Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Craig Childress Tries to Drag Attachment Theory Into the Parental Alienation Swamp


It was only a few weeks ago that I first encountered the name of the California psychologist Craig Childress. The context was a discussion with advocates of the concept of parental alienation (PA to its familiars). If you have not yet encountered PA, you have been lucky so far, but that luck is about to run out if you keep reading. There may be such a thing as PA—no doubt there sometimes is—but it is embedded in a morass.
PA is a designation for the events and results that may occur in a divorce if one parent influences a child to reject the other. The rejection is evidenced by the child’s willingness to remain in the care of one parent but fear of and reluctance to be with the other. If the first of these people is seen to be persuading the child to fear and avoid the other parent, the former is sometimes described as the alienating parent, and the latter as the alienated parent (although this last is rather confusing because it is the child who feels alienated from the rejected parent, not the parent himself or herself). My own preference would be to call the people the accepted parent and the rejected parent, respectively.

 Some students of PA, especially, it seems, those connected with fathers’ rights groups, propose that a child cannot develop in a mentally healthy fashion without relationships with both parents, and that therefore the alienation must be resolved for the child’s own sake. As a result of this assumption, they define situations of PA as child abuse, unless there are rational motives for the child’s rejection, for example that the rejected parent has been frightening or abusive in the past. If PA is abusive, the accepted parent is an abuser, and needs to have his or her behavior corrected; the rejected parent is a victim, and needs the relationship with the child restored in order to facilitate the child’s emotional development. When courts are in the picture, of course, the treatment of the accepted and rejected parents can include the threat or reality of custody or visitation changes as means to stop PA, or court-ordered therapies designed to correct the situation and foster good relations between the child and the parent(s) who cooperate in the process.

Advocates of PA have argued that there is a definable parental alienation syndrome (PAS) that should have been included in DSM-5. The DSM-5 group rejected this proposal on the grounds that there is no evidence that PAS exists in some way that makes it separate from other diagnoses in the manual. Similarly, there is at this time no support for the idea that any treatment used for PA is an evidence-based treatment. (This is why I refer to all this stuff as the parental alienation swamp.)

Now, here’s where we get to Craig Childress. Childress, a licensed clinical psychologist in California with a Psy.D. degree, and a faculty member at California Southern University, a distance-learning, on line outfit, has attacked others’ claims to treat PA and has presented his own claim that he knows 1) what causes PA behavior by accepted parents, and 2) how to treat the child’s rejection of one parent. He has published a book with a “boutique” publisher, Oaksong Press, about how this all works, and maintains an elaborate Facebook page and web site to argue for his views.  There he comments on the “abject ignorance” of his opponents, a statement no doubt entertaining to some of the FB audience, but certainly not professional discourse. (Childress’ on line CV appears to show no activity between 1985 and 1998, raising more than one question about his professional history.)

Let’s have a look at Childress’ claims about the sources of PA behavior by the accepted parent and the impact it has on a child. Childress attributes a parent’s persuasion of a child to reject the other parent to re-enactment of the accepted parent’s own traumatic attachment history.  Where such a history exists, he proposes, the affected parent develops a narcissistic/borderline personality, with a tendency to “split” the world into all-good and all-bad components. Childress chooses two aspects of a problematic development of attachment as critical here: the early existence of disorganized attachment, and relationships that involve role reversals, so that, e.g., child cares for mother. These characteristics, according to Childress, make the accepted parent a “pathogenic parent”.  This is an interesting set of ideas, and eminently testable by empirical means. But… Childress has not done this testing, and although on his web site he refers to his claims as “well established in the scientific literature” (notably omitting a list of references), this is certainly not the case if we assume as many do that “scientific literature” involves empirical work beyond the level of anecdote or clinical report. Yes, attachment theory is based on careful observational work and on longitudinal studies, but the fact that there is a scientific foundation for some aspects of attachment does not mean that the foundation can properly be generalized to every statement that shares concepts with attachment theory. (There is a good deal of this kind of thing around just now, I’m afraid.) As for pathogenicity of any parenting pattern, this requires longitudinal study to ascertain.

Let’s look at Childress’ claims about treatment of PA effects on children. He rejects the idea that reunification can be facilitated by work with the child and both parents. Instead, he proposes that help can be given only by “protective separation” of the child from the accepted parent. During this period of separation, the child experiences treatment as described by Childress on his web site, with the goal of coming to enjoy and seek to be with the formerly rejected parent. If the child is successful in meeting this goal for 10 weeks, two one-hour Skype or phone sessions per week with the formerly-accepted parent will be allowed. According to Childress, this method empowers the child: “It is in the child’s power to extend or shorten the Treatment period. If the child continues to remain symptomatic [i.e., express rejection of the parent], then the Treatment period can be continued to six months or longer. However, if the child chooses [sic, N.B.] to become non-symptomatic, then the Treatment period can be ended in as little as 8 weeks or less, based on the child’s behavior. “ Childress argues that a study design can be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of this method, but he does not appear to have done this, nor does he take into account the effect of maturational change.  

Is Childress’ approach less supported by empirical work than other PA approaches? No, it is not, although his pugnacity and undue confidence about his statements tend to obscure that fact. Actually, all of the PA discussions of which I am aware, as well as many judicial decisions concerned with parenting relationships, have the same flaw. They completely neglect  to consider the effects of developmental change on the child’s interactions with the social environment and their effect on him or her. The effects of parenting patterns on children involve transactional processes in which each person affects the other in ways that change over time; the changes occur because of learning by both parties and because of maturational changes, rapid in the child and slow but present in the adult. This means that when treatment is appropriate (an enormous issue), the way it is done, especially if it is to involve separation from the accepted parent, must be congruent with the child’s developmental needs for attachment and for exploration. These are vastly different in toddlers and in kindergarteners, and different from both in teenagers. Perhaps Childress does not mean to suggest that a two-year-old who resists going with his father should be separated from the mother for 8 or 10 weeks or longer--  but if he does not mean this, he would do well to say so.

There are many more issues to be considered here. I am still taken aback, I must say, by Childress’ view that a child may “choose” whether or not to show fear and rejection of a parent; there is a flavor of “breaking the spirit” about the whole thing. But the main considerations, I think, are 1) show us the evidence for these claims,  2) tell how developmental age should be taken into account, and 3) describe the treatment goals in transactional terms. This is a challenge that I hope will eventually be addressed not only by Childress but by other PA proponents.


164 comments:

  1. First, what a horrible 'therapy' to inflict on a child and family!
    Then to go completely off topic:
    I've been struggling (in the absence of PubMed access or similar) to sort attachment awfulness from the evidence based end of things. We have two adopted children, one of whom has complex needs. I read the whole government funded local authority adoption library when adopting and discovered the liked of Nancy Verrier, Dan Hughes (the current darling of the UK adoption scene) and so forth. I complained and had one book removed from the library- it advocated all the really awful stuff- our SW was horrified when I showed her.
    But it seems that attachment therapy and valid therapies are hideously jumbled and many of the professionals we're working with are pretty muddled about the difference too.
    Could you possibly list the main authors or speakers you would view as big warnings for attachment/holding therapy type stuff? The Trojan nonsense thing makes working this stuff out when being referred from service to service really difficult for a non-expert!

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    1. You are so right --- attachment therapy and evidence-based treatments have become jumbled in many people's minds, and part of this is because some editors of apparently reputable journals "gentrified" attachment therapy by publishing articles approving of it. Some otherwise respectable book publishing houses did the same thing.

      But in addition to those problems, I think that many publicly-funded adoption libraries stocked up on AT material by going on line, seeing what was advertised that had to do with adoption, and buying it. Once these things are in the library or on the web site, nobody ever gets rid of them. A case in point is the adoption web site of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia-- they've had the problems pointed out to them and have expressed regret, but the site does not change-- someone would have to work on it, and I know it is very true that nobody has the time. The only option seems to be that people who are aware must make a fuss every time they see something included that should not be. For example, I just had a communication with the editor of a casebook on planning psychotherapy for children that had a totally mistaken chapter on RAD, and recommended reading Nancy Thomas! But he was quickly persuaded and says it will come out in the next edition, so something ventured, something gained, eventually.

      BTW, have you ever looked at "Adoption for Dummies"? Be prepared to be disturbed.

      Okay, here's my list of authors who IN MY OPINION have got it wrong about attachment in ways that are potentially harmful to children and families:

      Arthur Becker-Weidman
      Foster Cline
      Sophie Dziegielewski (though possibly improved now)
      Sheila Fearnley
      Ronald Federici
      Heather Forbes
      Deborah Hage
      Dan Hughes (plus Kim Golding)
      Gregory Keck
      Debra "Kali" Miller
      Nancy Thomas
      Nancy Verrier

      I am sure others will be added by readers!

      Please note that I don't include Hughes because I think he necessarily does "holding" in the usual sense, but because he stresses the idea that re-enactment of earlier events as they should have occurred will somehow correct relationship problems. I think this is a mistaken view of how attachment and relationships continue to develop through childhood. Incidentally, if you look at the DDP network web site, you will see their response to my criticisms of Hughes' work.

      Thanks for getting into this fray. Unless some adopted parents pay attention to what's going on, it will continue to be awfully difficult to correct these problems.

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    2. Anon, you asked what horrible "therapy to inflict"? I am not sure what exact details you are referring to. But what I am more concerned with is what extra-ordinary psychological abuse has been done to a child that is display that symptom set!!! If it is not abuse, just let me know what caused that symptom set, which is, in reference to a parent: loss of attachment, grandiosity, entitlement, absence of empathy, splitting, and a fixed false belief system. How did the child develop those symptoms? And if a child does not have those symptoms, then there is no further discussion.

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    3. She won't respond because you are right.

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    4. ANON: Other authors to be avoided on the issue of Attachment Therapy, with disturbing quotes from their works:

      http://www.childrenintherapy.org/proponents/index.html

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    5. Dr Childress makes this scope very narrow by saying it only applies to children of a PD person. First it is pretty hard to get diagnosed with a PD. If that person successfully alienates a child then some tough therapy is ahead. Dr Childress did some really nice work figuring this out as a way to diagnose and resolve PA as opposed to it being a nebulous diagnosis that can easily be abused

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    6. Why would attachment, an extremely robust developmental phenomenon, operate differently if a parent has a personality disorder?

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    7. Childress "diagnoses" the "pathogenic" parent with Narcissistic or Borderline personality disorder in abstentia, based solely on the behaviors of the child. This is unethical and totally unscientific.

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    8. Actually no. He states that pathogenic parenting is the creation of significant pathology in the child through aberrant and distorted parenting practices.

      In his opinion it is less relevant what the allied parent's pathology is if this parent is not producing pathology in the child. If, however, the allied parent is producing significant pathology in the child, then resolving the child's pathology becomes the central issue.

      Then he states that there are three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA,

      1) Suppression of the child's attachment bonding motivations,

      2) Five specific narcissistic symptoms in the child's symptom display, and

      3) A fixed and false belief regarding the child's supposed "victimization" by the normal-range parenting practices of the targeted-rejected parent.

      But please, PLEASE tell me, what other model could we use to diagnose PA?

      Because one thing is for sure: it IS happening and thousands of parents and children are suffering. Why don't you start the research to prove Dr. Childress wrong or right?

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    9. There are so many questions needed here... presumably, if a parent can be "pathological" without creating symptoms in the child, and a parent can be "pathological" AND create symptoms in the child, and presumably the child can have certain symptoms without their having been caused by the parent... doesn't this suggest that there is more to the story than simply what that parent does with respect to the child? Is it not likely that there are other characteristics of this parent at work, other characteristics of the child, other characteristics of the situation (e.g., culture, history), and even other characteristics of the rejected parent? Is it the case that some children in high-conflict divorces do become narcissistic, and others do not? If it is, and of course the ones who do not don't get brought to Childress for treatment, how does he or anyone figure out what additional factors create concerning symptoms?

      I am realy sorry that I can't suggest a better model. My guess is that this is a dynamic systems matter, but I can't be more specific. The first point of a DST approach would be to identify all the factors that belong to the system-- not to reduce that number to the smallest and most obvious.

      However, I can promise you that these references to "attachment bonding" motives (these words mean different things, and I don't know which you or CC mean) make no sense if you are talking about children over 4 or 5 years of age. Attachment develops and changes with age, and by the school years we would certainly not expect children's motivation to parallel the "attachment systems" sometimes discussed with respect to infants and toddlers. In my opinion, Childress uses references to attachment to "blind them with science", as most people have very little idea what the term means or what is known about this aspect of human development.

      Childress makes the claim, and the burden of proof is on him. Why aren't you asking him to publish in a reviewed form the information on which he bases his claims? I'm simply pointing out that attachment theory doesn't work here, and that the problem would appear to be more complex than Childress suggests.

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    10. My take on reading Jean Mercer's posts is that you spend a whole bunch of time attacking the author and the practice of Childress which shows no evidence of being able to disprove a thory based answer to the issue and also provides no evidence as to the substance of the phenomenon. It instead shows bias as to the exisistance of PAS or any diaganosable cross references in the DSM. It also shows how the arguement is the purpose of each posts and not how to collaborate and confirm any part of a thory that overall you disagree with. The problem here really isnt the issue. Because if everyone was working together to solve the problem for each age group or each subset of pathologies then we might actually come up with solutions. Instead we spend the bulk of our time either shining our own "armor" of fighting one another. Incinuations on character and questions about professional history do nothing but show your own lofty ideals about your own opinion. If the patient is dying. The patient doesnt care what strategy is used..the patient only cares about "The end" and what will happen to the people they love. Not who's theory on a solution was correct. Talk all you want about Facebook "Grand" pages, or "What did you do between 1985 and 1998", or "Well, your thoery is based on x x x " Who cares! Fighting one another is useless. The issue here is the child and the parent, but ultimately it is the quick and effective diagnosis, disposition and solution to the problem. It would be good of you to keep in mind and work together because it may not be your life or relationships that are affected. But, you wouldnt want it to be either. Keep that in mind.

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    11. Your evidence that the diagnosis is accurate, please?

      The idea that the burden of proof is on PA proponents is not my claim, but is a customary assumption in scientific work.

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  2. A thought that occurred to me about all these phony attachment type therapies, especially after reading the following horrible "Christian" adoption story,
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/forgiving-god/
    (spoiler, God made him do it, so he has to forgive God for forcing him to adopt bad kids)!

    This guy is an advocate of "therapeutic parenting", which somehow did not work on the already mentally ill girl he adopted, but did work(according to him) on her less sick sibling. He had been warned by the orphanage in Peru that one child had serious mental illness, but thought he could pray it away, and also be a "therapeutic parent" to both. The mentally ill kid ended up being a failed adoption. Couldn't break her. Must have been demons.

    I wonder if it is harder to break the will of someone who has real mental illness and is not rational, than a child who could see that if she goes along with her tormentors, the torture gets less. How is this any different from Stockholm syndrome? Isn't that the whole aim of "successful" attachment therapy?

    It seems like the whole point of these therapies is to utterly break the will of the child, to teach them that they can have no personal boundaries where the parents are concerned, and that they have no control over anything in their lives except what the masters grant them. How can this possibly be considered healthy by anyone?

    Also, hopefully the Almighty has better things to do than to tell crazy people they need to save children by adopting them.

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    1. I looked at the piece you noted, and I was struck by one strong resemblance of his comments to other distorted views of attachment: he doesn't seem to think that it's important to say what ages the children were at adoption or when other events occurred. The one must have been well into her teens before charges of domestic violence were brought.

      But over and above that, what really distresses me is the belief that a child who is violently objecting to a family setting can somehow be made to comply with adult wishes, even though she really has nothing to lose by noncompliance. As you point out, the situation is even worse for her if she is not able to treat the situation rationally and make choices accordingly. But the parents are convinced, whether because of religious belief or because of just-so stories told them by adoption advocates, that they can somehow do the job by means of "therapeutic parenting", or prayer, or whatever.

      Regrettably, it can sometimes be necessary to give up on our own ability to work with a person. The tricky part is figuring out when it's just not possible, and when we ourselves are instrumental in causing what we don't like to happen. I don't see in that blog post and recommendations to other people any reference to that last possibility-- and it may not have been the case, but I would have liked to see him consider it.

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    2. Thanks Jean. I too did not see this man taking any responsibility for anything he had done that might have made the situation worse, nor did he consider the ages these kids were and what they may have gone through before he got them. I would certainly be examining what I might have done wrong if this were my child. But this man seems to blame God for everything; he married his wife because God directed them to marry so they could adopt children, he adopted the children because God directed him to do that, and now that one adoption has failed, he is forgiving God, not himself, for having screwed things up. That is scary!

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    3. Ms Mercer,
      One would have to give up on therapy if one did not understand the dynamics of this kind of family disfunction and predatory nature of some or this criticism comesdirectly from training to the system so that the case fits the framework and the people are thrown away. Some bloggers have the right idea that kids and adults are being broken and that families are not being helped. You are suggesting that Dr Childress is part of the problem? Many people are depending on him for the solution. He has many success stories. Please try to understand that your job is to be the rational voice in an irrational situation. Thats what you get paid for, not the families in trouble. Understanding of the nature of predatory family members on others or no, the main issue is the destruction of the family which is conveniently or subconsciously left out of the conversations.

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    4. My, there's quite a queue of comments here. (Do I hear the music of "In the Hall of the Mountain King"?)

      I can be a more rational voice because I do not get paid for any of this. In fact, I have declined to "monetize" this blog so financial considerations will not affect what I have to say.

      What I am saying here is that "many success stories" are not equivalent to evidence of effectiveness. When someone brings in a highly respected theory as if it added to the plausibility of a treatment, but does not appear to understand the theory, that also fails to support the effectiveness of the treatment.

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    5. When science can identify the origin, and the nature of the pathology, there is then a basis on which to develop treatment that will be effective. For 30 years children and parents have had their lives devastated by processes that only now, Dr. Childress has been able to discern. The stakes are too high to sit around and distract people from successfully protect their children. That would be the prudent place to start.

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  3. What Childress has done in his book Foundations is to list a set of highly specific psychological symptoms. To wit, in reference of a child to a parent: loss of attachment, grandiosity, entitlement, lack of empathy, haughty arrogance, and a fixed false belief (delusion) that the parent is inadequate. These symptoms are standard psychological symptoms. Most come from the list of DSM 5 symptoms for NPD or BPD.

    Then he has proposed a theoretical formulation that explains what has to happen to produce those symptoms.

    Others are free to propose a theoretical formulation. When you have one, let me know, so I can read it and critique it.

    His theoretical formulation uses only standard psychology. Just buy foundations and read it. Let me know if you find anything in there that is not standard, accepted psychology. I haven't found anything.

    References? His book is filled with them. He discussion them tediously. He lists them all. He fills his blog with references. For example, just good the 3 words: Childress peer review

    You ask about a two year old? I cannot imagine that anyone would ever diagnose a two year old with the symptoms listed above. It is a non issue.

    You ask for evidence???? I may not understand. Theoretical formulations are not tested. And I don't know what parents are going to turn their child over to be psychologically abused so they can be tested to see if they develop the symptoms.

    Childress does not give treatment details. He discusses the reasons why in his book.

    In brief, please just share your competing theoretical formulation.

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    1. Your imagination has failed you-- in fact, two-year-olds have been said to have loss of attachment, certainly.

      Your understanding of the nature of theory has also failed you. A "theoretical formulation", as you put it, is a framework that pulls together observed events in a way that allows the making of predictions about new cases and thus enables the theory to be supported or not supported by new information. It is not just a rejiggering of concepts.

      Yes, theories are tested; if they can't be tested in some way, they are not good theories.Of course you are right in saying that for a million reasons no one will do RCTs examining the effects of maltreatment on young children. However, in psychology as in biology, systematic collection of information can be used to test theory and to provide reliable information. This is why we have some good information about the effects of prenatal events like rubella on aspects of development. Because proponents of PA have not done an adequate job of collecting that kind of information, the DSM-5 committee did not include PA in the 2013 volume.

      For some years now, APA and other organizations have encouraged clinicians to present evidence that the treatments they propose are effective. Childress recommends some rather specific actions involving abrupt separation from one parent and placement with
      the other, but I see no efforts to provide evidence that this approach is an effective treatment for any of the claimed problems. That his discussion invokes common psychological concepts is quite irrelevant to that fact and cannot support the claims he makes.

      Whether I offer an alternative view is also irrelevant to any discussion of either theory or practice.

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    2. Reading this article proves to me that you are nothing more than an internet troll, bashing someone else's theory because you have none for yourself. Where's your evidence that disproves the already established DSM-5 diagnoses that Dr. Childress refers to? Where's your proof that you have an answer as how to treat an alienated child and parent, because I'd love to hear it? As an alienated parent, I really don't care what caused it. I'd rather know that the mental health world acknowledges the problem and works to treat it. Coming on here and bashing another professional's work without providing any solution yourself makes you look very unprofessional.

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    3. Did you ever hear of reversed burden of proof? I don't have to prove that Childress is not right; he has to prove that he is. That's how things work in professional psychology.

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    4. You are so right. Believe it or not, you and Childress have some similar qualities. He gets just wild about practices and promises that are not founded in established psychological principles and constructs, such as "reunification therapy" and play therapy. And he calls people out, when they are practicing beyond their boundaries of competence. He is competent, confident, and courageous.

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    5. All right, guys, I've given you a run for your proofs by assertion here. Time to stop. I'm not planning to publish any more of these comments unless they are genuinely informative or at least original.

      Incidentally, I should point out that "pathogen" in this context is a metaphor and should be treated as one, even though there is no law against abuse of analogies.

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    6. Howie,
      What I am noticing is that regardless of how many ways you point out the simplicity of what you're saying it is not being acknowledged. I just realized I jumped into this discussion and I am realizing I don't think it will make any difference in making up the minds of people have a strong opinion already. I am looking to reach out to people who don't know or are trying to learn.

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    7. Perhaps you and Howie could have your conversation somewhere else?

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    8. Most family therapists are trained in attachment theory and family systems. Psychologists and psychoanalysts are trained in personality/development. None of Childress's theories are out of step with accepted theories; his recommendations are up for discussion. And borderline and Narcissistic persons are treatment resistant,as professionals well know. He has integrated theories to offer a unified one, good idea. Is he likeable? Not so much for many. But then neither were some big names in the field.

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    9. I would hold that it's not possible to be properly trained in attachment theory without also being trained in personality and development. People who don't understand the connections between different aspects of development, including attachment, tend to privilege the familiar topic over any other information and to exaggerate its importance or the role it plays in different periods of development. This has happened again and again with respect to attachment. In addition, I am at a loss to understand why family therapists are treating child mental health problems other than within the whole-family context.

      You may be right that Childress's ideas are not out of step with popular family therapy concepts, but they are out of step with current research and theory concerning attachment. As for his recommendations, those should be up for empirical testing, not just for discussion.

      It doesn't really matter whether he's a nice man or not, except if his less desirable characteristics involve snake oil salesmanship. If he's just irascible and doesn't suffer fools gladly-- well, he's not alone in that!

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    10. Here you are again Ms Mercer stating that you are going to shut down discussion if the discussion does not meet your burden of proof or expectation of conversation that does not meet your ability to argue against it. I've dealt a whole bunch with this in populations that call themselves tolerant and inclusive. That does not work when you start a conversation or present your ideas. The conversation only works when you allow the opposing side of your arguement to "hang themselves" and not rule over them. But, these comments may not meet your expectation either. So, why add to the conversation? Many time we cant make the other side agree or can prove them wrong definatively. Sometimes, we have to work and discuss with the people we oppose to solve the true issue and not the discussion of the issue. That is the one flaw of opinion and the absolue opposite of scientific proof and discussion.

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    11. I think they've already hanged themselves, but it seems polite to keep on publishing their comments until it all becomes, to quote The Color Purple, "just too triflin and confuse".

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  4. Agreed, clearly, a child of age 2 can have loss of attachment. But would you offer a professional opinion that a 2 year old was also clinically grandiose and entitled? Without empathy? Engaging in splitting? And suffering from delusions?


    I find Foundations to be incredibly explanatory. As a small example, when I see that set of symptoms I then know a lot about the parents and the parenting. Whether or not the parents are divorced.

    I don't see a lot of treatment details, for reasons he describes in his book. The purpose of the separation is to protect the child from psychological abuse. Does the APA says that a victim of child sexual abuse should not be protected from abuse until they finish their treatment studies? I don't know a lot about transactions, but say for example, a child who, when her mom walks by, punches her and says she is rubbish. Maybe a transaction difference would be to not do that when her mom walks by? Also, refer to the "Unseen Wounds" paper endorsed by the APA that shows that psychological abuse has outcomes that are as bad as sexual abuse.

    True, PA was not added to DSM 5. Childress points out that it is already in there. In the literature that therapists, are by virtue of licensing, obligated to understand if working in this area. It is already standard psychology. Doesn't require any experiments to get it in there.

    When Haley described the perverse triangle in 77, no one asked for data. Or if the bigger issue was Rubella.

    If a 14 year old complains that one of their parents never paid for college by putting it a bank account, but yet they are shown cancelled checks where that parent did pay for their future college, cashed by their accepted parent and the accounting trail shows their favored parent spending it on luxuries instead. But that child refuses to accept the evidence of the cancelled checks, is that caused by Rubella?

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    1. But I thought you said that those behaviors are already classified as part of other disorders. So, when you see them, how do you know they were caused by the family history?

      Do you know what rubella is, I wonder?

      If you like to respond to this, I will publish one more statement by you. Then I think it is only reasonable to put an end to this discussion.

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    2. Jean Mercer, It is obvious to me that you do not have a personal story where you have suffered from parental alienation. I do--it would continue to be 3 generations of stories unless I do something. I am a layperson who has seen all of Dr. Childress' clips and read a lot of his blogs. They resonate with me almost completely. His explanations seem to offer a start for the scientific community to at least have an intelligent conversation of treating something that I and others know to exist. In my experience, the mental health community has overall been not just ignorant and neglectful, but complicit in this very serious problem. Your repartee to me seems more focused on throwing out the baby with the bath water. I guess that does something for you, but nothing for advancing treatment and helping those who are suffering.

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    3. Very well, let Childress demonstrate the effectiveness of his treatment by the methods generally accepted by other psychologists. If he does that, I will retract all my statements.

      Let me know when the article is published.

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    4. Dr. Mercer, thank you for taking the time to review my work and offer your opinions. I was going to post my response in the Comment section of your blog, but the character limitation of that format are simply too restrictive to allow me a proper response to the issues you raise. So instead, I decided to respond on my blog at drcraigchildressblog.org. Hopefully this will lead to a productive professional dialogue that does justice to the complex issues and family struggles of the children and families we treat. Best wishes, Craig Childress, Psy.D.

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    5. I agree with Anonymous. When you experience this first hand, and then spend time researching the literature, Childress make a whole lot of sense. I started my own education on this topic by reviewing Kernberg and several others including Dr Childress. He seems to be something of a lightning rod on this issue, which is very mystifying to me.

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    6. Thanks for your question: "But I thought you said that those behaviors are already classified as part of other disorders. So, when you see them, how do you know they were caused by the family history?" Here are some of reasons: 1.) Dr Childress explanation exactly matches public testimony from formerly alienated teens and adults. Since I cannot put a link in here, you can google "Formerly Alienated Teens Speak Out" or "Formerly Alienated Adults Speak Out. 2.) Einstein described the family history in his published personal letters 3.) Victor Hugo described the same thing in Les Miserables, which matches his personal history that is described in Encyclopedia Brittanica 4.) I find the explanation provided by Dr Childress to be compelling 4.) I have not seen any compelling criticisms or alternatives offered 5.) No one ever argued with Minuchin in 1974 when he said "The parents were divorced six months earlier and the father is now living alone… Two of the children who were very attached to their father, now refuse any contact with him. The younger children visit their father but express great unhappiness with the situation."

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    7. Thank you. I will try to have a look at your blog later today.

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    8. There is some confusion here-- I meant the statement just above to respond to Dr. Childress but it seems to have moved.

      Leroy, in response to your statement, I must point out that in order to review this literature you must begin with an adequate background in psychology. Do you have this? If you do not, you can no doubt find material that interests you, but chances are that you will not know how to evaluate it. If you did know how,you'd understand the "lightning rod" thing.

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    9. I don't know what's up with blogspot, but I don't seem to be able to reply where I'm supposed to. Howie, your line of argument is a fallacious "appeal to authority". You need to do better than that.

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    10. BTW, someone's comment has disappeared from this section. If you don't see yours, would you please re-send? I did not intentionally omit any from the queue.

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    11. Hello Dr. Mercer. Thank you again for engaging me in professional dialogue. I have responded on my blog to your recent request to engage a discussion of treatment. If you want to respond in some way on your blog and let me know your thoughts, they would be welcome. Best wishes, Craig Childress, Psy.D.

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    12. Thanks-- I posted on your blog a couple of questions I'm curious about.

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  5. You asked for me to do better than that. I will try. Here goes. 95% effective, peer reviewed: Family Reflections: A Promising Therapeutic Program Designed to Treat Severely Alienated Children and Their Family System (see American Journal of Family Therapy, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp. 197-207, 2015). Two more studies in progress. Dr Warshak also has some papers out on Family Bridges. Highly Effective.

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    1. Howie, you do not appear to understand how this works. To say that a treatment is evidence-based, it's necessary to present a randomized controlled trial with an independent replication. This means that you cannot just have looked at people who chose a particular treatment, and you must compare the outcomes of the treatment group with those of a comparison group who ideally received some other treatment of known background. In addition, there must be evidence of treatment fidelity, reporting of any adverse events, and transparency of reporting-- among other things. Neither the Childress nor the Warshak work meets these criteria , and I am quite sure that Warshak is aware of that.

      Your man would not have called his method a "promising" program if he thought he could claim it as evidence-based, BTW. "Promising" means that there is less than the best level of evidence.

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    2. Where are the studies where they left 5000 kids with their sexual abusers for 4 years while they separated the other 5000 from their abusers and put them into various treatment programs? Refer to the APA press release "Childhood Psychological Abuse as Harmful as Sexual or Physical Abuse". Where are the studies that turned Minuchin and Haley into rock stars? What part of "invalidating delusional enmeshed perverse triangles" got turned into carefully studied after school enrichment programs? Refer also to Amy Baker's book "Bonded to the Abuser".

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    3. Eh?

      I'm telling you how things are now, Howie, not how they were when Jay Haley and Milton Erickson were on the loose.

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    4. And exactly who do you disagree with: Bowlby, Millon, Minuchin, Fonagy, Lyons-Ruth, Main, Kerig, Macfi, Prgarer, Shaffer, Sroufe, Bacciagaluppi, Benoit, Brennan, Breatherton, Sable, Cassidy, Mijulincer, Tronick, Van der Kolk, Homes, Lopez, Raineki, Cozlino, Siegel, Iacoboni, Kaplan, Fraiberg, Moor, Trippany, Rappoport, Carlson, Juni, Barnos, Dutton, Fruzetti, Garety, Hodges, Levy, stepp, Svrakic, or Widiger?

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    5. Last one today, Howie--

      1. I was disagreeing with Childress, actually, but I would argue strongly against most of what van der Kolk has said.
      2. You're still running with the appeal to authority.

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    6. Wow Howie, you seriously have no idea how they rate success. Warshak's data is not correct. I am glad I read this. I seriously understand now how you are a victim to Childress and Dorcy. Peace be with you.

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    7. I am an alienated adult child and an alienated parent currently fighting in court to get my son back. This is a real epidemic that much like alcoholism one can't understand until they experience it. Dr. Childress is completely right I had my son back for6 months when my ex took him again because I asked him to modify the original order that he obtained illegally to give me primary residence and joint legal. Its a battle I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

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    8. I'm not sure why this means that Childress is right-- about what part, anyway?

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  6. Try reading Foundations in entirety before judgment. I really wonder if you have ever spoken to parents and how many in person that have actually suffered from having a child taken away, TAUGHT to hate, even after courts have given both parents 50/50 custody. Dr Childress has hit the nail on the head. Even though my child is now 26. You are a negative person who has no interest in helping others. Also in your initial statement may I suggest you learn to spell or use spell check? You even Mispelled Childress! Unbelievable! Unprofessional!

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    1. Hmmm-- oh, I see, it's one of those "self-correcting" things. I fixed the typo. Thanks for the heads-up.

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  7. Dear Jean, This is the first that I've run across your name. I was looking for a bio. or credentials, or clinical experience to which you attribute your expertise. But I'm still wondering. I am afraid that I only got through your second sentence, because you started talking about PA, and I know that in ALL of childress work he tries desperately to make the point that he is NOT referring to PA. Since you decided to link his work on attachment, personality disordered parenting and family systems theory to the controversail language of old school parental alienation, there was no reason for me to read and further. You may have something interesting or insightful to say, but obviously not about Childress' work. I will remember you name when I come across it again.

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. You write very nicely, and I appreciate your efforts to make this more civil. But I still have to say-- show me the evidence. Show me the evidence that children who are treated in the way you have described, by an alienating parent, show the three indicators. This is a quite different question from showing that children who show the three indicators have been treated in a certain way (although I don't think that has been given a satisfactory answer either). This is rather parallel to research about physical punishment and aggression, where there will be many people who were punished physically and are not unduly aggressive as adults, but if we only look at very aggressive people, we will see that many of them were punished physically.

      It is very easy for variables to be confounded in this kind of work. Spouses in high-conflict marriages often have genetic characteristics that are associated with anger and negative responses to others. Their children usually share some of these, even if only one parent had the characteristics. But some get the "double whammy" of genetic characteristics AND experience.

      Attributing all unwanted behavior to experience is a mistake-- it may have been learned, it may be heritable, there may be an interaction between the two factors, or the unwanted behavior (e.g. rejection of a parent) may be emergent from a combination of factors. I would suggest that Childress and others concerned with PA have focused on one possible cause and one possible effect-- just as the heritage of psychoanalysis and of behaviorism suggests that they should do.

      As for attachment system suppression-- such a concept must taken into account developmental changes in attachment through childhood.

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    2. Anonymous (but which one)-- I have tried to post the blog from the person who said I had been slightly snarky (guilty as charged). But someone seems to have taken it down again. I don't know what the problem is, and blogspot does not make it easy to communicate. Sorry!

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    3. Dear Jean. Thank you for your reply. Please note that my response has apparently been removed by a blog administrator. I would be grateful if it can be re-posted, so that everyone can see what you have responded to. Thank you.

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    4. Hi Holly-- I am not sure what is going on here, but I will be working on it tomorrow. If nothing else works, I will publish your comment and my answer as a new post.

      Jean

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    5. I disagree with you pointing toward genetics and environmental causes. Generally speaking, if that were true, children of PA would have trouble with both parents and both extended sides of the family. If that were true, there would not be a rapid onset of PA during a divorce or other relationship issue. If that were true, children would not reject the family dog if it were associated slightly more with their reject parent than favored parent. If that were true, children of PA would have problems with others in society as well, not just the rejected parent. Maybe autism is genetic ofr environmental? Autistic children have problems beyond just one parent.

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    6. Howie, I have to admire the way you keep at this! However, you need more background. Try reading about gene X environment interactions on Wikipedia or some other place. Genetic effects are not all-or-nothing.

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    7. Jean, what in the world are you talking about; "genetic effects not being all or nothing"?????? Parent Alienation is a completely different phenomenon. why did you even start this blog and just address your concerns with dr. childress directly?

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    8. a) I'm talking about polygenic traits, epigenetic effects, and gene X environment interactions. Some of these have been shown to apply in the development of disorganized attachment, so it's not unreasonable to consider them as possible sources for rejection of a parent. In addition, children who reject parents may be subject to a double or even a triple whammy, in sharing the genes of at least one parent with a difficult personality, and in having been exposed to high levels of conflict.

      b) Childress made his claims and his opinions of those who disagree with him public on his blog and on Facebook. That's why I responded in a public fashion. Why not? Should prospective clients of Childress not have access to another side of the story?

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  9. Jean --
    Can you clarify for us sufferers, whether your intention is to help us regain connection to our children or not? There are thousands of families torn apart by unresolvable animosity towards one parent. Courts have not helped. Practitioners are not helping. Are you a helper or not?

    -- LCSandMOS

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    1. Please see the post I just put up today. I hope it will answer your question.

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  10. Hello Dr. Mercer. I’ve posted my latest response to your comment as a blog post since it required a more extensive response than would be warranted for a Comment response. Best wishes, Craig Childress, Psy.D.

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    1. I guess this means that no simple answers to my simple questions were forthcoming, but I'll have a look.

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    2. Your ABA model is pure coercion.

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  11. I learned about the PA movement some years ago and found it concerning for its lack of professional approach. A fellow I knew was trying to get his two children to a Texas PA program. Today I see that this program is quite costly -- $20K for treatment and transportation. More concerning though is the claim that children are subjected to 64 hours of "therapy" during that time. Who would deny that that smacks of "deprogramming" rather than anything approaching therapy?

    The Childress program isn't that grueling, but this brings us to a problem common to proposed disorders and therapies. When they aren't subjected to rigorous study, they can result in people feeling that they can just do as they please -- diagnose and treat as they please.

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    1. The Childress program is even worse, since it forcefully separates the children from the bonded parent for an indeterminate amount of time. During this time, no contact with the bonded parent is allowed. The child has to "earn" the privilege to talk with the bonded parent during 2 hours on phone or Skype.

      Here is how it is done according to Childress: The child has to reach 4 out of 7 on 3 scales (pleasantness, obedience, communication) on 6 days out of 7 in 10 consecutive (!) weeks. If the child fails in week 9, they start from 0.

      As far as I understood, the "Bridges" program also relies on separation from the bonded parent through court. They tell the children that they do not have to participate in the therapy program of the short reunification period (where they reach their 64 hours of therapy), but after this short period, no matter what, the child will be placed in the care of the rejected parent. So either they go with the rejected parent with therapy or without therapy. Therefore Bridges can present itself as less coercive, the coercion is done by the court and the rejected parent after the program...

      According to people who went through programs of this type, they all consist of some form of coercion or brainwashing...

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    2. There is no difference in high road and family bridges. Dorcy worked for family bridges. They also do not do family bridges in Texas. It is done in California in a hotel.

      That rating scale is also judged by the parent who the child is forced to reunify with. So if the child was emotionally abused by that parent, the court just gave full prison to the child.

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  12. That "Family Bridges" program is not what C.C. does. His approach may be less grueling than holding therapy (e.g.), but if you'll look at the last part of the post above, you'll see that at least at times he has the child removed (presumably by court order) from the care of the preferred parent and placed with the rejected parent for a period of possibly nine or ten weeks, with brief contact with the preferred parent later on dependent on the child's cooperation (sound familiar?). So, no preferred parent, no home, no friends (?), no pets (?)-- what they do about school is not clear. This seems to me to be a large enough helping of gruel to count as an emotional burden potentially causing unwanted events in association with therapy.

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    1. 1. The child is being protected form cruel emotional abuse
      2. No one cares much when years of court ordered visitation is missed in PA cases. Why start worrying about 9 weeks now?
      3. The targeted parent HAS to have a home. The child is not homeless. This is all part of family court.
      4. Sure, the pets can be welcome.
      5. The kids go to school, just like they normally would in a normal divorced family. There is a law saying the kids have to go to school.
      6. No friends? The rejected parent usually lives nearby, so friends stay the same. I mean, they have to be there to be able to go to school.
      7. A peer reviewed article in an APA journal says that your argument is invalid, e.g. this statement is fallacious: (j) separating children from an alienating parent is traumatic http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2015-27699-001/ Peer reviewed. APA.

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    2. Your first point is questionable. I'll be writing more about that later.

      The rejected parent has a house; that's not the same as offering the child's familiar home.

      School and friends: I doubt that the rejected parent usually lives nearby, so in fact if the separation takes many months, a public school system will insist that the child go to the school in the appropriate catchment area.

      Are you aware that Richard Warshak, author of the article you referenced, is one of your man Childress' pet peeves? As for trauma, I haven't said separation was traumatic as a general thing-- although it could be for quite young children, which is why I tried unsuccessfully to get Childress to state an opinion about age-appropriateness. But as to Warshak's statement, it should be made clear that he was talking about his method of several days of separation, not separations of weeks or months.

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    3. As far as I understood, the Warshak method also relies on prolonged separation (around 3 months), but the intervention is shorter. Before the "reunification" with the rejected parent starts, the children spend around 5 days in "intensive therapy" and, according to Warshak, are free to participate or not.

      However, after those five days, they will be at the complete mercy of the rejected parent and presumably without contact with the bonded parent, just as in the Childress protocol...

      The only difference is that Warshak does not use contact with bonded parent so openly as a means of extortion towards the child...

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  13. I agree that the idea of separating a child from a parent is extreme and should not be taken lightly, but I believe that there is a consensus that it is sometimes the right action. I believe most would agree that it would be entirely appropriate in the case of sexual molestation by a parent. There is substantial empirical evidence that "high conflict divorce" results in significant harm to children. There is substantial empirical evidence that certain cluster B personality traits result in significant harm to children. There is substantial empirical evidence that cluster B personality traits are difficult to modify. Being that the Childress model entails a high conflict divorce where one of the parents has cluster B traits I would have to say his suggestion of separation is not in conflict with the empirical evidence as it currently exists. I would of course like to see greater empirical knowledge available to rely on when determining the best choices when facing the difficult decision on how to respond to a child showing the symptoms Childress describes, but specific empirical knowledge does not exist and the decisions can only be made on the rational extension from empirically supported data.

    Jimmy

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    1. The analogy of parental alienation to sexual abuse is a very weak one, and I plan to write more about this today.

      Your reference to a model where ONE parent has certain traits is notable, and it brings up one of my real issues with Childress' approach. Family systems theory would say that both parents, and the child, must all be contributing to the situation, but I see no discussion of the (non-abusive, certainly) ways in which the rejected parent has acted to create and sustain the conflict.

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    2. Dr. Mercer. I am the alienated parent. The point you brought up regarding the targeted parents contribution hit home. After the divorce I made some mistakes. Did all I could to show my daughters things had changed. Throughout the years, after many years of soul searching, hours with a therapist etc. I still came to the conclusion
      that my errors were not severe, my previous relationship with my daughters was beyond stellar. I spent many years in self doubt. Had i kept my butt squeaky clean maybe those doubts would not have existed.
      After reesrching Dr. Childress...it all made sense...or did it? I felt it very possible that i was mentally making the pieces fit. If PA. is to be properly diagnosed, the standard scientific criteria must be adhered to. Your profession has a much more difficult road to scientific fact than other health professions do. It is even more crucial to be spot on because courts are involved. Any mistake can set everything back to square one.
      Sorry to ramble on. My point is that any criticism is so necessary, and usially can be just what is needed to be confident in conclusions.

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    3. Thanks so much for your comments. Anyone who does family therapy knows that all members of a family group contribute to both problems and solutions. That applies not only to the "alienated" parent, but also to stepparents, boyfriends, girlfriends of the parents, and grandparents. In addition, to understand any family situation, we would also need to know personality characteristics of the children, present before the conflict began, which help determine each child's response to the conflict. Oversimplifying this makes it all too easy to make serious mistakes-- which may be compounded once courts get into the act.

      And, yes, it is not easy to look at behavior and figure out from it what moods or internal states or beliefs are present in that person. That's one reason I object so strongly to the idea that a child's behavior allows a psychologist to diagnose a parent he or she never saw-- while employed by the other parent, a source of bias for the most honest of practitioners.

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  14. Dr Mercer. I would be glad to know if you are going to read Dr Childress book "Foundations"? I can't imagine you'd give a mark to one of your students without reading his or her essay. Do you? This is what you've done though...

    I'm not really interrested to know whose editor signed Dr Childress or whether he had a blank in his career, nor do I need to know how empirical his theory is or what the youngest child he had in consultation. I would like to know what is the part of his theory explained in an attachement based model of "Parental Alienation" that you do not agree with. I am deadly serious. I don't care if he was the chief of a concentration camp or if he was severely beating his wife or even his wives after getting drunk before murdering them.

    I need, and assume you this understand by now, your scientific point of view on his theory of an attachement based model of "Parental Alienation".

    Is this perverse triangle of a coalition between one parent and his child against the other parent a myth?

    Is the reversal relationship where a narcissistic and/or borderline parent uses his child as a regulatory object in order to meet his emotional and psychological dysfunction a mere invention?

    Has the trauma reenactment anything to do with this? Does it even exist?

    Are all or any of the above related?

    How can you contribute to help these parents who are obviously and genuinely suffering the loss of a child who is still alive?

    I think a lot of us would like to know where you stand there, to these specific questions.

    Then we'll make sure Dr Childress doesn't have any skeletons in his closet.


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    1. In my opinion, this theory, or concatenation of theories, fails first because many of its elements are unfalsifiable. The alienating parent may place the child as a comforter and emotional regulator of a positive nature, or may identify the child as "like father" (e.g.) and angrily force the child to prove he is not "like father". One could predict almost any kind of unhealthy relationship, or even a healthy one under some circumstances, so the theory cannot fail to be supported.

      The emphasis is so strongly on the role of the alienating parent that I cannot see this as a form of family systems work. Without being in the least abusive, the rejected parent may behave in ways that create or sustain this unpleasant equilibrium. For example, Amy Baker (I think it was) used an example of a mother who says "I hope your father won't be late again. He never thinks about what he's doing". This is one thing if indeed the father is never late, but if he is usually late, his own behavior is a factor in causing a child to reject him, although no one would call it abusive to be late, to acquire a new partner, etc., etc. And of course, we may ask what personal characteristics led someone to marry such a difficult partner to begin with-- what contribution may those make?

      Presumably it takes two to make a high-conflict divorce, but Childress is concerned only with one of them, as far as I can see. (This would of course make his approach appealing to those who would like to see themselves as without responsibility for the situation-- you notice that I do not refer to "guilt", but simply to the assumption of any systems theory that all members contribute to an outcome).

      As for trauma reenactment, this is just another skirmish in the trauma-memory wars that go back a hundred years or so.

      To be perfectly candid, my concern is with outcomes for children, not for parents. As you may know, an original view of the "best interests of the child" was that complete custody and authority should be given to one parent, who would make all decisions about contact with the other parent. This seems pretty tough, but in some cases it seems to me the only way to let a child just get on with his or her life. Sole parents who have enough money and resources usually do quite a good job; some research has even suggested that children do better if they have no contact with antisocial fathers. It used to be said that George Washington became the man he was because his father died and his mother did not remarry--- it's very possible that in fact children don't require both parents for good development, all other things being equal.

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    2. ...moreover: the PA crowd asserts that the child needs both parents and then proceed to separate the child from the bonded parent and ban all contact with the bonded parent.

      That is a very obvious logical flaw in the whole setup.

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  15. Obviously your comment about not needing both parents must be reflective in nature. Most Psychologists have "issues" themselves. Yours are now clouding your professional judgement. You are attacking others because they have cpvsrying beliefs from your own. That itself is a symptom of narcissism. I understand you may have some questions reading Dr Childress's explanations, even though he clearly and repeatedly identifies all of the causal factors involved with the abuse perpetrated by one parent upon the child. Let us return to your biased statement regarding children being sufficiently raised by single parents. Sufficient? Possibly. Thriving? Highly unlikely.

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    1. Well, Dad, don't you think it would show some integrity if you identified yourself and briefly described your situation, before trying to start a slanging match with accusations of clouded judgment?

      As for thriving children of single parents-- let's see: advanced professional training, election to high office, stable marriage, children doing well--- can you think who is the example I'm alluding to?

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    2. Jean Mercer,
      You are a complete moron.
      The end.

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    3. Thanks for signing your name to this statement.

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  16. Thank you for this analysis of Craig Childress' methods. However, please, do not call for studies to prove their effectiveness, ask first whether those methods are compatible with the children's civil rights and then say: stop them!

    Childress claims that his "ABA model" is "scientific", by presenting graphics of the "symptoms". He completely omits that the method is based on circular reasoning: Childress says that "symptoms" (i.e. rejection of one parent) recede over time. However, the children will not be allowed any contact with their bonded parent if the symptoms persist. Therefore, the time axis seems to be very expandable, and yes, there will always be a recession of "symptoms" towards the end: if the "symptoms" do not go down, there will be no end!!!

    I find Craig Childress' ABA model particularly cruel because the rejected parent is the sole arbiter of the child's fate. During an uninterrupted (!) period of 10 weeks, the child has to score "4 or more" out of 7 on 6 days a week in three different scales: pleasantness, obedience, communication (with rejected parent). this means: Obeying is not enough, the child has to obey with a smile, in a context that is completely coercive (no contact with bonded parent, rejected parent can judge the child arbitrarily).

    Furthermore, the rejected parent can prolong the separation indefinitely by giving a grade under 4 one scale for two days in a week. In this case, the counting of the 10 weeks starts anew.

    I am particularly shocked by those recommandations because Craig Childress himself wrote an article rejecting "behavioral methods" when working with difficult youths. He underlines that not answering a child is impolite, that time-out in a room alone is not an appropriate punishment, etc. I do not understand what made Craig Childress resort to such massive coercion in the case of children who reject one parent.

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  17. I'd be VERY wary of comments that lead the reader into vagueness, which is what this article does. In fact, without knowing Dr. Childress except through his writings and videos, he is one of the voices in this arena that offers clarity and empirical evidence based behaviors, based on evidence based observations inside of established and accepted sources.
    This article, and many of the comments offer only a "no not that" line of reasoning. This is what people who want to keep something unhealthy intact. Create doubt and suspicion rather than concrete alternatives.

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    1. I'm afraid your reasoning is fallacious. It can be concluded that a method is not effective without being able to offer an effective method-- and this is especially true when the problem being treated is the subject of so much disagreement. The burden of proof is on you (i.e. Childress and colleagues). If you want an analogy: it can be shown that someone did not commit a crime, without being able to show who did. Similarly, it can be shown that anointing with holy oils does not cure cancer, without having to offer an effective cure.

      You either misunderstand or are intentionally misusing the term "evidence based".

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    2. II do not misunderstand, nor am I misusing the term "evidence based".

      I believe my legal as well as cognitive behavioral training gives me a certain amount of authority to say with confidence I understand the meaning of the term and know how to use it properly.

      If something is observable, that is called evidence. That is what Dr. Childress is doing. pointing to observable behaviors and then pointing to a well established and agreed upon reference called the DSM to give the agreed upon meaning.

      Now, if you are saying you do not agree with the meaning of those behaviors that's certainly your right to do so.

      You are attempting to shift the ground of the conversation back into the realm of where "disagreement" can even exist.

      This is why PAS as a syndrome has gained little traction. I agree with you, PAS as a "syndrome" is junk science.

      These are the arguments that allow those who hide in the shadows and perpetuate their illness on the most defenseless continue to do so.

      But what you are actually doing is referred to as going into the realm of "Enigmas that have no solution."

      Drawing upon the overall umbrella of events surrounding an issue and the multitude factors involved, you are painting the entire issue as too complex to solve. This causes those otherwise following the matter to begin to lose interest more quickly without having to address the actual issues.

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    3. We are using the term "evidence" in the same way, but "evidence-based" is a technical term that is not derived from the legal or everyday term "evidence". Since the 1990s, when the evidence-based medicine movement was followed by a concern with evidence-based psychological interventions, this has been the definition of an evidence-based treatment (EBT): in order for an intervention to be considered an EBT, it must have been supported by two independent randomized controlled trials with adequate effect sizes as well as statistically significant differences, acceptable intervention fidelity, intent-to-treat analyses, and some other points as well. I understand that many people do not realize that this is the agreed-upon definition, but Childress should know it and should not claim that his treatment is an EBT or allow his followers to do this.

      I do not at all believe that the issue is too complex to solve. However, Childress has not provided adequate evidence that he has done so with respect to the treatment mode that he has apparently adopted from the "coach" Dorcy Pruter.

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  18. James Ricker has recently posted a comment at https://drcraigchildressblog.com/2015/09/18/response-to-jean-mercer/comment-page-1/#comment-3819. He kindly states that I am not a troll,or presumably any other supernatural Scandinavian creature (kobolds, anyone?). But he suggests that I have been somehow "moving the goalposts" to make it impossible for Childress' methods to be seen as acceptable. I simply want to comment that the goalposts for evidence-based treatment have not moved since the famous 1998 Chambless and Hollon paper. It's true that new standards for reporting, such as the CONSORT and TREND guidelines, have been brought in since then, but I have not mentioned them-- and in any case Childress' evidence does not meet the levels required for use of either of those.

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  19. Dear Dr. Mercer,

    I'm not psychologist so excuse me as I try to respond out of my realm.. altho I am affected by (may I say PA?).. granted for way shorter duration of months - some folks can't get in touch with their kids for years, or decades.

    I think there is a little misconception here, we are not talking about the normal run-of-the-mill divorce that affects like 50% of the marriages..where a parent may slip a bad comment here and there about the ex, or kids that are hurt by the divorce and act up.

    Neither we are talking about domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse - we are talking about a loving family where the kids used to adore, love, respect and enjoy both parents for years.. until the divorce..

    At which point suddenly one parent becomes the protective guardian, and the other becomes Lucifer in flesh (no pun intended), abuser, neglecter, deadbeat, to be totally rejected, ignored, despised - not only he (or she..) but his family, his friends, his job, his dog, his cat and his goldfish. Forever. Dr. Mercer there are really sick people out there, that would do this to their child, its no joke.

    In my personal case my ex was actually diagnosed with PD (among other stuff). I think Dr. Childress is trying to awake the mental health and legal community to the issue, and from my personal experience therapists aren't - I think because they see so many cases where they think ahh here is another ignorant couple fighting on the back of the kids.. and they don't recognize the issue as different.

    Now regarding the treatment.. who am I to tell.. but remember that with these sick folks, the kids are under constant bombardment demonizing the ex for years, the don't know anything else and will do anything to please the only parent left.. So I think what Dr. Childress doing is trying to give them a break for few weeks - from years of a (alienating?) parent that would disregard court orders, disregard visitations, demonize the ex on daily basis and basically won't allow any recognition of the kid that he also has a loving father (or mother).

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    1. Joe,

      My name is Mark. I live in Hockessin. I would like to hear your story and be able to share mine with you, if you are amenable. If you are, please respond to me via this thread and we can figure out how to contact each other.

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  20. No, I don't think there's a misconception about the rarity of events like the ones you describe, or the fact that they sometimes occur. But I think you mischaracterize Childress' treatment (apparently adopted from the coach Dorcy Pruter). This is not a matter of giving children a break for a few weeks. It is a matter of taking children who (for whatever good or bad reason) have said they do not want to be with one parent but do want to be with the other, and forcing them to spend a number of weeks (9 or 10, perhaps?) away from their normal lives, while making contact with the preferred parent contingent on being nice to the non-preferred one. This appears to follow some decisions about the nature of the preferred parent that are based entirely on the child's behavior and not on direct assessment of the preferred parent.

    All those things are reasons that Childress should be asked to provide high-quality evidence for the safety and effectiveness of his methods, which he does not do in his self-published book.

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    1. Dr. Mercer,

      One thing that I want to add to this particular point being made is that I believe the Authentic Parent (the targeted parent) ultimately wants the children to have a good relationship with their ex. They don't want to simply flip the situation. The Authentic Parent understands the importance of the relationship with both parents. Once their is emotional balance in the family, only then can the children have both parents. If the influence is allowed to remain while treatment is happening, it should be expected that the alienating parent will counter and resist the treatment. If the understanding of NPD and BPD are accurate, the alienating parent will find it difficult not to do that. Personally, I can say that I am having a tough uphill climb with my two teenage boys for the simple fact that they are immersed in their household with the alienating parent. Do we not quarantine people who are sick with a contagion so that treatment can be done in isolation?

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    2. It seems to me that Childress seperation solution could kead to HUGE disasters. There is too much that 2 emotionally volatile people can cause

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  21. To all of you in this thread criticizing Dr Childress' "theory", I am a parent, ironically the custodial parent (father), experiencing this process and it follows Dr Childress' complete description of the process to the letter. It is not a case of confirmation bias. Objectively, it confirms every aspect of the process as he describes it. My case is somewhat bizarre and the potency with which the alienation is occurring is doubled. Why? My ex-wife was 100% heterosexual and she was seduced by another woman. I can confirm that my ex wife is a sociopath and exhibits all the traits of a borderline. Her seducer (now her wife) is also a sociopath with an explosive temper that I have witnessed for myself. I am the custodial parent. They moved 120 miles away to a city in our state. They want the children. They are master manipulators and spin doctors and have made me the bad guy in all this. When my 3 (B16, G15, B13) children return from their visitation they hate me for 3 or 4 days until the poison has worn off. As time goes on I see my children become more and more psychologically damaged and the bond between us slowly but surely die away. None of them will eat any food I prepare for them and prepare their own food. They used to fight for who gets the front seat next to me on the way to school. Now they fight for the back seat. Everything about me is uncool. Everything about living with me is uncool. Their schools are now uncool. Where we live is now uncool. I am a normal and decent parent. I am quite comfortable and my children live with me in the country on a 5 acre property in a 5,000 square foot home. I work from home and am available to my children 24/7. My attorney said there is not really anything that the system can do for me. He advised me to NOT take the children to counseling because if they have been brainwashed badly enough, that the children could convince the counselor that I am the problem and a case could be started against me. Interestingly that was confirmed when I was in with my 16 year old with his pediatrician and he tried to convince the pediatrician there and then right in front of me that I was physically abusive. It was bizarre, the whole situation is bizarre but I think the only thing that could help me is Dr Childress' approach and that is to protect the children from the toxic two. I am not sure that the current system can help me. I believe Dr Childress' approach would. I think unless any of you critics have lived it you really aren't in a position to criticize his "theory". I can.

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    1. Dear Unknown--

      I am sorry for all of you that you are in this situation. Your fury and despair are very understandable, and so is the fact that you have sought an explanation that makes other people entirely responsible for what is happening. This is what happens when people are surprised and deeply distressed by these events.

      Let me say first that although people may do things we hate and fear, this does not necessarily make them sociopaths. I doubt that you are in a position to make this diagnosis, and if Childress has not met your former wife and her lover, he cannot legitimately do so either. In any case, calling people sociopaths is not really a helpful step toward deciding how to move forward.

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    2. UNKNOWN: My name is Mark. I agree. Dr. Childress' model is a playbook, through and through. I am in a similar situation, but my children are not to that point like yours. They don't spend as much time with me as I would like, but this problem has only surfaced to an extreme in the past 2 years. However, retracing my steps though the marriage, divorce and separated family since then, the model is very accurate. I am an engineer who understands the scientific method. I have tested hypotheses regarding my ex's and sons' behaviors and have predicted them accurately. The issue centers around money matters where I have challenged spending along the way where I have not been brought into the process of parenting. Basically, I am resisting being solely a bag of money to afford their mom's conception of what her children should be. Challenging those things are met with vitriolic drama. As a result, my children have come to believe me as cheap regardless of how much money I spend with them or on them. Where I used to see, hear, and read flat out lies from my wife at the time and then even as my ex, I would downplay them as "mere" embellishments and exaggerations (you rationalize them that way..."That's just her being her"). Now I see them for exactly what they are. I used to be perplexed by how someone could behave this way, UNTIL I read Dr. Childress' book and understood the model. The basic understanding of the Narcissistic / Borderline Personality Disorders alone explains my ex's behaviors and attitudes amazingly...both inside the framework of our separated family and outside of it. It would have been great if I had known to look for this sooner, otherwise I would have nipped the behaviors in the bud. The problem with it all is the subtlety of deception, the harshness of of the symptoms and the counter-intuitiveness of where the problem lies. How can someone so amazing as a parent be the problem??? How can someone else be such a failure as a parent. Yet the model explains it all in crystal clarity.

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  22. I think you are possibly mistaken in attributing your children's changes of attitude to their mother's influence. If you saw this going on in another family, I think you would probably be able to think of other reasons for changes. One is the ages of these kids. It is exceedingly common for parents of teenagers to become uncool, even in the best of circumstances. School,homes,and everything else tend to share in the uncoolness. Kids of this age are highly idealistic, imagine the perfect world to live in, and compare reality to that fantasy-- much to the discredit of reality. If you were on honest speaking terms with their mother you might well find that they behave the same way with her.The message here is, Don't confuse a normal developmental transition toward autonomy with pathology created by another parent's influence. By the way, keep in mind that because of this developmental transition, they might well prefer that you not be available 24/7, even though you see this as a valuable gift you offer them.

    Second, let me point out that for people of a range of ages, but especially for teenagers, what this situation forces them to notice about parents' sexuality and emotionality is very hard for them to stomach. For teenagers, sex and emotion belong to them by right, and the job of adults is to be calm and asexual. Normally, we are able to indulge them by keeping our sexuality and much emotion concealed-- divorce, especially where there is a third party, makes this nearly impossible. So,it is not surprising that they react with some degree of revulsion and even contempt; I repeat, this is what often happens even without negative influences from the other parent.

    I think your experience with the pediatrician (BTW, about time for a grown-up doctor, maybe?) runs counter to your attorney's argument. The pediatrician, who is a mandatory reporter of abuse, did not recognize this as a credible report. If he had thought it was, you would be too busy right now to be writing to me. Similarly, an experienced psychologist will be able to assess the credibility of a child's statement. Now, I am not one to say everybody ought to "get some therapy", but I think that in your case it would be wise for you to offer the children counseling (not take them to it!) if they want it. They would benefit from having someone to talk to who does not have a dog in this fight. They are at vulnerable ages where high stress and family discord may easily result in drug and alcohol involvement or sexual acting out. Given that they did not ask for any of this disruption, they deserve and need help in keeping the balance of their own development while the adults are caught up in their own needs and wishes. Having some support in that way might make it easier for them to resume a positive relationship with you without being afraid that they will be sucked into your present state of anguish and rage.

    I think that at some time in the future you will probably recognize that your finding of your own narrative in Childress' description is not evidence to support either his theory or his proposed treatment. I am in a position to examine the theory and the inappropriate way he has attempted to make attachment theory the crux of the whole thing. I am also well aware that he has not published the kind of evidence that would enable him to state that his treatment is an effective one. (By the way, it's my understanding that this treatment was created by a high school graduate "life coach" and picked up by Childress and others.)

    I am sorry to have to speak so firmly and would like to be able to offer comfort to your family, but I believe that you yourself are at a point where you are not able to think clearly and are vulnerable to quackery.

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  23. Sorry about the broken message here-- the system wouldn't let me post such a long reply.

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  24. I bought Foundations by Childress. I bought Divorce Poison by Warshak. These books make sense to a layman like me. People like you just try to pull great thinkers down. Please know this.... Childress has a following among peers and you do not.

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  25. But as a layman, how do you know whom his peers (that is, equals) are, or whether he has a following among them? He has not published peer-reviewed or professionally vetted material, you realize, and I have -- quite a few times.

    I am not sure who "people like me" are, but although you have a point in thinking that new ideas are often challenged for a period of time, you should keep in mind that many of those ideas are permanently rejected on the basis of empirical evidence. Childress' claim are implausible in the context of established psychological information,AND he has offered no systematic empirical support for them. But this is the kind of thing that people who are actually his peers are inclined to like-- better trained psychologists do not.

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    1. I mean "who"-- don't know how that m crept in.

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    2. Dr. Mercer,

      This is Mark, again. I understand your positions on evidence and data. I will admit though that everything in your rebuttals so far has exuded some appreciable disdain, not just doubt. Would that be a fair statement? Have you attempted to examine any cases to see how well the model accurately describes the problem? I will gladly share my information with you if you need some and take you through it to see how it plays out so accurately. I will be reaching out to Dr. Childress to do the same as I think more cases will help move this along toward. Also, have you encountered families in these situations? Are you working with evidence and data to refute it? Or are you just serving as a skeptical counterpoint? Also, do you have you a better model to offer? If these were expressed in previous postings, I haven't read them all. Please take all of what said above as respectful inquiry. Thank you.

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    3. Mark, I am going to try to answer all your comments in one place. First, I think the word you are trying to find for my attitude is probably contempt. And, yes, I do feel contempt for those who market snake oil to vulnerable people. If this were a professional publication I would try to make that less evident, but it's a blog, and I don't feel I have to keep my opinion to myself-- just as long as I can show that it is actually an informed opinion and not simply an unexamined prejudice.

      As for having a better model to offer, whether anyone could have such a thing depends on whether there is actually evidence that the phenomenon exists, and as there is none, there is no model, better or worse.

      Now let me address your concerns about evidence. You say you have information on this subject, and of course I would be happy to have access to that.

      However, I need to point out what kinds of evidence need to be available before anyone can reach the conclusion that has been leapt to by PA advocates. The claim seems to be that there is a disorder, X, displayed by some parents, and exposure to X causes another disorder, Y, in children. How would we know this? It is not sufficient to find cases of parents with X who have children with Y. We also need to know how often this occurs, AND how often there are parents with X whose children do not have Y, and how many parents who do not have X nevertheless have children with Y.

      If we find that all parents with X have children with Y, or more importantly that all children with Y have parents with X, we have still not supported the view that exposure to X causes Y. We must still deal with the possibility that parents whose genetic make-up is expressed with X have children who share their genes, but whose genetic characteristics are expressed during childhood as Y. (It is not uncommon to have the same genetic characteristics expressed in different ways in childhood and in adulthood.) To show that the connection between X and Y has to do with experience rather than heredity, we would need to compare a group who had been exposed to parents with X to another group whose biological parents had X but whose adoptive parents did not. If there were the same frequencies of Y in the two groups, this would suggest a strong genetic influence; if there were many children without Y in the adopted group, it would suggest that experience with X parents is at least a partial cause of Y.

      All that accomplished, we would still have the question of whether the methods proposed by Childress and others can correct Y (to keep that term) in children who have the disorder. To accomplish this, we need to take into account that children change naturally with age, and that everyone tends to seek help for a problem when that problem is at its worst and very likely to get better spontaneously. Ideally, we would take a group of children with Y and assign them randomly either to the Childress treatment or to some other known treatment like Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. Following treatment, we would have observers who did not know which treatment the children received make a new assessment of each child's condition, and we would compare both the benefits and the harms shown by children in one group to those shown by children in the other group. If other criteria for evidence-based treatments were met, and if statistically significant differences with adequate effect sizes showed the Childress method to be superior to the other, then it would be possible to say whether the method was an effective one. The rationale or model behind the treatment would be irrelevant to this decision, although it certainly is relevant to whether such a study could be approved by an IRB.

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    4. Seriously? And why would *anyone* do a study *that* extensive about a bunch of over-sensitive parents who are over-reacting to their children's normal development? The more we are made to look like desperate fools who will believe just about anything that validates our emotionally impaired understanding about what is happening, the less likely anyone will take our "problem" seriously enough to consider for a research project. And with an attitude about us like that, any psychologist who would dare do such a study would absolutely 100% be ridiculed and discredited for taking us seriously.

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    5. Probably "anyone" would not, but presumably Childress could, if he chose. As for "desperate fools" etc., I think it's more the case that knowledgeable people simply consider you to be making a mistake, which most of us do for various reasons at one time or another. If you want something very much, you, like others, become vulnerable to merchants of snake oil. That doesn't make you a fool.

      By the way, Jason, I noted that somewhere else you referred to parental behavior as re-wiring the child's brain. This is a very dangerous analogy-- dangerous in the sense that it encourages people to accept inappropriate conclusions or draw inappropriate implications. Brains are not wired to begin with, so the idea of re-wiring them is not a very helpful metaphor. I don't suggest that brains don't change-- they are doing that all the time-- but when you talk about re-wiring you suggest that this can be done fairly quickly, with methods that are the same for everyone, and with highly predictable results. The re-wiring metaphor assumes simple, mechanical connections between experiences, brain events, and behaviors, but in fact there are many brain events that bring about the same behavior, and many behaviors that are caused in part by the same brain event. Same thing goes for the associations between experiences and brain events. So, please think twice before you let yourself be convinced that including statements about brains gives effective support to claims about mental health problems or treatments.

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  26. Dr. Mercer,

    I appreciate your response. Now that I understand that you have contempt (I agree it is a better term), I am trying to understand more clearly your position. Also, just so that we are clear, I have no judgment on your having contempt. Believe it or not, I have felt the same way after wrestling with the existence of ADHD with my daughter. I get it. Again, I will not touch the therapy portion of this debate; only the attachment-model.

    From your response...

    "As for having a better model to offer, whether anyone could have such a thing depends on whether there is actually evidence that the phenomenon exists, and as there is none, there is no model, better or worse."

    Let me flip your question around...what evidence of the phenomena are you saying doesn't exist? Observations and repeating patterns of those observations surely count for something towards evidence that there is a phenomena. How did any hypothesis begin in the first place. I think we can agree that the absence of statistical scientific data that something is happening doesn't mean it isn't happening. Now, that said, I think you are doing the right thing to scrutinize the model and look for data that supports it. Being in the thick of the situation, I have observable behaviors to detect, the existence and patterns of which are explained by the model. However, when a model predicts outcomes and patterns well enough despite someone having calculated statistical correlations, that model has potential value until something more accurate comes along. However, I do understand that being definitive in your conclusions begs proof. So are you taking issue with the notion that Pathogenic Parenting exists, or with the theory that the cause of Pathogenic Parenting stems from attachment trauma and related personality disorder traits? Or both? Additionally, I think one can take into account that the model is not simply pulled from thin air. Are you saying that the basis for the model is not credible, or just saying it is incomplete, unproven and therefore in need of further research?

    What is the best way to take this dialogue offline with you so that I may share my situation and particular details that I believe is clear evidence to the model's accuracy.

    I appreciate you hosting this thread.

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    1. Are you Mark? I'm not sure who I'm talking to at this point. In any case, I would far rather have any discussion on line so other people can also see what is said. But-- if you have something to say that you prefer to keep confidential, you can tell me at jean.mercer@stockton.edu and I will reply here as well as I can without mentioning your specifics.

      I certainly accept the idea that there are parents who encourage their children to dislike and avoid the co-parent, and that this may happen during a marriage as well as later. (I can even imagine situations where each parent is doing this with respect to the other parent, simultaneously.) However, I decline to reify this as "Pathogenic Parenting", because distasteful as the behavior may be, I do not see evidence that it predictably or consistently produces the symptoms of grandiosity and so on often mentioned by PA advocates. I know you think it does-- but at the risk of repeating myself, before accepting the idea I would need to know about children who did not become grandiose and so on however alienating a parent was, and children who did show those symptoms even though both parents did all that would be considered appropriate. An event really can't be called pathogenic unless there is evidence that pathology results, yes?

      I think a quite regrettable aspect of PA thinking is the assumption that for a child to show certain characteristics is acceptable evidence that a parent has behaved in an alienating fashion and has done this as a result of his or her own emotional disorder, so that diagnoses can be made without evaluation of the accused parent. This is completely unethical practice and has created a paucity of supportive information.

      Okay, to proceed: you want to know if I think "Pathogenic Parenting" stems from attachment trauma. Of course I am not prepared to say that is the case, because I don't see the evidence for the PP at this point. So, let me just comment on attachment trauma as an issue.

      A major popular error over the last 20 or 30 years has been to privilege the attachment concept over everything else and to assume that when anything is wrong psychologically, an attachment problem is to be blamed. In fact, as Alan Sroufe pointed out after doing his immense longitudinal study of early attachment and outcomes, a child's early attachment history does not predict any specific thing that happens later and is not necessarily a predictor of anything at all. To the extent that personality is shaped by experience, later events are just as important factors as events in the first three years when attachment behavior is conspicuous. There have been a number of "natural experiments" that followed the development of children adopted from environments that involved many events that could be classed as attachment trauma. Even the children whose behavior was quite odd early in the placement recovered quite well in terms of their social abilities and connections with others. What did not necessarily go as well in some cases was language and cognitive skills.

      No, I understand that the model was not PFA. It shows a lot of influence of people like Bessel van der Kolk and the late Alice Miller, who were convinced that traumatic experiences in early childhood were woven into developmental change and were major causes of mental illness. They skipped the possibility that children who are mistreated early are quite likely to continue to experience risk factors as they grow up, and any later problems are just as likely to result from later difficulties as from early ones. To be brief,the early influences model adopted by Childress is too simple to be credible. It also apparently assumes that the nature of attachment remains the same in later development as it is during the secure base period, rather than changing to what some have called an attachment state of mind with much less influence over specific behaviors.

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    2. TitaniumKoa = Mark

      Bear with me...I am trying to keep this brief, but there is just doing that. You will be receiving a novel. My apologies for the delay. If you rather talk to speed up the process, I am amenable to that. Let me know.

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    3. Dr. Mercer,

      One question to the following point you made:

      "I think a quite regrettable aspect of PA thinking is the assumption that for a child to show certain characteristics is acceptable evidence that a parent has behaved in an alienating fashion and has done this as a result of his or her own emotional disorder, so that diagnoses can be made without evaluation of the accused parent. This is completely unethical practice and has created a paucity of supportive information."

      How do you suppose someone gets that evaluation done? I can say through my firsthand experience that my ex is not welcoming any evaluation. I have alluded, in the utmost caring and concerned way I know, the existence of something going on in our family, with the boys in particular, such that we should explore this together. I was told flat out, this discussion is over. I am a pretty calm, level-headed guy. I can talk softly and know how to make conversations "safe" so that people can open up. "Safety," however, is only perceived if the person is thinking rationally and can feel trust through your empathy/sympathy. Once you point out the possibility of any flaw, you just caused the narcissistic injury which spawns the rage, creates the drama and deflects the attention away from the narcissist--"I am now the guy who started it." Aren't the symptoms supposed to be self-evident of the disorder? And if the children are displaying the same, isn't that the problem someone is trying to get the court to help evaluate? You have to make the assumption in order to attempt to prove it just so that you can the help to evaluate it. It is the same thing with the ADHD in some cases...you have to let the kid fail first before you can get to a point of getting a specialist to determine they have ADHD. Except, now the specialist knows the process...you cannot get help from the school system until you have a diagnosis. Well, the specialist does a quick behavioral evaluation, diagnoses ADHD simply to get the ball rolling with the school...and now with this diagnosis/label, which the parents saw from the start, the school can now go and create the IEP to address the learning differences. In this case, however, the parents can make the kid go get evaluated. How do you that with someone who can mimic normal behavior situationally? You have to go back and look at the multitude of exceptions and anomolous behaviors that occur more regularly when it's just between you and your ex. Better yet, how do you get past the defense of the bystanders who aren't educated or aware (as I wasn't) that narcissistic personality disorder is a real thing? Where you (up until now) and they have rationalized the narcissists "bad behavior" because they are the mother, father, spouse, and the CHILD...all the while you are cast as the villain. This is the pattern that can e observed and followed from beginnings to the current state. It is the "fundamental attribution error" but in reverse. The NPD is characterological, its their unfortunate nature, and the good behavior is situational...but only when they need it to be good. As everyone else denies a problem and has come to accept the bad behavior and the disorder, they become protectors of it. So, once again, how does one get that evaluation without the allegations first?

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    4. I'd rather have the novel, really!

      I see and sympathize the extreme difficulty of your personal situation, and I also understand how hard it would be to get an uncooperative person to get evaluated. However, it is still true that Childress should not be making such a strong claim about causes and effects without being able to present supportive evidence. What if I said ladybugs carried the Zika virus, without having evidence that it was correct, and only knowing that some people get Zika? Such a claim, if accepted by others, could lead to unnecessary and ineffective precautions that could do harm as well as failing to prevent virus transmission.

      It does not usually pay to take a reductionistic approach to behavioral issues and to claim a single cause. Assuming for the sake of argument that a parent's narcissism is a cause of a child problem, we still have to ask what other factors are at work. Do certain child temperaments protect against the problem outcome, and others facilitate it? What is the role of the parent who was initially attracted to the narcissistic person-- why did that person like, or at least not object to, problematic personality characteristics, which must have been present in some form even though the person was "being good"? Also, are there genetic factors at work, so any child personality or behavioral problems are due to factors shared with the narcissistic parent, rather than experiences with that person?

      I am just suggesting that there are a lot of ways this could all be much more complicated than Childress claims.

      BTW, I am just wondering, do you know of any connections between Childress and Randy Rand or Dorcy Pruter of Family Bridges? Or are they rivals?

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  27. I am particularly busy at this time. I will re-engage this conversation after Labor Day. I would like to leave with one additional comment. How would "other genetic factors" account others' behaviors who get involved to protect the victimized child...not the parent, nor the child...accounted for in the model? I just had a wonderful day yesterday moving my older son into his first day of college. He asked me not come to his move-in day. When asked why, he included somewhere in the conversation that it would "cause tension" with his mom, her husband and her father who were helping him move in. I had basically been cut from this activity. I told him emphatically, that he would regret my not being there, and that I wasn't going to miss this day. This particular attitude just arose in the past week since I had gotten from my ex a very long response to an email where I confronted her with "something is happening with our family, can we talk." Instead of talking, I got the email very clearly evidencing splitting or something very close to it. This was my third request for a conversation. I received only written responses, with a "drop the subject" content and tone. So, I showed up to my son's move-in day. While standing outside waiting for others to come back for a second run of stuff, I had the "pleasure" of being accused of "my latest crime" by his grandfather, a man that I have gotten along with and respected for years until very recently. His tone was very accusatory, and he started his inquiry with the phrase, "I find it very interesting..." and proceeded to ask me about "my crime" and why I was there when my son had asked me not to come...using "rehearsed comments," I might add. I told him, "I would be happy to explain, but not today. This was not the time or the place." I had very little dialogue with anyone but my two sons (the younger one was there helping also). Luckily, I knew what was going on, and had expected something to occur.

    Just so we are clear, these additional scenarios are covered in Childress' book...under "Explusion Demand" and "Bystanders." Not sure if they are Childress' ideas alone or someone else's. While this doesn't rebut any of your positions, Dr. Mercer, I did want to share because, once again, this model is spot on for my situation. I was able to "absorb" the barrage of shunning and accusation, because I understand exactly what was happening and why it is happening as a family systems issue, even if the underlying psychology cannot be proven as only one thing. I was getting the overflow of splitting through the "bystanders" who are protecting the "victimized child" in this case, who asked me not to come to his college move-in day.

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    1. Without wanting at all to minimize your own discomfort, I have to say that between your own proclivities and the support of the Childress "model", you appear to me actually to have forgotten that you are a part of the family system and influence what happens. I am going to comment candidly on this aspect of the story above.

      Your son, who is at a stressful time in his own life, asked you not to come to the move-in and gave you a good reason why you should not do so. He behaved like an adult, and I am sure it was painful for him to have to deliver such a message. You, for your part, ignored his stated wishes, had words with his grandfather, and generally reinforced the idea that you are a loose cannon. This will make your son less likely than ever to want you to be present.

      I am speaking here not as some sort of therapist, but as an older woman with much experience of marriage, divorce, stepfamilies, and college students. I believe that you need to do some careful thinking about what you really want out of this situation. Is it to assert your rights and to apportion blame for your situation to other people, or is it to establish a new and positive relationship with your son? If it's the latter, and I hope it is, you will need to behave differently when this kind of situation arises again.

      So, what else could you have done when this uncomfortable event began? How could you have answered your son's request that you not attend? You might have begun by communicating straightforwardly that you were disappointed and had been looking forward to this exciting period in his life. Then, you could have stated that in spite of your disappointment you understood his feelings and would comply with his wishes. Finally, you could have asked to set a later date, after classes have begun, when the two of you might meet for lunch and you could hear all about his experiences.

      If you truly want to have a relationship with him, you need to work to know this emerging person and recognize that you have in your hands an opportunity to create a new relationship which is not the relationship of the past, as he is not the child of the past and, one hopes, you are not exactly the same person you were.

      Your actions toward him need to be ones of "courtship" and compromise. You need to support him by focusing on his needs at this time of dramatic change into an "emergent adult". If other adults in his life are as difficult as you believe they are, he has a particular need for such support. I hope you can provide it and benefit yourself by doing so.

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  28. Dr. Mercer,

    Thank you for the continuing conversation. Because of the potential length of the response and the size limitations of this blog, I am replying to your points a piece at a time. Thank you for bearing with me. Please read all the posts before you reply.

    MERCER: "Without wanting at all to minimize your own discomfort, I have to say that between your own proclivities and the support of the Childress "model", you appear to me actually to have forgotten that you are a part of the family system and influence what happens."

    You said that I am part of the family system...but the family system is distorted, and my influence in this situation has been undermined. This is the exact problem with parental alienation. What would be normal parenting perogatives and consequences used to influence my children (like I use with my daughter every day) are being perverted into "bad parenting," completely deflecting attention from my ex's behavior, and working to completely eradicate my influence from the family system. I am trying to influence with reasoning, rationality and compassion in respectful dialogue that feels right and makes sense at the time. But being that my sons have opted to stay with her, who has the greater influence? Time and proximity are huge factors. Why do they stay with her? While normal comfort is a factor, it has been reinforced by adultification strategies like "letting them choose where they want to live" she gained control of both. Unfortunately, this "choice" has been abused by my sons as "I will spend time with dad, whenever I want"...with no consideration for my feelings. Attempts to gain more more appropriate amounts of time are framed as "forcing" them to spend time with me, and she won't do that. In addition, there are large, materialistic incentives, like helping purchase cars for my sons that influence them. Again, I am not part of these decisions...they are foisted on me and there is an expectation that I go along for the ride. This is not co-parenting to me. When I challenge or question in an attempt to participate in major decisions like a normal co-parent, this sets my ex off. This is how I got to this point. Is it any wonder why my rational approach is not working to effect greater influence?

    I will continue with the next post.

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  29. Next reply:

    DR. MERCER: "Your son, who is at a stressful time in his own life, asked you not to come to the move-in and gave you a good reason why you should not do so. He behaved like an adult, and I am sure it was painful for him to have to deliver such a message. You, for your part, ignored his stated wishes, had words with his grandfather, and generally reinforced the idea that you are a loose cannon. This will make your son less likely than ever to want you to be present."

    Now, I will be so bold to say that, so far, your assessment of me is unfortunately way off. If you only knew me more (which I am not sure how much I can give you to convince you otherwise). But that is okay, because I am here for counterpoints and dialogue. I am trying to rationalize your jumping to a conclusion, however. I will read my previous posts to see where I am coming off as a “loose cannon?” I am sooo the reverse of a loose cannon. Three separate behavioral styles of my 24-year career as an engineer in manufacturing have labeled me anything but dominant/driver/etc...that is why I am in a support role in most of my career. One behavioral style isolated my primary strength as open to new ideas and I have twice been complimented by my leaders on the ability to welcome feedback. I have made use of my EAP (benefit across two companies) for guidance on big decisions, including this one. I have been known to succumb to “analysis paralysis.” However, please do not misconstrue that as me being someone who cannot be a leader or a man of action when needed. I just do not rush into critical decisions in the least. When it comes to my family and being a parent, I am trying very hard to be a good leader and role model and I am taking my time with this…possibly to my detriment. I have my convictions as much as any parent, but I am very much a parent and co-parent and I welcome collaboration. Unfortunately, there is no room for collaboration in this scenario...the other party does not want to do that.

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    1. Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that everything you say about yourself and family is a correct interpretation of what's happened. Nonetheless, you now have an opportunity to forge a relationship with your young adult son that is much less influenced by other family members than it has been in the past. How do you plan to move forward on this? Can you drop the collaboration part, which doesn't seem to have worked in the past and which your son does not really need at this point? Most young people as they enter college would like to develop separate "grown-up" relationships with parents rather than be faced with an alliance which is of necessity not the personal connection they want and can use for support.

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  30. Dr. Mercer,

    Sorry for being away for so long on this thread. I was hoping for some additional voices, but it looks this is one-on-one conversation at this point. One thing I would like to understand from you and your experience:

    Have you experienced parental alienation directly or indirectly? I guess I am unclear as to whether you have a strictly academic viewpoint, or if you have experience as a parent or therapist or other with respect to this family dynamic?

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    1. You can see my CV on this blog. As for personal experience, I think that is irrelevant-- if you had cancer, would you seek an oncologist who also had it? However, for the record I was divorced and spent many years as a single parent.

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    2. Dr. Mercer,

      Thanks for responding to that question. It was intended with the utmost respect simply to clarify your perspectives for me. But if you haven't experienced pathogenic parenting like this, on either side of the problem, then I am not sure if you can appreciate how confusing, counter-intuitive of an experience it is. That said, if I went to an oncologist, even if they haven't had cancer, I wouldn't expect that person to say...cancer doesn't exist. They might say, it's not cancer you have...it's something else. At the same time, if they had no experience with cancer, I may not be as comfortable with their understanding of what to look for as with an experienced physician. At this point, I am trying to understand if you feel the PA is a myth or not, or just opposing the notion that one model prevails in explaining it. In the case of pathogenic parenting, I believe that is some of what is happening...that it is still being denied. Also, I have seen the calls for a subspecialty in the profession of psychology/therapy because of things like the "fundamental attribution error," if I am using that term correctly. The subspecialist would be trained to look for the detailed symptoms that, on the surface, appear to be completely counterintuitive to true family dynamics. With my current experience, the problem is glaring to me...so, as you can imagine, it is frustrating when others cannot see it. But I totally get that just because it is clear to me doesn't automatically make it true. However, when the model is applied, I have explanations for what is happening and also what is not happening; when it is happening, when it is not happening; etc. From my experience, that typically points to a good root cause...at least something worth responding with some action.

      I guess the other question for me would what else could/should I be looking for to explain the current situation? I am looking inwards to try and ensure that I am approaching my sons with the right attitude and behaviors, but there is only so much guidance out there on how to deal the regular exposure to false facts, delusions, etc when you are seeing your children a mere fraction of the time in comparison and you are portrayed as an inferior parent.

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    3. I am sure there have been cases where one parent intentionally persuaded children to dislike and avoid the other parent-- I Would not want to assume that anything is impossible in the complicated world of marriage and parenthood. Neither would I want to say that PA is a myth in the sense of being a total fabrication, because after all to prove that something does NOT exist is impossible, so I cannot know that it is altogether a myth, nor could I know this about any claim.

      What I do say is that any causal connections among parent personality, parent behavior, child rejection of a parent, and (especially) child personality factors like grandiosity are completely speculative. I do not even see evidence (!) that children who reject a parent are also grandiose etc. or have other personality characteristics that will later make life difficult for themselves and others. Nor do I see any evidence that attachment plays any role in whatever-PA-may-be, as children who are said to display related problems are old enough so that their original attachment behavior and motivation has altered to an attachment "state of mind".

      Those are my concerns about Childress' model--like any theory, it needs to act as a framework to bring together observable information, and if it lacks important information (like what the preferred parent is actually like), it can't be a good framework. I realize that you will counter that it's impossible to find out what the preferred parent is really like, but the theory doesn't get a pass because of that.

      Honestly, I think it's a waste of your time to try to explain the current situation. Why not focus on where you want to go with this and how to get there? You are in contact with at least one son. Have you asked him how he wants things to be? Can you tell him what you would like and see whether you share goals-- or if not, how you might compromise?

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    4. "am sure there have been cases where one parent intentionally persuaded children to dislike and avoid the other parent-- I Would not want to assume that anything is impossible in the complicated world of marriage and parenthood. Neither would I want to say that PA is a myth in the sense of being a total fabrication, because after all to prove that something does NOT exist is impossible, so I cannot know that it is altogether a myth, nor could I know this about any claim.

      What I do say is that any causal connections among parent personality, parent behavior, child rejection of a parent, and (especially) child personality factors like grandiosity are completely speculative. I do not even see evidence (!) that children who reject a parent are also grandiose etc. or have other personality characteristics that will later make life difficult for themselves and others."

      I can tell from your writing that you have no personal experience with this. Not only are there cases, the reality is that it does not end. My mother has continued to alienate us children from each other and turn us against my father. She left him 40 years ago and her manipulations continued until this day. All with an incredibly tragic and sad ending. Sadly, you sound so dismissive.... just like my mother so I wonder at your own sense of empathy and compassion and your own place on the spectrum of PD. Clincial and objective is one thing, you are off gassing something else.....

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    5. I have never denied that such things happen and are very unfortunate for everyone. Once again, my question is about the evidence for particular effects on children. Are you saying that you yourself are grandiose, suffer from black and white thinking, etc.?

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  31. Dr. Mercer,

    Because of the character limitations, I have to split my response again. I am responding to your Sept 12th post. I want to address your last paragraph's first sentence indicating "waste of time to try explain the current situation." It has not been a waste of time. I have my explanation. It is the Dr. Childress model of attachment-based pathogenic parenting. My question was more of a challenge to you--how else would you explain my situation in its entirety? Because of the Childress' model, I have been able to take the steps I have despite the recurring dysfunctional behaviors of my ex. It doesn't, however, address all my legal matters that come along with this situation, but that is another matter entirely.

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  32. This is the second portion of my response.

    For clarification, I see both my sons regularly. I take my younger son to school each day. That may not sound like much of a parental alienation problem at all, but the fact is that my relationship has been marginalized to just taking him to school and an occasional dinner here and there. The last weekend we spent together in any way was last Thanksgiving. I reach out to do stuff with him, but he chooses the easier path--staying home at his mom's, going to friends’ house, etc. While that sounds normal teenager stuff, this has been encouraged in the past 2 years with the typical "it's their choice" and "I am not going to 'force' them" manipulations in her communications despite my direct challenges to that dynamic. His last overnight was about 6 months ago. By no means am I trying to make my situation sound like the worst. I have it easy compared to some other unfortunate families. However, it is not the relationship I had cultivated and nurtured up until February 2015...when we were spending time together that met everyone needs. It literally shut off like water from a faucet 18 months ago…and if you want the date this started, I can give you that. I have stated my position that this situation is now a matter of confusing "flexibility in how and when they spend time with me" with "freedom whether or not they spend time with me at all." I was being diplomatic up until 2 months ago, when I took a more direct approach and started shining a light on other possibilities as to why my relationship with them is at risk.

    I try to focus on my relationship with my son completely, but his mom, my ex, is not co-parenting. It's not a matter of working with him; it's matter of defending against her negative influences. She doesn't want me in decisions regarding the boys. She just wants to execute her agenda regarding them to the fullest. I expect to be involved in decisions that two parents would normally make together to benefit their children at certain milestones in their life. Instead, she makes unilateral decisions. Depending on the matter, I might respectfully challenge like any co-parent might. I don't necessarily oppose, but I may question her decision in search for understanding or other options. She isn't looking to be questioned, let alone compromise like you keep mentioning is important. Instead, she creates drama typical of certain personality disorders, making the children out as victims, making me the victimizer, and then, in worst case scenarios, seeking the court to try and compel me rather than discuss things with me. This keeps her agenda on track. I would be foolish to think there is no overflow into my sons' experience, especially when they had begun accusing me of things they had never accused me of before. I believe I have since countered things well-enough to stabilize my relationships with them. However, I have seen how slippery a slope this is and how impervious to rational thinking it can be.
    Luckily, I have been able to work the relationship with my son so that I am not experiencing any oppositional behaviors like I did when 18 months ago. I still think he is displaying some related negative behaviors (entitlement, etc) I think need to be addressed, but I am picking my parenting battles. That said, just the other morning on the way to school, I mentioned that now that his older brother if off at college, he is getting my complete focus and we need to make time for each other. I wasn't settling for what has been going for the past 18 months. He wasn’t like “I am so happy you want to spend time with me, Dad,” but he wasn’t totally resistant either. I think this is all inertia…for both of us. We are just staying the course for now, but I am looking for something to move us in a different but forward direction.

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    1. I think we are talking about two different things. You feel that when you think about things in the way Childress suggests, you are able to pull yourself together and actively urge and create contact with your sons. That's great, and I'm glad it's happening, but I am not sure that the improvement is necessarily attributable to Childress' explanation.

      But be that as it may, my real concern about Childress is something that does not seem to apply to your situation: his proposal that when children are "alienated" a court order should be sought to place them in the custody of the rejected parent for many weeks and to make contact with the preferred parent contingent on being nice to the rejected one. The outcomes of this draconian measure have not been investigated systematically, but the method seems to have been sold to some judges and attorneys. Like many other members of the public, those gentry are easily sold on systems that mention attachment and trauma.

      I think you are wise to accept the incremental nature of improvement in relationships rather than asking for the quick fix that Childress suggests in his writings.

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    2. Dr. Mercer,

      Thanks for hanging in there with me to have the dialogue. I knew that you had a primary focus on the "therapy" side of the equation. However, I understand and respect that you are also skeptical of the basis of his Attachment Model, per the title of this Discussion Blog. That is certainly what I am defending. I would suggest that because his model has allowed me insight to both my sons' and my ex's (and her extended family's) behaviors, it has easily helped me think differently and choose strategies to cope with, repair and rehabilitate the various relationships and family dynamics involved. I made "mistakes" prior to learning his model because I didn't understand the dynamics involved. I reversed some of my decisions because I could now see WHY they were counterproductive, particularly because they were strictly consequences aimed at the children more or less blindly and fueled with simple frustration, sadness, and anger. They did not attack the root cause. Instead of being puzzled by their behaviors which were pushing me away, the model explained how I could engage them with the right dialogue to bring them closer and counter the false facts about me with confidence. Unfortunately, the model could not be leveraged rapidly enough to be useful with the justice side of this equation.

      The quick fix for me is not a reality simply due to the fact that the legal system cannot handle this situation this time despite and science, facts, and logical reasoning. The matter is still too gray, despite the stark black and white contrast I see (because I know exactly what I am looking for). Ultimately, this phenomenon is still viewed with sufficient skepticism that the process for getting real help is too slow. For this reason, the time to prove anything (no matter how simple) competes, if it is not at odds with, the time my son has an adolescent AND the fact that the courts recognize his preferences despite the fact that they may be the result of undue and unhealthy influences happening. Even if this was provable, having the court compel something at this age isn't really practical. As much as I would like the court to see the information and validate it and force my ex to face the facts...without some serious consequence, I cannot expect anything to magically reprogram my son's thinking and compel him to live with me. At best, I would hope that the court would compel counseling for her (which I would be glad to participate in if it would help) and then she could be part of the repair process. Again, proving all that appears to be too slow and ineffectual.

      I have seen the process ramp up to almost full symptoms in two teenagers in less than 1 year, prior to which there were only sporadic, mild symptoms (which I didn't understand as possibly the result of something pathogenic). Yet the process to heal is much slower because of the challenge a targeted parent faces with the pathogenic parent still in control of the children's emotional and psychological states. This is where I now turn as I transition with my sons...to more of an advocacy role in this fight. Helping the legal system leverage the science that can explain it quickly and clearly so that the healing process can get underway with urgency. Also, prevention...let's not forget about that. It would have been great if my "parenting class" that I had to take after divorcing spoke to the potential danger of pathogenic parenting (or parental alienation) and the symptoms to look for. This would put have put me on alert long ago.

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    3. While, I have no experience, nor credentials, my opinion nonetheless is that the approach to place the children in the care of "Authentic Parent" makes sense. I just don't see how a young child could be "weened" off the toxic influences of the pathogenic parent without a change in custody. The personality disorder, if that is to be believed as the cause, won't allow it. In contrast, I think an authentic parent, who can see both good and bad sides much better, can foster understanding of the other parent, whereas the reverse cannot happen. If it happens that both parents are somehow afflicted with the same personality disorder, then that is an entirely different situation... and I would pity the child involved in that. I do agree that any data to scientifically support the success (or failure) of the therapy model should be fully researched and thoroughly examined. Lest we get some thing claiming to be "organic" and "all natural."

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    4. Of course you would like the legal system to make decisions based on science-- so would we all-- and that's why some states require expert testimony to meet the Daubert criteria. But in this case systematic studies, otherwise known as science, do not exist. On the contrary, the thinking about PA commonly involves what you have just said, looking for "the symptoms to look for". This does not do any good unless we know how often and in what populations those symptoms occur-- for instance, how often do they occur when no alienating behavior has taken place-- and how often do they NOT occur when there has been alienating behavior. Until that information exists, "pathogenic parenting" is not only a metaphor, but a potentially deceptive metaphor.

      Using Childress' way of thinking helped you consider what you might be doing wrong, and I congratulate you on being a person who can use any model in that way. But the fact that Childress' approach had heuristic value for you is not evidence that it is correct in any serious sense. I notice, by the way, that you did not attempt to use the treatment model he proposes-- you might feel differently about all this if you had done so.

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    5. To Titanium--
      You never explained why you went to your son's move in day at college, even though he asked you not to.
      Irrespective of any PD your ex may have, you are showing a very problematic (maybe even pathogenic) lack of empathy for your son. You seem to have no idea how stressful and damaging it is for a child to be stuck between 2 parents. For the purpose of my advice to you I am going to assume that you are basically normal and your ex is abnormal/personality disordered. Stop making your kid/s be around the two of you PERIOD. Forget the fantasy of co-parenting. Forget the dream of some authority pronouncing her as the problem and you as the sane one. Don't challenge her unilateral decisions unless it is a huge mistake AND a sure win for you. Quit focusing on the fact that she's not following the "rules". Rules are not going to help your kid, only YOU are and only if you are smart enough to not shoot yourself in the foot. Your kid needs you to set aside your ego/anger/rights and solely focus on what helps your kid cope with this giant Sh!! sandwich he has to eat cause you chose a wack job as the mother of your kids. You need to tighten up! Don't force them to cut you off just to end the stress you're forcing them to deal with. Stop making things more stressful and you should be able to do that cause you're the sane one----mom can't/wont do that. Don't listen to anyone who says "Don't let her get away with that" "Take her back to court" etc. It will only make things worse for your kids. And if the day comes you HAVE to file a motion, you will have more credibility with the judge cause you never filed one before. These cases are decided on who the judge thinks the bigger problem is, then judge finds "law" to justify the decision. Don't be the problem one. Pay your support on time, pay for any extras you can so you don't have to ever deal with her. Never talk, only text or email. Don't try and teach your kids any of the lessons a good parent ought to teach, cause this is a special situation and what your kids need before all else is a soft place to fall and brain vacation from the hell of having a disordered mother. Don't expect them to appreciate you until they are 40 years old and married with kids. But know in your heart that they will. They will know what you did to try and help. Think about your legacy after you are dead and gone, like great artists not recognized until years after their demise and trust in that. I wish you well, man. Stay away from "alienated parents" support groups---98% of them are disordered and in total denial and will warp your thinking. The only victims here are your kids. ---Sara

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    6. Points well taken, in my opinion.

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    7. Thanks for your reply, Sara. While I am taking stance and speaking out a lot, let me reiterate that my situation isn't nearly as bad as most cases you hear about. Again, my situation had really ramped up only in the last 18 months. I am not sure what exactly I have said to give the impression that my behavior is pathogenic. But I cannot say that any choice I make in these matters is free of problems--potential conflict is par for the course. That said, if there is anything you wish to know about me to challenge the notion that I have some pathogenic (pathogenic parenting, I assume you mean) behaviors, feel free to ask me questions. I do not believe that I display any of the NPD, Borderline, or others as I understand them. I have questioned myself in front of my counselor for things like that just for reality checks. Remember...I did not come from a traumatic childhood. 50+ year marriages all the way around in my family. I had my needs met. All-in-all, I am very fortunate and very grateful. As far as lack of empathy goes...I was totally empathetic to my son's situation. However, being empathetic doesn't mean having to capitulate to his request if I think it is a bad choice.

      Due to character-length limits...I am ending this post here and will answer your question in the next one.

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    8. Now to answer your question, Sara. I thought I did explain my decision, but I will try again. I talked with my son at great length prior to deciding and telling him I was going to be there. Simply put, I gave my son an explanation that he, at 18 years old, still isn't in a position to understand long term consequences of choices...like regret. Such feelings come with having made bad choices, avoiding situations you wish you hadn't, not doing things you thought were right at the time, etc. Also, I explained flat out that I am his father, I love him, and I think he will look back with regret that I wasn't there. I knew that I would. I told him that he wasn't going to keep me away or shut me out in this instance (I made this statement calmly and firmly; it wasn't angry or malicious). Despite the challenges that have come with the marriage to his mom, he is still my son, and I am still his parent, and I love him very much. Loving someone doesn't mean that everything has to play out perfectly, or even comfortably. At this time, all he was doing was executing the "demanded expulsion"--it's easier to ask Dad to not come, because Dad doesn't throw a tantrum or get angry--basically he will acquiesce and make it easy for me. Mom, who is the real "loose cannon" emotionally is the true source of the tension he is trying to avoid (along with everyone else). He was not aware of this dynamic, and I didn't tell him this dynamic was happening. Remember, assuming you believe my behavior as I have been explaining it (just to clarify that my behavior is very contrary to Dr Mercer's "loose cannon" characterization earlier in the post), I am the authentic parent in this situation...which means in the end, that his best interest--is my best interest. In this case, I played the long game, at the possible expense of being the "bad guy" for the morning. I actually spoke with another expert in the field that day...and she put it very plainly to me -- why do you need permission from anyone to be his parent, including him? This really wasn't a short term win situation for either of us. If you wish to bring up concepts like "respecting my son," that's fair. But in this context, I felt there was ultimately more to be gained respect-wise (in the long term) by showing up and participating rather than sacrificing this time with him. Would you respect someone's decision for physically hurting themselves or continuing their addiction? I don't think so...same basic concept. Plus, being there "causing tension" was, in my opinion, better than not being there and creating or perpetuating any perception "abandonment." I also, believe that I displayed positive attributes that morning--courage (for showing up knowing there was tension and hostility aimed at me...no one else...only me), decorum, politeness, cooperation, and the basic love by showing interest and caring for him in this big stage of his life.

      Later the following week, he and I went to lunch together. I said that despite the tension, I was glad I showed up to help, and I thanked him for bearing with all the overt silence, etc. He said, he was glad I was there too. Hopefully this answers your question satisfactorily, even if you don't agree with my decision.


      Sara, I will also respectfully disagree with some points you made, but I will address them in a separate response a little later. Thanks again, for the reply.

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    9. After reading a number of your comments, and seeing what you said to Sara, I am very curious about what it is that you want to happen at this point. You seem to see a way forward with your son. Is there something else you are trying to accomplish?

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    10. I don't understand what you mean by "way forward with your son."

      As far as accomplishing something else with my sons--just more time with my younger son. In fact, I think everything is going well with my older boy who is living more independently in college. I am being vigilant to watch what I do around my younger son (16 yrs old) who I think has been impacted moreso. With 2 years to go until college, I suspect there will be disagreements with his mom, once his college aspirations come to light. That said, this isn't over. So, I am investing in that emotional "capital" now to be withdrawn later should she take any retaliatory action for any disagreement that might happen.

      Dr. Mercer,

      Remember that, originally, my contribution to this discussion thread was all around sharing my experience as some evidence to support the accuracy of the attachment model proposed by Dr. Childress. My situation sure felt "textbook" when compared with his book. Considering that I hadn't been able to get our entire family to counseling fro dealing with this, I believe I have done really well to repair things as best I can and provide the awareness between my sons and me. I don't think I would have been able to work this out as well as I am without his explanation. I have looked into several experts in this field, and no one appears to have tackled it as well as Dr. Childress.

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  33. Unfortunately I have to disagree with you in regards to Childress' clinical discovery of the Attachment Base Model pathogen. I have read, watched, and researched much of his work along with many other theories and diagnostics. His research and studies are spot on and it was as if he has been with me for the past 19 years. I can trace the pathogen back in my exs' family at exactly who was the initial member on where the pathogen was created. My problem is that the mental health and legal (family court) system has failed both my children and me over this time. I have been emotionally and mentally beaten over 19 years (marital physical). My ex is diagnosed bi-polar and I can easily put him as NA/BP (delusional and anti-social). He has a completely different story than I do as I have proof but he has drs and no emotions. So over 19 years I have now become a childless mother who has done nothing but completely unconditionaly love and care for 2 children that want nothing to do with her. Until you have gone through any of this emotional trauma or have seen it first-hand hurt not only you but your parents and other family members please consider it is a possibility. Until you meet the "devil" disguised as Prince Charming you will never see or know the capabilities of pure evil. Also Childress has re-thought his approach to therapy and he does state he tries not to sever the relationship of the AP but instead tries to work with the AP in psychotherapy to release the child(ren) to the TP to restore the bond and relationship over time. He will only do or recommend that in cases to severe that physical/sexual abuse is present or threatened by either the child or AP or there has been history or threats of kidnapping.

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    1. I'm sorry you've had such a bad time, and I'm well aware that people's behavior during courtship may not show us what they're capable of during marriage or as parents.

      However, I have two points to make in response to your comments. First, when you say you have "researched" this matter, I believe that you are only saying that you have read a lot on the Internet and have concentrated on material that you agree with. This is not "research" in the sense that Childress and others of his persuasion should be doing it. In order to persuade other psychologists that they are right about their theory and can present acceptable evidence for the intervention they use, they must do systematic data collection and examine the outcomes of their treatment as they compare with outcomes of other treatments. Simply using official-sounding words like pathogen is not evidence, and as far as I know there has been no research of the needed kind.

      A second and related point is that in order to claim that evidence supports the effectiveness of an intervention, there must be intervention fidelity-- that is, there must be some way to show that the treatment was done in the same way each time. If Childress is still making changes in the way he does the treatment, as you suggest, this means that this method is not ready for prime time. Obviously every new treatment will go through such a stage, but before claims of effectiveness can be made, that time must be over.

      Interestingly, you seem to be showing the phenomenon of splitting that PA advocates so often mention-- you are all good, your children's father is "pure evil". Is this likely to be the case for any human beings? Please do be careful to think critically about ideas that appeal to our most primitive ways of understanding the world.

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    2. Dr. Mercer,

      Please don't gibe with the "splitting" comment, unless you wish to be accused of "gaslighting" yourself. You have not engaged Michele in enough of a conversation in this thread to make that accusation. She is just conveying her experience. If you think you have enough to go on to say that, then I will counter with the fact that she did not make any comments of being all good and she is on the receiving end of the alienation. Splitting would be evidenced by larger set of behaviors on both sides and hyperbole on both her (positively) and her ex (negatively) to support the all-good / all-bad distinctions. Not from a couple sentences. I didn't read any of that in what she said.

      I would agree with Michelle's notion of "devil" and "pure evil" in the sense that it really is strange and unsettling when you see someone lie, berate, belittle, etc with no empathy and then when you are on the defensive, you see them enjoying it...smirking, narrowing eyes, etc. I have seen that behavior in my ex as well. While I don't liken it to "evil" myself, I almost feel it is more like a shark...no emotion, no empathy, not remorse...the person is just doing what they know to do for what they want. It is just unsettling because when you know deep down that you love your kids and the behavior from your ex is keeping them from you, you think "who does this?" (to their kids? to their spouse? to their family? etc).

      Also, Dr. Mercer, I misread your posting "way forward with your son." I thought you were saying I was being way forward with my son. But I reread it and you saying observing that I was seeing a way forward with my son. Sorry for the confusion on my part.

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    3. I am perfectly familiar with the hatred divorcing couples experience and the distress that comes when you realize a person once dear to you is pleased that you are uncomfortable. Be that as it may, I don't believe it is useful to frame a human being's character as "pure evil". People can not love us, or can even hate us, without being pure evil. Using the pure evil concept prevents one from considering the actual motives and probable thoughts and behavior of another person. My comments were not about Michelle's actual experience, but about the way she framed that experience and extrapolated from it.

      Yes, that's right, I meant that you were seeing a way forward for yourself and your son.

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  34. The Attachment work Childress is presenting is separate from divorce. He started with ADD kids and traced back to attachment theory and others pointed out that the attachment theories applied to other situations, as one would expect, as it is a fundamental aspect of the human condition.

    Attachment issue usually goes back generations. My AP/Ex was taught to hater her father and has clear attachment issues, as does her mother.

    A specialist is not needed to get the history, simply talk with the family. They will tell the stories of what happened a generation or two ago.

    This is not a new phenomena or esoteric. It is a basic part of life and a common psychological ailment.

    What is distressing is how many "professionals" are willing to spew lies and nonsense to validate, what is clearly fraud and abuse.

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    1. Attributing nearly everything to attachment problems is a bad habit of people who advocate for unconventional treatments, and can easily lead to missing real problems and effective solutions. Suggesting that ADD is an attachment problem is a good example of this.

      When you talk about how families get along, learned attitudes toward parents, etc., you are not talking about attachment in its technical sense. The term attachment, as it is used by researchers and conventional theorists, refers to developmental events that begin with infants and toddlers preferring to stay near familiar people (especially when frightened or uncomfortable), and avoiding separation and the approach of strangers. This behavior and related experiences gradually give rise to an internal working model of social relationships that may or may not be further shaped by new social experiences. Attachment emotions and behaviors change through childhood and adolescence and are never again as obvious and easy to assess as they are in late infancy and toddlerhood. There is a whole research "industry" working on how to assess attachment after that early period. This suggests strongly that just talking to the family is not adequate.

      If you want to use "attachment" to mean something general about family relations and attitudes, there is nothing stopping you. The problem with Childress's remarks is that he brings in references to John Bowlby, the founder of conventional attachment theory and a major influence on attachment research, and this suggests that he is using "attachment" in its technical sense-- however, you seem to suggest that he is not.

      I too am disturbed by the lies, nonsense, and fraud, but I think I may be worried about a different group of people than you are.

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  35. Just to prove a point this is what I have dealt with for 13yrs post divorce and 6yrs of marriage. This was a result of me asking for a schedule for my kidss. Both my kids 18 & 14 made up lies saying they were abused when I told them no to extra expenses since I was laid off. Now I dont get to see or talk after to them without dealing with this verbal abuse. Keep in mind he has been in jail for over a year, has a criminal record including DV, no job, collects ss disability for bipolar/ anti-social personality disorder, HS diploma. I put myself through school and currently am pursuing my MBA and I have no record. Please tell me why the courts don't see through his mask he wears in public.

    You have accomplished alot in your life. Look around you, your the one alone!. No one can stand you. You are trash that no one wants. You will never even know your grandchildren because your own kids dont even want anything to do with you. The only fraud is you receiving social security illegally for the last 2 months so report that dumbass. Oh wait i already did. Look who the piece of shit is who isnt working now n drawing off unemployment. Your a lying piece of leftover trash.

    And yes there were about 5 other emails just as abusive if not worst.

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    1. I am so sorry to hear of this situation. I have never claimed that these things don't happen-- just that Childress has not shown evidence that his treatment method works.

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    2. I am sorry as well, Michele. Hello, again, Dr. Mercer. One thing I really am working towards is how to help get the legal system to QUICKLY recognize this and to take action. The one thing I have experienced is how rapidly this problem can evolve within the family. Again, my situation was mild--so much so that the abnormal behaviors of my ex were rationalized and normalized. So, while there were no major conflicts within the past 12 years, the past 2 years have been terrible and my sons quickly were pulled into the her apparent psychopathology. Once this snowball starts rolling, the targeted faces all the barriers and the alienating parent does not. The legal system needs to be swift in attending to the symptoms early. There are a couple things I would definitely like to see:
      1) Include pathogenic parenting/parental alienation in the parenting classes that parents have to take when they divorce. Just include the possibility. This will put both parents on equal footing of the potential.
      2) At the first sign of these things (which I believe are easily demonstrated), get the courts to recognize PFAs for this specific issue with the first step towards resolution being mandatory family counseling for evaluation. Authentic parents, I believe, will be willing to go. The alienating parent will not because it will threaten to expose the problem. Or if they go, then the family has a chance of being properly diagnosed (for whatever, even if it is not PA or pathogenic parenting).
      3) Improve how the courts work Child Custody AND Child Support. They treat them separate, but they are clearly related in co-parenting. It is way too easy for an alienating parent to petition the court and get money from the targeted parent (who never gets to see the kids) which does 2 things--reinforces the narcissism AND exacerbates the alienation.

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    3. Well, TK, I think your plans are premature. Let's first see evidence that rejection of a parent by a child is due to the actions of the other parent and not to other factors, alone or in combination. This focus on a single factor is what I call one-stop thinking. I understand that under stress this is difficult not to do, but the legal system should not be responding to such a simplistic claim without appropriate evidence.

      When you mention 12 moderately peaceful years followed by two terrible ones, are you proposing that a personality disorder that did not exist in an adult for many years has suddenly come into being, for no apparent reason? Does this not strike you as unlikely, and make you wonder what else has changed in this period? An obvious change is that the children have gotten older and presumably have entered adolescence, with its characteristic black-and-white thinking patterns. Because I don't know the whole story, I can't name other possible factors-- but it's possible to speculate that there may have been changes of school, effects of friends, boyfriends, girlfriends for the kids, and changes in sexual and social situations for the parents.

      The judicial swiftness you suggest is not going to be appropriate unless and until you can show that the single factor you name is at work in some cases-- even then, it must be possible for the law to discriminate between cases where intentional alienation is the cause of rejection, and those where the situation is more complicated.

      By the way, it would also be a good idea for PA advocates to show that the personality changes you posit for the children are present, last into adulthood, and cause social and other problems for the adult children. We all are aware nowadays that single-parent households with adequate incomes are not associated with psychological problems for the children-- and in fact that children do better when separated from antisocial fathers. (Sorry, no similar work has been done about antisocial mothers as far as I know.)

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    4. I will reply repeated to address each of your statements.

      Not sure I understand your objection in your first paragraph? Assuming you are addressing the call for education in parent education classes, what is the problem with calling out the potential for alienation/rejection--self-inflicted or otherwise. Without knowing the possibility, and the fact that there could be an abnormal psychology at work to undermine a parenting relationship, it behooves a good parent to be aware, vigilant, and cooperative for their own good as parents in addition to the good of their children.

      Next paragraph...see next post.

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    5. Regarding the 12 years of moderately peaceful "co-parenting," the personalty disorder was there, in full. You must have overlooked my statement "Again, my situation was mild--so much so that the abnormal behaviors of my ex were rationalized and normalized." The pathogenic parenting existed in part. But I didn't know of this exactly possibility of the psychopathology and related abnormal family dynamic--the existence of NPC/BPC, the correlation/causation relationships, etc. It just felt "abnormal" but easily rationalized and normalized as "that's just her." Also, while there were some narcissistic injuries, again they were easily brushed off and "the storm" simply passed. The last two years have been different, because the stakes are higher--the narcissistic injuries have greater effect. Once I explored the problem since it went full force in Feb 2015, I went in my memory to specific events, built a timeline from dating, courtship, marriage, having kids, divorcing, through to the past two years which have been most problematic. It explains "everything" that didn't seem right--her significant entitlement attitude (towards herself and our sons), failed relationships (she has been married thrice), arguments with parent & step-parents, infidelity, just to name a few. Now I understand her narcissistic injuries. I put them into the timeline...it is crystal clear. I don't seek to exploit them--that would be wrong. The mere challenges as a co-parent via parental prerogatives, however, are sufficient to cause those injuries. Also, the changes in my children's behavior did not occur gradually. The behavior on my younger son literally (I mean literally) changed overnight accompanied by all the "classic" symptoms of rehearsed scenarios, talking up to me like they were the parents, treating me with disgust, etc. I literally took my son to school that morning planning for him to come over my house that evening, and by the afternoon when I went to pick him up, he was treating as I mentioned about a situation that did not concern him.

      Next post...judicial swiftness.

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    6. The judicial swiftness is completely appopriate. The law around PFAs speaks to physical/sexual abuse, domestic violence, family distress, etc. And these things are intended to get processed quickly for obvious reasons of significant consequences. The problem is the legal system not having access to the sub-specialty or expertise in pathogenic parenting and parental alienation and other family dynamics. Diagnosing the family as a whole puts both parents on equal footing. Authentic parents will want to expose themselves to scrutiny--they are authentic in the relationship. The other parent, if they have NPD/BPD, will not--and that can be very telling. Why would you not capitulate to seeing what is going on in the family in order to improve it. I have been so vehement on this because, in my situation, the evidence is certainly glaring to me. My understanding of NPD, albeit less than a medical professional or academic, tells me that the NPD, in particular, can be so manipulative, that they can feign normal behavior when needed. But, give the narcissistic injury, they must retaliate--with rage. That cannot be contained. Shrewd as ever, they typically do this out of the purview of professionals, etc. However, my experience has demonstrated that even in emails, you can clearly see splitting, entitlement, word salad (written salad), etc. This would be the evidence to start the proceedings. Also, please understand that I am not discussing custody, therapy, etc. I feel the courts need to simply be able to validate the possibility and give their opinion as to the confidence in that possibility.

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    7. Last post...

      Single parenting is not a problem. Pathogenic parenting is a problem. I have no problems with my kids living somewhere else. I would expect the co-parent to work to keep the family working together despite being separated. This is why I look for the courts to look at the family as a whole rather than 2 parents and the children. I am not confident that the courts have gotten that philosophy yet...if so, then modern-day child support laws which are still archaically an Obligor-Obligee (one person pays the other) model would move to a shared account model or similar. In the case of parental alienation, the alienator gets the children, can show they have them all the time (because of the alienation), and then can easily move to get more support. You cannot change the custody easily once the kids get to a certain age because the court listens to the children's opinions. -- which in the case of parental alienation--means I don't want to live with that parent (ever). Child support is awarded to the alienator. Again, this can happen rapidly--3 months in my case.

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  36. I agree that the legal system has to wake up. My situation has been ongoing and it stems from the paternal grandmother passed down in generations. If anyone needs to study a narcissistic anti-social female I can point you to one. Not only do I have my ex to contend with but I have his mother who he lives with along with my children. I had no idea how deeply routed the problem was until I started doing my research. I have not just read Childress' theories but I have read other LFMT's on the subject and for some reason the court will not change their thought process and recognize the problem. I dont believe it's gender based as I believe that both parents are capable of alienation. My belief is that children need both parents but if their is alienation going on that parent should be supervised and in therapy until they are able to successfully coparent and if they can't do they lose their rights? I can't say yes or no but alienation is considered to be psychological and emotional abuse of a child so would we allow a parent that continually abuses a child physically to have contact with the child? This is what the court needs to recognize and view the abuse in the same way as they do bruises and broken bones.  Personally any type of abuse to a child is sickening to me and the innocence of a child stolen or damaged by an adult is a heinous crime and should be punishable in criminal court.

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    1. Where you are going astray is by assuming that just because some PA proponents have claimed that "alienation" is abusive, it must therefore be generally considered abusive. This is not the case. Neither in statutory law nor in definitions used for research purposes is it considered abusive for one parent to influence children to reject the other parent. However, a few judges have made decisions based on the assumption that such parental actions are abusive.

      Judges have a great deal of leeway in making decisions of this kind, but that does not mean that PA ideas about abuse are generally accepted. Of course, claims about abuse attract attention, and rightly so-- but many parental actions like failing to immunize children or teaching them that gay people will go to Hell, which might well be considered abusive, are not so considered, even though their known bad outcomes are much better established than those of PA.

      In my opinion, PA issues were originally positioned as aspects of parents' rights, but to oppose parents'rights to those of children did not make for good PR. The claim that the rejecting children were being abused allowed PA proponents to bring their concerns under the more acceptable umbrella of childrens' rights. To speculate further, I would guess that Childress' focus on attachment came about in order to demonstrate a connection to abuse by claiming that PA damaged attachment and therefore led to various forms of mental illness. As I mentioned in the original post here, that claim involved a rather primitive view of how attachment works and of the role of attachment in children over 5.

      If I were you, Michele, I would not pay too much attention to LMFTs on child development topics. They're not trained in that area.

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    2. The abuse isn't in the rejection of the parent, the abuse is in creating the abnormal distress/hostility for the child and conveying the resulting abnormal psychology and emotions to child in the course of doing that. If you know a parent can convey abnormal psychology down to a child, once the children start showing evidence of that abnormal psychology, it's there! My apologies for saying this, Dr. Mercer, but I don't think you have any experience with this despite your credentials. I hear the academic viewpoint and the call for scientific evidence, but you have yet to share any direct, pragmatic experience on the matter in the realm of Family Dynamics or Therapy. If I am mistaken, please correct me.

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    3. Okay, here are all your statements. I think that's enough until after the holidays.

      As for my qualifications, my CV is posted on this blog-- not quite up to date but close.

      Unless you can provide evidence that a) PA exists in the form you describe, and b) that treatments like Childress's are effective and not harmful, I cannot agree with your suggestion that courts should act swiftly (or otherwise) on this matter.

      I strongly disagree that "authentic" parents will be eager to be examined, or indeed that they should be. Like "lie detector" tests, psychological examinations always yield information that can be used to attack the individual in court, if someone wants to use it that way. This is especially the case when PA has been claimed, as typically the accused parent is separated from the child until they "confess" wrongdoing, and of course if they do "confess" they are not allowed to be with the child. Quite a touch of Kafka there.

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  37. Thanks for posting them all. The rapid fire rather than one big reply was really all about the character limitation.


    Scanning your CV, I didn't see any work as a family therapist or anything like. Expert witness, yes...but not a family systems person. Am I correct? Are there any of the cases for which you were an expert which involved parental alienation as primary issue in the case? I looked at one case for which I was able to get the appeal decision online, but I didn't see that issue in there. While I am not looking to discredit you in any way, I want to know if you have had to confront it? I certainly understand your concern for the treatment, but my focus for sure is about validating pathogenic parenting with a narcissistic/borderline parent as a real problem that can exist. We cannot get to the treatment/therapy and family healing without recognizing the problem and its symptoms. My point isn't that the family needs to be broken up. Families need healing...I cannot say I know the best course for that.

    What is the concern with courts taking quick steps to evaluate the family in the course of an allegation. Isn't that what is supposed to happen? Isn't that what PFA are all about? While your "lie detector" analogy is understandable, please note that the alienator, if narcissistic, will probably have an advantage there if there is no documented information...because of the delusions that they have that fuel the rest of their assault on the targeted parent. Plus they ca be ruthless...would you agree? So, it would be completely foolish of a court to simply go on word. But, from personal experience, the PFA process is in many ways a chess game...in part, it's an easy process to exploit and get a targeted parent on the defensive. I would like to see that process have a reciprocal evaluation in the light of little or no evidence to the alleged abuse. Evaluate the other parent now that we found no cause with the alleged parent.

    What have you seen with respect to the child therapies that has you on this crusade comparable to mine?

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    1. You cannot say you know the best course for healing-- yet you continue to support the Childress approach, it appears. I don't understand that... nor do I know what we're talking about any more.

      My statements have been:
      a) no systematic evidence of connections between parental mental illness and child rejection of the other parent has been put forward
      b) no systematic evidence for an effective and non-harmful treatment for children of high-conflict families has been published
      c) Childress' approach is not congruent with attachment theory as he claims it is

      Your statements are:
      a) your personal experience jibes with Childress' approach
      b) you believe the courts should hurry to adopt the Childress approach

      These claims and counterclaims seem to have little to do with each other.

      BTW, another common meaning of PFA is "pulled from the air"-- a description of many of the statistics and claims about PA at this juncture.

      As for your final question, there are hundreds of posts on this blog that answer that, and I am not planning to re-write them.

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  38. I finally decided to file for divorce after over 10 years of mysterious behavior from my husband that I thought was the result of disorders he had been treated for in the past: ADHD, OCD, depression and anxiety. We met in college in 1988 and we were both outdoorsy biology majors. His family seemed similar to mine, except that his mother communicated solely via screaming and ordering people around. At age 19, I didn't realize this would have implications for our own family over 25 years later. It was as if he began falling apart when he entered graduate school and then fell completely apart by the time our second child arrived.

    He has been fired from three jobs and supervisors have refused to rehire him for seasonal positions. For the past two years he either sleeps all day or is irritable and explodes on rages at our oldest child for perceived incidents of lack of respect (like sniffing her nose at the dinner table).

    For years I could not do anything right, like the way I chopped vegetables or washed the dishes or my tone of voice. It made him extremely angry that I am successful at work and he has done a lot to sabotage that.

    I had two breaking points: last June when he exploded in a violent rage at our daughter, using profanity and withholding food and chasing her all around the house saying, "I would hit you if I were allowed you entitled fu----- brat!"

    About six weeks later he told his brother within my hearing that he was still so angry at a boss that he wanted to kill her by rape, torture and decapitation in front of her own children. He said he thinks about this every single day and it had been over 2 years since he had been fired.

    At the time I felt his anxiety over his failures was spilling over onto me and now finally the children, but when I sought a referral for mental health and starting to talk to other professionals, they said, "That sounds like narcissism."

    I did not know anything about NPD but in reading about it in standard textbooks and people's experiences, it is the clearest explanation.

    Right now, his behavior towards my oldest, in contrast to what it had been since 2014, mirrors the Childress model almost exactly. Everytime she sees him or he sends her a text, she and I have to start over rebuilding ties, trust and a positive routine.

    The Childress model specifically refers to a divorce situation where one partner has a personality disorder. I came to your blog to see a critique, but I don't see much understanding on your part.

    Also, I do not see him as all-or-nothing bad. He is clearly damaged from his own upbringing. He hasn't managed to heal from it. It's gotten worse as our own children got older. I hear his mother's words. I miss the days early in our marriage and the first few years of our oldest girl's life when things were happier. I kept thinking it might get better. His rage and revenge fantasies some 2014 have told me he is only getting worse, and the only way I could put an end to our daily experience of it was to leave.

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    1. Dear SK-- I am really sorry that you and your children have had such awful experiences.

      However, I don't see that the situation you describe has much in common with Childress' approach, except that you both use the term "narcissistic". Childress' view seems to involve a situation where Parent A and a child are on good terms while A and Parent B live together. After divorce, B in some way influences the child so that he or she now rejects and dislikes A and is comfortable with B alone. Your story seems to be that the children were always justifiably afraid of their father-- although you don't say that, I can't see how it would have been otherwise, given your description. Now the children are not "alienated" from either you or their father, but your daughter seems disturbed following contacts with her father.

      People who behave in the way you describe can be very charming when they feel like it. Your husband presumably was able to do this, or you probably would not have stayed in the marriage so long. If he could persuade you to like him, I expect he can do the same to your daughter, which is no doubt extremely confusing for her.

      Negotiating the first few years after divorce is difficult for everyone even if both adults behave rationally. Children have a lot of trouble abandoning the idea that their family will be together and happy, no matter what evidence lies before them. Their sense of being forced to choose one parent or the other, even for short periods, is painful to them. Just as you hoped for years that matters would improve, your daughter is probably struggling with the same hopes.

      When one parent has dominated family life by his or her rage, it can be very hard for the other parent and the children to come to a reasonable balance of power and to begin to feel comfortable with their family rules and disciplinary methods. It usually takes at least a couple of years for this to settle out.

      I would suggest that if you have serious concerns about your children's behavior, you should find a psychologist trained in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, an evidence-based treatment, to guide you and the children to a more comfortable level. I am not sure what you would expect from Childress' treatment, given that you don't describe your daughter as rejecting you.

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    2. I guess I wasn't entirely clear. All fall, every time he had an explosion, prior to when I told him I was filing for divorce, she would cry, run to her room and more while he raged about her disrespect and sense of entitlement.

      I filed for divorce in December, asked him to move out (he did not), so I moved out.

      I have made only very general statements to my children, such as, "Daddy and I are going to live separately now," or, "The marriage stopped being a happy marriage, so we needed to end it."

      The children spend the majority of the time with me owing to his current work schedule. I have asked for custody (in my state, custody is awarded to one parent, separately of parenting time).

      On the other hand, my husband has told my daughter that I am very selfish and that I lied to him for months and years and that I was "pretending to be a wife" and that she could make up stories to tell the therapist and more.

      So, right now, my eleven year old is angry at me for leaving the family and taking her with me.

      My husband is very much manipulating her by telling her more than she needs to know at her age, and creating a coalition with her by telling her I am a liar, selfish and a "pretend wife".

      Yesterday, taking the children to the house for an overnight during his day off, my youngest, who is six, threw a kicking and screaming tantrum. I cannot think how old she was when she did this last. Since she was born, he has generally been neglectful (sleeping through family interaction), irritable or in a rage.

      It is clear to me that my oldest has more to lose: the memories of the good times when my husband when she was much younger up to age seven or so. My youngest girl has very few happy memories with him.

      With both, I am very brief and matter-of-fact that the marriage has ended and we will live separately but that both parents will love them and come to their special events. (Let me point out that he has regularly missed concerts and play performances and parent-teacher conferences over the past five years. I do not point that out to my daughters, and I do not roll my eyes or in any way disparage the idea that now he's going to make it to their special events.)

      When my youngest was screaming and hitting my husband and trying to cling to me (standing on the patio in the rain), my oldest was screaming at me that "IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT! YOU WERE THE ONE WHO LEFT! YOU ARE THE ONE WHO IS CAUSING ALL THIS!"

      I left. I had daily headaches, problems with digestion and hot flashes. Daily. Since I left and found my own housing (where my children are with me 5 nights out of 7), I have head no headaches, no digestive issues, and no hot flashes.

      Yet my older daughter (the recent target of my husband's rage right up to the very day before I left) is angry at me.

      Because he is playing her.

      When I say that his behavior towards my oldest daughter mirrors the Childress model, that is what I am talking about. I am the parent who thought, "I cannot fix his rage. His rage towards my children is dangerous. The only way to stop it is to leave the house."

      Now that I have left, suddenly he has to be very involved in the children's lives in ways that he hasn't been for five years.

      If it takes divorce for him to step up and be a better parent, then I am very happy for the sake of my children.

      However, the way he is treating my older daughter - as the keeper of his thoughts and secrets (an actual text between them on her phone) - is unhealthy and wrong. And is an example of the type of coalition based on delusion that Childress is talking about.

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    3. Dear SK-- you don't have to use the Childress approach to recognize that in high-conflict marriages and divorces, one or both parents may attempt to enlist children in their quarrel, and children may respond in a number of ways including blaming and anger.

      Yes, your husband's behavior is wrong and harmful. But there is nothing you can do about it unless he actually commits a crime. What you can do is to support your daughter in this extremely confusing and painful time, and to recognize that she cannot support you. This is true however much you may need support-- and I know you do need it, but I don't know whether you have friends or family who are of the slightest help.

      Your daughter is too young to understand your position or your history with her father or your very much justified decision to leave the marriage. In addition, this is all so very recent that everyone involved is in a complete tailspin. She does not like all the changes that have happened and may be especially confused by her father's blandishments following his violent and hostile behavior. She did not have any vote on your decision, even though you made it at least partly with her welfare in mind, and she is too young to fully understand the consequences of deciding to stay or deciding to go. As a result, she sees her present discomfort as resulting from your decision, and blames you for her trouble. This is exactly what might be expected of a girl her age in this situation.

      I hope you can manage to focus on the future and to realize that any approval or support you get from your daughter may be many years down the line. She does not understand what has happened. Also, she is getting unaccustomed positive treatment from her father, and you may well be distracted and distant as well as critical of her behavior toward you.

      Whether her father is deluded or not, I could not say, nor could Childress unless he has met with him. But this does not matter, really, as your own actions are the only ones you have any control over. From what you say, you made a highly justified decision to end the marriage, and you should not let your daughter's (predictable) distress interfere with sticking to that decision if you believe that the best outcomes for all of you are likely to result from divorce.

      I know this is not much help for the immediate future, but do keep in mind that it is very early days, and things may look much different a year from now-- certainly they will in two years.

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  39. If a person who recently submitted a comment will re-write it in more acceptable language, I'll publish and respond to it-- JM

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