counseling student of marriage and family therapy and want to work toward taking steps to prevent parental alienation.
It is always disheartening to hear or read about anytime a parent or family member has been irrationally rejected by a child. Your aspirations to prevent/address parental alienation, as well as furthering your education are positive and commendable steps. Parents often do not know where to turn, as evidenced by the many detailed accounts across the internet. It is a natural response for any parent, who observes his/her child(ren) being emotionally abused, to want their child(ren)’s emotional pain to end. In response, parents often perform exhaustive research for solutions to end this emotional abuse.
It is important to note, however, that when searching for help rejected parents must not only remain cognizant of potential suggestibility, but they must also remain vigilant in not falling prey to over simplistic solutions. It is prudent to understand that any professional field is restricted in what they can and cannot do. As noted in your description, it appears that Child Protective Services was prohibited, if not limited, in its ability to intervene. Unfortunately, states often have limited resources and/or are not adequately trained in detecting parental alienation (or any of the numerous other definitions that describes this form of child psychological abuse).
In my clinical experience, parent-child relationships problems may be easy to describe and/or define in text book settings, but are often evidenced to be complex in reality. It is imperative to have a highly experienced and trained professional when addressing parental alienation. Also in some situations, a collaborative team proves not only to be beneficial, but essential. As you may know, any treatment should mirror the severity of the circumstance. When addressing parental alienation, many factors come into play (i.e. allegations of sexual abuse and intimate partner violence).
It should be noted that milder cases of parental alienation may benefit from one or both parents completing co-parenting education classes that include education about child alienation, generalizations, and assumptions. In moderate to severe cases, however, parents may need to implement parallel parenting, require court intervention, and/or require a parenting facilitator (called a special Master in some States) depending on the degree of rejection. Also it is important to remember that the key targets of intervention should be individualized, remain child focused, and stay specific to the unique parent-child dynamics.
Where can I find a counselor for myself (mom) who has 2 adult alienated children? I am broken over this.
Hello Pamela, You can find a counselor in your local area via the links here: https://www.counseling.org/aca-community/learn-about-counseling/what-is-counseling/find-a-counselor
You said two ADULT alienated CHILDREN. Find a counselor for yourself, get on with your life, stop being selfish and self-centered, leave your children alone now! They deserve to get on with their own lives, with or without you, it no longer matters. Don’t give up, but you must realize that it is now a privilege to be in their lives. It doesn’t matter if you are their “mother” anymore, that was your responsibility a long time ago and now your job is over. Your Children Have A Life Separate From You And So Too Do You.
“….It is imperative to have a highly experienced and trained professional when addressing parental alienation.” —
Yes. but they are virtually impossible to find and confirm. Even the links posted above take you to a “Therapy Directory” that has 74 categories, but not “Parental Alienation.” Few counselors specialize in this, and the few I’ve talked to who are even aware of it have never actually delved deep into a case, and are still easily fooled.
Aside from skilled professionals, an alienated child can come into contact with many other counselors, school staff, social workers, doctors and mental-health professionals who have no concept and only re-enforce the problem. They’re very very sympathetic with the child’s lost relationship and are quick to advise the rejected parent to “get help.” If I get a chance to explain, I’m met with the very standard platitudes such as “Oh this is normal for teenagers, he’ll snap out of it,” and “Let it go.” I once told a social worker that my ex read books with the kids about my supposed personality disorders, and his answer was “So? It’s healthy to read together about mental health.”
Even when counselors come across a glaring symptom — one school counselor told me she found it odd that my 13yo son referred to me by first name in a private discussion — there’s absolutely nothing they can do. When an alienating parent follows court orders (mine are 50-50), there’s no recourse, even if the orders aren’t being followed exactly. A teenage boy who spends all his nights with his father is assumed to be normal,, despite overwhelming other flags (“I always knew something was wrong with her” “I wanted a mother but didn’t get one.”). The overarching belief for teenagers is “it’s normal for a 15yo boy to want to spend more time with his father” “let him decide” and the ubiquitous “let it go, it’ll pass.”
Even my son’s private counselor advised me “let him make his own choices” and to seek parent-coaching. Far from correcting my son’s distorted views, the counselor validated my son’s “perception of facts.” After 18 months, he started to see that most of what my son said came word-for-word from his father — but again he could do nothing about it .
Court-action is ripe fodder for an alienator to entrench their role as victim and further the alienation. My son’s father told my son “Mom is draining our family finances, spending your college money on her lawyer crap, and I’m forced to defend myself in court “.
So the advice to “find a skilled and trained professional” is almost as futile and hope-sapping as “just let it pass”, because they’re virtually impossible to find, and there’s nothing they can do anyway. In a 50-50 custody situation, the alienating parent has far too much contact and control for any counselor to start to bridge the chasm even if they did know what to do.
Instead, widespread awareness and training of parental-alienation, making the warning signs common knowledge among *all* counselors, social workers, teachers and anyone in regular contact with children is the only way. But that’s reaching almost as high as finding a skilled professional who actually knows about this and can actually do anything.
A general directory usually will not include a listing of those who specialize in working with children who irrationally reject parents. Locating a specialist is difficult because, as you noted, few specialize in the field and the nomenclature for parental alienation is often confounded. Also, counselors are usually trained to establish and develop empathy for their clients. However, empathy can have adverse effects when a therapist unwittingly aligns with a child, thus further entrenching an unhealthy alliance between a favored parent and a child. As a caveat, it may not always be assumed that the counselor is credulous, as they simply may not have corroborated or fact checked the story being told by a petulant and/or misguided adolescent.
Counselors who actually specialize in parental alienation are privy to numerous articles and journals that specifically address this subject. Up-to-date articles that focus on the potential pitfalls therapists may encounter and should be aware of when conducting treatment individually with an alienated child are available as well. Training for counselors, who specialize in alienation, are made aware of the advisories that caution against individual counseling. Training for parental alienation explicitly encourages treating the family system. Yes, a counselor cannot always bridge the divide, however, it is important to remember that each family is unique and for mild cases, individual therapy may abate some degree of alienation. Specifically, psychoeducation when conducted individually may prove beneficial if the child has not already aligned, is not refusing visitation, continues to see the rejected parent, and is resilient. Generally speaking and preferably at minimum, those who specialize in parental alienation will treat the entire family under the provision of a court order.
Clearly widespread education and awareness are not only beneficial but vital for schools, counselors, and teachers. Intervening in the early stages of irrational rejection can provide the opportunity to restore hope, offset disparaging remarks, and/or improve/repair critical thinking skills. Although great strides in research and awareness have been made, the complexities/understanding surrounding badmouthing and irrational rejection is generally considered as inchoate and warrants further research.
Although a child’s voice is important, a helping professionals should not advise/condone a parent to allow a child to drop out of school or promote that a fifteen year old make decisions about adult matters. Relative to locating qualified counselors who specialize in working with alienated families, some professionals include a curriculum vitae on their website to assist clients in establishing a good fit based on the counselor’s experience, education, and specific training.
Please HELP and give me your opinion. My ex-wife has NPD but is very covert and intelligent making the proof of abuse/alienation more difficult. Thankfully time and her patterns are beginning to support this but it doesnt give me the 3 years ive missed. I missed the last 3 years of my angels childhood and im devastated. She was 9 when ex started this conflict and she is 12 now. We were VERY close.
Question: The childs therapist that has treated my child for 4 years had done the opposite of the advice from this website. Seeing a therapist was my idea b/c after FIVE years of divorced my daughter would still have severe separation anxiety when it was time to return to her mother and stepfather. It was heartbreaking and she would say “I dont want to live with Mommy, I want you Daddy” I NEVER encouraged this and would reply appropriately. My ex picked the child therapist and after a year she became a weapon for my ex-wife. When we met I told the therapist in private that my daughter had told me that her mother was telling my child to “suck in her stomach” in public because “she looked fat.” This was an 8 yo! It was baby fat. I wanted the therapist to speak to my child about this and my ex so my child wouldn’t feel terrible or later have an eating disorder. (I never confronted my ex w/this b/c she would retaliate by shaming my child) After 1 year I never received a treatment plan, update, exit strategy or any response to my communications from childs therapist. So, I withdrew my consent to treat and informed my ex I would no longer be paying 1/2 without some communication going fwd. No reply. Four months later I received a notice that my ex had been given full emergency custody b/c the therapist wrote me a letter (I didnt receive until the custody notice from court) and copied my ex and stated she was “concerned about my relationship with my child and alleged that my child had told her I had been abusing alcohol and she was scared to stay with me and other allegations with no supporting evidence. ALL LIES. I was given supervised visitation and phone contact but the therapist advised my ex to stop all visitation and later phone contact. My child refuses to speak to me or respond to any letters or cards I continue to send. Therapist has refused to provide any further updates to me or court or to even speak to me about my child or anything else. She only communicates with my ex. She has destroyed my relationship with no option for recourse. She refuses to appear in court. I will have to force her to do so via court order. In your opinion has this therapist broken any ethical or legal rules? I want to get my child to see another therapist b/c i think she is being manipulated. Do I have any recourse?
A quick addition: My ex, using the therapists TWO letters nearly THREE years ago has recently filed a petition to terminate my parental rights and states my child is begging her stepfather to adopt her. I dont believe that this is true and that my child realizes this is PERMANENT. The therapist has refused to provide the court & my attorney, NOT ME, w/child’s mental health records. Its clear that most states have confidentiality statutes prohibiting mental health professionals from disclosing such records without the client’s permission, and few of those statutes contain exceptions for the age of the client. Second, the mental health professional tends to side with the child in these cases, and refuse disclosure, so that the parent’s claim is against the mental health professional. Courts tend to side with the professional in these cases, BUT, therapist is using records and childs alleged statements as a shield and a sword. I have been forced by court to allow my MH and Substance Abuse assessments to be examined so why shouldn’t this therapist be forced to confirm her “concerns” via records? They want to take my CHILD!! I am refusing to release my MH records until child’s therapist agrees. Is this absurd? Therapist has already disclosed what child has supposedly said so the “cat is out of the bag” right? What kind of mother would do this to a child to “win”? How can the court not see it??
Your situation sounds heartbreaking. Unfortunately, I cannot give you advice about your case. I can state that seeking assistance from a counselor and an attorney in your area may be helpful. It is important to verify the counselor’s experience and training by review of his/her resume or curriculum vitae.
Texas Premier Counseling Services, PLLC
Thank you for your comment. Yes; therapists, social workers, and psychologists, who work in the field, are familiar with such experts as Dr. Amy Baker, Dr. William Bernet, and Dr. Saini – just to name a few. Highly skilled therapists (as well as other helping professionals), who work with alienated children are keenly aware that the “unhealthy” parent sees the child as an extension of himself/herself. Again, you are also correct in reminding how important it is to rule out sexual abuse and/or physical abuse. As a caveat, however, ruling out abuse should not typically be determined by a parent’s self-report alone and must be fact checked. This determination requires that the court appointed therapist remain neutral. The therapist role, as a court appointed neutral, is understandably not the same as that of an alienated parent. Therefore, it is vital that the therapist not lose objectivity and/or become a passionate advocate. It is also not unreasonable to believe that one parent may be more culpable, especially in severe cases where an alienating parent may ignore court orders and/or block parenting visitation/access. Consequently, maintaining a neutral and objective position is essential. It is the same reason a physician would typically not operate on their own spouse and serves to prevent emotions from clouding professional judgment.
Clearly, skilled professionals with extensive training recognize that abuse cannot be ruled-out by simplistic questionnaire(s) or assessment tool(s) that lacks validity and reliability, and/or one parent’s report(s). Currently, those who seek continuing education with organizations such as the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) and who stay up-to-date in the field are familiar with various decision trees that already exists and which serve as a guide to rule out other types of abuse. In addition, most realize that decision trees only serve as a guide with an emphasis on safety first. Skilled therapists are keenly aware that no tool can predict with 100 percent certainty. Additionally, a skilled therapist also needs to be cognizant of other possible issue(s) the child may be struggling with, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) that are unrelated to parental alienation and which may lead one parent to believe/assert the child is alienated (again, a key reason to meet with both parents). Yes; I concur that in extreme cases, children may be required to be removed from an “unhealthy” parent for a specified period of time. We certainly can agree that children need new ways of thinking and I am encouraged that our field is making such great strides in the treatment of children whose emotional abuse propels them to irrationally reject a parent.
Texas Premier Counseling Services, PLLC
I, too, have been a victim of parental alienation. My oldest daughter and her therapist did not get caught up in the manipulating and lies from the stepmother (Bio-dad lets the stepmother be responsible for contacting and writing to therapists/attorneys, etc.) The therapist actually stopped the stepmother from the manipulation and lies. My youngest daughter’s therapist; however, got caught up in it, and is biased. My daughter and I were very close, and I never discouraged her from seeing her father, or spoke horribly of him. There was a lot of undermining and manipulation going on at his house, things being said in such a way by my ex and stepmother, that would get my daughters mad or think negatively of me. As I said, thankfully, my oldest’s therapist stayed neutral, and set boundaries for what was going on, but the other therapist did not.
My ex won by convincing my youngest daughter to not live with me, alienated me and my whole side of the family, smiled when she blatantly ignored me in a store, and is gloating that there is virtually no contact. He did not succeed in doing this with my oldest daughter.
I always encouraged my daughters to visit and have a relationship with their father. My ex, on the other hand, always threatened that if I ever left him, he would make sure that I was on the outside-looking in. (May I add, we’ve been divorced for 14 years!) He succeeded with one child. My ex was also a victim of alienation: his mother forbid him to see his father and father’s family.
It’s been over 2 years now, and I don’t see things changing. My therapist seems to think that she’ll realize when she goes to college in a year. In the end, I’m very heartbroken, in therapy, and trying to move on with my life. Both parents should be in their child’s life, unless there’s a valid reason that they shouldn’t. Plotting children against a parent is wrong, and mentally harmful.
I need a recommendation for a good therapist in my area who specializes in parent/child alienation.
I have 2 adult daughters who are alien to me as a result of a divorce.
DANVILLE CA 94526
Hello Cathy, You can find a counselor in your local area via the links here: https://www.counseling.org/aca-community/learn-about-counseling/what-is-counseling/find-a-counselor
My mom and sister are arguing over which person has the best garden. It may seem simple at first, but it has turned ugly pretty quickly as my sister mentioned the divorce. When I read that a counselor can help remediate the situation if the counselor has witnessed their behaviors, it gave me an idea to find a counselor that can work at home. Not only will he be able to monitor their relationship at close range but be able to think of a way to remediate their situation as well.
I need help finding help for my sister and her two 14 and 13 year old kids. Both have been through a lot since they were much younger. The boy (13) is always in a very bad, mood, misbehaves so much at home and at school, will say anything that comes to mind without a filter. He is very, very book smart but just so careless with himself, his belongings, and just about everything and everyone. My niece in the other hand is very quiet, does not express her feelings much to anyone but me. She has told me she has not feelings for anyone. She is not aggressive as her brother but does show frustration in other ways, especially towards her mother, my sister. There is so much chaos in their home, with their mom, their step dad; so much yelling, so much comparison, (my sister has other younger children-two youngest from her current marriage) and just so much HELL!. My sister and I have a good relationship, our children are very close but seeing this so much also frustrates me, it angers me. I hate seeing my niece and nephew like this. I try to be there for them as much as I can and when I can, during a weekend I take them with me for the entire weekend just because I feel and know they are at peace and happier when they get to spend time with my son and I. The oldest one told her mom she wants to move in with me and has said that with me she is just much happier, at peace because there is not yelling, there is no comparisons, there is that love affection and patience they get from me and I know it is true what she says, and it hurts me because I feel so hopeless. I am terrified for their lives and their future. I know my sister is tired, overwhelmed, but I feel she is not trying hard enough. She gives up so easily. I just know she is not well either. She also needs help and I need help with this too. I must save them.
Hello Heidy, Find a counselor in your local area by calling the NAMI helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
This is a good article, however, I am having quite a hard time finding what is acceptable when there are other parents involved.
Example, I have a son who is 3 years old he was abandoned by his father when he was only 3 months old and for a year never paid CS. AG’s office enforced the law and I was able to start getting child support. Though my child’s dad made it very clear he did not want anything to do with my son and for 3 years he never once even asked about my son.
During this time I had wonderful support from another man, who now is known to my son as his daddy, my husband helped me raised this child since birth. And is the only father figure my son knows. They both love each other dearly. But now his bio dad wants back in. And the court had no problems letting him get a GAL and Reunification therapist. How is sit possible that there is little regard to the child’s life, he has a stable family and father and just because the bio dad wants in now things are changing what about my son and his feelings. How come no one cares?
i am 20 years old and very sensitive its my nature and my parents don’t understand me i don’t explain my issues to them because they don’t listen to me. what will i do. My name is Faith. Thank you.
Parental alienation…let’s talk about domestic violence and why a child who watched her dad abuse her mom for a decade wouldn’t want anything to do with him. And he won’t take responsibility for it, won’t even admit it. He is just gaslighting her.
And every study that says two parents are usually better than one if read by a scientist also says “and sometimes one safe parent is better than two.” Domestic violence is much more prevalent than “parental alienation.’ High conflict divorce comes of men who have lost control of their wives. Parental Alienation? No. My husband alienated my daughter all by himself.
Would you people please get real? do you know how many children you are leaving in unsafe houses with no mother to protect them anymore?
What is wrong with this world besides that men continue to be bigger and stronger and make all the rules and even make second-wave feminists think mothers aren’t important.
Please stop writing about “parental alienation.” Write about the domestic violence that causes it. Write about what Dad has to do if he wants a relationship with the child, don’ blame mom for his violence. it’s CRAZY!!!!